Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have Mercy on Us

Sacred Heart of Jesus by Pompeo Batoni

Sacred Heart of Jesus by Pompeo Batoni

The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated each year by the Universal Church 19 days after Pentecost Sunday. Since June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us take some time this month to reflect on this wonderful gift given to the Church through the private revelation of Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque in the small village of Paray-le-Monial, France in 1673.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not simply one devotion among many – it is the subject of all other devotions to Jesus Christ.

We know that private prayer is essential to growth in the spiritual life. Often, this includes particular devotions, whether to particular saints, to Our Lady in her many apparitions and with her many titles, or to the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. When we pray to Jesus, we might do so with particular devotion to Him as the Healer, the Miracle Worker, the King, or the Good Shepherd. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not simply one devotion among many – it is the subject of all other devotions to Jesus Christ. It is the person of Jesus Himself.

Many people came to Jesus during his earthly ministry, drawn to him by his immense love for them. He healed them, taught them, and showed his power over nature and over the evil that had entrapped them. When we encounter the Sacred Heart of Jesus in prayer, we encounter the person who heals, teaches, and conquers evil in his essential being as the person who, first and foremost, loves. He is able to heal, to teach, and to conquer only with the love that he willingly pours forth from His Sacred Heart. It is not a devotion to one aspect of Jesus’ ministry. The Sacred Heart is His very person.

Christ offers us an intimate union with his Sacred Heart through the sacramental life of the Church. By the grace of our baptism, we can love as Christ loves. We are capable of a love that is infinite, if only we cooperate with the sacramental graces to remain united to His Sacred Heart. Frequent confession and reverent reception of Holy Communion offer the most intimate of encounters with His Sacred Heart, which is truly the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.

The intimacy between Jesus and his priests is an intimate union of the heart.

Saint John Vianney, patron saint of priests, describes the priesthood as the “love of the heart of Jesus.” The object of devotion of the Sacred Heart is the real, physical heart of Jesus, which is sacramentally present, really and truly, in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood given for us on the cross, the body that contained His Sacred Heart.

For the priest, then, devotion to the Sacred Heart is a most certain meditation on his own identity, given to him on his ordination day. The intimacy between Jesus and his priest is an intimate union of the heart. The ontological change that occurs as a result of the sacrament is one of being – not of physical appearance or personality, but of the heart. This change in the heart gives it the capacity to love as Jesus loves, with an omnipotent love, because he is loving with the Eucharistic heart of Jesus.

The capacity for love and the way it manifests itself in ministry will reveal itself over and over again throughout a priest’s lifetime, and will often surprise him. The priest is called upon to minister in a wide variety of ways, but the one source of all these ministries is the heart. The priest teaches, heals, counsels, and absolves sin first and foremost as one who loves with the love of Jesus. He has a responsibility to be ever mindful of this heart he now has, and to be in constant and conscious relationship with this Sacred Heart of Jesus so he will remain aware of its capabilities and use them fully.

When people see a priest, they expect to meet Christ. If they don’t, they may move away from the Church, or feel justified that they already have. The priest must be an embodiment of the Sacred Heart. It is not by accident that the words of consecration and the words of absolution are in the first person. It is at these moments when the priest is most himself in his ontological being, in his heart. In these moments, he is Jesus saving souls with his omnipotent love, reuniting them to God the Father in heaven as the Sole Mediator.

We can bring this presence of Jesus into every aspect of our lives by being especially conscious of the presence of Jesus in His Sacred Heart and the means by which we encounter it. Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home, the Nine Consecutive First Friday Masses, the Consecration to the Sacred Heart, and reception of Holy Communion in reparation for those who do not love Him, are but a few ways to show love to the Sacred Heart, who loves us so much, and whose love gives us life itself.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Betting There’ll Be a Big Safety Net

Almost fifty years ago, movie cop “Dirty Harry” Callahan asked “Well, punk, do you feel lucky today?”  Sometimes Harry’s crooks chose wisely not to resist arrest, but others tried their luck and lost.  A lesson lurks there about avoiding mindless violence.  Harry possesses superior (fire)power—why fight back? Make a better decision because the only alternative is swift, violent retribution.  This line, shorn of the violent scenes, came to me reflecting on today’s readings.  The Second Sunday of Easter features readings from Acts, Psalm 118, I Peter, and the striking post-Resurrection scene with “doubting Thomas” in John 20.  Every Scripture offers a rich banquet, but this day particularly so. Even before we reach the Gospel we encounter “the stone the builders have rejected” which becomes the cornerstone and an account of the Church featuring the works of mercy.  It is this passage in Acts 2 from which Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI launches his discussion of communion ecclesiology in Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith (2005). The Church’s communitarianism—spiritual and material—constitutes, Benedict states, the true freedom found only in the Trinity (p. 58).

