Recovering the Sacred Heart

As you probably know, the Jesuit St. Claude la Colombiere was the spiritual director to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who received the visions of the Sacred Heart in Paray-le-Monial in France.  In a vision, Jesus was said to have told Margaret Mary, who was having a hard time getting anyone in her convent take her seriously, that he would send her his "faithful servant and perfect friend."  A short time afterwards, Claude, on his "tertianship" assignment (the last stage of formal Jesuit training) showed up at her convent to be a spiritual director.  In him she confided her experiences in prayer, which Fr. Claude saw as authentic.  By the way, I've always thought that being the "faithful servant and perfect friend" of Jesus is a good way of expressing the goal of every Christian life.


Since then, the Sacred Heart has been a devotion at the heart of the mission and spirituality of the Society of Jesus.  But lately, it's been seen, unfortunately, as "outmoded" by the Catholic world in general.  That's too bad: It's a powerful symbol of the Love of God that needs to be recovered in a world filled with hatred and bitterness.  Here are two superb resources for meditation on the Sacred Heart.  The first is an essay from the magazine (later collected in a book on devotions called Awake My Soul) by Christopher Ruddy, a theologian.   Here's my favorite part:

"I did not grow up with any devotion to the Sacred Heart, and it is only in the last few years, as I have struggled with vocation and the demands of family life, that the practice has spoken to my own heart: the fearful heart that paralyzes me when I think of the future, rendering me unable to open myself in trust to God; the cramped heart that refuses to admit my wife and infant son, but clings to my own prerogatives, choosing to watch Peter out of the corner of my eye as I read the morning newspaper rather than get on the floor and play with him; the oblivious heart that holds forth at dinner on the recording history of The Beatles’s Abbey Road, but forgets to ask Deborah how her class went that afternoon. At times like these I wonder, have I really let into my life those I love so much? Have I gone out to them? Are they part of my flesh or merely fellow travelers?

On a particularly difficult afternoon last summer, I took Peter for a walk. We wound up at a church in our neighborhood, and, almost unable to bear the despair and self-loathing that was consuming me, I went in to pray. I lit a candle before Mary for my wife and one for myself before Joseph. Almost accidentally I stopped in front of a wood-carving of the Sacred Heart. Caught somewhere between rage and tears, I looked up at the heart and, for the first time, saw beyond the barbed-wire crown of thorns encircling it, into its gentleness. A prayer rose up in me, “Jesus, give me a bigger heart.” I looked at Peter in shame and in hope, and I went out into the day.

I remain irritable and irritating. I continue to struggle with a stoniness that shuts out so many. I know ever more clearly my deep sinfulness. But in continuing to pray to the Sacred Heart, I have also come to know God’s still deeper mercy. I am strengthened by a heart pierced but unvanquished. I am welcomed by a heart that knows only tenderness and so makes me tender. I look on that pulsing, fleshy heart: courageous and vulnerable, compact and capacious, never one without the other."

The second is from Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the former superior general, from a beautiful 1981 talk:

"In recent years the very expression ‘Sacred Heart’ has constantly aroused, from some quarters, emotional, almost allergic reactions, perhaps in part as a reaction against certain means of presentation and terminologies more suited to the tastes of an earlier time. Therefore it seemed to me to be advisable to allow a little time to pass, in the certainty that this attitude, which is emotional rather than rational, should die down somewhat.

I have always entertained the conviction that the high value of this profound spirituality would not be long in reestablishing itself in the esteem of all. For it is a spirituality which successive Roman Pontiffs have classed as ‘a supreme spirituality’. It is, moreover one which makes use of a biblical symbol, the heart, which itself is a ‘source word’ (Urwort).

For this reason, and very much in spite of myself, I have spoken and written relatively little about this theme, although I have often dealt with in more personal conversations, and in this devotion I myself possess one of the deepest sources of vitality for my interior life."

Happy Feast of the Sacred Heart.

