“My Heart is so full of love for men that it can no longer contain within Itself the fire of charity. Through thy instrumentality It must flow out and make Itself known to men, in order to enrich them with the treasures It contains. I will make thee acquainted with the priceless value of these treasures; they are salutary and sanctifying graces, and they alone are capable of rescuing mankind from the abyss of perdition.”
“If they would only return love for Love, all that I have done for them would be next to nothing; but I meet only with coldness on their part, and to My most loving invitations they respond only with contempt. Do thou at least give Me this solace: make amends to the utmost of thy power for their ingratitude.”
“Behold this Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing to testify its love for them, even to the exhausting and consuming of itself for their sake.
“But in return for this I receive nothing from the generality of mankind but ingratitude through the contempt, irreverences, sacrileges, and coldness with which I am treated in this Sacrament of love.. I promise thee that My Heart shall so expand as to pour out the effect of It’s charity in superabundant plenitude on those who honor It, and who endeavor to prevail on others to pay It similar homage.”
– Our Lord to St Margaret Mary
Revealing His Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in France in 1673, the Lord complained that He was forgotten by so many, despite the infinite love flowing from His Heart, which gave Itself up to death on the Cross for love of mankind. He sought reparation for this forgetfulness and complacency, promising in return to be a fount of inestimable graces to all who embraced the devotion. Slowly, the Sacred Heart devotion was accepted by the Church and then spread through all the world – evidence of this is the ubiquity of statues dedicated to the Sacred Heart in almost every Catholic Church and in so many Catholic homes, even now in our own day.
And yet, it may be that in large part, today we have forgotten the original purpose of this devotion, the reasons for it, and what it demands of us. In many senses, we have returned to the very coldness of which the Lord complained three and a half centuries ago to His humble servant in Paray le Monial.
Writing in his Encyclical letter, ‘Misserentissimus Redemptor’, in 1928, Pope Pius XI had this to say of the devotion –
“Is not a summary of all our religion and, moreover, a guide to a more perfect life contained in this one devotion? Indeed, it more easily leads our minds to know Christ the Lord intimately and more effectively turns our hearts to love Him more ardently and to imitate Him more perfectly.”
In these two short lines, the Holy Father noted the great benefits of the devotion to the Heart of the Redeemer – not only does it contain the very essence of our Catholic Faith, but it is a perfect way of coming to know and love the Lord, so that we may follow Him on the way of perfection.
Writing almost thirty years later in his Encyclical letter ‘Haurietis Aquas’, Pope Pius XII returned the attention of the Church to this theme –
“It is altogether impossible to enumerate the heavenly gifts which devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has poured out on the souls of the faithful, purifying them, offering them heavenly strength, rousing them to the attainment of all virtues.. Therefore when we perceive so fruitful an abundance of healing waters, that is, heavenly gifts of divine love, issuing from the Sacred Heart of our Redeemer, spreading among countless children of the Catholic Church by the inspiration and action of the Divine Spirit; we can only exhort you, venerable brethren, with fatherly affection to join us in giving tribute of praise and heartfelt thanks to God, the Giver of all good gifts.”
Calling on the faithful to celebrate in that year the centenary of the establishment of the feast of the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius concluded his Encyclical with this prayer –
“Refreshed by sweet hope and foreseeing already those spiritual fruits which We are confident will spring up in abundance in the Church from the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – provided it is correctly understood according to our explanation and actively put into practice – we make our prayer to God that He may graciously deign to assist these ardent desires of ours by the strong help of His grace. May it come about, by the divine inspiration as a token of His favor, that .. the love of the faithful may grow daily more and more towards the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
In an Angelus address in June 2005, Pope Benedict (who commented on the Sacred Heart six times during his pontificate) had this to say –
“Practising devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ therefore means adoring that Heart which, after having loved us to the end, was pierced by a spear and from high on the Cross poured out blood and water, an inexhaustible source of new life.”
Speaking the following summer, Pope Benedict would elaborate on this thought –
“The devotion is rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation; it is precisely through the Heart of Jesus that the Love of God for humanity is sublimely manifested. This is why authentic devotion to the Sacred Heart has retained all its effectiveness and especially attracts souls thirsting for God’s mercy who find in it the inexhaustible source from which to draw the water of Life that can irrigate the deserts of the soul and make hope flourish anew.”
Writing in 2013, our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, told the faithful this –
“The Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy – but it is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth. In the Gospels we find several references to the Heart of Jesus, for example, in the passage where Christ says, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart’ (Mt 11:28-29). Then there is the key story of the death of Christ according to John. This evangelist in fact testifies to what he saw on Calvary: that a soldier, when Jesus was already dead, pierced his side with a spear, and from the wound flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19.33-34). John recognized in that – apparently random – sign, the fulfillment of prophecies: from the heart of Jesus, the Lamb slain on the cross, flow forgiveness and life for all men.”
In summary, then, the Church greatly encourages us to be authentically devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, noting that the mystery of this Heart is rooted in the Incarnation and manifests to us the love of God, that it presents the ultimate symbol of Divine Mercy and provides us with an inexhaustible source of the Water of Life from which we can draw freely.
In being so devoted to the Sacred Heart, we are enabled to live our Faith more perfectly, for the devotion offers innumerable heavenly blessings, purifying and strengthening us and leading us to practice the virues to which the Gospel calls us. It leads us to know Christ better, to love Him with greater fervour and so to imitate Him more perfectly.
The world is, spiritually speaking, a colder place than it was when Pius XI and Pius XII encouraged the Catholics of the world to love the Sacred Heart; even in the years since Benedict and Francis continued to teach on the devotion, there has been a cooling of the sense of the spiritual and the entire world seems to have moved further from the Lord. And so, in this sense, we are closer now to being in the same state about which the Lord complained when He demanded, through St Margaret Mary, that we remember Him, make reparation to Him and love Him.
When next we enter our parish Church and cast our eyes upon the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us pause for a moment and offer something of that which He asks of us.
May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be forever known, loved and adored.