TAKEN FROM THE SACRED HEART IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH
by Margaret Williams, R.S.C.J.
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1957
"I wish to reign over souls, over nations, over the whole world."
The outbreak of the war of 1870 released new forces of irreligion but also brought about the fulfillment of another wish of Our Lord expressed to Saint Margaret Mary: the sign of His Heart appeared upon banners. Love sometimes brings "not peace but the sword," and through conflict the Devotion was woven into national histories. A saintly invalid, Monsieur de Montagu, grieving for the fall of Paris, was inspired to have a flag embroidered in letters of gold "Coeur de Jesus, sauvez la France." It was made by the Religious of Paray and given to Colonel de Charette, leader of the Papal Zouaves, who carried it into the smoke of the battle of Loigny. At the sight of it a wave of courage swept the regiment into combat, where many "fell in the Heart of Jesus."
Then after the bitter days of the Commune, as by a wide-reaching inspiration of the Holy Spirit, groups of laymen who were loyal to their fatherland brought about the forming of "the national vow": to build a basilica in honor of the Heart of Christ. The vow was approved by the National Assembly on July 23,1873. The intention in the minds of thousands of people who had petitioned for it was the deliverance of the Sovereign Pontiff, then lately deprived of the Papal States, and the well-being of France. The cornerstone of the basilica of Montmartre was laid two years later, on the day named by Pius IX for the universal consecration of the Church to the Sacred Heart, June 16, 1875. The magnificent shrine rose rapidly on the ancient Hill of Martyrs. What Louis XIV would not and Louis XVI could not do, the people of France had done.1 They wrote their national consecration in large letters over the door of the cathedral which soon became a center of the Devotion for the whole world:
"Christo ejusque sacratissimo Cordi Gallia poenitens et grata et devota."
The consecration of other nations preceded and followed that of France, each a step in the spiritual unification of Christendom: the Tyrol, Ecuador, Portugal, Belgium, Ireland, Spain.2 It was the expression in larger units of the tendency towards group consecration of which the formation of the "Society for the Social Reign of Jesus Christ" was indicative, and which became the theme of the first Eucharistic Congresses.3 Factories, communes, employment groups, cells of Catholic Action invoked the Divine Heart in their titles and in their programs. It was the era of "Cor Jesu, Rex et Centrum Omnium Cordium."
It was fitting that the Pope of social justice, Leo XIII, should bring these unifying themes of the Devotion to a climax at the end of the century of social developments. He himself called his action of June 12, 1899, "the greatest act of my pontificate." This act was the completion of that of Pius IX. Signs that it was inspired by the Spirit Who is the soul of the Church were widespread throughout the faithful at the time. One of these signs was manifested at a Good Shepherd Convent in Portugal, whose superior was Maria zu Droste Vischering (1863-1899). She was a niece of the heroic Bishop Ketteler, champion of the Church in Germany during the Kulturkampf, who had entered the Good Shepherd Order as Mother Mary of the Divine Heart and been sent to Oporto in Portugal. Neither illness nor the pressure of trying work could keep her contemplative soul from constant awareness of the love of the Divine Heart and of its desires for the love of the whole human race. These desires became overwhelmingly powerful in her own soul, and then very explicit, till she knew that she must appeal to the Head of the Church. From her sickbed she wrote, on January 6, 1899:
Most Holy Father, I come to the feet of Your Holiness, in deep confusion, to ask you very humbly to permit me to speak to you again on the subject on which I wrote to Your Holiness last June. ...
Last summer, when Your Holiness was suffering from an indisposition which, taking into consideration your great age, filled the hearts of your children with anxiety, it was a great consolation to me to know from Our Lord that He would prolong the life of Your Holiness, in order to bring about the consecration of the whole world to His Sacred Heart. Later, on the first Friday of the month of December, He told me that in order to grant you this great grace, He had prolonged the life of Your Holiness, and He left me under the impression that, after making the consecration, Your Holiness would soon finish your earthly pilgrimage.
On the eve of the Immaculate Conception Our Lord made me understand that, by this fresh development of the cultus of His Divine Heart, He will illuminate the entire world with fresh light, and these words of the third Mass of Christmas penetrated my heart: "Quia hodie descendit Lux magna super terram." I seemed to behold rays descending from this light, the Heart of Jesus, that adorable sun, and shedding its rays upon the earth in a faint manner at first, then brighter and brighter, till the world was illuminated. And He said: "People and all nations shall be enlightened with the brightness of this light, and warmed by the intense heat of its rays." I understood the ardent desire He has that His adorable Heart may be glorified more and more, and be better known, and spread Its gifts and blessings over the entire world. And He has chosen Your Holiness, prolonging your days in order that you might give Him this honor, console His outraged Heart, and draw down on your own soul those choice graces which flow from this Divine Heart, the source of all grace, the abode of peace and happiness. I feel unworthy to communicate all this to Your Holiness; but Our Lord, after impressing my misery on me more and more, and making me renew the sacrifice of myself as victim and spouse of His Heart, accepting willingly all kinds of sufferings, humiliations and contempt, gave me a strict order to write again to Your Holiness on this subject.
