The Devotion to the Sacred Heart
Fr. John Croiset, S. J.
Originally published in1691;
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1959
TAN Books and Publishers
As the devotion of the Sacred Heart is easy and reasonable, there are few really virtuous people who do not approve of it, few who do not practice it, but all do not feel that ardent love for Jesus Christ, nor that true sweetness which He makes those whom He loves experience, although these singular favors are the fruit of the devotion to His Sacred Heart. Everything which prevents souls from making progress in virtue is an obstacle to the great graces which this devotion procures for us, and these obstacles which few people surmount, dry up the source of these graces, and are the reason why God communicates Himself intimately to only a few people.
People have long been complaining that they no longer feel in the practices of devotion that heavenly sweetness which the Saints have tasted, and which, although they are only trappings of sanctity, nevertheless have served much to form Saints. Some people experience only dryness, lukewarmness, and aversion for the exercises of piety. They find no consolation or sweetness in prayer, no feeling of devotion either at Communion or Mass; they experience coldness and ennui in all that should cause the greatest pleasure and excite eagerness. What do people do? They try to console themselves with the thought that sanctity does not consist in sensible devotion; but when we are every day so cowardly and imperfect, we have reason to believe that it is in punishment of our cowardice that God does not grant us those interior consolations which would help much to make us more courageous and more perfect.
The way of perfection today is not different from that by which the Saints have walked. They all confess that it is not possible to imagine greater pleasure than that tasted in the service of God; that they are filled with such sweetness that the greatest labors are delights, that they do not know what melancholy is, that what appears most repulsive causes a pure and perfect joy that cannot be troubled by the most vexatious occurrences. They assure us that the most terrible trials which God sends them have their consolation; that nothing but sin can trouble the peace which they enjoy and that God Himself inspires them with such great confidence in His mercy that their own faults cannot trouble their peace.
These are not merely the sentiments of a few people, they are the experiences of all true servants of God, of all times, of every age and quality, of every country and of every walk of life; and these experiences have been confirmed at the hour of their death, which is the time when people are most sincere. What reason could we have to imagine that people so wise, people universally recognized to be upright and virtuous could either wish to deceive us or that they themselves were deceived? Can, then, any reasonable person doubt the truth of a fact so well established? When comes it, then, that among such a great number of people who in our time make profession of piety and appear to walk in the footsteps of these Saints, so few are found who receive the same graces? The reason, doubtless, is that there are few whose virtue is solid. Holiness does not, it is true, consist in these sensible devotions, but it is nonetheless true that interior joy and peace which all the accidents of life cannot trouble, that perfect submission to the will of God and sweet confidence in His mercy which are characteristic of sensible devotion, have always been the inheritance of the Saints and are still the privilege of all true servants of God.
We are going to consider what are the obstacles which prevent people from reaping this fruit. All these obstacles may be reduce to four: great tepidity in the service of God, self-love, secret pride, and certain passions not mortified over a long period of time. From these four heads as from four fatal fountains proceed all these faults and imperfections which stop so many souls on the road to piety.
- First Obstacle
As the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a continual exercise of ardent love of God, it is evident that tepidity is also a great obstacle to acquiring a true devotion to the Sacred Heart or deriving any profit from it. Although the Son of God has an infinite hatred for sin, He has not a hatred for the sinner; He calls him, He seeks him, He has compassion on him, but His Divine Heart cannot endure a tepid soul: "I would thou were cold or hot," says our amiable Savior, "but because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth." [Apoc. 3:15-16]. The Heart of Jesus seeks pure souls capable of loving Him; the Sacred Heart of Jesus is always liberal, He desires souls which are in a state to receive Its favors, and which have the dispositions necessary for arriving at the degree of perfection to which He destines them; these dispositions are not found in tepid souls.
A tepid soul is in a state of blindness caused by the passions ---- a state of continual dissipation ---- by the multitude of venial sins, and by the withdrawal of grace brought on by resistance. This blindness brings the formation of a false conscience, causing the person to have neither the will nor courage to correct serious venial sins. What renders this state more dangerous and what compels Jesus Christ to reject a tepid soul from His Heart, is that it is, in a certain sense, desperate, because tepidity is rarely if ever cured.
