The Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Fr. John Croiset, S. J.
Originally published in1691;
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1959
TAN Books and Publishers
All the dispositions necessary for this devotion may be reduced to four: a great horror of sin, a lively faith, a great desire to love Jesus Christ, and, for those who wish to taste the real sweetness of this devotion and draw all the fruit from it, interior recollection.
As the end of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is none other than a very ardent and tender love for Jesus Christ, it is evident that to have this devotion one must be in the state of grace, and have an extreme horror of every kind of sin incompatible with this love. The Sacred Heart being the source of all purity, nothing sullied can even enter It, but only what is extremely pure and capable of pleasing It. Whatever we may say or do for His love or for His glory, if we do not live in the state of grace, is devoid of supernatural merit. The Heart of Jesus gives entrance only to souls extremely pure. His Sacred Heart cannot endure sin; the smallest fault, the least stain, causes It a kind of horror.
But on the contrary, great innocence and purity give assured access to the Sacred Heart. Jesus loved St. John in a particular way and why? Because his singular chastity had made him worthy to be loved with a singular love. He was loved in a special way, says St. Cyril, because he had extreme purity of heart. To aspire to true devotion to the Sacred Heart is the same as to aspire to the quality of being the beloved of the adorable Savior; for the practice of this devotion properly speaking consists chiefly in a more tender and intimate love than that which the generality of the faithful have for Him. As soon as a soul begins to be little concerned about avoiding deliberate venial sins, intending to preserve itself only from mortal sin, besides the fact that it is in great danger of soon losing its innocence and the grace of God, it may not expect to taste the ineffable sweetness with which God usually fills those who love Him truly and without reserve.
It is then evident that whoever undertakes to practice true devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, should at the same time resolve to do all in his power to acquire a purity of heart much above that of Christians of ordinary virtue.
Indeed, the practices of this devotion are efficacious means to acquire this extreme purity.
The second disposition required is a lively faith. Languid faith will never produce great love. Jesus Christ is little loved, although everybody is agreed that He is infinitely amiable; this is so because people do not believe as they should in the great marvels by which He testifies the greatness of His love. What will people not do to welcome a man who is thought to be powerful at court? What assiduous attention, what ceremony, what respect will be shown to a man who is believed to be a king, even though he may be disguised under the rags of the poorest of men? What would not people do in the presence of Jesus Christ on our altars, what assiduous attention, what respect, but above all, what love would they not show in the presence of so amiable a Redeemer, in the presence of our King, of our Judge, disguised under the lowly species of bread, if they sincerely believed with firm conviction and lively faith that He is there present? The bones of the Saints inspire great respect; the mere reading about their virtues gives rise to a certain veneration and love for their person, because people do not doubt what they have heard or read; and yet the living Body and Blood of Jesus Christ whole and entire, present on our altars, and even the sight of marvels which He performs to show His extreme love, inspire people with hardly any respect, and much less love! People never find the time long enough in the presence of those whom they love; how does it come that a quarter of an hour before the Blessed Sacrament wearies them so much? A play at a theater, a profane representation, always finishes too soon even if it has lasted three hours; a Mass, in which Jesus Christ is really and truly offered in sacrifice for our sins, appears to some people insupportably long if it lasts half an hour, although they know well that the play is a fable, that the actors are not at all what they represent, that the whole action is completely useless to them, while on the contrary they profess to believe that the Sacrifice of the Mass contains the same Victim as that of Calvary, that there is nothing that can be more useful to them than this most august and most holy act of our Religion.
