from Christ and His Mysteries
Love explains all the mysteries of Jesus; the faith that we ought to have in the fullness of this love; the Church sets it before us as the object of worship in the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
----- I. In what, speaking in a general manner, devotion to the Heart of Jesus consists; how deeply this devotion plunges its roots into the Christian dogma.
----- II. Its divers elements.
-----III. The contemplation of the benefits which we owe to the love of Jesus, symbolized by His Heart, is the source of the love that we ought to give Him in return. The double character of our love for Christ; it ought to be affective and effective; Our Lord is our Model in this.
----- IV. Precious advantage of devotion to the Sacred Heart; it makes us take, little by little, the attitude that should characterize our relations with God. Our spiritual life depends, in great part, on the idea that we habitually have of God; diversity of aspects under which souls may consider God. ----- V. Christ alone unveils to us the true attitude of the soul in face of God; devotion to the Heart of Jesus helps us to acquire this attitude.
All that we possess in the domain of grace comes to us from Christ Jesus. "Of His fulfness we have all received": De plenitudine ejus nos omnes accepimus (Jn. 1:16). He has destroyed the wall of separation that hindered us from going to God; He has merited for us all graces in infinite abundance; being Divine Head of the mystical body, He has the power of communicating to us the spirit of His states and the virtue of His mysteries, so as to transform us into Himself.
When we consider these mysteries of Jesus, which of His perfections do we see especially shine out? It is love.
Love brought about the Incarnation: Proper nos ... descendit de caelis, et incarnatus est (Creed of the Mass); love caused Christ to be born in passible and weak flesh, inspired the obscurity of the hidden life, nourished the zeal of the public life. If Jesus delivers Himself up to death for us, it is because He yields to the excess of a measureless love (Jn. 13:1); if He rises again, it is "for our justification" (Rom. 4:25); if He ascends into heaven, it is to prepare a place (Jn. 14:2; Heb. 6:20) for us in that abode of blessedness; He sends the Paraclete so as not to leave us orphans (Jn. 14:18); He institutes the Sacrament of the Eucharist as a memorial of His love (Lk. 22:19). All these mysteries have their source in love.
It is necessary that our faith in this love of Christ Jesus should be living and constant. And why? Because it is one of the most powerful supports of our fidelity.
Look at St. Paul. Never did man labor and spend himself as he did for Christ. One day when his enemies attack the lawfulness of his mission, he is led, in self-defense, to give a brief outline of his works, his toils and sufferings. However well we know this sketch drawn from the life, it is always a joy to the soul to read again this page, unique in the annals of the apostolate: Often, says the great Apostle, was he brought nigh to death: "Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea. In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own nation, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren. In labor and painfulness, in much watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things which are without: my daily instance, the solicitude for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:23-28). Elsewhere, he applies to himself the words of the Psalmist: "For Thy sake, we are put to death all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter . . ." And yet he immediately adds: "but in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us": Sed in his omnibus superamus (Rom. 8:36-37). And where does he find the secret of this victory? Ask of him how he endures everything, though "weary even of life" (2 Cor. 1:8); how, in all his trials, he remains united to Christ with such an unshaken firmness that neither "tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or the sword" can separate him from Jesus (Rom. 8:35)? He will reply: Proper eum qui delexit nos (Rom. 8:37): "Because of Him Who hath loved us." What sustains, strengthens, animates and stimulates him is the deep conviction of the love that Christ bears towards him: Dilexit me et tradidit semetipsum pro me (Gal. 2:20).
And, indeed, that which makes this ardent conviction strong within him is the sense that he no longer lives for himself-----he who blasphemed the name of God and persecuted the Christians (Cf. Acts 26:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:9)-----but for Him Who loved him to the point of giving His life for him: Caritas Christi urget nos (2 Cor. 5:14) . . . "The charity of Christ presseth us," he exclaims. Therefore, I will give myself up for Him, I will spend myself willingly, without reserve, without counting the cost; I will consume myself for the souls won by Him: Libentissime impendam et superimpendar (2 Cor. 12:15)!
This conviction that Christ loves him truly gives the key to all the work of the great Apostle.
Nothing urges one to love like knowing and feeling oneself to be loved. "Every time that we think of Jesus Christ," says St. Teresa, "let us remember the love with which He has heaped His benefits upon us . . . Love calls forth love" (Life written by herself. Chap. 22).
But how are we to learn this love which is at the foundation of all the states of Jesus, which explains them, and sums up all the motives of these mysteries? Where are we to drink of this knowledge, so wholesome and so fruitful that St. Paul made it the object of his prayer for his Christians (Eph. 3:19)? In the contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus. If we study them with faith, the Holy Spirit, Who is Infinite Love, will disclose to us their depths, and lead us to the love which is the source of them.
There is one feast, which by its object brings to our mind, in a general manner, the love that the Incarnate Word has shown to us: it is the Feast of the Sacred Heart. It is with this feast that the Church, according to the revelation of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary, closes, so to speak, the annual cycle of the solemnities of the Saviour; it is as if, arrived at the term of the contemplation of her Bridegroom's mysteries, there is nothing left for her to do but to celebrate the very love that inspired them all.
