Monday, June 11, 2007

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

"Does not this one devotion contain a summary of all our religion, and a guide to a more perfect life? Indeed, it more easily leads our minds to know Christ the Lord intimately, and it more effectively turns our hearts to love Him more ardently and to imitate Him more perfectly."
- Pope Pius XI (Miserentissimus Redemptor)

This Friday is the Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus . There is a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but many today sadly have no idea what it is.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion found in one sense stretching back to the 11th or 12th century, and in another sense to the apostles John and Paul. It’s a devotion that once was so popular schools, parishes, hospitals, nursing homes and the like were named after it. The most popular image linked to the devotion was so widespread that even today it would be hard to find a Catholic who would not recognize it.

But today, these things are only an echo of what once was. The symbols of the devotion remain, but ones not understood by recent generations. I would like to explain in this post exactly why this devotion has seen such a drop in the last 40 years or so, but to be honest I can’t. I can’t, because I don’t know why. But what I can do is to try explaining why it shouldn’t have.

So, what is the object of this devotion? By object I mean the “what” we showing devotion to. Is it Jesus’ physical, human heart? If so, you may ask (and rightfully so) why not His ear? Or how about his spleen, I bet Jesus had a fabulous spleen.

While the “what” we are showing our devotion to is directed toward the human heart of Christ, it is only a symbol of the true object of the devotion which is the love that Christ has for us. Here is what is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 478):

Jesus knew and loved us each and all during his life, his agony and his Passion, and gave himself up for each one of us: "The Son of God. . . loved me and gave himself for me." He has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, "is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that. . . love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings" without exception.

This point is so important for people to keep in mind. This is a devotion is above all a devotion to love which Christ has for the Father and for us. And through this devotion to the love of Christ, we show Christ the love we have for Him. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) It is a devotion of action, requiring us to show our love for Christ in every part of our lives. It does not allow us to hide behind a faith dead and lacking works (James 2:14), but demands a living faith permeating every aspect of our lives.

Many assume that this devotion is a result of the visions of Jesus St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received in the 17th century. No doubt this event helped increase the devotion’s popularity, but the Church did not base Her decision to approve this devotion based on her visions but only recognized that the content of them in no way contradicted what was already present in the deposit of faith. So the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus exists outside the realm of personal revelation.

Though the devotion in its present form (devotion to Christ’s love for us symbolically through His physical heart) can be traced back to the 11th or 12th century, the devotion to the love of Christ reaches much further back.

We can even feel Paul’s devotion when he writes (Gal 2:19-20):

“For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

This type of devotion is what the world desperately needs now. A devotion that calls man to respond to Christ's love as less of a sponge, soaking up love and not spilling a drop, and more of a mirror, taking what has been shown to him and reflecting it out to the world.

Prayer to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus:
O most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we beseech Thee to pour fourth Thy blessing upon Thy Holy Church, upon the Pope, and upon all the clergy. Grant the just perseverance, convert sinners, illuminate unbelievers, bless those close to us, our friends and benefactors, assist the dying, free the souls spending time in purgatory, and sweetly extended the power of Thy love over all hearts.

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