Thus “Do you feel lucky today?”—because God’s mercy comes only through the Church, why gamble on it being any wider?  Every reading today instructs us to make wise choices. I Peter makes this particularly clear: through mercy, God in Christ bequeaths us “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time”. Thus the communion of the Church is far more than mere material assistance, but a foretaste of the Trinity’s communion.  Don’t bet on finding this anywhere else (and, for any Schleiermacherian readers out there, this applies especially to our idiosyncratic experiences).  There’s no need to gamble on God’s mercy—we know where to find it. Better than Dirty Harry’s offer, too, because why issue a threat when God’s offer far surpasses anything we know?

Perhaps that rosy vision might seem too Pelagian.  “Come on, all you need to do is stay within the Church and presto! Mercy!”  No, the Gospel promises that God helps those who cannot help themselves.  This, of course, includes all of us. It becomes all the more important to remember that today is also Divine Mercy Sunday, a fitting celebration of God’s mercy following the Triduum.  While the novelty has not yet worn off, Divine Mercy Sunday likewise has gained a popular following in parishes and online.  Beyond the devotional practices—venerating the image, praying the Chaplet—the Divine Mercy tradition contributes an astonishing reminder.  St. Faustina records Jesus stating His mercy extends to all, especially those souls apparently furthest from Him.  “Let the greatest sinners place their trust in My mercy. They have the right before others to trust in the abyss of My Mercy” (Divine Mercy in My Soul, #1146). And “the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy” (#1182).  At one level this is not new—the Gospel like today’s reading teaches us the very same point about salvation in Christ through faith.  It is, though, a refreshing jolt to have this universal message conveyed through such a particular channel like St. Faustina. Her experiences are not merely spiritualized escapism. Like the early Church in today’s readings, actual corporal works of mercy must accompany prayer (#742).  Obviously we are a far distance away from “Do you feel lucky today?”, but also obviously the breadth of Christ’s mercy extends more widely than we know or admit.

An indication of my inner Augustianism is my stubborn refusal to recognize that I, the trained theologian, might have construed God’s mercy much more narrowly than St. Faustina, “merely” a nun in interwar Poland.  On the surface, the Divine Mercy seems like yet another expression of Catholic devotionalism.  One more image, one more set of prayers, etc.  Our elitism, though, should not blind us to Divine Mercy’s lesson:  that through the very particular, God conveys the very gift of His all-encompassing mercy.  Again, the Gospel already proclaims this.  Jesus does not merely offer salvation in some general fashion; He accomplishes it by being a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who dies in a particular (and particularly awful) way and then rises on the third day. Thus “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Next month the Church will recognize the centenary anniversary of another devotional expression of this same lesson.  The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three young children shepherding near Fatima, Portugal, in May, 1917.  Pope Francis will canonize them next month as part of the one hundredth anniversary celebration.  The Fatima apparition, appearing during the First World War and requesting spiritual resistance to Bolshevik aggression, resembles the Divine Mercy in its devotional popularity and scholarly skepticism.  On the other hand, St. John Paul II, clearly a scholar, expressed firm devotion to both!  The “Fatima Prayer”, requested by the blessed Mother to be added to the end of each Rosary decade, expresses the same sort of radical inclusivism we find in Divine Mercy.  “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.”  This is one of those instances where the literal interpretation is also the scariest:  that could mean anybody.  It is our fallen nature that pulls back, that hesitates.  We all know people—public figures as well as personal friends and acquaintances—who fit the bill “those in most need of Thy mercy”.  When we are honest with ourselves, we realize this include us, too.  This also dismisses utterly any lingering “Do you feel lucky today?” resentments.  We remain called through today’s readings into the Church and thus God’s great, unmerited Gift. Fatima and Divine Mercy remind us of another Scriptural reminder:  that God’s mercy through Christ extends far beyond our comprehension to those who appear much farther astray.  Yet we should not presume, betting on God’s mercy (Romans 6:1).

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.