Following the example of the Church, I will, now that we have passed in review the chief mysteries of our Divine Head, say a few words about the devotion to the Sacred Heart, its object and its practice. We shall grasp once more this important truth that for us all is resumed in the practical knowledge of the mystery of Jesus.
The word "devotion" comes from the latin word devovere: to devote or consecrate oneself to a person beloved. Devotion towards God is the highest expression of our love. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength": Diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex TOTO corde tuo, et ex TOTA anima tua, et ex TOTA menta tua (Mk 12:30). This totus denotes devotion: to love God with all oneself, without reserving anything; to love Him constantly; to love Him to the point of giving oneself to His service with promptitude and ease, such is devotion in general; and, thus understood, devotion constitutes perfection: for it is the very flower of charity (Cf. S. Thom. II-II, q. 82, a. 1).
Devotion to Jesus Christ is the devotion of all our being and all our activity to the Person of the Incarnate Word, abstraction made of such or such particular state of the Person of Jesus or of such or such special mystery of His life. By this devotion to Jesus Christ, we strive to know, to honour, to serve the Son of God manifesting Himself to us through His Sacred Humanity.
A particular devotion is either "devotedness" to God considered specially in one of His attributes or one of His perfections, as His holiness or mercy, or again to one of the three Divine Persons, or to Christ contemplated in one or other of his states. As we have seen in the course of these conferences, it is always the same Christ Jesus Whom we honour, it is always His Adorable Person to Whom our homage is offered, but we consider His Person under some particular aspect or as manifested to us in some special mystery. Thus devotion to the Holy Childhood is devotion to the very Person of Christ especially contemplated in the mysteries of His Trinity and His life as a Youth at Nazareth; devotion to the Five Wounds is devotion to the Person of the Incarnate Word considered in His sufferings, sufferings which are themselves symbolised by the five wounds of which Christ willed to retain the glorious marks after His Resurrection. These devotions can then have a special, proper, immediate object, but they have always their term in Christ's own Person (S. Thom. III, q. 25, a. 1).
Hence you comprehend what it is to be understood by devotion to the Sacred Heart. It is, in a general manner, devotion to the Person of Jesus Himself, manifesting His love for us and shewing us His Heart as a symbol of this love. Whom do we then honour in this devotion? Christ Jesus Himself, in person. But what is the immediate, special, proper object of this devotion? The Heart of flesh of Jesus, the Heart which beats for us in the bosom of the God-Man; but we do not honour it apart from the human nature of Jesus, nor from the Person of the Eternal Word to Whom this human nature was united in the Incarnation. Is this all? No; there is yet this to be added: we honour this Heart as the symbol of the love of Jesus towards us.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is then summed up in the worship of the Incarnate Word manifesting His love to us and showing us His Heart as the symbol of this love.
I have no need to justify to you this devotion which is familiar to you; it will not however be without some use to say a word on this subject.
You know that, according to certain Protestants, the Church is like a lifeless body; she received, they think, all her perfection from the outset, and ought there to rest stationary; all that has arisen later, either in dogmatic matters, or in the domain of piety, is only, in their eyes, superfluity and corruption.
For us, the Church is a living organism, which, like all living organisms, is to be developed and perfected. The deposit of revelation was sealed at the death of the last apostle; since then, no writing is admitted as inspired, and the revelations of the saints do not enter into the official deposit of the truths of the faith. But many truths contained in the official revelation were only so in germ; the opportunity was only given little by little, under the pressure of events and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of coming to explicit definitions which fixed in a precise and determined formula what was hitherto only known in an implicit manner.
From the first instant of His Incarnation, Christ Jesus possessed in His blessed soul all the treasures of Divine knowledge and wisdom. But it is only by degrees that these were to be revealed. As Christ increased in age, this knowledge and wisdom manifested themselves, and the virtues of which He contained in Himself the germ were seen to blossom.
Something analogous takes place for the Church, Christ's Mystical Body. For example, we find in the deposit of the Faith this magnificent revelation: "The Word was God . . . and the Word was made Flesh" (1 Jn. 1:14). This revelation contains treasures that have only come to light by degrees; it is like a seed that has blossomed, and borne fruits of truth to increase our knowledge of Christ Jesus. On the occasion of heresies that have sprung up, the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has defined that in Jesus Christ there is only one Divine Person, but two natures, distinct and perfect, two wills, two sources of activity; that the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God; that all the parts of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus are adorable on account of their union with the Divine Person of the Word. Are these new dogmas? No. It is the deposit of the faith explained, made explicit, and developed.
What we say of dogmas applies equally to devotions. In the course of centuries, devotions have risen up that the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has admitted and made her own. These are not innovations, properly so called. They are effects that flow from the established dogmas and the Church's organic activity.
When the teaching Church approves of a devotion and confirms it with her sovereign authority, it ought to be our joy to accept this devotion; to act otherwise would not be to share the mind of the Church, Sentire cum Ecclesia, it would be no longer to enter into the thoughts of Christ Jesus; for He says to His apostles and to their successors: "He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me" (Lk. 10:16). Now, how shall we go to the Father if we do not hearken to Christ?
