Sacred Heart

Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Introduction. II. Seventeenth-Century France: 1. A mystical era; 2. Gradual development; 3. Christ, the Heart of God. III. The Discovery of the Heart of Jesus: 1. Contribution of the French school; 2. The promoters: a. Francis de Sales, b. John Eudes, c. Margaret Mary Alacoque. IV. Montfort, A Follower of Berulle or of St. Francis de Sales?: 1. Montfort and the Order of the Visitation; 2. Montfort and devotion to the Sacred Heart: a. In his writings in general, b. In the hymns, c. Similarities with St. Margaret Mary. V. Relevance Today.

I. Introduction

Saint Louis de Montfort promoted and spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to a far greater extent than is generally realized. The silence of his biographers on this subject1 is surprising, not to say baffling. It is especially surprising when one considers the fact that his hymns on the Sacred Heart number no fewer than 905 lines; this is to say nothing of the mention he makes of the Heart of Christ in his other writings.

II. Seventeenth-Century France

Speaking of seventeenth-century France from the viewpoint of our present subject means speaking mostly about Paris.

1. A mystical era

“Paris in the seventeenth century witnessed a high point in its religious history. . . . The main themes of the history of Paris and those of French Catholicism merge into one.”2 Religious institutions, such as monasteries, convents, and seminaries, as well as works of mercy carried out by individuals or organizations were concentrated there. Besides, great religious and mystical figures such as Bérulle, Olier, Vincent de Paul, Madame Acarie, and Louise de Marillac lived there: “As the city was the capital of the country, some founders, e.g., St. Francis de Sales, moved there and, through their influence or their presence, played an essential part.”3 Between 1600 and 1660, more than eighty monastic institutions sprang up in the city. The influence exerted by St. Francis de Sales was considerable. Three convents of the Visitation were established there. “The first convent, which marked the beginning of the Order, was established in Faubourg Saint-Antoine by St. Francis de Sales himself and St. Jane Chantal.”4 It produced a wealth of religious literature. Our modern “pocket editions” came long after “those publications in a small format . . . dealing with daily Christian living and spiritual subjects. Even after many reprints, they were in great demand in Paris.”5

As early as 1609, de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life had a considerable influence in Parisian circles. The Treatise on the Love of God, whose publication was delayed by the foundation of the Order of the Visitation in June 1610, appeared in 1616, after it had been touched up to take account of the comments received from the early members of the Order.

2. Gradual development

Devotion to the Sacred Heart was still being refined somewhat in its expression and proper purpose. This article will not attempt to trace its history but will highlight the most significant stages of its development. The word “heart” occurs more than 600 times in the Bible, where it is often connected with the loins (Greek nephroi: kidneys, reins), with a similar meaning. Among the ancients, the kidneys or reins (loins) were the seat of physical and emotional life: “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and loins” (Ps 26:2). The heart, the innermost part of man, refers to all that concerns the mysterious interior of a human being. Its meaning, however, remains general and vague. “It is not essentially the seat of feelings, which is in the loins, but, rather, the seat of knowledge: God is the one ‘who tests the loins and hearts,’” that is, the one who knows the feelings and thoughts of man (Ps 7:9).6 The heart also means the faculty of memory: “He remembered his covenant, and showed compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Ps 106 [105]: 45); “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). We learn things by heart, that is, we commit them to memory. The Italian ricordare (root cor: heart) means “remember.” The biblical word “heart” therefore takes us back thousands of years to the origins of that cultural anthropology that has left its mark on our modern languages, and refers to all that has to do with affectivity. A person who is unfeeling is described as “heartless,” and one extremely kind as “having a heart of gold.” Memory is influenced by the heart. We remember something we have enjoyed and carry bitter memories of something we disliked. Conditioned by this anthropological element, the language of faith could not remain unaffected by our use of the word “heart.” Even though faith does not belong to the order of the senses (“True devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection . . . but proceeds from faith” [LG 67]), it is not divorced from the heart.

