I. THE most ancient special devotion of Christians is doubtless that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Son of God. The holy Sacraments and the other objects of devotion did not yet exist, when the Blessed Virgin Mary found her delight in worshiping the most Sweet Heart of her Jesus; already did Holy Joseph clasp that Heart to his bosom; even then were the Shepherds and the Magi, Simeon and Anna, the Apostles and the Disciples attracted to It and by It: they longed to show to It the affection and love of their hearts. But after Jesus had called upon all men to learn, "that He is meek and humble of Heart;" after He had drawn from the treasury of His Heart that best of all gifts, the Sacrament of the Most Blessed Eucharist; lastly, after He had willed that, upon the Cross, His Heart should be opened, and continue open, as a place of refuge for all; then was devotion to His Divine Heart wonderfully increased. The Apostles now spread it throughout the world as a special worship. Thenceforth, the Fathers of the Church themselves practiced it most tenderly, and commended it most carefully to others. The Saints of every after age became devoted disciples of the Heart of Jesus. But when came the fullness of time, at which He had decreed to pour forth all the riches of His Heart, the goodness and kindness of the Saviour were made manifest, and Himself revealed His wish that, thereafter, this devotion should be a most especial one; since He declared and promised that He would lavish the abundance of His graces upon all who should consecrate themselves to the worship of His Heart.
2. The object of this worship is the Heart Itself of Jesus. And since in Jesus Christ there are two natures, the Divine and the human, and only one person, the Divine Person; the Heart of Jesus Christ is the Heart of the Divine Person, the Heart of the Word Incarnate. And because the Divine Person is to be honored with the highest worship; the worship to be paid to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which can neither be separated nor taken away from the Divine Person, is likewise supreme. This is a Catholic truth, which has prevailed over all contrary errors.
3. The end of this devotion is threefold. The first, to make Jesus a return for that boundless love, of which His Heart is the symbol, that made Him do so much and suffer so immeasurably for our sake; and induced Him to bestow upon us that sweetest and most precious of all gifts, the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The second, that, through the fervor of our piety, we may, as far as we can, make amends for all the insults which have been, or are even now offered to His most Sacred Heart, which He exhibits to us as the throne of His affections. The third, that imitating what we worship, we may be inspired with the same affections, the same sentiments that animated His Heart during His life of toil and suffering, and still animate It in His blissful and Sacramental life.
4. From its antiquity, object, and manifold end, it is plain that this devotion is most excellent, most profitable, most solid, and most consoling. But since to imitate what we worship is the abridgment of religion, and since the other ends are contained and reduced to practice in a true Imitation; therefore, in order to insist on this Imitation, and, as far as it is allowed, to direct the same, this little volume is presented to all.
5. This work, which contains a summary of Ascetic Theology, and embraces the doctrine, as well as the practice, of the spiritual and interior life, will supply ample matter for daily meditation, throughout the whole year. In this manner the reader will be enabled to repeat it every year, to examine it more closely, and to impress it more deeply on his mind and heart. He can, if it so pleases, start from the beginning and continue to the end of the work; or he may, whilst going on from the beginning, occasionally break off this order, either when some necessity or advantage invites him to some portion specially adapted to his present feelings; or when, on the days on which he approaches holy Communion, his devotion suggests the last Book as better suited to his actual circumstances.
6. For very weighty reasons, things are not proposed here in general and in common, as is usually done in books for meditation, but everything is laid down specially and in particular, both in regard to the evil to be avoided, and the good to be practiced. First, that the reader may not be left in uncertainty or beating the air, aiming and grasping at whatever presents itself by the way, and yet gain, or secure nothing. Secondly, that having assiduously before his eyes something determinate, he may direct his strength and efforts, as well in time of prayer and meditation as during self-examination and the performance of good works, to this, that he subdue what is to be subdued, that he acquire what is to be acquired. Lastly, that by destroying separately those things which are the causes, or, as it were, the roots of other evils, he may the more easily and the more efficaciously demolish the rest; and that, by learning and acquiring separately those capital virtues of which, in the lowliness and charity of His Heart, Jesus has given us the example, he may the more readily and the more certainly obtain all other virtues.
7. What regards the manner of writing, although it is most true, that the testimony of Christ must not be announced in loftiness of speech or wisdom, since the kingdom of God consists not in speech hut in virtue; yet, it seemed proper to attend carefully to two things: first, that the style should everywhere be suited to the subject; secondly, that the diction should be sufficiently pure.
8. Finally, it must be observed, that the character of this little work is such, as to require, not that it should be read in public to others, but that every one, who desires to use it, may read it privately to himself alone. For its form, its reasoning demand that, in order to relish it, you should, in some manner converse alone with Jesus, face to face, heart to heart.