Relatively modern under the form that it actually bears, the devotion to the Sacred Heart has its dogmatic roots in the deposit of faith. It was contained in germ in the words of St. John: "The Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us . . . having loved His own . . . He loved them unto the end" (Jn. 1:14; 13:1). What, in fact, is the Incarnation? It is the manifestation of God, it is God revealing Himself to us through the Humanity of Jesus: Nova mentis nostrae oculis lux tuae claritatis infulsit (Preface of the Nativity); it is the manifestation of Divine love to the world: "God so loved the world, as to give His Only-begotten Son"; and this Son Himself so loved men as to deliver Himself up for them: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends": Majorem hac dilectionem nemo habet (Jn. 15:13). All the devotion to the Sacred Heart is in germ in these words of Jesus. And in order to show that His love had attained the supreme degree, Christ Jesus willed that immediately after He had drawn His last breath on the Cross, His Heart should be pierced by the soldier's lance.
As we are about to see, the love that is symbolised by the heart in this devotion is first of all the created love of Jesus, but, as He is the Incarnate Word, the treasures of this created love manifest to us the marvels of the Divine love, of the Eternal Word.
You perceive what depths this devotion reaches in the deposit of the faith. Far from being an alteration or a corruption, it is an adaptation, at once simple and magnificent, of what St. John said concerning the Word-made-Flesh immolated for love of us.
If we now dwell in a few words upon the divers elements of the devotion we shall see how they are justified.
The proper and direct object of it is Christ's physical Heart. This Heart is, indeed, worthy of adoration. Why so? Because it forms part of His Human Nature, and because the Word has united Himself to a perfect nature: Perfectus homo (Creed of St. Athanasius). The same adoration that we give to the Divine Person of the Word attains all that is personally united thereto, all that subsists in and by the Person of the Word. This is true of the whole Human Nature of Jesus, this is true of each of the parts that compose it. The Heart of Jesus is the Heart of a God.
But the Heart which we honour, which we adore in this Humanity united to the Person of the Word, serves here as a symbol of what? Of love. When God says to us in the Scriptures: "My son, give Me Thy heart" (Prov. 23:26), we understand that the heart here signifies love. You may say of someone: I esteem him, I respect him, but I cannot give him my heart. You mean by these words that friendship, intimacy and union are impossible.
In the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we then honor the love that the Incarnate Word bears towards us.
Created love first of all. Christ Jesus is both God and Man; perfect God, perfect Man; that is the very mystery of the Incarnation. As "Son of Man," Christ has a Heart like ours, a Heart of flesh, a Heart that beats for us with the tenderest, the truest, the noblest, the most faithful love that ever was.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul told them that he earnestly besought God that they might be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, of the mystery of Jesus, so much was he dazzled by the incommensurable riches that it contained. He might have said as much of the love of the Heart of Jesus for us; he did say so in fact, when he declared that this love "surpasseth all knowledge" (Eph. 3:14-19).
And, indeed, we shall never exhaust the treasure of tenderness, of loveableness, of kindness and charity, of which the Heart of the Man-God is the burning furnace. We have only to open the Gospel and, on each page, we shall see shine out the goodness, the mercy, the condescension of Jesus towards men. I have tried, in pointing out some aspects of the public life of Christ, to show you how deeply human and infinitely delicate is this love.
This love of Christ is not a chimera, it is very real, for it is founded upon the reality of the Incarnation itself. The Blessed Virgin, St. John, Magdalen, Lazarus knew this well. It was not only a love of the will, but also a heartfelt love. When Christ Jesus said: "I have compassion on the multitude" (Mt. 15:32; Mk. 8:2), He really felt the fibres of His human Heart moved by pity; when He saw Martha and Mary weeping for the loss of their brother, He wept with them; truly human tears were wrung from His Heart. Therefore the Jews who witnessed the sight said to one another: "Behold how He loved him" (Jn. 11:36).
Christ Jesus does not change. He was yesterday, He is today: -----His Heart remains the most loving and most loveable that could be met with. St. Paul tells us explicitly that we ought to have full confidence in Jesus because He is a compassionate High Priest Who knows our sufferings, our miseries, our infirmities, having Himself espoused our weaknesses -----saving sin. Doubtless, Christ Jesus can no longer suffer: Mors illi ultra non dominabitur (Rom. 6:9); but He remains the One Who was moved by compassion, Who suffered and redeemed men through love: Dilexit me et tradidit semetipsum pro me.
Whence came this human love of Jesus, this created love? From the Uncreated and Divine Love, from the love of the Eternal Word to which the human nature is indissolubly united. In Christ, although there are two perfect and distinct natures, keeping their specific energies and their proper operations, there is only one Divine Person. As I have said, the created love of Jesus is only a revelation of His uncreated love. Everything that the created love accomplishes is in union with the uncreated love, and on account of it; Christ's Heart draws its human kindness from the Divine ocean ("In the Sacred Heart you will find the symbol and the sensible image of the infinite charity of Jesus Christ, of that charity which draws us to love Him in return." Leo XIII, Bull Annum sac., 25 M. 1899).
