In the Church, the whole month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is one of my favorite devotions, as it emphasizes the true humanity and deep tenderness of the Lord.
The devotion originated with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun who began having visions of Jesus’ Sacred Heart in 1673. Jesus revealed to her His own desire to be loved: “Behold the Heart that has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love.”
How strange to consider that God, who is Perfection Himself, desires something! He who is Pure Joy still thirsts for our love! The “heart” is often considered the core of the person – their inner life, their emotions and desires, their very self. This Sacred Heard devotions shows the inner life of God – how His Heart burns with love for us, and how It desires nothing more than to be loved in return.
It took a while for this devotion to catch on – her own mother superior believed these visions to be nothing more than a hoax. But with the support of the priest-chaplain of the convent (who himself was a saint – St. Claude de Colombiere), the devotion began to become deeply rooted in the life of the convent. The Jesuits soon heard of it and spread it far and wide. In 1928, Pope Pius IX wrote an encyclical which publicly ratified devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
One of the reasons why the devotion struggled to catch on was a heresy called Jansenism, which was rife at the time. Started by Bishop Cornelius Jansen, a university professor, it emphasized the total corruption of human beings. He said that only certain people were predestined to be saved, and heavily spoke about God’s judgment and wrath with its concomitant strict morality. Much of the Church was deeply influenced by his teachings. Although his teachings were officially condemned by the Church, many preachers continued to emphasize God’s anger and our corruption. As a Protestant preacher later put it, we were “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”
All of this influenced the cultural milieu in which St. Margaret Mary found herself. Her own autobiography bears witness to this – she sees herself as nothing more than a worthless worm, a vile sinner, and she performs extreme penances to assuage God’s justice. While all of this shows a glimmer of truth (we are all sinners who ought to do penance in reparation for our sins, since God is truly just), it is also incomplete – it lacks the perspective of God’s infinite mercy, His redemption of mankind, and His desire for an intimate friendship with us. Hence – the Sacred Heart devotion was God’s corrective measure to balance the excesses of Jansenism!
Catholicism is not “either-or” but “both-and”. It is not either God’s justice or His mercy – it is both/and. Human beings are sinners AND we are washed clean in the Blood of Christ. We must obey the Ten Commandments AND have a deep personal friendship with Christ. Our spirituality gets out-of-whack when we emphasize only one to the exclusion of the other.
What can you do to return more love to Jesus and fulfill His desire to be with you? How often do you attend adoration? Confession? How often do we pray and take quality time for God in silence in the midst of our cray and chaotic world? This beautiful feast day recalls the beauty and passion of God’s Heart – a heart wounded by our sins, but still burning with love for us!