It may seem strange that Our Lord should ask for the consecration of the whole world, and not be satisfied with the consecration of the Catholic Church. But His desire to reign, to be loved and glorified and to inflame all hearts with His love and mercy, is so intense that He wills that Your Holiness should offer Him the hearts of all those who, by holy Baptism, belong to Him, in order to facilitate their return to the true Church, as well as to hasten the spiritual birth of those unBaptized ones who have not yet been made partakers of the spiritual life, and yet for whom He has given His life and shed His Blood, and therefore has equally called them to be one day children of Holy Church.
In my letter of June, I explained the graces which Our Lord wished to grant in consequence of this consecration, and the manner in which He wished it to be carried out; but considering the recent earnest entreaties made by Our Lord, with the most filial submission, I earnestly beseech Your Holiness to grant Our Lord the consolations He asks for, and to add still greater splendor to the worship of His Divine Heart, according to the inspirations He will give you. Our Lord not only spoke to me, directly, of the consecration, but on different occasions He has shown me the burning desire He has that His Heart might be more glorified and loved for the good of nations. It appears to me that it would please Him greatly if Your Holiness, by an exhortation to the clergy and faithful, and by granting new indulgences, were to increase the devotion of the first Fridays of the month. When Our Lord spoke of the consecration, He did not say this expressly, but without being able to affirm this positively I thought I discerned the ardent desire of His Heart.4
Leo XIII may have been impressed by this letter, but he did not wish to act on a private revelation alone; his response must rest upon the principles of theology and of Catholic Tradition. He consulted his theologians. Could he, even though Vicar of Christ, speak in the name of those outside the Mystical Body of Christ? Could he consecrate to the Heart of Christ those non-believing members of the human race who would repudiate such a consecration? The answer came m the clear tones of Saint Thomas:
We must therefore consider the members of the Mystical Body not only as they are in act but as they are in potentiality. Nevertheless some are in potentiality who will never be reduced to act, and some are reduced at some time to act; and this according to the triple class, of which the first is by faith, the second by the charity of this life, the third by the fruition of the life to come. Hence we must say that if we take the whole time of the world in general, Christ is the Head of all men, but diversely. For first and principally, He is the Head of those who are united to Him by glory; secondly of those who are actually united to Him by charity; thirdly, of those who are actually united to Him by faith; fourthly, of those who are united to Him merely in potentiality which is not yet reduced to act, yet will be reduced to act according to Divine predestination; fifthly, of those who are united to Him in potentiality which will never be reduced to act, such are those men in the world who are not predestined, who, however, on their departure from this world, wholly cease to be members of Christ, as being no longer in potentiality to be united to Christ.5
And so Leo XIII, as head of the actual and potential members of Christ's Body on earth, decreed that on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, in 1899, the whole human race should be consecrated ---- knowingly or not, willingly or not ---- to the Heart of Christ. Day-laborers and millionaires, the sin-sick and those vibrant with holiness, peoples of white, black, yellow and red skins, old men who had seen the first railroad and little children who would see the first atom bomb, nomads in primitive backlands and workers hanging from subway straps, all were sealed with the sign of the all-possessive Love, the Heart "in whom all hope is to be placed." The Encyclical Annum Sacrum told the world the reasons for this mighty act:
But a short time ago, as you well know, We, by letters apostolic, and following the customs and ordinances of Our predecessors, commanded the celebration in this city, at no distant date, of a Holy Year. And now today, in the hope and with the object that this religious celebration shall be more devoutly performed, we have traced and recommended a striking design from which, if all shall follow it out with hearty good will, We not unreasonably expect extraordinary and lasting benefits for Christendom in the first place, and also for the whole human race. After tracing the historic growth of the idea of consecrating the world to the Sacred Heart, the Holy Father continues:
We consider that the plan is ripe for fulfillment. This worldwide and solemn testimony of allegiance and piety is especially appropriate to Jesus Christ, who is the Head and Supreme Lord of the race. His empire extends not only over Catholic nations and those who, having been duly washed in the waters of Baptism, belong of right to the Church, although erroneous opinions keep them astray, or dissent from her teaching cuts them off from her care; it comprises also all those who are deprived of the Christian faith, so that the whole human race is most truly under the power of Jesus Christ. For He who is the only-begotten Son of the Father, having the same substance with Him and being the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance necessarily has everything in common with the Father, and therefore sovereign power over all things. This is why the Son of God thus speaks of Himself through the Prophet: "But I am appointed King by Him over Sion, His holy mountain. ...The Lord said to Me, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession."6 By these words He declares that He has power from God over the whole Church, which is signified by Mount Sion, and also over the rest of the earth to its uttermost ends. ...