As sins committed by a tepid soul are nor gross and scandalous, but are often purely interior, taking place only in the heart, they escape the attention of a lax conscience. Thus, it does not know the greatness of its evils, takes no pain to remedy them; whereas a great sinner is more in a state to be touched by his disorders and to conceive a horror for them because he knows them. It is in this sense that Our Savior says that it is better to be cold than tepid. As soon as a person begins to live in tepidity, he seeks himself in everything, continually looks for what will give pleasure. The marks by which a person can recognize whether he is in this dangerous state of tepidity are the effects produced on a tepid soul: 1) great negligence in all prayers, Confessions without amendment, Communions without preparation; 2) Occupation with trifles; 3) a perverse habit of doing all one's actions without any interior spirit, but by whim and custom; 4) sloth in acquiring the virtues proper to one's state; 5) disgust for spiritual things.
It is only too true that people who are not influenced in their actions by self-love are very rare; Self-love dictates that the practices of virtue to be adopted are those which gives us the least trouble and suit our tastes best. We try to persuade ourselves that God does not demand such high sanctity from us, although He has given us great graces, or placed us in a state that demands the highest sanctity. We refuse to recognize the will of God when it contradicts our self-love. The reason is that, in truth, it is not the will of God that we take as our rule of conduct, but our own inclination . . . . We content ourselves with mere external rule, with natural or affected modesty, with apparent virtue which is the fruit of education, not grace . . . . we imagine that we have much virtue because we do not show many faults. From this source of self-love come those sterile desires, those fantastic projects on which naturally proud people feed. Certain grandiose projects are proposed but they take no further action to acquire holiness.
- Third Obstacle
Secret pride is no less an obstacle to the love of Jesus Christ; in fact, there is no greater obstacle to perfection, than the spirit of vanity by which most people are dominated, Vanity feeds on its practice. Even our victories are weapons which the devil makes use against us, profiting by them to inspire us with pride. It may be said that of all the vices there is none which stopped more souls on the road to piety. From this spirit of vanity comes the immoderate desire to appear important and the extreme eagerness to succeed in everything we do ---- we labor for our own glory, and not the glory of God.
This same spirit infiltrates into the exercise of the greatest virtues, we become with our virtues, it is edifying; from this same source proceed most faults. Pride makes people wish to be popular, to possess the esteem and affection of everyone, with the result that they prefer to dispense themselves from their obligations rather than to disoblige anyone, and what is more strange, they try to cover this this ambition under the specious pretexts of honesty and charity. People try to please God and man at the same time, and in doing so please God and often fail to please men.
From the same source spring delicacy on points of honor, cooling of friendship, grief resembling envy though not so malicious, secret pain at the success of others. The success of others is always attributed to accident; we are sensitive to the least offensive word, we will not pardon others if they are wanting in what we claim to be our rights.
Finally, some people pass for pious and think themselves so, who are guided by mere worldly prudence disguised under the name of common sense; it is even according to this false rule that they judge spiritual things. They limit the action of God in themselves and others according to the maxims of human prudence.
The fourth obstacle to the devotion and the fourth source from which these defects arise that smother the love of Jesus Christ and consequently, devotion to the Sacred Heart, are certain unmortified passions, which sooner or later will be the cause of some great evil; they make war on all their passions, but somehow there is one predominate one which they spare, there is something which they regard as very dear, and which they will not touch. They kill the spirit of the world in themselves, but are pleased to see it in others, they moderate their outbursts of anger, but harbor jealously; they mortify the external display but spend hours in witless conversations, under the pretext of amiability.
Finally, there are generous souls who resolve to conquer all obstacles and who make serious efforts, but who will not go against their natural bent; they spare some failing that is in harmony with their inclination, and this one enemy spared, this one unmortified passion, makes them limp along all their lives, and prevents them from arriving at this high perfection to which they are called. A small leak will sink a great ship, a single spark will cause a great fire; a single defect is sufficient to spoil an otherwise beautiful painting. We are sometimes astonished at seeing people who have grown old in the exercises of piety, really spiritual people and very mortified, who have, however, great imperfections which they condemn in others, but which they will not correct in themselves. These are great obstacles to the pure love of Jesus Christ and to the devotion to the Sacred Heart. True love of Jesus Christ will not endure these imperfections; this tepidity and secret pride.