Upon Calvary, we see Him die as a man like unto ourselves, One Who has been a prey to anguish, Who has suffered, Who has been crushed beneath the weight of torments, heavier than any man ever bore; we understand the love that this Man shows us. But this love which, by its excess, surpasses our knowledge, is the concrete and tangible expression of the Divine love. The Heart of Jesus pierced upon the Cross reveals to us Christ's human love; but beneath the veil of the humanity of Jesus is shown the ineffable and incomprehensible love of the Word.
What a wide perspective this
devotion opens out to us! How powerful it is to attract the faithful
soul! For it gives us the means of honouring what is the greatest, the
highest, the most efficacious in Christ Jesus, the Incarnate Word: the
love that He bears to the world, the love of which His Heart is the
furnace . . .
Love is active: it is of its nature overflowing. In Jesus, love can but be for us an inexhaustible source of gifts.
In the collect for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the Church invites us to call to mind the principal benefits that we owe to the love of Jesus Christ: Praecipua in nos caritatis ejus beneficia recolimus. This contemplation is one of the elements of devotion to the Sacred Heart. How can we pay honour to a love of which we do not know the manifestations?
This love, as we have said, is the human love of Jesus, the revelation of the uncreated love. To this uncreated love, which is common to the Father and the Holy Spirit, we owe everything. There is no gift which does nto find its most profound principle in this love. Who drew beings out of nothing? Love. We sing in the hymn for the feast (Hymn for Vespers): "The earth, the sea, the stars are the work of love":
Ille amor almus artifex
Terrae marisque et siderum.
Yet more than the creation, the Incarnation is due to love. Love caused the Word to come down from the splendours of heaven in order to assume a mortal body:
Amor coegit te tuus
Mortale corpus sumere.
But the benefits which we ought especially to recall, are the redemption through the Passion, the institution of the Sacraments, above all of the Eucharist. It is to the human love of Jesus as well as to His uncreated love that we owe them.
We have seen, in contemplating these mysteries, what deep and ardent love they manifest. Our Lord Himself has said that there is no greater act of love for a man than to give his life for his friends. He Himself has gone as far as this: many virtues shine out in His blessed Passion, but love most of all. It needed nothing less than an excess of love to plunge voluntarily into the abysses of humiliation and opprobrium, of suffering and sorrow, in each phase of the Passion.
And in the same way as love wrought our redemption, so it was love that established the sacraments whereby the fruits of the sacrifice of Jesus are to be applied to every soul of good will.
St. Augustine (Tract in Joan. 120:2) is pleased to recall the expression purposely chosen by the Evangelist concerning the wound made by the lance in the side of Jesus dead upon the Cross. The sacred writer does not say that the lance "struck", or "wounded", but that it "opened" the Saviour's side: Latus ejus aperuit (Jn. 19:34): It was the gate of life that was opened, says the great Doctor; from the pierced Heart of Jesus rivers of graces were to be poured out upon the world to sanctify the Church.
This contemplation of the benefits of Jesus towards us ought to become the source of our practical devotion to the Sacred Heart. Love alone can respond to love. Of what does our Saviour complain to St. Margaret Mary? Of the lack of love in return for His love. "Behold this Heart that has so loved men and which receives from them only ingratitude." It is then by love, by the gift of the heart that we should respond to Christ Jesus. "Who will not love in return the one Who loves him? Who being redeemed will not love his Redeemer?"
Quis non amantem redamet?
Quis non redemptis diligat? (Hymn of Lauds for the Feast of the Sacred Heart)
This love to be perfect must bear a twofold character.
There is affective love; it consists in the different feelings which move the heart towards a person loved: admiration, complacency, joy, thanksgiving. This love gives birth to praise. We rejoice in the perfections of the Heart of Jesus, we celebrate Its beauties, and grandeurs, we delight in the magnificence of Its benefits: Exultabunt labia mea cum cantavero tibi (Ps. 70:23)!
This affective love is necessary. In contemplating Christ in His love, the soul should give vent to her admiration, complacency, joy. Why so? Because we ought to love God with all our being; God wishes that our love towards Him should be conformable to our nature. Now our nature is not that of the Angels, ours is a human nature wherein the feelings have their part. Christ Jesus accepts this form of love, because it is based upon our nature, which He Himself created. See Him, at the time of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a few days before His Passion: "When He was now coming near the descent of Mount Olivet, the whole multitude of His disciples began with joy to praise God with a loud voice, for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: Blessed be the King Who cometh in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven, and glory on high! And some of the Pharisees, from amongst the multitude, said to Him: Master, rebuke Thy disciples." And what does Our Lord answer? Does He silence these acclamations? On the contrary he replies to the Pharisees: "I say to you, that if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out" (Lk. 19:37-40).