But this is not all. Christ reigns not only by natural rights as the Son of God but also by a right that He has acquired. For it was He who snatched us from the powers of darkness and "gave Himself for a redemption for all."7 Therefore not only Catholics, and those who have duly received Christian Baptism, but also all men, individually and collectively, have become to Him a "purchased people. ..."8
To this twofold ground of His power and domination He graciously allows us, if we think fit, to add voluntary consecration. Jesus Christ, our God and our Redeemer, is rich in the fullest and most perfect posSession of all things; we, on the other hand, are so poor and needy that we have nothing of our own to offer Him as a gift. But yet, in His infinite goodness and love, He in no way objects to our giving and consecrating to Him what is already His, as if it were really our own; nay, far from refusing such an offering, He positively asks for it and desires: "My Son, give Me thy heart." ...
And since there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite Love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another, therefore it is fit and proper that we should consecrate ourselves to His most Sacred Heart ---- an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration, and love is given to this Divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself.
For this reason We urge and exhort all who know and love this Divine Heart willingly to undertake this act of piety; and it is Our earnest desire that all should make it on the same day, so that the aspirations of many thousands who are performing this act of consecration may be borne to the temple of Heaven on the same day.
The vision of Leo XIII here ranged once more over the face of the globe, and he enumerated all who sit in the shadow of death or of ignorance, finding hope for all:
Such an act of consecration, since it can establish or draw tighter the
bonds which naturally connect public affairs with God, gives to States a hope of better things. ... When the Church, in the days immediately succeeding her institution, was oppressed beneath the yoke of the Caesars, a young Emperor saw in the heavens a cross, which became at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious victory that soon followed. And now, today, behold, another blessed and heavenly token is offered to our sight, the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, splendid amidst flames of love. In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently sought. ...
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the 25th day of May, 1899, the twenty-second year of our Pontificate. Leo XIII, Pope9
In answer to this Encyclical bishops and pastors the world over read the now familiar "Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" composed by Leo XIII for the Feast Day in 1899. Mother Mary of the Divine Heart died while the bells were ringing for First Vespers, to share from Heaven in the outpouring of graces promised by the Pope as a result of this "greatest act" of his pontificate.
Some years after, the first synthetic study of the Devotion combined with its history appeared. Father Jean Bainvel, S.J., closed his work with a chapter entitled "Harmonies Found in the Devotion," in which he recognized, from the vantage point of the turn of the century, "the harmony and concord of the historical development of the Devotion." He first asks why a Devotion which sums up Christianity so well should have taken so long to develop, since we have in it "an excellent formula in which the very essence and spirit of Christianity are admirably expressed." He answers that "even when an intuition of a genuine formula has been found, it can only be propagated in a society prepared to understand it." After a rapid survey of the growth of the Devotion in earlier centuries, he shows that it is both the providential expression of the best in the spirit of an age and a "divine antidote" for the virus of its heresies. It is, at every stage, a blending of complementary tendencies in the life of the Church. He then illustrates this profound concept by a study of "some points in the Devotion relative to the conception, the worship, or the omission of love in the course of the nineteenth century":
The nineteenth century has deified love, even human love, even sinful love. In practice such has always been the tendency; love, like all the passions, has received man's idolatrous homage. But to maintain in theory the absolute rights of love, to justify it even in its most monstrous excesses, to insist that all laws, human and Divine, should give way before it, to make it the supreme god, this task was reserved for the literature of the nineteenth century. This is what the masters of the greatest repute in poetry, in fiction, in dramatic art, have done.
And they have found only too many disciples prompt to accept their teachings. To this idolatrous worship of human love, of selfish love, the Devotion to the Sacred Heart opposed the worship of the true God who willed that He should be described as love (Deus caritas est); of the Divine love that gave us Jesus, and became incarnate in Jesus; of love supremely noble and well-ordered; of love divinely pure and disinterested; of the love that sacrifices itself to teach us how to love Him whom we should love, and how we should love; which gives us as our model, our rule, as an incentive to our love, even the love of God, the love of Jesus, that thus by deifying our love we may labor to divinize, if I may so speak, our lives.