Jesus Christ remains among us much in the same manner as He lived at Nazareth among His kinsmen; they did not recognize Him as a prophet, they showed Him no honor, and He worked no miracles among them; as in the case of the people of Nazareth, our want of faith in Him and our bad dispositions towards Him, prevent us from experiencing the wonderful effects which He operates in the souls of those whom He finds well disposed. Why is it that people deplore the wickedness of the Jews, that they feel themselves so indignant against them for having treated our Savior with such disrespect that they were not willing to recognize Him? It is doubtless because they believe in the truth of His Divinity; and whence comes it, however, that they are so little touched by the neglect with which they themselves treat Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament where so few people visit Him; and by the outrages which He suffers in it at the hands of those very people who make profession of recognizing Him? It is assuredly because the faith of Christians on this point is very languid. Lively faith is therefore a necessary condition to acquire this ardent love for Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, to feel oneself touched by the outrages to which the excess of His love exposes Him, and in fine to have a real devotion to His Sacred Heart. For this it is necessary to lead a pure and innocent life. We should animate our faith by our assiduous attention and especially by our profound respect before the Blessed Sacrament, and by every kind of good works; we should pray much; we should often ask God for this lively faith; we should, in fine, behave like people who believe, and we shall soon feel ourselves animated with this lively faith.
The third disposition is a great desire to love Jesus Christ ardently. It is true that one cannot have a lively faith and live in innocence without at the same time being inflamed by very ardent love for Jesus Christ, or at least having an ardent desire to love Him. Now it is evident that the desire of loving Jesus Christ ardently is an absolutely necessary disposition to have this devotion, which is itself a continual exercise of this ardent love. Jesus Christ never gives His love except to those who earnestly desire it. The capacity of our heart is measured by the greatness of its desires; all the Saints agree that the most proper disposition to love Jesus Christ tenderly is to have an ardent desire to love Him. "Blessed,' says the Son of God, "are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill." [Matt. 5:6]. It is necessary that the heart be purified by this ardent desire in order to be inflamed by the pure flames of divine love. This ardent desire not only disposes our hearts to be inflamed with the love of Jesus Christ; it induces the amiable Savior to enkindle in our hearts this sacred fire. Let us truly desire to love Him, for it may be said that this desire is always efficacious, and it is unheard of that Jesus Christ has ever refused His love to those who desire it.
Could anything more reasonable be insisted on? Could anything easier be asked for, since there is no Christian who does not at least claim to desire to love Jesus Christ? If, then, it is true that this desire is so proper a disposition for acquiring an ardent love for Jesus Christ, what is the reason that so few people love Him ardently, although all flatter themselves that they have this disposition, and although Jesus Christ is ready to give His love to those who are well disposed? It is because our hearts are altogether filled with self-love. What we call desire to love Jesus Christ is in truth only a mere speculative inclination, only a sterile knowledge of the obligation that we are under to love Him. It is an act of the understanding and not of the will. This knowledge is common to all those who are not ignorant of the benefits for which they are indebted to Him, and passes today for a real desire with all those who think themselves in good conscience, provided that they have some specious pretext for deceiving themselves.
To convince ourselves that we have not a real desire to love Jesus Christ, we have only to compare this pretended desire with all the other desires that we really have. What care, what eagerness people show when they have a passionate desire for something? They are altogether occupied with this desire, they think of it, they constantly speak of it, they are always busy taking measures to accomplish it, they even lose their sleep over it. What similar effect has our pretended desire to love Jesus Christ produced in us? Has the fear of not having this love given us much pain? Does the thought of this love occupy us much? We scarcely love Jesus Christ at all; and we deceive ourselves when we flatter ourselves that we eagerly desire His love.
The true desire of loving Jesus Christ comes too near true love not to have similar effects; self-love vainly uses all its artifices to convince people of the contrary, but it will never be true that we desire to love Jesus Christ ardently, as long as we love Him so little.
There is a great danger that these kinds of sterile desires to love Jesus Christ which we sometimes feel, may be only some little sparks of a fire that is nearly extinct, or real marks of the lukewarmness in which we live. But if we have not this ardent love for Jesus Christ, let us at least once in our life make some serious reflections on the obligations which we have of loving Him, and it is certain that they will give rise to at least a true desire to be inflamed with this ardent love.
The fourth disposition which we must have for this devotion, especially if we wish to taste all its sweetness and derive from it all its advantages, is interior recollection. God does not make His presence felt where there is turmoil, "non in commotione Dominus," a heart completely unguarded, and a soul in continual exterior distraction and occupied with a thousand superfluous cares and useless thoughts, is hardly in a state to listen to the voice of Him who communicates Himself only to a soul, and who speaks only to a heart, in solitude. "I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart." [Osee 2:14].
