One can discover in the Catholic faith a wide and deep variety of devotions and spiritualities. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is one of the most visible and important. Very few people whom I know would be unfamiliar with at least the title Sacred Heart. Many parishes and Catholic institutions are named in honor of and dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Indeed, by now most of the readers of The Integrated Catholic Life™ are aware that among our most popular contributing writers are religious sisters who belong to the congregation of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles.
The Heart of the Matter
That Catholics practice a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus should come as no surprise; it is natural. Throughout the ages and across many cultures, the heart serves as a symbol for true love.
In the Jewish religion, the heart symbolizes a person’s core where spiritual activity occurs. Elul is the last month of the Jewish year and the Hebrew letters of its name form an acronym for a biblical phrase, “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.” Looking at the Hebrew word for Elul one sees symbolized in the heart formed by the letters a face-to-face connection between two persons, indeed between God and man.
In our own time, even the secular world attaches great import to the heart in matters of love. Falling in love is symbolically attributed to Cupid’s arrows through the heart. One’s heart is filled with joy when true love is found and is broken when that love is lost.
A few biblical verses will demonstrate the importance of the heart as both symbol and metaphor:
- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
- “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
- And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:51)
- “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)
The Importance and Meaning of the Devotion
God has revealed Himself to us as Love. He does not only love; He is love. This love is found in the very Person of the Holy Spirit who is the love of the Father and the Son in the Blessed Trinity. God’s love is benevolent – life-giving – and it is perfect and unconditional. He loves us so that we can love ourselves, love Him and love others as He does. In this earthly life, we are to learn, by His grace, to love as He loves. History shows us that the early Christians were known by their love of God and their fellow-man. From the very beginning of the Church, we see a growing devotion of Christians to the love of God.
Given the identity of God as Love, the purpose of one’s life as an abiding in that love, and the religious and cultural meaning of the heart as love, both in analogy and metaphor, we can begin to see the roots of the heart, specifically the Sacred Heart of Jesus and all that it symbolizes and is connected to, as an object of our devotion.
The object of the Sacred Heart devotion, then, is not only worship and devotion to the physical heart of Jesus, which we refer to as the Sacred Heart of Jesus; it is devotion to all that the symbol of the heart means – devotion to the person of Jesus and to the love of God for mankind – this we commonly refer to as simply the Sacred Heart. St. Pius XII had this to say about the object of this devotion…
“… that Christ the Lord – showing His most Sacred Heart – willed in an extraordinary and special way, to call the minds of men to the contemplation and veneration of the mystery of God’s most merciful love for the human race.” (Encyclical of Pope Pius XII; Haurietis Aquas; On Devotion to the Sacred Heart; May 15, 1956)
Thus, this devotion entails our attention to both (1) the heart of flesh of Jesus and (2) His abundant and redeeming love for us.
Spread of the Devotion and the Twelve Promises
Attention to the heart as a symbol of love, as mentioned above, has a long history that dates back to Old Testament times. It continued and grew in the age of the Church through honor and devotion directed to the Sacred Heart. But, it was greatly spread as a result of a series of apparitions of Jesus regarding the devotion received by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th Century.
Jesus, Himself asked for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, which we celebrate today, and each year on Friday – 19 days following Pentecost. The observance of 9 consecutive First Fridays, Acts of Consecration to the Sacred Heart and Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in Homes and Places are common practices associated with this devotion. Resources to learn more about this devotion and liturgical feast day are provided below – it is not possible in this short space to cover the essential elements and practices of this devotion and the four principal apparitions of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary.
However, the following summary of the Twelve Promises of Our Lord, to persons and families who honor His Sacred Heart, is included as additional motivation for you to make the effort to visit these resources and begin to really practice Devotion to the Sacred Heart!
- I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
- I will establish peace in their families.
- I will bless every house and those places in which the image of my Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
- I will console them in all their difficulties.
- I will be their refuge in life and especially at the hour of death.
- I will shed blessings abundantly on all their undertakings.
- Sinners shall find in my Heart a fountain and infinite ocean of mercy.
- Tepid souls shall become fervent.
- Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
- I will grant to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
- Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my Heart never to be erased.
- I promise you, in the excess of the mercy of my Heart, that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Friday of the month, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without their sacraments; and my Divine Heart will be their safe refuge in that last hour.
On Devotion to the Sacred Heart; Encyclical of Pope Pius XII; 1956 – http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_15051956_haurietis-aquas_en.html
Sacred Heart Apostolate – http://www.sacredheartapostolate.com/GloriaAnson.shtml
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