Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Rediscovering the Meaning of the Sacred Heart

I’ll never forget Sister Charlene.

Sister Charlene was an “old school” Benedictine sister who I had in the second grade.
Needless you stay, if you valued your life, you did not mess around with Sister
Charlene. But while she was not afraid to lay down the law in second grade, one thing I
do remember about her is how much she loved to teach, and had a genuine love for her
students.

She wanted us to learn not just things like reading or social studies, but she took her
role as a religious sister very seriously and helped us to grow in faith as we prepared for
the sacraments of first reconciliation and first Holy Communion. She also would give out
holy cards and medals. One picture in particular stood with me. It was a picture of
Jesus, with a prayer to the Sacred Heart on the back. She also gave us each a medal of
the Sacred Heart, complete with a red crocheted necklace that it would hang on.

The thing with the painted image is I remember it being so well done. The eyes of Jesus
seemed to follow you everywhere in a kind way, and you felt Jesus watching over you.
And burning was the loving heart of Jesus to remind you how much you were cared for
by our Lord.

While you probably are familiar with the term “Sacred Heart,” you might not know the
history of the devotion which we celebrate as a feast the Friday after the Second Sunday of Pentecost, which happened to be this last Friday.

From an article written by Kathy Schieffer of The National Catholic Register, we can get
a nice summary of the devotion. She writes:

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Devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus has its origins in the eleventh century, when
pious Christians meditated on the Five Wounds of Christ. There grew up among the
faithful prayers to the Sacred Heart, prayers to the Shoulder Wound of Christ—private
devotions which helped Christians to focus on the passion and death of Christ, and thus
to grow in love for our Savior who had suffered and died for us.

It was not until 1670, however, that a French priest, Fr. Jean Eudes, celebrated the first
Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Around the same time, a pious sister by the name of Margaret Mary Alacoque began to
report visions of Jesus. He appeared to her frequently, and in December 1673, he
permitted Margaret Mary—as had once allowed St. Gertrude—to rest her head upon his
Heart. As she experienced the comfort of his presence, Jesus told her of his great love
and explained that he had chosen her to make his love and his goodness known to all.

The following year, in June or July of 1674, Margaret Mary reported that Jesus wanted
to be honored under the figure of His Heart of flesh. He asked the faithful to receive Him
in the Eucharist frequently, especially on the First Friday of the month, and to observe a
Holy Hour of devotion to Him.
And then in 1675, during the octave of Corpus Christi, Margaret Mary received the
vision which came to be known as the “great apparition.” Jesus asked that the modern
Feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated each year on the Friday following Corpus
Christi, in reparation for the ingratitude of men for the sacrifice which Christ had made
for them.

The devotion became popular after St. Margaret Mary’s death in 1690. However,
because the Church is always careful in approving a private apparition or devotion, the
feast was not established as an official feast for all of France until 1765.

On May 8, 1873, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was formally approved by Pope Pius
IX; and 26 years later – on July 21, 1899 – Pope Leo XIII urgently recommended that all
bishops throughout the world observe the feast in their dioceses.

So how then does one practice a devotion to the Sacred Heart? What I think it comes
down to is thinking back also to the feast of Divine Mercy, the Second Sunday of Easter,
where we contemplated how deep God’s love is for us. The Sacred Heart devotion
emerged at a time when the Church was combatting Calvinism and Jansensim, the
former a Protestant movement, the latter a schism in the Catholic Church but both
having a very pessimistic view of human nature holding only a few would be saved. The
visions of Saint Margaret Mary, and that of Saint Sister Faustina Kowalska, both
occurred at dark times; Margaret Mary’s in the midst of these pessimistic movements on
human salvation, and Sister Faustina’s as World War II was about to break out. Through
both is that message of mercy and love.

So how then do we live out a Sacred Heart devotion? I’d suggest a few things:

1. Remember that humanity is good. Love much inspire humanity; this is why God never
gives up on us and showed us how much we are loved. We must never give up on one
another.

2. In what Jesus does for us, He shows us a better way – the way of love. We must do
the same for one another.

3. We must resist getting down on ourselves but be a people of hope. We all have
setbacks, even after we think we’ve overcome something. We should make use of
confession and Mass, do a daily act of contrition, and always remember how much God
loves us by welcoming His mercy into our hearts and souls.

4. Bring that hope into the world by being person of mercy and love.

Our faith emphasizes God’s mercy and love so strongly because through Jesus, we are
redeemed. We must never lose sight of the fact that on the one hand we are a people in
need of redemption, while on the other never getting so down on ourselves we think that
somehow we aren’t worth of that mercy that is God’s free gift. The Sacred Heart of
Jesus is a reminder of that important truth.

Have a blessed week!

Fr. Paul