Together with this idolatry of love, the nineteenth century, under cover of science, has preached a conception of the world in which love should no longer have any place except as a blind instinct and as an unconscious force. All would be ruled by fatal laws. Everything would be reduced to the evolutions of an impersonal nature, without soul or heart, in which man would be but one of the countless wheels of the immense machine, carried away himself in the universal movement with phosphorescent gleams on the surface of the waves, then to be lost forever in the fathomless abyss. Such for a half century was the self-styled scientific conception of the universe. Such was the conception to which many savants steeped in philosophy, many philosophers steeped in science, have lent the seductiveness and prestige of their learning or of their style. In face of this fatalistic conception doomed to end in gloomy pessimism, stoically resigned (like that of Taine), or in false, mocking laughter (like that of Renan), Christian philosophy, apologetics and theology have valiantly maintained the unshaken truths of reason and of faith, the Christian and judicially optimistic conception of the world. But for souls something more was necessary than abstract naked truth. Devotion to the Sacred Heart, by offering them the Heart of Jesus, reminds them of the supremacy of love in the government of the world, makes them see and experience in everything the loving and fatherly providence of God, see and prove the love of Jesus, who has become our brother to make us children of God and to draw down upon us, guilty, miserable children as we are, the Divine favors that, from the well-beloved Son in whom they abide, flow down upon us.
The author then turns his thought towards the coming century:
These reflections and many others of the same kind that could be made, will help us to understand the attraction by means of which Divine grace draws so many souls, the most religious, most fervent souls, to the Sacred Heart. For these souls, Devotion to the Sacred Heart is, in these days of ours, the natural form of devotion to Jesus; they know that in laboring to increase it in themselves and in those around them, they are laboring that Jesus may reign within themselves and in others. And as the cause of God and the cause of Jesus are but one and the same, we can understand how it is that so many chosen souls who desire to live but for God and for others, for His love, in complete self-forgetfulness and sacrifice of themselves, turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, addressing Him in the terms, or their equivalent, of the beautiful prayer addressed to Him by one of those souls, a prayer which sums up so well both the perfection of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart and the perfection of the Christian life: "Sacred Heart of Jesus, my light, my love and my life, grant that I may know but Thee, that I may live only in Thee, through Thee and for Thee."10
As the Devotion thus became more public and more far-reaching in society, it followed the inevitable rhythm of the spiritual life; as it grew outward its life reached deeper into the roots of contemplation. In the closing years of the century, Sister Theresa of the Child Jesus, in the Carmel of Lisieux, was learning from the Spirit of Love in her own heart a "way" for souls to follow: "We must approach Him through His Heart; on that side He is defenseless," and "Perfection ... means taking Jesus captive through the Heart" ... by "the smallest actions done through love." And: "Since I have been given to understand the love of the Heart of Jesus I confess that all fear has been driven from me. ... How little is known of the merciful love of the Heart of Jesus! It is true that to enjoy that treasure we must humble ourselves, must confess our nothingness ... and here is where many a soul draws back." And so in prayer she turned to Him for others: "O my God, must Thy love, which is forgotten, lie hidden in Thy Heart? It seems to me that if Thou shouldst find souls offering themselves as victims of holocaust to Thy love, Thou wouldst consume them swiftly. Thou wouldst be glad to let escape the flames of infinite tenderness that are imprisoned in Thy Heart." Then, gazing over the world from the sublimely simple heights to which her Divine Eagle had carried her, she saw the Heart in the Body Mystical:
As I meditated on the Mystical Body of Holy Church I could not recognize myself among any of its members described by Saint Paul; or rather was it not that I wished to recognize myself in all? Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understand that since the Church is a body composed of different members, she should not lack the most necessary and most nobly endowed of all the bodily organs. I understood therefore that the Church has a heart, and a heart on fire with love. I saw too that love imparts life to all the members, so that should love ever fail, apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. Finally, I realized that love includes every vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal, reaching down through the ages and stretching to the uttermost limits of earth."11
What Saint Theresa saw in this luminous flash of understanding she left for the twentieth century to explore after her; it would find that the love animating the Church's members was that of the Heart of the totus Christus.
1. The message given to Margaret Mary for Louis XIV was thus fulfilled unknowingly, nearly two centuries later. See the history of the building of Montmartre in Hamon, op. cit., Vol. V.
2. These were all cases of consecration made by representatives of civil authority, such as can only be made in Catholic countries. In countries in which the faith is not recognized by the government, consecrations can be made by ecclesiastical authorities.
3. The movement for Eucharistic Congresses was initiated by Mlle. Marie-Marthe Tamisier (1884-1910), who had a profound devotion to the Sacred Heart which she found living in the Blessed Sacrament. She was educated at the Sacred Heart Convent at Marmoutier, and later devoted much time to the care of the shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Issoudun.
4. L. Chasle, Sister Mary of the Divine Heart (New York, Benziger, 1906), p. 352.
5. Summa Theologica, III, q. 8, a. 3.
6. Ps. 2, 6.
7. 1 Tim. 2, 9.
8. 1 Pet. 2, 9.
9. American Catholic Quarterly Review, July, 1899.
10. Bainvel, op. cit., p. 345. The prayer quoted is that of Saint Madeleine Sophie.
11. Soeur Therese of Lisieux (Kenedy, 1924), p. 203. The other short quotations are taken from scattered passages in the Saint's letters, etc.
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