Christ Jesus is pleased with the praises that burst forth from the heart to the lips. Our love ought to break out in affections. Look at the saints. Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi, was so transported with love that he sang God's praises as he went along the roads (His Life by Jorgensen, Book 2, chap. 1). Magdalen of Pazzi ran through the cloisters of the monastery, crying out: "O Love, O Love!" (Her Life by Fr. Cepart, t. II, chap. 16). Saint Theresa was thrilled with joy every time she chanted these words of the Credo: Cujus regni non erit finis: "And of His Kingdom there shall be no end" (The Way of Perfection, chap. 23). Read her "Exclamations": you will there see how the affections of human nature burst forth in ardent praise from souls possessed by love.
Let us not fear to multiply our praises of the Heart of Jesus. The Litany of the Sacred Heart, acts of reparation and of consecration are so many expressions of this affective love, without which the human soul does not reach the perfection of its nature.
Of itself alone, this affective love is, however, insufficient. To have all its value, it must be manifested by deeds: Probatio dilectionis, exhibitio operis (S. Greg. Homil. In Evang. 30:1). "If you love Me," said Jesus Himself, "keep My commandments": Si diligitis me, mandata me servate (Jn. 14:15). It is the one touchstone. You will meet souls who abound in affections, who have the gift of tears, -----and yet do not trouble themselves to repress their bad inclinations, to destroy their bad habits, to avoid occasions of sin; who give way as soon as temptation arises, or murmur directly contradiction and disappointments befall them. With them, affective love is full of illusions; it is a fire of straw which quickly burns away into ashes.
If we truly love Christ Jesus, not only shall we rejoice in His glory, and hymn His perfections with every impulse of our soul, not only shall we be saddened at the injuries made to His Heart, and offer Him honourable amends, ----- but, above all, we shall strive to obey Him in all things, we shall accept readily all the dispositions of His Providence towards us, we shall work to extend His reign in souls, to procure His glory, we shall gladly spend ourselves, we shall go so far, if necessary, as to "be spent", according to the beautiful words of St. Paul: Libentissime impendam et superimpendar! (2 Cor. 12:15). The Apostle is speaking of charity towards our neighbours; applied to our love for Jesus, this formula wonderfully sums up the practice of devotion to His Sacred Heart.
Let us gaze on our Divine Saviour; in this as in every virtue, He is our best Model; we shall find in His Person two forms of love.
Consider the love that He
bears towards His Father. Christ Jesus has in His Heart the truest
affective love with which a human heart can beat. The Gospel one day
shows us Christ's Heart, overflowing with enthusiasm for the Father's
unfathomable perfections, burst forth in praise before His disciples."
At the same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost, and said: I confess to
Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden
these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to
little ones. Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight" (Lk.
10:21) . . .
See again at the Last Supper how His Sacred Heart is full of affection for His Father and how this affection is expressed in an ineffable prayer.
And so as to show the whole world the sincerity and intensity of this love, Ut cognoscat mundus quia diligo Patrem (Lk. 10:21), Jesus immediately goes to the Garden of Olives where He is to enter into the long series of humiliations and sorrows of His Passion.
This twofold character is found likewise in His love towards mankind. For three days, a multitude of people follow Him, drawn by the charm of His Divine words and the splendour of His miracles. But this multitude, having nothing to eat, begins to be overcome with faintness. Jesus knows this. "I have compassion on the multitude," He says, "for behold they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; for some of them came from afar off": Miseror super turbam. What a deep sense of compassion moves His human Heart! And you know how Jesus puts His pity into action: in His blessed Hands, the loaves are multiplied to satisfy the hunger of the four thousand who had followed Him (Mk. 8:2-9).
Above all, see Him at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus weeps. He sheds tears, real human tears. Can there be a more touching, a more authentic manifestation of the feelings of His Heart? And at once He puts His power into the service of His love: "Lazarus, come forth" (Jn. 11:43).
It is love that is revealed in the gift of self; love which, overflowing from the heart, takes possession of the whole being and of all its activities so as to consecrate them to the interests and glory of the beloved object.
What is to be the extent of this love that we ought to show to Jesus in return for His?
It must first of all include the essential and sovereign love which makes us regard Christ and His Will as the supreme good which we prefer to all things. Practically, this love is summed up in the state of sanctifying grace. Devotion, as we have said, means devotedness; but where is the devotedness of a soul that does not seek to safeguard within her at any price, by a watchful fidelity, the treasure of our Saviour's grace? A soul who in temptation hestitates between the will of Christ Jesus and the suggestions of His eternal enemy?
As you know, it is this love which gives to our life all its value and makes of it a perpetual homage, pleasing to Christ's Heart. Without this essential love, nothing is of any worth in God's sight. Hear in what expressive terms St. Paul has laid stress on this truth: "If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (Cor. 13:1-3). In other words, I cannot be pleasing to God if I have not in me this essential charity by which I attach myself to Him as to the Sovereign Good. It is too evident that there cannot be true devotion where that essential love does not exist.
Secondly, let us accustom ourselves to do all things, even the smallest, in order to please Christ Jesus. To work, to accept our pains and sufferings, to fulfil our duties of state out of love, so as to be agreeable to Our Lord, in union with the dispositions of His Heart when He lived here below like us, constitutes an excellent practice of devotion towards the Sacred Heart. All our life is thus referred to him.
