Open Yourself Up to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Historically speaking, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is relatively new compared to the 2000-year-old Church while the object of devotion goes back even farther. Of course Christians have fostered a deep love of our savior since Jesus walked the earth. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is filled with richness and beauty; it carries promises; it draws us deeper into the mystery of the divine love of God. Loving the Sacred Heart is simply a way of loving Jesus.
Although it arose in the 12th and 13th centuries, the most familiar aspects of the devotion we know today came from a series of private revelations to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque from 1673 to 1675. The feast day was established by Pope Pius IX in 1856, moving it from a locally-celebrated feast to a celebration for the entire Church. One of the other key figures, Bl. Mary of the Divine Heart, wrote repeatedly to Pope Leo XIII. She urged him to consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart, as well as to promote the practice of the nine First Fridays. Pope Leo did so through the encyclical Annum Sacrum in 1899, one day after her death. Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Sacred Heart nineteen days after Pentecost.
In addition to Leo XIII, many 20th century popes have lent their voices in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pius XI wrote about reparation to the Sacred Heart in Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928), his successor Pius XII penned the encyclical Haurietis Aquas in 1956, and nearly every pope sine has written on the Sacred Heart. St. John Paul II characteristically outdid them all in volume: besides referencing the Sacred Heart devotion in his encyclicals Redemptor Hominis and Dives in Misericordia, he offered reflections on every petition in the Litany to the Sacred Heart. He did this during his weekly Angelus talks in 1985, 1986, and 1989.
So what exactly is the Sacred Heart?
Leo XIII described the Sacred Heart as “a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ” (Annum Sancrum no. 8). In other words, the Sacred Heart gives us something eternal in human form—it’s an incarnational expression of the love of God. That’s reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, although it mentions the Sacred Heart only once, in no. 478. That paragraph is right in the middle of the section on the Incarnation. The famous passage from John’s gospel encapsulates the Incarnation as an act of love, by a Father who has boundless love for His children: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The divine love of God emanates from the Sacred Heart of Jesus; using the love of God as a launching point, many spiritual mysteries are opened to us. The reality that God loves us, His creation, has its basis in the Scriptures long before Jesus dwelled on earth. But the Incarnation showed just how far God was willing to go to save His people. Within the Sacred Heart is Christ’s Passion and death: His heart bears the wound of a lance and a crown of thorns. How incredible is the love of Jesus! “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Not only can we contemplate Jesus’ love in His Passion and death, but we have a tangible expression of it: the Eucharist. He awaits us in every tabernacle throughout the world, fulfilling his final promise in St. Matthew’s gospel: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:20). We are blessed with the gift of God’s love, and we are saved in it. Yet it’s not a gift intended only for ourselves. St. John sums up very beautifully our participation in the love of God, implicitly capitulating devotion to the Sacred Heart. We see His very heart when St. John teaches us: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
Love is the who, for God is love. Love is what we have been given in great abundance by Christ. At the same time, love is what we’re supposed to do, in serving others, as well as how we’re supposed to serve others. Love is the why of the Christian mystery; why God created us in the first place, and why He acted to save us. Love is why the omnipotent Son of God willingly bore His Passion. Finally, love is mysteriously the source, object, and destination of our hope; it is where we hope to end up at the end of our earthly lives, in heaven.
Many Practices, One Devotion
All of these thoughts fill in the background of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and it illustrates why the devotion has spread throughout the Catholic Church. Christ always calls us to deeper intimacy with Him. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is a great way to focus our spiritual efforts into loving Jesus in a more profound way.
The Twelve Promises
When Jesus appeared to St. Margaret, He gave her twelve promises to those that maintained a devotion to His Sacred Heart:
1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life
2. I will establish peace in their families
3. I will comfort them in their trials
4. I will be their secure refuge during life, and, above all, in death
5. I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings
6. Sinners will find in My Heart an infinite ocean of mercy
7. Lukewarm souls will become fervent
8. Fervent souls will rapidly grow in holiness and perfection
9. I will bless every place where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored
10. I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts
11. The names of those who promote this devotion will be written in My Heart, never to be blotted out
12. 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.
Some of them look extraordinary! With that, I think it’s important to note the context of the “promises.” They aren’t a secret passage to get around having to do the actual work of sanctification. The promises don’t unlock some privileged knowledge; they’re not a “get out of jail free” card for life. Nor do they promise a life without suffering.
How should we receive the promises, then? The focus needs to be on the giver more so than the promises themselves. Jesus gives us these things out of His eternal love for His family, the Church. The reason for faith in the promises (and the devotion in general) is actually very simple. “Devotion to the Sacred Heart is nothing else than love for the Person of Jesus, whose infinite love is symbolized by His Heart” (Fr. Francis Larkin, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus pg. 61).
Nine Consecutive First Fridays
Our Lord’s twelfth promise to St. Margaret covered the aspect of the Sacred Heart devotion known as the First Fridays. Jesus promised that anyone who received Holy Communion on the first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months would have an invaluable grace at the hour of their death. They would not die without the sacraments and have the opportunity of final penitence.
Those that make the First Fridays should go to Mass and receive communion. Holy Communion should be offered to Jesus as an act of reparation for offenses against the Blessed Sacrament. Pope Pius XI included a prayer of reparation at the close of Miserentissimus Redemptor. If reparation is a foreign topic, Pius XI gives some background:
“ … if anyone will lovingly dwell on those things of which we have been speaking… it cannot be but he will shrink with horror from all sin as from the greatest evil, and more than this he will yield himself wholly to the will of God, and will strive to repair the injured honor of the Divine Majesty, as well by constantly praying, as by voluntary mortifications, by patiently bearing the afflictions that befall him” (Miserentissimus Redemptor no. 18)
Reparation seeks the salvation of all. It includes what Pius XI noted as a “horror from all sin”—however harsh that may sound, we need to remember that sin is what digs a chasm between us and God. Sin offends God Who is perfect, perfectly loving, and the source of every good thing in our lives. Nothing in the world should be hated so much as sin, and we should want to repair the damage done by it.
Sacred Heart Novena
Padre Pio was the one who made this prayer well known. He was regularly bombarded with prayer requests. He said this prayer every day for those that had asked for his intercession. This can be said in the nine days leading up to the feast of the Sacred Heart, or as Padre Pio proved, anytime for any need.
Another way of devoting ourselves to the Sacred Heart is to consecrate our homes to Jesus. By doing so, parents can give a boost to the domestic church. Love of Jesus isn’t just something to be done in church, but also in the home. The enthronement ceremony has beautiful prayers and intends to be a starting point for lives of service to Our Lord.
The love that flows from the Sacred Heart of Jesus seeks out each one of us. We are God’s beloved! Devotion to the Sacred Heart opens up a vast array of mysteries for us to contemplate. Let us immerse ourselves in the love of Jesus!