3. Christ, the Heart of God

“God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). Paradoxical as it may sound, however, God does not have a heart. Being a pure spirit, his love is entirely spiritual. It was to come down to our level, as it were, that he became man. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). “And the word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me” (Heb 10:5); a body, therefore a heart. In giving us His Son, God gave us the One who, like Him, is all- loving. Having become man, Infinite Love Incarnate will love us in the way human beings love. All that affects us emotionally has repercussions on the organ called our heart, through the extremely complex network of the sympathetic nervous system. The heart dilates when we are joyful; when we are sorrowful, our heart “contracts.” Strong emotions can even lead to death. “I am deeply grieved, even to death” (Mt 26:38). The various feelings of Jesus are evident all through the Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (Jn 11:5). When the disciples returned from their mission, “he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Lk 10:21). He shared our sorrows. At the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus began to weep” (Jn 11:35). When he met the widow whose only son was being carried out of the town, “he had compassion for her” (Lk 7:13). “He who is the image of the invisible God is himself the perfect man. . . . By his incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each human being. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved” (GS 22).

III. The Discovery of the Heart of Jesus

To discover the love of Jesus is one thing, but to discover what is meant by the “Heart of Jesus” is quite another. None of the disciples who shared his life doubted his love; and yet none of them, not even John, “the disciple whom he loved” (Jn 19:26), made any explicit mention of his Heart. The expression is fairly recent, its meaning in this modern sense must be clear. St. Augustine says that St. John “rested his head on his Master’s breast, meaning by this that in his inmost heart he drank from the most exalted secrets.”7 St. Anselm speaks of “the love of his heart for us.”8 St. Bernard wrote that “the secret of his heart is revealed through the wounds in his body.”9 These are generalities applicable on the whole, and not to every person who “opens his heart.” To infer from this that the quotations above refer to the Sacred Heart, as modern piety understands the term, would clearly be to force their meaning.

1. Contribution of the French school

The gradual development mentioned above reaches its high point with the French school. When Pope Urban VIII described Bérulle as “the apostle of the Incarnate Word,” he summed up the contribution of the French school to the spirituality of his days. The Incarnate Word is the historical Jesus, the Christ whose mystery had been investigated in the theological speculation of the Middle Ages. The French school inquired deeper into his human and divine reality, into his personal condition as God made man and into the interior riches of each event in his life. These are so pregnant with meaning that the members of the French school called them “mysteries,” and the dispositions of Christ who experienced them, “states.” “The mysteries of Jesus Christ took place in definite circumstances, and they last and are present and enduring in another manner. . . . Therefore, the spirit, the state, the virtue, the merit of the mystery is ever present.”10 To contemplate these states of Jesus is to focus one’s attention on his interior life as Incarnate Word. From this it is only a short step to move on to the seat of all the feelings of Christ, his “Heart,” which, through his Hypostatic Union with the person of the Word, is worthy of adoration, like his entire holy humanity. Devotion to the Sacred Heart had now found what it had been searching for. By assimilating the feelings, the states of the Incarnate Word, Christians entered the theocentric current of religion and adoration through the inmost part of the Incarnate Word, the Heart of Jesus, so that it has been said that “Bérulle had brought about a revolution in the spiritual world of his days: theocentrism, a term that may sound strange but is almost necessary.”11

2. The promoters

Thanks to the French school, devotion to the Sacred Heart became accredited, as it were. Even though allusions to the Heart of Jesus occurred here and there in previous writings, they lacked the precision and the wide implications of those of St. Francis de Sales and, even more, those of St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary.

a. Francis de Sales.

