June is drawing to a close, and we cannot leave it without remembering its dedication to the Sacred Heart. To many people, devotion to the Sacred Heart seems a little strange. We worship Christ who was resurrected from the dead, and yet we have a special devotion to his… heart?
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Church recommends this devotion, and we all know about it, but we don’t necessarily know why. And yet even when we don’t “know” in our heads, we “know” in our own hearts and souls: with so much indifference to faith in the world, having Jesus call to us though his heart, giving us the symbol of God’s infinite love, the symbol of his generous self-sacrificing love for humanity, speaks directly to our own hearts.
And we cannot forget the simplicity of the symbolism: in every language, the heart is regarded as the natural symbol of love and affection.
In fact, humanity has always associated the heart with love. It is the life-force of the body; when the heart stops beating, life ends. So it’s not surprising that as devotion to the Incarnated Christ increased in the Church, people experienced his love for them through his heart.
In Judaism, the word “heart” is referring to every person’s core. While recognized as the principle life organ, the heart is also considered the center of all spiritual activity and the seat of all emotion, especially love. As the psalms express, God speaks to a person in their heart. This notion of the heart is clear when we read the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-6: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”
Throughout the Gospel we see the outpouring of Jesus’ love from his heart—in the miracle stories, his reconciliation of sinners, and his compassion for the grieving. Even on the cross, Jesus poured out his love for us as the soldier’s lance pierced his side and blood and water poured out.
The early Church Fathers clearly cherished this meaning of the Sacred Heart:
- St. Justin Martyr said, “We Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His heart as from a rock.”
- St. Irenaeus of Lyons said, “The Church is the fountain of the living water that flows to us from the Heart of Christ.”
- St. Paulinus of Nola said, “John, who rested blissfully on the breast of our Lord, was inebriated with the Holy Spirit, from the Heart of all creating Wisdom he quaffed an understanding which transcends that of any creature.”
General devotions to the Sacred Heart were popular in early Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries, but specific devotions became even more popular when St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, had a personal revelation involving a series of visions of Christ as she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. She wrote, “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart,” with the chief features of the devotion being reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month, Eucharistic adoration during a Holy Hour on Thursdays, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
The devotion continued to grow throughout the Middle Ages, and in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass honoring the mystery of the Sacred Heart. During the age of the Protestant movement, devotion to the Sacred Heart was practiced in hope of restoring peace to a world shattered by political and religious persecution.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was given promises as well as admonitions, the benefits that could be accrued when we pray to the Sacred Heart:
- I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
- I will give peace in their families and will unite families that are divided.
- I will console them in all their troubles.
- I will be their refuge during life and, above all, in death.
- I will bestow the blessings of Heaven on all their enterprises.
- Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
- Tepid souls shall become fervent.
- Fervent souls shall rise quickly to great perfection.
- I will bless those places wherein the image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored and will imprint My love on the hearts of those who would wear this image on their person. I will also destroy in them all disordered movements.
- I will give to priests who are animated by a tender devotion to my Divine Heart the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
- Those who promote this devotion shall have their names written in my Heart, never to be effaced.
- I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence: they will not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their Sacraments. My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart provides a special closeness to the incarnated nature of God. We love his heart with all of our own hearts. We rest our heads, our worries, and our pain within his heart, and he has promised that he will hear us.
More than just a way of prayer, this devotion is based on the essence of the Gospel: to take on the heart of Jesus so as to live in his love and bring it to others. No matter what stage of spiritual growth you are experiencing, praying to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can help you grow more deeply in love with Jesus and experience the love of his Sacred Heart in your life.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir