Homily: Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart
Fr Gregory Gresko
Our Lady of Angels Monastery, Hanceville, Alabama
Friday, 26 June 2009
It is my honor to be with you today — Father, Mother, Sisters, and all of the people of God — to share the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together with you. As a matter of brief introduction, my name is Fr Gregory Gresko, a Benedictine currently serving in Richmond, Virginia as Prior of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey. I am particularly pleased that we are celebrating this morning the Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart, as the Heart of Jesus is the focus of my current doctoral work at the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University in the Vatican, where I am researching the Consecration of the Family to the Heart of Jesus in Light of the Pastoral Ministry of Pere Mateo Crawley-Boevey, ss.cc.
Personal devotion to the Heart of Jesus is among the most popular and universally widespread acts of Christian piety in the Church. The theology of the heart gained particular momentum in 17th-century France with our Lord’s mystical revelations of His Heart to Margaret Mary Alacoque, spreading throughout the world and having deep impact on the Church’s spirituality. However, the foundations supporting devotion to the Heart of Jesus clearly precede Margaret Mary’s experiences. The centrality of this theology of the heart to the Christian Faith is evident first in Sacred Scripture, preeminently in the Gospel of John where at the final moment of the Crucifixion, out of the pierced Heart of Jesus, the gift of effused blood and water flows out to the world, giving birth to the Church (Jn 19.34). The piercing of Jesus’ Heart is that renting open of the veil of the temple of Jesus’ Love, so that through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist — which we discover in the flows of water and the Blood — the faithful may enter into the Heart of our Lord and find their eternal rest in Him — both now and in the life hereafter.
When our Lord appeared to Margaret Mary Alacoque, He revealed to her a two-fold message concerning His desire for devotion to His Heart: 1) For people to offer something to Christ in participation of His saving the world (reparatio), and 2) for people to enter into a dynamic exchange of human love for divine love through an exchange of hearts (redamatio). Christ calls for each one of us to enter into profoundly loving relation with His Heart, which serves as preeminent sign and symbol of God’s Love. Devotio in its truest sense does not involve the pious sentimentalism so often attributed to devotional spirituality. Rather, devotio involves action, leading the soul to seek and carry out the will of God actively through personal consecration of his life to follow perfectly in the steps of Jesus. Understood correctly in this light, devotion to the Sacred Heart leads naturally to morally upright action as a person seeks for the Love of God springing forth from the Heart of Jesus to pervade his entire being. Reparatio and redamatio spur the uninterested soul to embrace faith, the lukewarm soul to deepen faith, and the enthusiastic soul to experience God’s Love with ever-greater fervor. Eucharistic adoration is so important to the Christian life as when we fall in deeper love with the Holy Eucharist, we allow ourselves to be embraced by the Heart of Jesus Who is that Eucharist, Jesus who is the Loving Heart of the Father for each one of us.
Taking devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at its fullest intended meaning, that being of implying action through consecration, reveals its fundamental necessity for the fullness of Jesus Christ’s love to be experienced personally, in the family and in the Church universal. According to Pius XII, doing thus provides a “strong support for the right ordering and renewal of Christian morals both in the individual’s private life and in the home circle ... lead[ing] our minds to know Christ the Lord intimately and more effectively turn[ing] our hearts to love Him more ardently and to imitate Him more perfectly” (no. 12, 15). To worship the Heart of Jesus is to worship the noblest part of Jesus’ human nature, which is united hypostatically to the Person of the divine Word, such that “there must be paid to it that worship of adoration with which the Church honors the Person of the Incarnate Son of God Himself” (no. 21). Citing Pius XI’s Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pius XII reaffirms the prominence of place given to devotion to the Heart of Jesus as the remedy for healing sharp conflicts among individuals, families, nations, and the entire world, as such active devotion is directed solely towards the love of God itself (no. 120), recognizing “the practice ... as the source and symbol of unity, salvation, and peace” (no. 122).
Consecration is an act made in freedom that binds the person in his or her entirety, and a relationship with Jesus Christ thus is created in the depths of the person that leads him to act lovingly in his sequela Christi. Such consecration involves “setting aside” the self for the one to whom he consecrates himself. In the loving relationship between Jesus and the human being, each person desires willfully to be affectively present in the other, with the center of this love symbolized by the Heart of Jesus. The Christian should desire for the love of the Heart of Jesus to dwell fully in his own heart, and similarly for him to dwell within the Lord’s Heart. As the family according to the Second Vatican Council is the ecclesia domestica, or domestic/house church, it follows that Christ desires the mutual indwelling of divine Love that He shares with His Church to extend to each “little church” constituting the ecclesial family. The domestic church becomes the place where life in God is lived out daily in family life, which certainly includes life in our monasteries and convents, having been established as “schools of the Lord’s service” (RB) where men and women consecrate themselves in the religious life to learn how to love God perfectly in a religious communion of persons. In this manner, a civilization of love is founded and grows, as each family serving as a building block of society joins in communion with others, united together in the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.
In this light, Benedict XVI articulates that true reparatio “will come when the civilization of the Heart of Christ can be built upon the ruins heaped up by hatred and violence.” Reiterating the words of Pius XII’s encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Benedict XVI underscores how Jesus invites us as His people “to give ourselves entirely to the saving love of Christ and to consecrate ourselves to it (cf. HA 4) ... to bring about our relationship with God.” In his Letter on the Occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pius XII’s encyclical, Benedict XVI further teaches, “The adoration of God's love, whose historical and devotional expression is found in the symbol of the ‘pierced heart’, remains indispensible for a living relationship with God” (HA 62).
I would like to conclude by sharing briefly with you concerning Père Mateo Crawley-Boevey, ss.cc. (1875-1960), who underwent a miraculous healing attributed to the Heart of Jesus at Paray-le-Monial’s Chapel of the Apparitions, where the revelations of our Lord to Margaret Mary Alacoque transpired. At the time of his healing, Pere Mateo experienced the deep conviction that his pastoral mission in life would involve working for the conversion of souls through personal and familial consecration to the Heart of Jesus. Père Mateo’s foremost desire was “to reconquer the world, home by home, family by family, in the love of the Heart of Jesus,” such that the social reign of the Heart of Jesus would be established as a civilization of love. Society would experience renewal only through such regeneration of the family, which serves as the constitutive cell of society and Christianity. Père Mateo endeavored for each home to expose an image of the Heart of Jesus in the most prominent place of the home, where the family would consecrate themselves together solemnly with a special ecclesiastically approved liturgical rite in the presence of a priest. Through this consecration, the Heart of Jesus would be “enthroned” prominently as a solemn reminder that Jesus desires to rule each Christian home and family through His Love. The consecration would be renewed periodically, such that consecrated homes would serve as places of great spiritual edification and fruitful apostolic work. To Père Mateo, consecrating oneself to Love and thus becoming an apostle of divine Charity involves constructing his life and action according to the divine Person of our Lord, so that the Gospel might penetrate the person’s public, professional, and private life. The Eucharistic orientation and reparatio in devotion to the Heart of Jesus through this practice of enthronement would become a means of familial sanctification in founding a civilization of love by restoring families to a life of Christian virtue and accompanying them in continued catechesis on God’s Love.
Through the examples of St Margaret Mary Alacoque and Pere Mateo, and most of all through the prayerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — who lived perfect reparation for the entire world in her devoted love to her Divine Son and who exchanged her heart perfectly at every moment of her life with our Lord — may we grow in holiness so that we might reflect the perfect image and likeness of our Lord Jesus to a world in such great need of experiencing conversion to His Divine Love. Amen.