Francis de Sales was born in 1567 and died in 1622. He was born a few years before Bérulle (1575-1629), and though they were contemporaries, their lives followed different courses. Their ideas about the person of Christ tallied, but they expressed them differently. Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, which was nine years in the making and is the “perfect manifestation” of his spirit and of his heart at “the highest point of genius and holiness,”12 presents the doctrine on the Sacred Heart that he instilled into his Daughters of the Visitation. A few passages from his book reveal both his teaching and his style. Right from the start of his Treatise on the Love of God, in the Dedicatory Prayer, he addresses himself to Mary and Joseph, a “peerless pair,” in whom “the Sun of justice . . . experienced the delights of the affable love of his Heart for us . . . O beloved Mother of the Beloved . . . I beseech you by the Heart of your loving Jesus who is the King of all hearts . . . animate my soul and those of all who will read this with your all-powerful favor with the Holy Spirit.”13 He keeps coming back to the subject of the Sacred Heart in a variety of ways. “We say that someone who is impervious to the divine touch has a heart of iron or a heart of stone. . . . On the contrary, a loving heart, malleable and tractable, is a melted, liquefied heart: My heart, says David (Ps 22:15) referring to Our Lord on the Cross, my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.”14 The following is in a more mystical vein: “‘I run,’ says the Spouse, ‘but shall I ever capture the prize I am running for, which is to be united heart-to-heart . . . with my God, my Spouse and my life? When shall I be able to pour my heart into His Heart, and He pour His heart into my heart, and thus happily united we will live inseparably as one?’”15 Finally, speaking of the union of the soul with God, he writes, “O sweet Jesus, draw me ever deeper into your Heart that your love may engulf me and that I may be overwhelmed with its delight.”16

b. John Eudes.

Born in 1601 and Bérulle’s junior by twenty-six years, St. John Eudes was one of his most authentic followers. First a member of the Oratory, he left it to found his own religious Congregations and promote devotion to the Sacred Heart. St. Pius X called him “its [devotion to the Heart of Christ] Father, its Doctor, and its Apostle.” Influenced by the teaching of the French school and St. Francis de Sales, especially as set out in the Treatise on the Love of God, and also by the revelations of St. Gertrude and St. Mechtilde, he was the theoretician, so to speak, of devotion to the Sacred Heart and explained the expressions of his predecessors. He did not separate Mary from Jesus but united them in one and the same devotion, beginning with Mary, who gave Christ his Heart. For him the union of the Son and the Mother is so close that he refers to “the Heart of Jesus and Mary” and devotes to the Heart of Jesus the whole of book 12 of his most important work, The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God. Won over to devotion to the Heart of Jesus by Bérulle’s devotion to the Incarnate Word, he combined with it the gentleness and devotional warmth of St. Francis de Sales. He changed the somewhat individual and private character of the devotion into a devotion for the whole Church by writing for the benefit of his communities an Office and a Mass, which were later approved by several bishops before spreading throughout the Church. Leo XIII described him as “the author of the liturgical devotion of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” In 1765 Clement XIII approved the Office and Mass for use in Poland, and the nuns of the Visitation were allowed to celebrate the feast throughout their Order. In 1856 Pius IX made the feast obligatory throughout the Church.

c. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Born in 1647, twenty-five years after the death of St. Francis de Sales, Margaret Mary joined the Order of the Visitation at Jesus’ request. A cousin of hers who was an Ursuline urged her to join the Ursulines, but Christ is reported to have said to her, “I do not want you to live there but at Sainte-Marie (Paray-le-Monial).”17 “As soon as I heard the word ‘Paray,’ my heart swelled with joy.”18 After she had visited the convent on May 25, 1671, an inner voice said to her, “This is where I want you to live.” She entered the convent on June 21 that year and took her solemn vows there on November 6, 1672. Within a short time, in silence and humility, she was granted the most eminent mystical graces. On December 27, 1673, feast of St. John the Apostle, she rested her head on the breast of the Master for a long time, as St. John had done. “My divine Heart loves humanity, and you in particular, so passionately that I am no longer able to contain within myself the flames of my burning love and I have to spread them through you.”19 Her mission was made clearer in the course of subsequent apparitions. On the first Friday of each month, “the Sacred Heart appeared to me in the form of a sun shining brilliantly. . . . And on one occasion . . . flames were shooting out from all over his sacred body, especially from his adorable breast . . . and when he uncovered it I saw his all-loving and all- lovable Heart, which was the source of the flames. It was then that he revealed to me the unutterable marvels of his pure love, which he carried to excess towards humanity, from whom he received only ingratitude and lack of appreciation. . . . You will be pleasing to me if you supply for their ingratitude to the best of your ability.”20 Jesus asked her to receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month and to spend a Holy Hour in prayer on Thursday and Friday nights. In the meantime, her physical sufferings multiplied and she was frequently misunderstood, but she bore all this heroically, with the help of Mary who had said to her, “Take heart, my daughter, . . . you still have a long and difficult way to go, . . . but do not let this frighten you, as I will not abandon you and promise to protect you.”21 The revelations of St. Margaret Mary have contributed to spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart even more than the more doctrinal writings of Bérulle and St. John Eudes. They were more within the capacity of ordinary people, who adopted the practices they recommended: Communion on the first Friday and the Holy Hour. St. Margaret Mary urged Father Croiset in particular to make the desires of the Heart of Jesus known. “If you knew how earnestly I desire that he should be known, loved, and glorified, you would not refuse to work for this as hard as you can. Unless I am mistaken, this is what he expects from you.”22 St. Margaret Mary died the following year on October 17, 1690, but on January 17 she had written with increased urgency: “I cannot refrain from telling you that the Holy Spirit does not suffer delays gladly, and if you keep putting it off, I fear he will withhold the graces meant for you and give them to somebody else.”23 In June 1691 Father Croiset published his book La dévotion au Sacré-Coeur de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ, (The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord), which was followed by Abrégé de la vie de Soeur Marguerite-Marie Alacoque (Summary of the Life of Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque).

