by Deacon Michael Bickerstaff | June 23, 2017 10:00 am
One can discover a wide and deep variety of devotions and spiritualities in the Catholic faith. 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.
And, of course, today is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus! So let’s get straight to…
That Catholics practice a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus should come as no surprise; it is natural and it is reasonable.
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 one’s 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:
God has revealed Himself to us as Love.
God 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.
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 seventeenth century.
Jesus, Himself asked for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, which we celebrate today, and each year on Friday—nineteen days following Pentecost. The observance of nine 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!
Into the deep…
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
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