Feast of the Most Sacred Heart
Rev. Father James Buckley, FSSP
On 1 July 2008, at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama, Fr. James Buckley of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, delivered the following homily for the First Solemn Mass of Father Jared McCambridge, FSSP.
The year was 1849. Forced to flee Rome by revolutionaries who had killed his prime minister, Blessed Pius IX, the Vicar of Christ and ruler of the papal states, was living in Gaeta, a territory which at that time belonged to the kingdom of Naples. Joining the exiled pope, Father Giovanni Merlini, the third superior general of the Fathers of the Precious Blood suggested to the Holy Father that in order to regain the papal states, he should bind himself by a vow to extend to the entire Catholic Church the Feast of the Precious Blood. On Saturday June 30, after consultation with prudent and pious priests, Pius IX without binding himself by vow informed Merlini that he would extend to the whole of Christendom the Feast of the Precious Blood. On that very day, the armies of France entered Rome and two days later revolutionaries capitulated. To commemorate this immediate and extraordinary sign of divine approval, Pius IX decreed the following August that the Feast of the Precious Blood would be celebrated throughout the world on the first Sunday of July, which in 1849 was July 1.
This history is an introduction to the feast itself which honors Christ for the special reason that He shed His blood for the remission of our sins. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul in speaking of Christ says: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sin, according to his grace” And St. Peter writes in his first epistle: “you have not been redeemed by perishable things silver and gold…but by the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without spot”.
In his Eucharistic hymn “Adoro Te devote” St. Thomas Aquinas says: “Cujus una stilla salvum facere totum mundum quit ab omni scelere”. The meaning is this: one drop of Christ’s blood was sufficient to wash clean the whole world”. But it was not by one drop that He redeemed us. In the garden He sweat blood; when scourged, according to the Shroud of Turin, He received 120 lashes from the nape of His neck to His buttocks. Blood flowed from His sacred head crowned with thorns and when nailed to the cross blood poured from hands and feet while He lived and after His death it poured from His side.
It is the wound from His side which is the focus of today’s gospel. Saint John the Evangelist, an eye witness, reports that although Christ was already dead one of the soldiers opened his side with a lance. Saint Augustine observes that there is significance in the word opened because from the side of Christ as from a door there comes forth eternal life. This, he says, was foreshadowed by the door in the side of Noah’s ark. When it was opened all, both men and beasts, that were to be saved from the flood entered in.
Because the blood of a dead man congeals, it was a miracle, a divine sign, that blood flowed from the side of Christ after His death. This miracle was done, says St. Thomas, to show that through Christ’s passion we obtain full remission from sin. The eternal life that Christ brings us, moreover, is first communicated to us by baptism, represented by water. For Our Lord said: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. The blood of Christ, the price of our salvation, also represents the Eucharist. As He Himself also said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood hath everlasting life and I will raise him up on the last day”. Since baptism and the Eucharist belong to the Church, holy men from ancient times have recognized that Eve who was formed from the side of Adam sleeping in the garden foreshadowed the Church who was formed from the side of Christ, sleeping on the cross.
Because Christ humbled Himself becoming obedient unto death even to the death on the cross, God hath exalted him and given him a name that is above every name. In his human nature Christ subjected Himself to the will of the Father by undergoing bloody sufferings. He is now seated in glory at the Father’s right hand. The wounds He once suffered He now bears as sparkling trophies of His triumph over sin and death. These surpass the stars in splendor and the honeycomb in sweetness. All the diamonds and rubies of the Orient cannot compare with them in value nor can balsam and the rose equal their fragrance.
But although He is exalted in glory it is still most fitting for us to give him thanks and praise. In the colloquy for his meditation on the triple sin St. Ignatius bids those making the Spiritual Exercises to look at Christ hanging on the cross and consider that He who lives in eternity entered into time and that He who in His divine nature cannot suffer took to himself a human nature so that He could die on the cross for me and for my sins. Christ died for me. What have I ever done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?
In order that one love Christ in deed and not merely in word, he should try to make an improvement in his life. If, for example, he notices that he has some habit of venial sin, perhaps it is taking God’s name in vain, using bad language or talking about the faults of his neighbor; he should strive to improve first by resolving as soon as he awakes in the morning, to avoid the offense. Then at some time during the day he should examine his conscience, marking down on a piece of paper the number of times he has fallen. When he goes to confession, he should not only mention the offense but the number of times he has committed it. In a very short time, he will make extraordinary progress
The Blood of Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, lavishly shed in the Passion is the price of our salvation. In our gratitude for the redemption He won for us at such a great price, we must engrave upon the walls of our mind those stirring words of Saint Ignatius: Christ died for me. What have I ever done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?