IV Montfort, A Follower of Berulle or of St. Francis de Sales?

It is accepted that Montfort received a great deal from the French school during his formation years at Saint-Sulpice Seminary. His writings are pervaded by the teaching he was given there. His devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation and to Jesus Christ, Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom (LEW 223), justifies his well-known title “the last of the great Bérullians.” But his personality kept him from becoming slavishly dependent. He assimilated the teaching of his masters, Bérulle, Olier, John Eudes, but remained open to the other trends of thought of his day. St. Francis de Sales influenced these trends to a great extent. Montfort knew his writings and both refers to them explicitly and alludes to them. In TD 152, he speaks of “some saints, not very many, such as . . . St. Francis de Sales, who have taken the smooth path [Mary] to Jesus Christ.” In SR 80, he quotes as an example “St. Francis de Sales, the great spiritual director of his time,” who bound himself by vow “to say the whole Rosary every day for as long as he lived,” which is confirmed in SR 130.

1. Montfort and the Order of the Visitation

Montfort was also acquainted with the Order of the Visitation. He may have been brought into contact with it by Father Barrin, vicar general of Nantes and spiritual father of the convent in that town, who held the missionary in high regard and had urged his return in 1708. Between 1710 and 1714 he had further opportunities to meet the nuns of the Visitation. Sister Marie-Madeleine de Santo-Domingo de la Bouveray had opened her heart to “a holy ecclesiastic called Father Grignion de Montfort” who, she reports, came back “in visions, three years after his death, and visited her for several months.”24 Hymn 48, dedicated “to the Nuns of the Visitation,” is proof that he knew them well. He thinks they are “fortunate / In having this great Heart to love” (H 48:1). In this hymn he highlights devotion to the Sacred Heart but in connection with St. Francis de Sales. The Sacred Heart “has taken you [the Visitation Order] as his possession / He has established his dwelling among you / He is also your inheritance / And this is an uncommon lot” (H 48:2). The word “inheritance” connotes a filial kinship with a father who bequeaths his possessions to his children, which is what St. Francis de Sales did to the Order of the Visitation even before the Sacred Heart had made his requests to St. Margaret Mary.25