It is this, moreover, that gives to our life an increase of fruitfulness. As you know, every act of virtue, of humility, of obedience, of religion, done in a state of grace possesses its own merit, its special perfection, its particular splendour: but when this act is dominated by love, it gains a new efficacy and beauty; without losing anything of its own value, the merit of an act of love is added to it. The Psalmist sings to God, "the queen stood on Thy right hand, in gilded clothing: surrounded with variety": Adstitit regina a dextris tuis in vestitu deaurato, circumdata varietate (Ps. 44:10). The queen is the faithful soul in whom Christ reigns by His grace. She stands at the King's right hand, clad in a robe woven of gold which signifies love; the various colours symbolise the different virtues; each one of them keeps its own beauty, but love, which is the deep source of these virtues, enhances their splendour.
Love thus reigns as queen in our heart directing all its movements to the glory of God and of His Son Jesus.
In the same way as the Holy Spirit does not call every soul to shine in an equal manner by the same virtues, so in the matter of private devotion, He leaves them a holy liberty which we ourselves ought carefully to respect. There are souls who feel urged to honour especially the mystery of the Childhood of Jesus; others are attracted by the charms of His Hidden Life; yet others cannot turn themselves away from the meditation of the Passion.
However, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of those which should be especially dear to us. And why? Because it honours Christ Jesus not only in one of His states or particular mysteries, but in the generality and totality of His love, of that love wherein all His mysteries find their deepest meaning. Although being a clearly defined devotion, devotion to the Heart of Jesus bears something that is universal. In honouring the Heart of Christ, it is no longer to Jesus as Infant, Youth, or Victim, that our homage is especially addressed. It is on the Person of Jesus in the plenitude of His love that we especially linger.
Moreover, the general practice of this devotion tends, at the last analysis, to render to Our Lord love for love: Movet nos ad amandum mutuo (Leon XIII, I, c); to penetrate all our activity with love in order to please Christ Jesus. The special exercises of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are but so many means of expressing to our Divine Master this reciprocity of love.
Herein is a very precious effect of this devotion. For all Christian religion is summed up in the giving of ourselves, out of love, to Christ, and, through Him, to the Father and their common Spirit. This point is of capital imprtance, and I want, before ending this conference, to consider it with you for some moments.
It is a truth, confirmed by the experience of souls, that our spiritual life depends, in great part, on the idea that we habitually have of God.
Between us and God there are fundamental relations, based upon our nature as creatures; there exist moral relations resulting from our attitude towards Him; and this attitude is, most often, conditioned by the idea that we have of God.
If we form a false idea of God, our efforts to advance will often be vain and barren, because they will not be to the point; if we have an incomplete idea of Him, our spiritual life will be full of imperfections and shortcomings; if our idea of God is true, -----as true as is possible here below to a creature living by faith, -----our souls will expand safely in the light.
This habitual idea that we form of God is the key to our inner life, not only because it rules our conduct towards Him, but also because, in many cases, it determines God's attitude towards us: God treats us as we treat Him.
But, you will say, does not sanctifying grace make us God's children? Certainly it does; however, in practice, there are souls that do not act as the adopted children of the Eternal Father. It would seem as if their condition of chlidren of God had only a nominal value for them; they do not understand that it is a fundamental state which requires to be constantly manifested by acts corresponding to it, and that all spiritual light ought to be the development of the spirit of Divine adoption, the spirit we receive at baptism through the virtue of Christ Jesus.
Thus, you may meet with some who habitually consider God as the Israelites regarded Him. God revealed Himself to the Israelites amidst the thunders and lightnings of Sinai (Exodus 19:16 sq.). For this "stiff-necked people" (Deut. 31:27), inclined to infidelity and idolatry, God was only a Lord Who must be adored, a Master Who must be served, a Judge Who must be feared. The Israelites had received, as St. Paul says, "the spirit of bondage in fear": Spiritum sevitutis in timore (Rom. 8:15). God appeared to them only in the splendour of His Majesty and the sovereignty of His power. You know that He treated them with rigorous justice: the earth opened to swallow up the guilty Hebrews (Num 16:32); those who touched the ark of the covenant when their functions did not give them the right to do so were struck dead (2 Reg. 6, 6-7). Poisonous serpents destroyed the murmurers (Num. 21:5-6); scarcely dared they pronounce the name of Jehovah; once a year, the High Priest entered alone, in awe and trembling, into the Holy of Holies, armed with the blood of the victims immolated for sin (Levit. 16: 11 sq.). This was "the spirit of bondage."
There are souls that habitually live only in dispositions of purely servile fear; if they were not afraid of God's chastisement, they would not mind offending Him. They habitually regard God only as a master, and do not seek to please Him. They are like those servants Christ Jesus speaks of in the parable. A King, before going into a far country, calls his servants and confides to them some talents-----pieces of money-----hich they are to trade with until his return. One of the servants lays up his talent in safety, keeping it without turning it to account. He says to the King on his return: "Lord, behold here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin. For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man; thou takest up what thou didst not lay down, and thou reapest that which thou didst not sow." And what does the King answer? He takes the negligent servant at his word. "Out of thy own mouth I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man . . . hy then didst thou not give my money into the bank?" And the King commands that the money which had been given to the servant should be taken away from him (Lk. 19:12-13, 20-24).
