June 12, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the source and infinite ocean of mercy

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Every year on the Friday following the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), the Church calls our attention to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart holds a unique place in Catholic spirituality. It is a feast that celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation, the taking on of human flesh by God’s only Son. This feast also represents an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, whose infinite love and mercy are shared with us in the gift of the holy Eucharist, our reception of his body and blood poured out for us on the cross.

The heart of Jesus is a double symbol. The physical organ, the human heart, is essential to life. Without it, the body would be deprived of oxygen and the nutrients that are necessary to sustain life.

But the heart is also a symbol of our emotional life and, most especially, the love that is essential to sustain our humanity. Devotion to the Sacred Heart speaks to both Christ’s humanity and his unconditional love for us, his sisters and brothers.

Many of us grew up with the familiar image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our homes either in pictures, statues, medals or “badges.” The presence of this image in a Catholic home was considered to be an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of Christ over the family. It was a sign that Christ holds the place of honor in the family home—just as he does in the tabernacle of the parish church which contains the Blessed Sacrament.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus dates back many centuries, but its present form was inspired by the Lord’s reported appearances to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in France beginning in 1673. With these apparitions, the Lord is said to have made 12 promises to those who observe this particular devotion.

In these, the Lord promises that he will: 1) grant all graces necessary to our state of life; 2) establish peace in our homes; 3) comfort us in all our afflictions; 4) be our secure refuge in life and, above all, in death; 5) bestow abundant blessings on all our undertakings; 6) be the source and infinite ocean of mercy for all sinners; 7) lukewarm souls will become fervent; 8) fervent souls will rise quickly to high perfection; 9) every place where a picture of the Sacred Heart is placed will be blessed; 10) priests will receive the gift of touching the most hardened hearts; 11) those who promote this devotion will have their names written in the heart of Jesus never to be blotted out; and 12) the grace of final penitence will be given to those who receive holy Communion on the first Friday of nine consecutive months.

Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), calls attention to the importance of popular spirituality in the evangelical and missionary work of the Church.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is an important example of popular piety. By emphasizing both the physical and emotional dimension of Christ’s humanity, this devotion helps put us in touch with the man Jesus whose heart began to beat in his mother’s womb and who was known to weep bitter tears because of the suffering of others. Images of Jesus can make him seem distant from us. The image of the Sacred Heart is intended to bring him closer to us, and to place his loving mercy at the heart of our family homes.

In the liturgy for the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is celebrated this year on Friday, June 12, the Gospel reading calls our attention to the body of Jesus. Soldiers were sent to break the legs of the crucified to hasten their deaths. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side and immediately blood and water flowed out” (cf. Jn 19:31–37). The blood and water represent the conjoining of Jesus’ divine and human natures, which are poured out for us daily in the Eucharist, and which certify that the promise of salvation made to us by Christ has already been fulfilled.

As we prepare for the Synod on the Family in October, and for the Year of Mercy that begins in Advent 2015, perhaps it would be helpful to all of us to spend some time contemplating “the infinite ocean of mercy” that is represented by the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the heart of family life. †

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