Perfect devotion to the Sacred Heart is a continuous exercise of love for Jesus Christ; it cannot, therefore, exist without recollection. Jesus Christ communicates Himself in a more particular way to the soul by means of this devotion; the soul must, therefore, be in peace; it must be disengaged from the distractions and the tumult of exterior things, and be in a state to listen to the voice of our amiable Savior if it wishes to taste the singular graces which He confers on a heart that is free from all that can trouble it and is occupied with God alone.
This interior recollection is the foundation of the whole spiritual edifice of souls, so that without it progress towards perfection is impossible. It may be said that all the graces which a soul not established on this foundation receives from God are like characters formed on water or figures printed on sand. The reason for this is that in order to advance towards perfection, one must necessarily unite oneself more and more to God; now without interior recollection, one cannot unite oneself to God, who will make His sojourn only in peace of spirit, and in the retirement of a soul not dissipated by different objects nor troubled and distracted by exterior occupations. St. Gregory remarks that when Jesus Christ wishes to inflame a soul with His divine love, one of the first graces He gives it is a great attraction for interior recollection.
It may be said that the commonest source of our imperfections is the want of recollection and of vigilance over our- selves. This is what stops so many people on the road to perfection, this is what causes the soul to find scarcely any relish for the holiest exercises of devotion. A man with little interior life is never devout. "Whence comes it," says a holy man, "that so many religious, so many devout people who have such good desires, and who seem to do all that is necessary to become Saints, nevertheless, draw so little fruit from their prayers, their Communions and their spiritual reading; and that after practicing all the exterior exercises of the spiritual life for so many years, they can hardly see any profit from them? Whence comes it that directors who conduct others on the road of perfection remain themselves in their ordinary imperfections? How many zealous men, how many workers who labor with such ardor for the salvation of souls, how many people who give themselves to good works, suffer nevertheless from the violence of their passions, are always subject to the same faults, make hardly any progress in prayer, pass their whole life in a sort of languor without ever tasting the ineffable sweetness of peace of heart, and are always uneasy, terrified by the thought of death and disheartened by the smallest accident? Does not all that come from their negligence in guarding their hearts and keeping themselves in recollection? These people abandon the care of their interior and give themselves too much to the exterior. This causes an infinite number of faults to escape their attention, a thousand unconsidered words, sallies of ill humor, unregulated movements, actions from purely natural motives. This would not happen to them if they had an actual intention to regulate their interior conduct, and if they guarded themselves a little in their activities to prevent their passions, which find their nourishment in this external activity, from being strengthened all the more dangerously, because the passions disguise themselves under the appearance of zeal and virtue.
We must then confess that interior recollection is so necessary for the perfect love of Jesus Christ and for progress in the spiritual life that a person will advance only in proportion as he gives himself to this exercise; it is by this means that St. Ignatius, St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa, St. Francis Xavier and St. Aloysius Gonzaga have arrived at the height of perfection. If we do not take care to keep ourselves recollected at the time of action, we shall draw little fruit from even our best actions. Let us keep silent if we wish to hear the voice of Jesus Christ; let us keep our souls away from the tumult and the embarrassment of exterior things in order to be at liberty to converse longer with Him, to love Him ardently and with tenderness.
The devil knows only too well the great advantages to be derived from this interior peace and guard over the heart; accordingly, he uses all his cunning to make people give up interior recollection. Whenever he despairs of making them leave off their exercises of devotion and their good works, he endeavors to make them concentrate all their attention on exterior works to the detriment of their devotions, and to induce them to leave their entrenchment where they were, so to speak, protected from all his darts. When a soul gives way to the satisfaction found in a large number of exterior actions, pleased with the illusion that it is doing much for God, it becomes dissipated and insensibly loses its union with God and that sweet presence of God without which one may work much and accomplish little. A dissipated soul is like a stray and wandering sheep that is soon devoured by the wolf Such a person may think that it will be easy for him to return into himself, but besides the fact that this presence of God is a grace that is not always at his disposal, he scarcely finds himself in a state to rid himself of the hundred exterior objects which occupy him, he has lost the taste for spiritual things by the too long sojourn which he has made in a strange country. The remorse and anxiety which he feels as soon as he pays some attention to himself causes this interior recollection to become a torture for him; he is dissipated, and he loves dissipation.