Such souls act with God only at a distance, they treat with Him only as with a great Lord, and God treats them in consequence according to this attitude. He does not give Himself fully to them; between them and God, personal intimacy cannot exist; in them, inward expansion is impossible.
Other souls, more numerous perhaps, habitually regard God as a great benefactor; they act as a rule only in view of the reward: Proper retributionem (Ps. 118:112). This working in view of the recompense is not a false idea. We see Christ Jesus compare His Father to a Master who rewards,----- and with what magnificent liberality!----- the faithful servant: "Enter into the joy of thy Lord" (Mt. 25:21). He Himself tells us that He ascends into Heaven to prepare a place for us (Jn. 14:2).
But when, as happens with certain souls, this attitude is habitual to the point of becoming exclusive, besides being wanting in nobility, it does not fully respond to the spirit of the Gospel. Hope is a Christian virtue, it powerfully sustains the soul in the midst of adversity, trial and temptation; but it is not the most perfect of the theological virtues, which are the specific virtues of our condition as childrne of God. Which is then the most perfect virtue? Which is the one who carries the palm? It is, replies St. Paul, charity: Nunc manent fides, spes, caritas, tria haec: major auiem horum est caritas (1 Cor. 13:13).
This is why, -----without losing view of the fear of outraging God Who created us, although this must not be the fear of the slave who dreads punishment; without putting aside the thought of the reward which awaits us, if we are faithful, -----we ought to seek to have habitually towards God that attitude, composed of filial confidence and love, which Christ Jesus revealed to us as being that of the New Covenant.
Christ, indeed, knows better than anyone what our relations with God ought to be, He knows the Divine secrets. If we listen to Him we do not run any risk of going astray: He is Truth itself. Now, what attitude does He want us to have with God? Under what aspect does He want us to contemplate and adore Him? Undoubtedly, He teaches us that God is the Supreme Master Whom we must adore: "It is written: Thou shalt adore the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve" (Deut. 6:13; Lk 4:8). But this God Whom we must adore is a Father: Veri adoratores adorabunt Patrem in spiritu et veritate, nam et Pater tales quaerit qui adorent eum (Jn. 4:23).
Is adoration the only disposition which we ought to have in our heart? Does it constitute the one attitude which we must have towards this Father Who is God? No, Christ Jesus adds thereto love, and a love that is full, perfect, without reserve or restriction. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest of the commandments what did He answer? "Thou shalt love" (Mk. 12:30): love of complacency towards this Lord of such great majesty, towards this God of such high perfection; love of benevolence which seeks to procure the glory of the One Who is the object of this love; love of reciprocity towards a God Who "hath first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:10).
It is God's will that our relations with Him should be impregnated at the same time with filial reverence and profound love. Without reverence, love runs the risk of degenerating into a liberty of the wrong kind, a most dangerous want of restraint; without the love which lifts us up on its wings to our Father, the soul lives in error, and outrages the Divine gift.
And so as to safeguard within us these two dispositions of reverence and love, which may seem contradictory, God communicates to us the Spirit of His Son Jesus, Who, by His gifts of fear and piety, harmonises within us, in the proportion that they require, the most intimate adoration and most tender love: Quoniam estis filii, misit Deus spiritum Filii sui in corda vestra (Gal. 4:6).
According to the teaching of Jesus Himself, this Spirit ought to govern the direct all our life: it is "the Spirit of adoption" of the New Covenant, which St. Paul contrasts with "the spirit of bondage" of the Old Law.
You will perhaps ask the reason of this difference? It is because, since the Incarnation, God sees all humanity in His Son Jesus; on account of Him, He envelops entire humanity in the same look of complacency of which His Son, our Elder Brother, is the object. This is why He wishes that like Him, with Him, through Him, we should live as his "most dear children": Sicut filii carissimi (Eph. 5:1).
You may say too: And how are we to love God Whom we do not see: Deum nemo vidit unquam? (Jn. 1:18). It is true that here below the Divine light is inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:16); but God reveals Himself to us in His Son Jesus: Ipse illuxit cordibus nostris … in facie Christi Jesu (2 Cor. 4:6). The Incarnate Word is the authentic revelation of God and of His perfections; and the love that Christ shows us is but the manifestation of the love that God has for us.
The love of God indeed is in itself incomprehensible; it is completely beyond us; it has not entered into the mind of man to conceive what God is; His perfections are not distinct from His nature: the love of God is God Himself: Deus caritas est (Jn. 4:8).
How then shall we have a true idea of God's love? In seeing God as He manifests Himself to us under a tangible form. And what is this form? It is the Humanity of Jesus. Christ is God, but God revealing Himself to us. The contemplation of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus is the surest way for arriving at the true knowledge of God. He that seeth Him, seeth the Father (Cf. Jn. 14:9); the love that the Incarnate Word shows us, reveals the Father's love towards us, for the Word and the Father are but One: Ego et Pater unum sumus (Jn. 10:30).
