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.

Corpus Christi Makes the Church

The celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi is a good time to ponder, not only the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but our personal identity as Christians – the Body of Christ.

The Eucharist constitutes the fullness of communion with the Church. We are not fully initiated into the Christian faith until we are united sacramentally with Christ himself. It may seem odd to think of it as a sacrament of initiation since we continue to participate in the Eucharist, and in fact are obligated to do so long after we have been baptized and confirmed. How is it that, though fully initiated, we continue to participate in it?

We are human beings, susceptible to sin – very susceptible! The only way we can keep from sinning is by the power of God. The power of sin does not go away once we are initiated into the Body of Christ (in fact, it may get worse!). We are in a constant battle. Our initiation opens the door for us to God’s grace, giving us access to the power that we need to resist temptation to sin.

But we need to freely cooEucharistic Adorationperate in those graces and to return often to the font of those graces. We repeatedly bring our sinful lives before Christ on the cross to redeem us, so that we can live lives that are true to our identity as the Body of Christ, the People of God. (Notice that the first thing we do at Mass is the Penitential Rite. We acknowledge our sins in preparation for our offering of ourselves. We offer a contrite heart.)

The words and the elements of the Eucharist are the same as those used by Jesus at the Last Supper. We see how it is Jesus who gives the elements their spiritual power, making them his Body and Blood. The words of Jesus do what they say. We do things as God himself has told us to do so, showing respect for God as our Creator and Redeemer and Jesus as the institutor of the sacraments.

In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is remembered (in the anamnesis sense of the word) and celebrated within the context of a meal. We call it the Lord’s Supper, or the Paschal Banquet. This must be understood in light of the Old Testament sacrifices. Depending on the sacrifice, what was offered was either burnt up completely, thus given completely over to God as the smoke rose to heaven, or was eaten by the priests, who had been chosen by God for the purpose of making the offerings. At the Passover, each family was to offer a lamb in sacrifice and was to consume it completely. In fact, if one family could not consume an entire lamb, they were to come together with another family so that none would be left over (they were about to leave Egypt, after all). We see in these examples those who offer the sacrifices consuming that which is sacrificed.

At the Exodus, the blood of the lamb saved the lives of the first-born sons of the Israelites. The Eucharist was instituted at a Passover meal. The new meaning of the celebration is thus given by Jesus, who is the Lamb of God, slaughtered to free humanity from sin and to bring eternal life. In the Eucharist, the blood of the Lamb does the same thing as in the Exodus, but by virtue of our baptism, we are all considered “first sons” as we are all children of the Father.

The celebration of the Eucharist concludes with our consuming the sacrificial lamb, by receiving the Body of Christ – Corpus Christi, and being sent out into the world to go and make disciples of all nations. Our intimate union with Christ – both spiritually and physically, by the grace of the sacrament – enables us to bring the love of Christ to every person we meet. It changes us! It makes us holy, transforms us into other Christs – into Christians!

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Cenacle in Jerusalem

This post originally appeared on May 27, 2015

“Wherever I shall be, I intend to imagine myself to be together with all the creatures in the Cenacle in Jerusalem where the Apostles received the Holy Spirit. I shall remind myself to renew this desire often. As the Apostles were there with Mary, so will I be in spirit with the most beloved Mother and Jesus. As they are my special intercessors, I am confident that they will help me and all other creatures to receive the abundance of the Holy Spirit” – St. Vincent Pallotti (OOCC X, 86).

One of the signature moments of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the Mass that he celebrated in the Cenacle or Upper Room in Jerusalem. Tradition holds the Cenacle as the location of the Last Supper and the place where Mary, the Apostles, and the other disciples spent time in prayer and community prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We have just celebrated this past weekend the Feast of Mary, Queen of Apostles on Saturday and Pentecost on Sunday. These celebrations invite us to dwell in the Cenacle as a place of encounter with one another and with the Holy Spirit. The Cenacle is not a place where one stays, though. We are sent forth out into the world that needs to encounter Jesus Christ, a world in need of transformation. Pope Francis in his homily in the Cenacle reminds us of this mission of which all of us are called to be a part:

“From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit. Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30)!”

Reflecting on the Cenacle, St. Vincent Pallotti came to believe that all are called to take up the mission of Jesus Christ and live as apostles, sent forth to preach the Good News and bring healing to a broken and suffering world.

We are not alone in this task. Mary, Queen of Apostles intercedes for us, witnesses discipleship of Christ for us, and gives us a mother’s care. The Holy Spirit permeates all that we do and calls us back to the Cenacle, to the table of the Lord in the Eucharist, to worship and fellowship with the community of faith, in order to be sent forth once again. Instituted in the Cenacle of Jerusalem, the Eucharist sustains us, nourishes us, and moves us out into the world “glorifying the Lord” by our lives (“Dismissal”, Roman Missal).

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.