My God, what loss does not a soul suffer that allows itself to be completely immersed in exterior things; what inspirations, what graces does it not render useless, and of what favors does it not deprive itself by the want of recollection?
To avoid this evil, we should take great care to keep ourselves always in the presence of God and to preserve the spirit of recollection in all our exterior occupations; it is necessary that while the mind works, the heart be in repose and remain immovable in its center, which is the will of God, from which it should never separate itself. To acquire this interior recollection which is assuredly the gift of God, but which God never refuses to those who ardently desire it and who take the means to obtain it, we must accustom ourselves to reflect much on the motives which should animate us in everything that we do. Before beginning an action, let us look and see that it is in order, that it is pleasing to God, and that it is for Him that we do it; during the action let us lift up our minds from time to time to Our Lord and renew the purity of our intention. It is a sign that we perform an act for God if we leave it off without pain when necessary, if we continue it without uneasiness or chagrin, and if we are not angry when we are interrupted. But the surest and most efficacious practice to preserve this interior recollection in our greatest exterior occupations is to represent to ourselves Jesus Christ in His occupations. Let us represent to ourselves the manner, the modesty, the exactness with which He acted when on earth; the attention which He expended to acquit Himself perfectly of all that He did; and the tranquillity and sweetness with which he nevertheless acquitted Himself. What a difference between His manner of acting and ours! If something that we are obliged to do displeases us, what false reasons we allege to dispense ourselves from it, what artifices to put it off, with what languor, what indifference, we do it! If it is according to our inclination, we feel a kind of joy which at once causes dissipation of soul. The very fear of not succeeding makes us uneasy and vexed. Let us then keep Jesus Christ before us as our model; we must constantly look on Him if we wish to keep ourselves in interior recollection and to increase continually in His love.
When we say that to keep ourselves in this interior recollection, the soul must not be too much occupied with exterior things, we do not mean that the occupation in exterior things which are of obligation is a hindrance to interior recollection; one can be very recollected in action; the greatest Saints who have received the most communications from God, and who have been consequently the most recollected, have often been those most occupied with exterior works. Such have been the Apostles and apostolic men who have given themselves up to the salvation of their neighbor; and thus it is an error to think that the greatest exterior occupations are obstacles to interior recollection; provided that it is God who puts us in these employments, these employments are the most proper means to keep us united continually with God. We must give our mind only to these exterior occupations but not our heart. We must absolutely choose one of two things, said a great servant of God, either to become interior men, or to lead cowardly and useless lives, lives filled with a thousand vain occupations, none of which will ever lead us to the perfection to which God calls us; and if we do not take great care to preserve ourselves in interior recollection, far from accomplishing the designs of God, we shall not even know what His designs are, and shall never arrive at the height of sanctity and perfection which our state demands.
A man who is not recollected goes wandering about without finding his repose anywhere, and seeks all sorts of objects with avidity, without being able to satisfy himself with any of them; whereas if he gave himself to recollection he would enter into himself and would find God there; he would taste God who, by His presence, would fill him with such an abundance of blessings that he would no more go to seek elsewhere objects to fill the void of his desire. We can remark this every day in recollected souls. We may sometimes imagine that the love which they have for solitude and the pain which they feel by being distracted is an effect of melancholy; it is nothing of the kind; it is because they taste God within themselves; and the ineffable sweetness with which they are filled makes them judge the amusements and pleasures found in the world to be so stale and disgusting that they look upon them with horror. Once a person has tasted what God and spiritual things are, all that belongs to the contagion of flesh and blood appears insipid.
