The Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Fr. John Croiset, S. J.
Originally published in1691;
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1959
TAN Books and Publishers
The reasons which should induce us to love Jesus Christ do not depend on mere sentiment; people realize them according to their state of grace or holiness. It would seem that to wish to seek for motives to induce us to love Jesus Christ is to forget what we are, or not to know who He is.
It might then appear useless to give here the motives which should induce us to practice devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus since this devotion consists in the exercise of the love which we ought to have for Jesus Christ. However, as all men are not always in the same dispositions and as grace in all men is not always the same, we deem it advisable to make some reflections on the three principal motives which influence us most, and by which all reasonable men are convinced.
These motives are taken from the three things which have most influence over our minds and hearts, namely, reason, interest and pleasure. We shall endeavor to show in this chapter and the two following ones: 1) how just and reasonable the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is; 2) how much it helps towards our eternal salvation and towards attaining perfection; and 3) what sweet spiritual consolation it brings to the soul. Truly, whether we consider the sensible object of this devotion, which is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or meditate on the principal and spiritual object, which is the immense love of Jesus Christ for me, must we not feel our hearts filled with sentiments of reverence, gratitude and love?
§ 1. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE ADORABLE HEART OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
The Heart of Jesus is holy with the holiness of God Himself; from this it follows that, as all the movements of His Heart participate in the dignity of the Person who is the cause of them, they are actions of infinite price and value since they are actions of the Man-God. It is therefore just that the Sacred Heart be honored with a special worship since in honoring It, we honor His Divine Person.
If the veneration which we have for the Saints makes us esteem their hearts so highly, if we regard these hearts as the most precious of their relics, what ought we not think of the adorable Heart of Jesus Christ? What heart has ever had such admirable dispositions, and has been so devoted to our real interests? Where could we find a heart whose movements have been so advantageous to us? It is in this Divine Heart that have been formed all the designs for our salvation, and it is by the love with which the same Heart burns that these designs have been executed.
This Sacred Heart, said a great servant of God, is the seat of all the virtues, the source of all blessings, the place of refuge for all holy souls. The principal virtues to be honored in the Sacred Heart of Jesus are: in the first place, His most ardent love for God the Father, joined with the most pro- found respect and the greatest humility that human heart ever possessed; in the second place, Its infinite patience in adversity, extreme sorrow for the sins with which It was laden, the confidence of a most tender son, joined with the confusion of a very great sinner; in the third place, Its most tender compassion for our miseries and immense love for us in spite of these same miseries. Finally, although all these movements of the Sacred Heart were each in the highest degree possible, It preserves unalterable tranquillity because It is in such perfect conformity with the will of God that I cannot be troubled by any event, however contrary it might appear to Its zeal, Its humility, Its love and all Its other dispositions.
This adorable Heart has still, as far as it is possible, these same sentiments, and especially, It is always burning with love for men, always open to pour out on them all kinds of graces and blessings; always touched by our evils, always urged by the desire to make us share in Its treasures and to give Itself to us; always disposed to receive us and to serve as a place of refuge, as a dwelling place and paradise for us during this life. For all that, It finds nothing in the hearts of men but unkindness, neglect, contempt and ingratitude. Are not these motives capable of inducing Christians to honor the Sacred Heart, and to make reparation for such contempt and for so many outrages by giving manifest proofs of their love?
§ 2. THE AMIABLE QUALITIES WHICH ARE FOUND IN THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST
If we apply ourselves to the study of the sacred character of Our Lord Jesus Christ we shall find in it all that is amiable in creatures, both those endowed with reason and those without reason. Men are attracted to love by various motives, according to their dispositions: some are affected by beauty, others by great meekness; for others, uprightness that is merciful, nobility of character that is modest are charms which they cannot resist. We see people who allow themselves to be attracted by the virtues which are wanting in themselves, because these virtues appear to them more admirable than those which they themselves possess. Others are more captivated by qualities which have more relation to their own inclinations; beautiful qualities, real virtues conquer the love of everyone. But, says a great servant of God, if there is a person in whom all these qualities are united, who could refuse him his love? Now everyone is agreed that all these qualities are found united in an eminent degree in the adorable Person of Jesus Christ, and yet, Jesus Christ is loved only by a very small number of people.
