The Sacred Heart For Our Times
In 1956, Pope Pius XII wrote the encyclical Haurietis Aquas on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He asked a question that is just as relevant today as it was nearly sixty years ago:
“When so many evils meet Our gaze - such as cause sharp conflict among individuals, families, nations and the whole world, particularly today more than at any other time - where are We to seek a remedy, venerable brethren?” (#120)
God allows suffering in order that we might join ourselves ever closer to Him, as well as grow in holiness. The world has seen more great, sustained suffering over the past year than it has in a long time. People are looking in all sorts of directions for the answer to Pius XII’s question.
The Catholic Church should be shouting from the rooftops: the solution to the current crises is Christ. It remains important for Christians to enrich the world and employ whatever worldly solutions they can. With that said, no worldly solution can fix the fundamental problem in secular western culture: the absence of God.
The world cannot offer lasting peace or anything beyond this life. Secular culture has made a god (small ‘g’) out of our health in the pandemic. Our health is important of course, but now more than ever we need to be concerned with our spiritual health. In the Sacred Heart, the Church gives us a great feast in which to dwell on “the tangible sign of his invincible love and the inexhaustible source of true peace” (St. John Paul II, Address 6/7/99).
Find Refuge in His Crucified Heart
St. Paul tried to teach the Corinthians about the cross. No matter the audience, the difficulty remained. “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23, RSVCE). I’d add that the cross is also painful, difficult, often hard to manage, and nearly always inconvenient. I think we look at the crucifix and can focus only on the pain of the nails or the marks of the scourging; yet the pain of the cross extended to emotional suffering as well. Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque that the interior sufferings “were greater than all the rest of His sufferings” (Rev. Francis Larkin, Enthronement of the Sacred Heart pg. 65).
Our lives can turn into burdens of tremendous weight in both physical and mental/emotional suffering. To that, turn to Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. He does not stand aloof from us but walks alongside us: “we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15, RSVCE). Jesus went before us in suffering and in death and knows what it feels like.
In the image of the Sacred Heart, the cross comes out of the top of His Heart, “rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendor amidst flames of love” (Pope Leo XIII, Annum Sacrum #12). The cross will not cease to be painful, difficult, and inconvenient, but Pope Leo XIII points to a key component to understanding the Passion of Jesus: amidst flames of love. The image of the Sacred Heart shows a golden cross engulfed in fire. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10, RSVCE). Neither Jesus’ Passion nor resurrection hold water without the basis of love.
On an ordinary day, it takes less effort to speak in such a manner about the cross. While in the crucible, however, it takes incredible effort. “But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:24-25). It takes a leap of faith to look at the cross as anything but a source of pain. Yet Jesus reveals to us that the cross is love, for those that have eyes to see.
Consecration to the Sacred Heart
Returning to Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII called out devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as “the most effective school of the love of God; the love of God, We say, which must be the foundation on which to build the kingdom of God in the hearts of individuals, families, and nations” (#123). True love must be expressed and not only accepted. How can we claim an authentic relationship with Christ if it is one-sided?
One method of offering our love to Jesus is through prayer. Jesus loves us and every prayer offered in faith. Popular ways to focus on the Sacred Heart are a novena and the litany approved by Leo XIII. Another way is to consecrate ourselves, our families, and our homes to the Sacred Heart. Every pope and saint from St. Margaret Mary to St. John Paul II all recommend consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This act, says, Leo XIII, “is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself” (Annum Sacrum #8).
This prayer of consecration was written by St. Margaret Mary for an individual. There is also a family prayer. Another practice is enthroning an image of the Sacred Heart in one’s home. The Sacred Heart Apostolate has information about the enthronement and other resources here.
Pursue Our Lord in love, and seek out a deeper relationship with Him. By first taking refuge in the divine love, and then concretely expressing our gratitude and love in prayers and consecrations, our souls will experience a new closeness with Jesus.
Console Jesus’ Sacred Heart with Reparation
In that closeness with Jesus, we must confront the awful reality of sin. In the visions recorded by St. Faustina in her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, she repeatedly describes the love that Jesus has for souls. After receiving the Eucharist at Mass, Jesus appeared to her.
“As I fixed my gaze on the Most Sacred Heart, the same rays of light, as are represented in the image as blood and water, came forth from it, and I understood how great is the Lord's mercy. And again Jesus said to me with kindness, ‘My daughter, speak to priests about this inconceivable mercy of Mine. The flames of mercy are burning Me-clamoring to be spent; I want to keep pouring them out upon souls; souls just don't want to believe in My goodness.’” (#177)
Jesus’ Sacred Heart burns with love! “Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of mercy are burning Me—clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls.” (Diary, #50). And how does humanity repay Jesus for his love and mercy? Denying God, violating the commandments, violence, hatred, and a contempt for God and His laws. The worst pain of all is ingratitude and indifference. Jesus told St. Margaret Mary of the great pain that comes from souls who treat Him in this manner: “this hurts me more than everything I suffered in my passion. Even a little love from them in return—and I should regard all that I have done for them as next to nothing, and look for a way of doing still more” (quoted in Fr. Michael Gaitley, Consoling the Heart of Jesus, pg. 42).
In promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI specified reparation for sin and indifference as an essential part of the devotion. St. Paul speaks in many places of uniting ourselves to Jesus’ sacrifice (cited in #14, e.g. Romans 12:1, 2 Corinthians 4:10, Romans 6:4-5, Galatians 5:24). Pius XI adds that Jesus foresaw every future sin during His Passion—and thus derived some consolation from our reparation (#13). Fr. Michael Gaitley’s Consoling the Heart of Jesus is an excellent introduction to this concept. Jesus our beloved suffers in pain; how could we not make efforts to console Him?
The month of June carries a special devotion to the Sacred Heart, although it’s a devotion to practice all year. With all the turmoil in the world, run to the ultimate answer: the merciful, loving Jesus. Kickstart the devotion with a novena, the litany, and the consecration. Nothing else will bring peace like His!