James Martin, SJ

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9 years 7 months ago
Fr Martin:  Being a military person I tend to put things in a military perspective. in military intelligence one of the ways to try and corrupt an enemy is to take what they value and turn it so it appears to be old fashion, out of date, ''funny'' or ''weird''.  It's a way to corrupt the enemy's thought process and to start (usually) a generational war from within the ranks. When I read about an honored and valued gift such as the Sacred Heart to the Church Militant becoming ''passé'' or out of favor, I always view it as an attack from outside and a really good sign that the Church Militant is ''winning'' since it appears that evil (or just plain mediocrity) feels the need to make this seem-''strange''. I am not a Roman Catholic but grew up in an Anglo-catholic Episcopal tradition.  I was surprised to find that other Protestants don't know anything about the Sacred Heart and I try my best to explain it when asked.  When do I get asked? Well, interestingly enough usually when deployed-I have explained and promoted St. Michael the archangel and devotion to the Sacred Heart to people who usually have a Eucharistic tradition but also to Baptists and others-in some ways they are longing to hear about Jesus' interaction with saints and just everyday people.  I am probably not the best provider of information so I try and get them interested in reading about the saints themselves.  Many have never heard the church referred to as Church Militant and I explain about the simple morning pray I do even now about putting on the armor of God (it was much more physically relevant when you actually are putting on armor LOL).  But I also explained to them that right after that I would usually hear the song from Man of LaMancha about the ''famous helmet of mambrino''-in which Don Quixote thought a shaving basin was a valued saintly helmet. And which he took and wore to defend against the windmills he thought were giants.  I think that was God's way of not allowing me to get a big head about ''defending'' the rest of the day but also to see the day as ''tilting with windmills'' instead of giant problems. Thanks for the reminder about the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
9 years 7 months ago
Interesting post, especially the Pedro Arrupe quote.  I first learned about St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the Sacred Heart when watching an episode of The X-Files  :)
9 years 7 months ago
Two things came to mind when read this.                               The first is from the Prayer of St. Brigid which contemplates the wounds of Christ. The last meditation is on the piercing of the Sacred Heart with a lance, in which it notes that the contents of Jesus' heart was emptied by the centurion's action. And it struck me: that in shedding his blood for us, Christ was gave completely, not even holding back the last contents of his heart. And, when you think to the pius tradition that the blood shed from Christ's heart cured the blind eye of one of his torturer's, you begin to grasp how Jesus, with boundless mercy, gave himself to us totally.                        The second thought is about Fr. John A Houle, SJ, who spent many years in the 1950s jailed by the Communist Chinese for his missionary work.  Later in life he was striken with pulmonary fibrosis and when he was admitted to Santa Teresita hospital. His situation was grave; he was given a few days to live.  His superior, Fr Frank Parrish, arrived on the weekend and touched him with a bone of St. Claude de Colombiere.  By Monday all signs of the Fibrosis was gone. Here again, God shows his superabundant mercy - not just to a wonderful priest who was totally dedicated to the Sacred Heart, but also to the carmelite sisters who run the hospital.  For them, the miraculous cure was a great comfort and boost for their faith and communal life.
9 years 7 months ago
It would seem that in our age so plagued by the ills of atomistic individualism, refocusing away from the head and back on the heart is just what the Divine Physician ordered! For those who like me enjoy the context to how a devotion arose (for example when Dante wrote his Divine Comedy, the rosary had not become as popular a devotion as we know it now. Number the ways the poet weaves Mary's life into his edifying text and you almost wonder if Dominic had not got there first, the canny Florentine would have merchanised it as a version of his poem for the illiterate of his day) there's a great web site that collects that kind of stuff [[slash}achen_1[dot]htm_} "Human heart and Sacred Heart: reining in religious individualism. The heart figure in 17th century devotional piety and the emergence of the cult of the Sacred Heart" And those cute littel Elf-Help Guides on the parish literature rack? They got their inspiration from the devotion to the sacred heart too - popularized by a Belgian Benedict von Haeften who composed pithy limericks in his  'Schola Cordis' for fellow religious, that proved so popular it was translated all over Europe (bowlderized some what redactng explicit Roman Catholic scripture references for a "King James" equivalent but retaining the chapt/vers annotations in the Latin of the plates of the wee cartoons) see online copy here: [[slash]harvetoc[dot]htm ] I have found this most helpful in strucuturing my prayer life as an examen of my lived life.


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