The most dazzling beauty, says the Prophet, is only a dried-up flower compared with the beauty of this divine Savior. "It seems to me," said St. Teresa, "that the rays which the sun casts on the earth are only pale shadows since I have seen in an ecstasy some rays of the beauty of Jesus Christ." The most perfect creatures of this world are those which have the least defects; the most beautiful qualities in men are accompanied by so many imperfections that, while on the one hand the former attract us, on the other, the latter repel us. Jesus Christ alone is perfect to a sovereign degree; everything in Him is equally amiable, we find nothing in Him but what ought to attract all hearts to Him. In Him we find united all the advantages of nature, all the riches of grace and glory, all the perfections of the Divinity. We discover nothing in Him but abysses and, as it were, immense spaces and an infinite extent of grandeur. In fine, this God Incarnate who loves us so tenderly and whom men love so little, is the object of the love, the homage, the adoration and praise of the whole heavenly court.
It is He who has sovereign authority to judge men and angels. The destiny and the eternal happiness of all creatures are in His hands. His domain extends over all nature. All spirits tremble in His presence; they are obliged to adore Him either by voluntary submission: of love or by sufferings which are the effects of justice. He reigns absolutely in the order of grace and in the state of glory, and the whole world visible and invisible is under His feet. Is there not here, O insensible men, an object worthy of your homage? And does not this Man-God with all His titles and the glory which He possesses, who loves us to such extremes as He does, merit your love?
But what appears still more amiable in our adorable Savior is that He combines all these splendid qualities, this sublime excellence, with the most excessive meekness and tenderness for us. His meekness is so amiable that it has charmed even His mortal enemies. "He shall be led," said the Prophet, ''as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth." [Is. 53:7]. He compares Himself at one time to a father who cannot contain his joy at the return of his prodigal son, at another time, to a shepherd who having found one sheep that has gone astray, puts it on his shoulders and calls his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him because he had found his sheep. [Lk. 15:9]. "Has no man condemned thee?" He says to the woman taken in adultery. "Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more." [Jn. 8:11]. He displays no less meekness towards us every day. It is strange what restraint one must keep over oneself in company so as to avoid shocking a friend. Men are so sensitive that a mere display of bad humor is enough to make them forget many years of kindness, and a single word said at the wrong time sometimes breaks the greatest friendship.
It is not so with Jesus Christ. It appears incredible, but it is nevertheless true, that we get better terms from Him than from our most grateful friends. We must not even imagine that He is capable of breaking with us because of a slight act of ingratitude. He sees all our infidelities. He knows all our weakness and He endures, with incredible goodness, all the failings of those whom He loves. He forgets them; He pretends not to see them. His compassion goes so far as even to console people who are excessively afflicted by these infidelities. He does not wish that the fear we have of displeasing Him should go so far as to trouble us. He desires us to avoid the slightest faults, but He does not wish us to worry too much even about the great ones. He decrees that joy, liberty and peace of heart shall be the eternal inheritance of all those who love Him truly.
The least of all these qualities in one of the great ones of this world would be enough to gain the hearts of all His subjects. The mere narration of some of these virtues about a prince whom we have never seen and whom we shall never see, makes an impression on our hearts and makes him loved even by strangers. Jesus Christ is the only one in whom all these fine qualities, all these virtues and all the grandeur, excellence and amiability imaginable, are found united; and must it be that so many reasons for loving cannot make us truly love Him? In the world, a mere nothing is often sufficient to gain our hearts. We give our hearts, we lavish them on so many occasions for a mere trifle; Thou alone, O Lord, can have no share in them!
Can we make even a little reflection on these things and not love Jesus Christ ardently, and not have at least keen regret that He is so little loved? In truth, we owe Him our hearts on several titles; and can we refuse them to Him, if we add to all these titles the immense benefits which he has gratuitously conferred upon us, and the extreme tenderness with which He has loved us and still loves us, never ceasing to give us striking proofs of His immense love for us?
§ 3. THE VISIBLE PROOFS OF THE IMMENSE LOVE WHICH JESUS CHRIST HAS FOR US
Men are usually more affected by benefits received than by any other mark of love, either because nothing else proves so well that the love is genuine, or because nothing is so pleasing to our self-seeking human nature as a love which is useful. It is by this way that Jesus Christ has tried to engage us to love Him. He has anticipated our wishes. He has conferred upon us countless benefits, the least of which surpasses all that we could merit, all that we could expect, all that we could reasonably desire. Everyone receives these favors continuously, everyone is agreed about the excess of His love of which these benefits are striking proofs; and yet how few are those who are gained by these benefits? How few respond to His love?