What marvelous advantages are derived from the interior life once a person is established in it! It may be said that it is only a person of this kind who tastes God and feels the sweetness of virtue. I do not know whether it be the effect of interior recollection, or the reward for the care taken to keep oneself always united with God; but it is certain that an interior man possesses faith, hope and charity in such a sublime manner that nothing is capable of shaking him in his belief; he insensibly finds himself above all human fear, he remains always in the same state of mind, always immovable in God. He takes occasion to raise himself up to God from everything which he sees or hears. In creatures he sees only God, as those who have looked at the sun for a long time always imagine that they see the sun, no matter what objects they may look on afterwards.
It must not be imagined that this interior recollection makes people idle or encourages negligence. A truly interior man is most active; he does more good and renders more service to the Church in a day than a hundred others who are not interior men will be able to render in several years, even though they may have many more natural talents than he has. This is true not only because dissipation is an obstacle to the fruits of zeal, but also because a man who is not recollected, even though he may be very active is, at best, a man who works for God, while in the case of an interior man, it is God Himself who works through him. That is to say, that a man who does not live in interior recollection may have God as the motive of his actions, but temper, self-love and the natural man will usually have the largest share in his good works; while a recollected person always attentive to God and to himself, always on his guard against the claims of the natural man and the artifices of self-love, acts for God alone and according to the inspiration and the guidance of the Spirit of God. The very difference between an interior man and one who is not, is sufficient to give us an esteem for recollection. In an unrecollected man, there is a certain dissipated air which obscures the most brilliant acts of virtue, which has something repellent about it, which lowers the esteem we had for his piety and causes his words to have hardly any unction. On the contrary, what a favorable impression is created by the modest air, the sweetness, the peace which appears on the face of a truly interior person, and the reserve, the silence, the continual guard over himself! Does not all this inspire us with veneration and love for virtue? It is indeed difficult to be for long recollected and not to be truly devout, since it is certain that want of devotion usually comes from want of recollection.
The means to acquire this interior recollection and to keep the precious gift when once acquired are to take great care: 1) To avoid eagerness in all that we do and to undertake nothing that would interfere with the full performance of all our exercises of devotion. 2) Never to let our heart be so distracted by unnecessary occupations that it becomes sterile for prayer. 3) To watch over ourselves constantly and to keep ourselves in such dispositions that we are always in a state to pray. 4) To render ourselves masters of our actions, lifting ourselves up above our employment, holding our heart disengaged from the trouble and embarrassment ordinarily caused by works of zeal for souls, such as application to study, care of family, commerce with the world, business cares and diverse occupations; always regarding the employments of our state of life as means to be recollected. 5) Retreat and silence are efficacious means to be recollected; it is difficult to find a person who speaks much who is really recollected. 6) Interior recollection is not only the mark of great purity of heart; it is the recompense for it. "Blessed are the pure of heart; because they shall see God" [Matt. 5:8], that is to say, they walk constantly in His presence. 7) In order to render the exercise of the presence of God easier, we may make use of some signal which recalls it to us, such as the sound of the clock, the beginning and the end of each action, entry into our room and leaving it, the sight of an image, the ar- rival of a person and other similar things. 8) Reserve and modesty in everything which we do is a great means to become interior if we take care to propose as our model the modesty and sweetness of Jesus Christ. 9) Frequent reflection is a great help to a person who wishes to be recollected; so also is the thought from time to time that God is in the midst of us or rather that we are in the midst of Him, and that everywhere we are, He sees and hears us and touches us, whether we are at prayer, at work, at table, or engaged in conversation; so also is the making of acts of faith in the presence of God; being as modest when alone as when in company.
In fine, interior recollection is a gift of God; we should often pray to Him for this gift, and pray to Him for it as a necessary disposition to love Jesus Christ ardently; this motive renders all our prayers efficacious. Devotion to those Saints who have most excelled in the interior life can help us much to obtain interior recollection, such as the Queen of All Saints, St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Joachim, St. John the Baptist, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, etc.Contact Us