The Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Fr. John Croiset, S. J.
Originally published in1691;
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1959
TAN Books and Publishers
Means of Acquiring this Devotion
- Sixth Means -
§ 1. SPECIAL DEVOTION TO ST. ALOYSIUS GONZAGA
The sixth means, which we propose and which God has already indicated by favors granted, as very suitable to obtain a tender love for Our Lord Jesus Christ, is devotion to St. Aloysius Gonzaga. This Saint, who was of noble family, was remarkable for the innocence and sublime perfection of his life.
It is certain that in Heaven, the Saints exert their influence on behalf of those who love and honor them on earth, and that most usually the grace which they obtain for them is the virtue in which they themselves excelled and which in a manner constituted their character. The following words that were written by St. Aloysius with his own hand, bear out this statement: "As men on earth are naturally inclined to render service to those who have the same tastes as themselves, in the same way, the Saints in Heaven employ with pleasure their influence with God in favor of those who have a particular attraction for this same virtue, and who work efficaciously to acquire it."
Now, since the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the exercise of the interior life and of constant union with God was the distinctive mark of the character of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, we may be sure that he will interest himself in a particular manner in favor of those who have this devotion at heart. Several persons have already been fortunate in experiencing the powerful effects of his intercession in this respect. It might be said that one could not be truly devoted to him without feeling a tender love for Jesus Christ. Devotion to him invariably inspires a high esteem and love for the interior life. There are few Saints that could be more universally proposed to all classes of people as a model for arriving easily at high and solid virtue in the exercise of the common life.
If we were to judge by his exterior actions, we should find nothing very extraordinary in his life, for he died very young, he never occupied any high position, he was never distinguished for any remarkable achievements, but rather always took extreme care to remain hidden. Nevertheless, the sublime degree of glory to which he has been elevated must have been the recompense of great merit, and this great merit must have been the fruit of his extreme purity of heart, of his practice of the interior life and of the continual presence of God, of his ardent, tender love for Jesus Christ, and finally of his consummate perfection which he acquired in a few years by the great love and tender devotion which he always had for the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It was not without a special providence of God that this faithful servant of Jesus Christ died as he had predicted and desired on the day that was destined for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to which he had always such great devotion.
It was in this adorable Heart that he must have received from his earliest years the gift of sublime contemplation and of continual tears, tears so abundant especially after the Consecration at Mass, that his garments were moistened with them. From that same source came the great tranquillity of heart which he preserved unaltered amidst all the events and occupations of his life; finally, it was from the Sacred Heart [as the historian of his life tells us] that the Holy Spirit filled his soul with such ardent love and such sweet consolations, that his face seemed all on fire, and his heart to be trying to leave its place, so violently did it beat. It was in the Sacred Heart that he united himself so intimately with God that, when he was obliged for some reason to turn his attention away, his heart experienced a pain similar to that which a person feels when one of his members is dislocated, as he himself testified when he said: "I am forbidden to concentrate my attention on God, lest this application of my attention cause me headache, but the effort which I make not to think of God causes me more effort than the application itself, for I have made it a habit; thus it is no longer a labor for me but sweet repose. I will however obey as best I can."
But to form some idea of the sublime glory which he enjoys in Heaven, and which may be said to be the fruit of his interior life and of the ardent and tender love which he always had for the adorable Heart of Jesus Christ, one has only to read the testimony given of it by St. Magdalen de Pazzi. The author of her life gives the following account of it: "On April 14, 1600, St. Magdalen de Pazzi, being in one of these ecstasies which were customary to her, saw in paradise the glory of St. Aloysius Gonzaga; and being amazed at what appeared to her most extraordinary, she began to speak slowly, allowing an interval to elapse between her words:
" 'Oh! How great is the glory of Aloysius, son of Ignatius! I could never have believed it if Our Lord had not shown it to me. It seems to me that there can be no glory in Heaven equal to that of Aloysius. I repeat it! Aloysius is a great Saint. We have Saints in our Church [those whose relics were in the monastery church] who have not received such glory as their reward. I wish I were able to go all through the world and proclaim that Aloysius, son of Ignatius, is a great Saint; I would wish to be able to tell about the glory which he enjoys, in order that God might be glorified by it. He has been elevated to this high degree of glory because he lived an interior life. Who could explain the value and advantages of the interior life? It is incomparably superior to the exterior life. While Aloysius was on earth, his eyes were always turned towards the Divine Word. Aloysius was a hidden martyr, because whoever knows Thee, my God, knows Thee to be so great and so amiable to behold that he cannot love Thee as much as he desires, and knows that so far from Thy being loved by creatures, they even offend Thee. He was a martyr because he endured voluntary suffering. Oh! How great was Aloysius' love for God on earth! That is why he enjoys God in Heaven in a great plenitude of love. When he was on earth, he was constantly discharging arrows of love into the Heart of the Word; now that he is in Heaven, these arrows return to his own heart and remain there, because the acts of love and charity which he elicited then are now a cause of extreme joy.' "
It is easy to recognize in this portrait a true and perfect lover of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. Those who wish to acquire true devotion to this Divine Heart and to obtain a tender love of Jesus Christ, the gift of an interior life and of the continual presence of God, should practice devotion to that great Saint. He will soon make them feel the sweet effects of his intercession with Jesus and Mary, whom he loved so ardently and tenderly and by whom he was so tenderly loved.