From constantly hearing mention of the Creation, the Incarnation and the Redemption, we become familiar with these words and with what they signify, and yet we remain unmoved; but even the most unreasonable of men would go into ecstasies of love for another man, if he learned that he had received from him the hundredth part of the least of these favors.
As our soul depends much on our senses in its operations, we are naturally little touched by the remembrance of a Being that is purely spiritual. Hence it is that before the Incarnation of the Word, however great the prodigies God performed in favor of His people, He was always more feared than loved by them; but finally God made Himself perceptible, so to speak, by becoming man, and this Man-God has done things that go beyond anything that we can imagine to induce men to love Him. Even if He had not willed to redeem us, He would not have been either less holy, or less powerful, or less happy; nevertheless, He has taken our salvation so much to heart, that on seeing what He has done and the manner in which He has accomplished it, one would say that all His happiness depended on ours; whereas He might have redeemed us at little cost, He has willed to merit the grace of our redemption by His death, even by the most shameful and cruel death on the Cross; and whereas He might have applied His merits to us in a thousand other ways, He has chosen that way which involves such prodigious abasement that it has amazed both Heaven and earth; and all this is done to touch hearts that are naturally sensitive to the least benefit and to the least mark of friendship. Birth in poverty, an obscure life full of labors, a Passion full of opprobrium, an infamous and sorrowful death are marvels that go beyond our comprehension, and these are all the effects of the love which Jesus has for us.
Have we ever formed an adequate concept of the greatness of the benefit of our redemption? And if we have formed a concept of it, is it possible for us to be only a little moved by the remembrance of this benefit? The sin of the first man brought great evils upon us, and deprived us of great advantages; but can we see Jesus Christ in the crib, can we look upon Him on the Cross, or in the Blessed Eucharist, without confessing that our losses have been repaired with advantage, and that the blessings of the man redeemed by the adorable Blood of Jesus Christ surpass the privileges of the man in the state of innocence?
The quality of universal Redeemer is a motive no less powerful to make us love Him. "All men," says the Apostle, "died by the sin of Adam, and Jesus Christ died for all men." [Rom. 5:12-18]. No one has been able to defend himself from the contagion of so great an evil and everyone has felt the effect of such a powerful remedy. This amiable Savior gave all His Blood both for the infidel who knows Him not, for the heretic who refuses to believe in Him, and for this member of the faithful who, while believing in Him, still refuses to love Him.
And if we reflect on the infinite value of His Blood! How great a Savior! and what abundant Redemption! Jesus Christ was not content with paying the debts which we had contracted, He anticipated all the debts that we might contract in the future; He has, so to speak, paid them in advance be- fore they have been incurred. Add to this, those powerful helps, those great graces, those signal favors which He lavishes on faithful souls and by which He charms and sweetens all that is hard and rough in our exile.
My God! if Thou wouldst confer on us the grace to understand this excess of mercy, could it be that we would not be moved by it and that we would not love Jesus Christ with our whole heart? How worthy of love is not this Divine Savior for having willed to redeem us in such a difficult manner! But is He not still more amiable for having desired to deliver us in this manner without being forced to do so, but being moved to it only by His immense love and by His desire to induce us to love Him by such striking proofs of His ardent love? The Eternal Father, says Salvien, knows us too well to have set such a high price on us, so that it is Jesus Christ Himself who has fixed our price, and with His full consent, has offered this excessive ransom. And after all this shall we not love Jesus?
But remark! inexpressibly great as are all these things which Our Lord has done for our salvation, the love which induces Him to do these things is still greater than the things themselves, because it is infinite; and as if this love of Jesus would not be satisfied so long as there remained a prodigy which He had not done, He instituted the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, which is the abridgment of all marvels, for in it He remains with us really and truly until the end of the ages; He gives Himself to us in the Blessed Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine; He makes His Flesh and Blood the nourishment of our souls in order to unite Himself more closely to us, or rather to unite us more closely to Him.
