Devotion to the Sacred Heart

13 October 2006: Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time
Galatians 3, 7-14: the Devotion to the Sacred Heart

During the time of the early Christians, the new converts received the Holy Spirit in a palpable and visible way. They experienced a sudden surge of new life and a certain increase of power (Acts 8, 14-17; 10, 44). This happened to the Galatians who were pagans and never learned of the Jewish law. St. Paul said that they have received the Holy Spirit not because they have done the regulations of the law (which they never heard yet), but because they have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ and believed. Paul gave as an example Abraham. No law has yet been made at the time of Abraham but Yahweh promised that all people will receive His blessings through him (Genesis 12). Therefore, one receives God’s grace, not through the following of the law, but through faith. In other words, we receive the Holy Spirit in a great act of trust in the Lord, in our deep faith in God. We too become descendants of Abraham, not by blood as the Jews claim to be, but when we do the same leap of faith as Abraham did centuries ago. As Jesus said that whoever does the will of the Father is family to Him. When we do God’s will, we show our relationship with one another. In other words, when we embody God’s will, we truly become his children.

When we look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, what do we see? Do we come to attend Friday mass out of habit coming from the requirement of this devotion, or for extra credit when we die (as indulgences)? Are we here to fulfill an obligation --- another word for fulfilling the law? The reading from the Galatians challenges us to look beyond these regulations and dig deeper into the very meaning of what we do. The devotion to the Sacred Heart allows us to have a faith that has depth --- not just an inherited faith. This devotion began to flourish in the Middle Ages when there was a renewed interest in the humanity of Jesus and his passion. It reached its peak when Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal, and Margaret Mary Alacoque offered a counter-spirituality of tenderness and compassion against Jansenism’s rigidity and sectarianism. In 1673, Margaret Mary Alacoque received revelations from Christ about His heart. It is here that our practice began: our personal consecration to the Sacred Heart, our observance of the hour between 11:00 to 12:00 midnight in unity with the Lord’s hour in Gethsemane (“Will you spend one more hour with me?” as Jesus appealed to His sleeping disciples), the reception of communion on First Fridays in reparation for the sins of the world and the assurance that those who receive communion every First Friday for nine consecutive months will have salvation ensured.

Furthermore, the Church encouraged the devotion to the Sacred Heart against the French Revolution, Communism, and the threats to family life. In 1856, Pope Pius IX made it a feast; in 1899, Leo XIII consecrated the whole world to it, and in 1956, Pius XII included it in the encyclical, Haurietis Aqua (“You Shall Draw Waters”), which talks about God’s love for humanity. In the end, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is about God’s love and devotion, more than anything else --- not about ritual practices. Our devotional practice protects, ensures and enshrines the values of love and faith --- two things that make us family to Abraham and Jesus.

This is not alien to what the heart is all about (things I learned when I was a biology student). 72 times a minute, 4,320 times an hour, 103,680 times a day, almost 38 million times a year --- over 2.6 billion times in the course of an average life, the human heart beats powerfully, sturdy enough to contract and send fresh oxygenated blood throughout the entire body, elastic enough to collect deoxygenated blood. A healthy, supple, and strong heart can only receive and give lifeblood.

The cold heart is dead: rigid people who follow laws as if they are the well-spring of their life are zombies. The real heart is warm as the Bible says it is. It is the well-spring of life, the totality of one’s being. God promised to Israel that He will turn their ‘hardness of heart’ into a ‘heart of flesh.’

And thus, if we are to truly become devoted to the Sacred Heart, we mean that we will become more loving and warm to people. For me, it means that I would be sensitive to the needs of others; it means that I would be more caring towards them; it means that I have to spend time with them; it means that when someone has hurt me, I should not be cold to them.

If we look at the ‘requirement’ of communion on First Fridays, we discover that it is precisely what heaven is: when we are in communion, we mean that our hearts are connected to each other. And when we connect with one another, there is warmth. There is love. It is no wonder that Dante Alighieri describes hell, not as a place with fire, but a place of ice. When there is no love, you get a cold heart.

*Photo by Neo Saicon SJ. These are our Jesuit philosophy scholastics taken in Cagayan de Oro City.

1 comment:

evelyn said...

Thank you for sharing these facts about the devotion to the Sacred Heart with us. I am also specially grateful for your homily on the rosary. I find your explanation on the repetitions in the rosary very helpful. It is good for us to know these facts about our devotions. More so for me who am surrounded by skeptics, Protestants and atheists. I hope you don't mind my keeping a copy of these homilies. I'd like to go over them again (and again) even when I'm not online. Again, thank you very much.