For this reason, the religious of the Monastery of Anges, at Florence, besides practicing devotion to St. Aloysius every day, celebrate his feast most solemnly each year to obtain, through his intercession, interior recollection, continual union with God, ardent and tender love for Jesus Christ, and perfect devotion to His Sacred Heart.
The following two miracles confirm what Father Croiset has said about devotion to St. Aloysius; the first occurred on February 3, 1765, a few days after Pope Clement XIII had confirmed the decree of the Congregation of Rites authorizing the public worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
A Jesuit novice named Nicholas Celestini was dying, his life having been despaired of by his physicians; when a picture of St. Aloysius Gonzaga was placed before him, St. Aloysius appeared to him and said: "The Lord grants you your life in order that you may apply yourself to the pursuit of perfect virtue, and that during your life, you endeavor to propagate devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is most pleasing in Heaven." This miracle was declared to be authentic by the ecclesiatical authorities, and contributed greatly to the spread of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.
The second miracle occurred at Rome. An orphan of about twelve years of age, living in a house that had been founded by St. Ignatius, was suffering from epilepsy and was subject to such violent fits that he had to be held during them. This child had a great devotion to St. Aloysius, and was accustomed to say a Pater, Ave and Gloria every day in his honor. One day, during one of his violent fits, St. Aloysius appeared to him holding an image of Our Lady in his hand. The boy recognized him, called him by name and bowed his head in sign of respect. St. Aloysius said to him: "You will be cured, but on condition that you recite daily a Pater, Ave and Gloria in honor of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and that you urge others to do the same." The child promised to do so and was immediately cured.
All that Father Croiset has said about devotion to St. Aloysius Gonzaga constituting a means of acquiring the perfect love of God and true devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, applies with greater force to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and to Blessed Claude de la Colombiere.
St. Margaret Mary was chosen by Our Lord Himself to be the apostle of the devotion to His Sacred Heart. She lived consumed with an intense desire to see the Sacred Heart of Jesus known, loved and honored on earth. When she realized that her mission was accomplished, that the revelations of the love of the Sacred Heart were being published to the whole world by the priest whom Our Savior had given to her as a helper, she desired equally to die in order that her presence on earth might not be a hindrance to the spread of the devotion.
While she lived, she had a vision of Blessed Claude in Heaven; in that vision she saw that he had acquired more glory in Heaven by his work in spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus than by all the rest that he had done, and that he had been given charge of the propagation of the devotion on earth.
Who can doubt that St. Margaret Mary, the beloved disciple of the Sacred Heart, now that she is in Heaven, is using all her influence for the spread of this devotion, and that these two chosen apostles will eagerly come to the assistance of all those who pray to them to obtain an ardent love for Jesus Christ and true devotion to His Sacred Heart?
The seventh and last means of acquiring and preserving this ardent love of Jesus Christ is so useful and necessary that, without it, it may be said that the other means proposed will be found weak and insufficient. However sincere our resolution to love Jesus Christ ardently may be, we have need to renew from time to time the considerations which caused us to adopt it. We can recommend no better means of renewing these salutary considerations, and with them the fervor which is their ordinary effect, than to make a day's retreat each month.
We do not intend here to go over all the advantages to be derived from this practice, which conduces to a fervent Christian life by inspiring us with a great horror for sin and an ardent love for Jesus Christ. Many books have been published which give all necessary information about the necessity of such a retreat, the advantages which can be derived from it, and an easy way to make it. This pious practice cannot be too much recommended to ail classes of people, as a means both to preserve themselves in innocence, and to make fresh progress in virtue.
That Jesus Christ is infinitely worthy of our love seems to us to be self-evident; we are ashamed and angry with ourselves for not loving Him. How is it, then, that we love Him so little? Is it because we refuse to acknowledge the infinite obligations we are under of loving Him? It does not appear so: the reason is rather that we forget His benefits. The tumult of the world, the cares connected with our material wants, the dissipation by which our souls are wholly engrossed in exterior things, prevent us from thinking often on the great mysteries which would inspire us with sentiments of gratitude; we should, from time to time, after the example of our Divine Savior, retire at least for some hours into solitude in order to rekindle this haIf-extinct love of Jesus Christ by serious meditation. This is the end which we propose, and the fruit which we expect to reap from this monthly retreat.
We can find solitude in our own house. We can even make this monthly retreat without interrupting our business, or dispensing ourselves from any of the duties of our state. It is sufficient that we withdraw for the day from unnecessary visits, in order to examine ourselves and see whether there is any point in which we have relaxed the practice of virtue; whether we acquit ourselves punctually of the duties of our state; whether we have gained greater love and gratitude for Jesus Christ; whether we have made some progress in virtue; what fruit we have drawn from the reception of the Sacraments.
No more efficacious means could be proposed to make constant progress in virtue. Only one day each month is asked for; the most convenient day can be chosen. Indeed, we must confess that we have little love for Jesus Christ, if we refuse to consecrate one whole day each month to Him.