Christians, can one be a rational being and remain unmoved by the mere narration of this prodigy? Can a person retain any sentiments of humanity and not be all on fire with love for Jesus Christ at the sight of this benefit? God making a mere man the object of His tender love and complacence, and eager to confer benefits upon him! God desiring to unite Himself to man in a manner that involves emptying Himself and immolating Himself daily, and condescending to make Himself man's daily food; and all this in spite of the indifference, the aversion, and contempt of those who never receive Him; and the coldness and even the crimes of those who receive Him often! God consenting to remain shut up in the ciborium day and night, century after century! Christians, are not these marvels convincing proofs of the love which Jesus Christ has for us? Are they not motives capable of making us love Him? Ungrateful men, for whom alone these marvels are performed, what do you think of them? Does not Jesus Christ on our altars deserve to be honored by you? and does He not still show sufficient love to merit to be loved by you? "If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema." [1 Cor. 16:22].
"In truth," says a great servant of God, "if anything could shake my faith in the Mystery of the Eucharist, it would not be the infinite power which God shows in changing bread and wine into His Body and Blood that I would doubt; it would be rather the extreme love of which He gives proof in this Mystery. How can what was bread become Flesh, without ceasing to appear bread? How can the Body of Jesus Christ be present in several places at the same time? How can He be enclosed in a space that is almost indivisible? To all that I have only to reply, that God is omnipotent; but if I am asked how can it be that God loves a creature so feeble and so miserable as man and loves him with such eagerness, with such ecstasy, loves him to the degree that He has loved him?
I confess that I have no reply to make; that it is a truth that passes my comprehension, that the love which Jesus bears us is an excessive love, an ineffable love, an incomprehensible love, a love which ought to amaze and astonish any reasonable man."
I do not know whether these reflections will be capable of touching the faithful today, but I do know that in the past they have deeply touched peoples, even the most inhuman and the most barbarous; and that these peoples were heard to cry out at the bare mention of these marvels: "Oh! how good the God of the Christians is! how liberal He is! how amiable! Oh! who could prevent himself from loving a God who loves us so passionately!" As a result of these reflections, in order to make some return to our Savior who has loved so tenderly, and to show Him some gratitude, the cloisters were filled with religious, and the deserts peopled with a prodigious number of holy anchorites wholly devoted and consecrated to the praise and the love of Jesus Christ.
However fitting this way of showing gratitude is, Christians of today are not asked to do so much; they are only asked not to forget altogether Jesus Christ, who has performed the greatest of His miracles with the sole object of satisfying His extreme desire to be always with them. They are only asked to be a little less insensible to the outrages which the excessive love of Jesus Christ brings upon Him; in fine, they are exhorted to be at least as grateful to Jesus Christ who loves them so constantly and who has performed marvels in their interest that surpass their comprehension, as people of the world are to their friends ---- who, for the most part, are ready to sacrifice them if their own interest demands it.
Now does not a devotion seem reasonable which tends to inspire gratitude to Jesus Christ, and which in itself, properly speaking, is but a continual exercise of perfectly grateful love? And is it not just that we seek means to show our tender love for Jesus Christ, especially at a time when He is so little loved? He is little loved in the world where people are so little sensitive to His benefits, where they follow His counsels so little, where they decry His maxims so strongly; He is little loved at a time when people have nothing but indifference for His Person, when all the gratitude and respect which people show Him are reduced to a few prayers and a few ceremonies, which by custom have degenerated into pure routine; and finally at a time when His Divine Presence causes ennui and His precious Body and Blood cause aversion.
§ 4. THE EXTREME INGRATITUDE OF MAN TOWARDS JESUS CHRIST
Incredible as may appear the love which the Son of God shows us in the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist, there is something which is still more astonishing: it is the ingratitude which men show in return for this love. It is astonishing that Jesus Christ should be willing to love men, but it is strange that men should not be willing to love Jesus Christ, and that no motive, no benefit, no excess of love can inspire them with the least sentiment of gratitude. We might, perhaps, be able to give some reasons why Jesus Christ should love men: they are His work, He loves in them His own gifts; He loves Himself in loving them; but can we have any reason for not loving Jesus Christ, for only loving Him coldly, for sharing with anyone else our love for Him? Speak, ungrateful men, unfeeling men, is there anything in Him which repels you? Perhaps He has not yet done enough to merit your love? What do you think of it? Would we have dared to desire, could we have even imagined all that He has con- descended to do to gain our hearts in this adorable Mystery of the Blessed Eucharist? Nevertheless, all this has not been able to induce men to love Jesus Christ ardently!