This order once established does not change. Christianity is the love of God manifested to the world through Christ, and all our religion ought to be resumed in contemplating this love in Christ, and in responding to the love of Christ so that we may thereby attain to God.
Such is the Divine plan; such is the thought of God concerning us. If we do not adapt ourselves to it, there will be for us neither light nor truth; there will be neither security nor salvation.
Now, the essential attitude that this Divine plan requires of us is that of adopted children. We still remain beings drawn out of nothing, and before this Father of an incommensurable majesty (Hymn Te Deum) we ought to cast ourselves down in humblest reverence; but to these fundamental relations which arise from our conditions as creatures, are superposed, not to destroy but to crown them, relations infinitely higher, wider and more intimate which result from our Divine adoption, that are all summed up in the service of God through love.
This fundamental attitude responding to the reality of our heavenly adoption is particularly furthered by devotion to the Heart of Jesus. In causing us to contemplate the human love of Christ for us, this devotion admits us into the secret of Divine love; in inclining our souls to answer to it by a life whereof love is the motive power, it maintains in us those dispositions of filial piety which we ought to have towards the Father.
When we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, we possess within us that Divine Heart which is a furnace of love. Let us ask Him earnestly that He will Himself grant us to understand this love, for, in this, one ray from on high is more efficacious than all human reasoning; let us ask Him to enkindle within us the love of His Person. "If, by Our Lord's grace," says St. Teresa, "His love is imprinted one day in our heart, all will become easy to us; very rapidly and without trouble we shall come this means to the works of love" (Life written by herself, chap. 22. -----"Begin to love the Person (of Christ): the love of the Person will make you love the doctrine, and the love of the doctrine will lead you gently and mightily to the practice. Do not neglect to study Jesus Christ and to meditate upon His mysteries; it is this that will inspire you to love Him; the desire to pleas Him will hence follow and this desire will bear fruit in good works." Bossuet. Meditations upon the Gospel. The Last Supper, First Part, 89th day).
If this love for the Person
of Jesus is in our heart, our activity will spring forth from it. We
may meet with difficulties, be subject to great trials, undergo violent
temptations; if we love Christ Jesus, these difficulties, these trials,
these temptations will find us steadfast: Aquae multae non
potuerunt exstinguere caritatem (Cant. 8:7). For when the love of
Christ urges us we shall not wish any longer to live for oursleves, but
for Him Who loved us and delivered Himself up for us: Ut et qui
vivunt, jam non sibi vivant sed ei qui pro ipsis mortuus est (2
Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of
Jesus on the Feast of the Sacred Heart
THIS PRAYER IS ALSO PRESENTED ON THE FIRST FRIDAY PAGE.
The Friday that follows the
Second Sunday after Pentecost is
the Feast of the Sacred Heart which brings to mind all the attributes
of His Divine Heart. Many Catholics prepare for this Feast by beginning
to the Sacred Heart
on the Feast of Corpus Christi, which is the Thursday of the week
before. On the Feast of the Sacred Heart itself, we can gain a plenary
indulgence by making an Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart.
O sweet Jesus, Whose
overflowing charity for men is requited
by so much forgetfulness, negligence and contempt, behold us prostrate
before Thy altar eager to repair by a special act of homage the cruel
indifference and injuries, to which Thy loving Heart is everywhere
Mindful alas! that we
ourselves have had a share in such great
indignities, which we now deplore from the depths of our hearts, we
humbly ask Thy pardon and declare our readiness to atone by voluntary
expiation not only for our own personal offences, but also for the sins
of those, who straying far from the path of salvation, refuse in their
obstinate infidelity to follow Thee, their Shepherd and Leader, or,
renouncing the vows of their Baptism, have cast off the sweet yoke of
We are now resolved to
expiate each and every deplorable
outrage committed against Thee; we are determined to make amends for
the manifold offences against Christian modesty in unbecoming dress and
behaviour, for all the foul seductions laid to ensnare the feet of the
innocent, for the frequent violation of Sundays and holidays, and the
shocking blasphemies uttered against Thee and Thy Saints. We wish also
to make amends for the insults to which Thy Vicar on earth and Thy
priests are subjected, for the profanation, by conscious neglect or
terrible acts of sacrilege, of the very Sacrament of Thy Divine love;
and lastly for the public crimes of nations who resist the rights and
the teaching authority of the Church which Thou hast founded.
Would, O Divine Jesus, we
were able to wash away such
abominations with our blood. We now offer, in reparation for these
violations of Thy Divine honour, the satisfaction Thou didst once make
to Thy eternal Father on the Cross and which Thou dost continue to
renew daily on our altars; we offer it in union with the acts of
atonement of Thy Virgin Mother and all the Saints and of the pious
faithful on earth; and we sincerely promise to make reparation, as far
as we can with the help of Thy grace, for all neglect of Thy great love
and for the sins we and others have committed in the past. Henceforth
we will live a life of unwavering faith, of purity of conduct, of
perfect observance of the precepts of the gospel and especially that of
charity. We promise to the best of our power to prevent others from
offending Thee and to bring as many as possible to follow Thee.