The month of the Sacred Heart

This coming Friday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This celebration is tied in with the October 16 memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, to whom Jesus appeared, revealing His Sacred Heart, on fire with love for humanity.

On Oct. 16, 2013, Pope Francis said, “Today we celebrate the memory of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. May her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus instruct you, dear young people, to love as He loved; may it make you strong, dear sick people, in carrying your cross of suffering with patience; and may it sustain you, dear newlyweds, in building your family upon fidelity and dedication.”

In his Angelus address on June 9, 2013, the Holy Father noted that “the month of June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus” and that “the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus sets the tone for the entire month. Popular piety highly values symbols, and the Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy. But it is not an imaginary symbol; it is a real symbol which represents the center, the source from which Salvation flowed for all of humanity.”

Given Pope Francis’ personal emphasis on mercy, one can understand his devotion to the Sacred Heart. He made an overview of the Gospels and said that “we find various references to the Heart of Jesus. For example there is a passage in which Christ Himself says: ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart’ (Mt 11:28-29). Then there is the key account of Christ’s death according to John. When Jesus was already dead a soldier pierced His side with a spear and blood and water came out of the wound (cf. Jn 19:33-34). In that apparently coincidental sign John recognizes the fulfillment of the prophecies: from the Heart of Jesus, the Lamb sacrificed on the cross, flow forgiveness and life for all people.”

The pope warns us against mere sentimentality. “The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man!”

Pope Francis then used the example of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). “Jesus immediately fixes His gaze on the crying mother. ‘And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her’ (v. 13). This ‘compassion’ is God’s love for man, it is mercy, thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish.” 

The Holy Father then asked: “What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! Jesus says to the widow of Nain: ‘Do not weep’ and then He calls the dead boy and awakes him as if from sleep (cf. vv. 13-15). God’s mercy gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. Let us not forget that the Lord always watches over us with mercy. Let us not be afraid of approaching Him! He has a merciful heart! If we show Him our inner wounds, our inner sins, He will always forgive us. It is pure mercy. Let us go to Jesus!”

What the pope said here is meant to be a parallel to Jesus. Just as Jesus revealed to St. Margaret His burning heart and His wounds from the Crucifixion (done because of our sins), so, Spiritually speaking, Pope Francis wants us to show Jesus the self-inflicted “wounds” of our sins, so that He might bring us the healing we need.

Pope Pius XII, wrote in his 1956 encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas (in paragraph 97), “that the revelations made to St. Margaret Mary [have as] their importance that Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love.”

Pope Benedict XVI noted the 50th anniversary of his predecessor’s encyclical in 2006 in a letter to the superior general of the Jesuits. “By encouraging devotion to the Heart of Jesus, the encyclical Haurietis Aquas exhorted believers to open themselves to the mystery of God and of His love and to allow themselves to be transformed by it. After 50 years, it is still a fitting task for Christians to continue to deepen their relationship with the Heart of Jesus, in such a way as to revive their faith in the saving love of God and to welcome Him ever better into their lives.”

Some might say that this is a milquetoast platitude, but if these words were lived out by more and more people, the world (and the Church) would be a very different place.

The current pope emeritus quoted a letter from St. John Paul II to the same Jesuit general, which said, “In the Heart of Christ, man’s heart learns to know the genuine and unique meaning of his life and of his destiny, to understand the value of an authentically Christian life, to keep himself from certain perversions of the human heart, and to unite the filial love for God and the love of neighbor. The true reparation asked by the Heart of the Savior will come when the civilization of the Heart of Christ can be built upon the ruins heaped up by hatred and violence.”

Pope Francis has spoken about reparation a number of times — drawing a parallel to the Old Testament book of Ezra and our need to make reparation for sins in the Middle East; in a speech in Sri Lanka, calling for it for all sins and for those committed in that land; in a letter to a penal law conference, speaking about the reparation needed to come from convicted criminals. 

He spoke most eloquently about it in a homily at a Mass for victims of clerical sexual abuse on July 7, 2014. “The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation — Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps — this scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls. I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and He looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that He look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that He give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, 40 days later, we can reply: ‘You know that I love You’; and hear Him say: ‘Go back and feed my sheep’ — and I would add — ‘let no wolf enter the sheepfold.’”

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