What advantage did this prodigious abasement bring to Jesus Christ? It might be said that, in some degree, all the other mysteries which are all effects of His love have been accompanied with circumstances so glorious and with prodigies so striking that it is easy to see that, while taking care of our interests, He did not altogether neglect His own glory. But in this amiable Sacrament, Jesus Christ seems to have forgotten all advantage for Himself, and to have made it completely and entirely the Sacrament of His love. After this, who would not say that such a prodigious excess of love would at least excite an eagerness, a desire, an excessive love in the hearts of all men? Alas! it is quite the contrary, and it seems that people would love Jesus Christ more, if He had loved men less. I shudder with horror, O my God, at the mere thought of the indignities and the outrages which impious and wicked Christians and furious heretics have committed against Thee in this august Sacrament. By what horrible sacrileges have they not profaned both our altars and our churches? And with what opprobrium, with what impiety, with what infamy, have they not hundreds of times treated the adorable Body of Jesus Christ? Can a Christian think on these acts of impiety without conceiving an ardent desire to make reparation for such cruel outrages by all means possible? But can a Christian live without even thinking of it?
If Jesus Christ, who has received such indignities from heretics, were at least assiduously honored and ardently loved by the faithful, people could console themselves that their love and sincere homage would in some manner atone for these outrages. But alas! where do we find these numerous adorers eager and assiduous in paying court to Jesus Christ in our churches? Rather do we not find our churches deserted and empty, without faithful adorers? Really, could people show more coldness and more indifference to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament than they do? Is not the small number of people found in our churches during the greatest part of the day a visible proof of the neglect and the want of love of almost all Christians? Those who approach the altar oftenest become accustomed to our most awe-inspiring Mysteries; and it may be said that priests are found who become so familiar with Jesus Christ as to treat Him with indifference and contempt! How many of them do we find who, although they daily offer up this adorable Victim inflamed with love for them, love Jesus Christ the more for it? How many of them are there who celebrate these adorable mysteries with the reverence that is a fitting expression of their faith in them?
Can we think that Jesus Christ is insensible to such treatment and can we ourselves think on this disrespectful treatment and remain insensible, and not seek every possible means to make reparation? How could anyone who reflects but a little on these truths not devote himself completely to the love of this God-Man who ought by so many titles to possess the hearts of all men?
Those who do not love Him must either not know Him or be worse than this unhappy demon spoken of in the life of St. Catherine of Genoa, who did not at all complain of the flames which burned him, nor of the other pains which he suffered, but only that he was without love, that is to say, without that love which so many souls ignore or reject, to their eternal woe.
Do we remember that the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has still, as far as it is possible, the same sentiments as It always has had: that It is always burning with love for us, always sensibly touched by the evils that befall us, always urged by the desire to make us share in His treasures, and to give Himself to us; always ready to receive us and to serve as a dwelling place and as an earthly paradise for us in this life, and especially as a place of refuge at the hour of our death? And for all this, what sentiments of gratitude are found in our hearts, what eagerness to serve Him, what love? He loves; and He is not loved; people do not even know of His love because they are not willing to receive the gifts by which He deigns to show it, or to listen to the tender and secret declarations which He wishes to make to our hearts of this love.
Is not this a pressing motive to touch the hearts of all those who have even the least sentiments of reasonableness or the smallest particle of love for Jesus Christ? Our amiable Savior, when instituting this Sacrament of love, foresaw clearly all the ingratitude of men, and He felt in advance all its bitterness in His Sacred Heart; all that, however, has not been able to repel Him or prevent Him from showing us the excess of His love by instituting this Mystery.
It is not just that amidst such incredulity and coldness, amidst so many profanations and outrages, this God of love should find at least some friends of His Sacred Heart who would grieve for the want of love that people show Him, who would feel the insults that are offered to Him, who would be faithful and assiduous in paying Him court and who would leave nothing undone to repair by their love, by their adoration and by every kind of homage, all the outrages to which the excess of His love exposes Him at every hour in this august Sacrament?
This is the end proposed in this devotion which consists in honoring the Sacred Heart, which should be infinitely dearer to us than our own heart; the reparation of honor, the offerings, the regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament, the prayers, the Holy Communions, and all the other practices will help to make us more and more grateful and more faithful by making us love Jesus Christ more ardently. What other devotion can we find more just and reasonable or more useful for helping us to attain salvation and acquire perfection?