The verses following this make the meaning clear: “From the Cross on Calvary / Through Mary he came down / Into the heart of your holy Father / And there was absorbed completely” (H 48:3). Clearly, Montfort is referring here to St. Francis de Sales, as confirmed by what follows: “This holy and charitable Father / Who was an eminent loving teacher / Has given you this lovable Heart / that you may burn with his fire” (H 48:4). When the Order of the Visitation was founded in 1610, John Eudes was only nine years of age. It was only thirty years later that he began propagating devotion to the Sacred Heart. Montfort was therefore justified in writing: “It is for you a great honor / That the Heart of the Lamb / Was born, as it were, among you / Your house was his cradle” (H 48:6).26 Even before St. John Eudes had given devotion to the Sacred Heart its public character, the teaching they had received from their founder had brought it to the attention of the community of the Visitation nuns. Even though he refers explicitly only to St. Francis de Sales, at the time of writing Montfort was well aware of the requests made by the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary, as they seem to have inspired the following verses, which gently hint at the initial difficulties encountered even within the community: “If in your house he willed to be born / It is to grow and increase. / You ought to make him known / And reveal his splendor” (H 48:7). “He dwells among you; / Be ablaze with his fire” (H 48:8). “God has entrusted to you / The most valuable treasure. / It rests with you, dear Sisters, / To make it productive.” Even if they are doing so already, they need to do more. “Try to be still more perfect / And more faithful in this regard” (H 48:9-10). Montfort refers to this “holy Father,” who had been canonized in 1665. The nuns of the Visitation are to cultivate three loves: “Between three Hearts take your places; / Jesus, Augustine, and Francis; / But let the first, who is full of grace / Gather you all in one rather than three” (H 48:11). Montfort mentions St. Augustine because St. Francis de Sales adopted the Bishop of Hippo’s Rule for his daughters. Montfort himself drew inspiration from St. Francis de Sales when he wrote the Original Rule of the Daughters of Wisdom and borrowed from it (cf. RW 68 and RW 311-318).

2. Montfort and devotion to the Sacred Heart

At the time when Montfort was preaching and writing, devotion to the Sacred Heart had been spreading for nearly a hundred years. It is difficult to pinpoint the influences he came under. The use of similar expressions, unless they are really typical and identifiable, is not enough to determine their origin. But one thing is certain: Montfort had a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart.

a. In his writings in general.

All that he has written about the love of Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, who “became man only to stir the hearts of men to love and imitate him” (LEW 117), is suggestive of what could be said of the Sacred Heart. “He is a gift sent by the love of the eternal Father and a product of the love of the Holy Spirit. He was given out of love and fashioned by love. He is therefore all love, or rather the very love of the Father and the Holy Spirit” (LEW 118).

A comparative study of LEW and the hymns would be illuminating. It is interesting to compare, for example, “But how describe the gentleness of Jesus in his dealings with poor sinners: his gentleness with Mary Magdalene, his courteous solicitude in turning the Samaritan woman from her evil ways, his compassion in pardoning the adulterous woman taken in adultery?” (LEW 125) with “This heart runs driven by love . . . / He sits down by a well / Not to rest there / But for the sake of the Samaritan woman / Whom he wants to save and win over”; “It is because his heart is gentle / So tender and loving / That he brought Mary Magdalene to repentance”; “Let us admire the gentleness / Without a trace of sternness / With which he deals with the adulterous woman / Whom he delivers from the clutches of her accusers” (H 41:16, 17, 19, 20).

LEW 155 sets out “the circumstances surrounding the sufferings of Eternal Wisdom”; Montfort sums them up: “This dear friend of our souls suffered in every way exteriorly and inwardly, in body and soul” (LEW 157). This is echoed in H 41:24ff. In LEW 181, he gives the means to obtain Wisdom: desire, prayer, mortification, and, finally, Mary. In H 42:25, he adds something else: “Do you desire divine Wisdom / Who makes people wise in God’s eyes? / Do you wish to taste God’s bliss? / My heart is his fiery throne.”

He wrote in a letter to Marie Louise of Jesus about Easter 1716, shortly before his death—thus revealing the thoughts that occupied his mind: “I worship the justice and love with which divine Wisdom is treating his little flock, allowing you to live in cramped quarters here on earth so that later you may find spacious dwellings in his divine heart” (L 34). The idea of “dwelling in his divine heart” recurs in H 40:29: “This Heart is the cleft in the rock . . . Sheltering those who are perfect”; then, bringing together the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, after the example of St. John Eudes, he writes: “Christian soul, give yourself without reserve / To these miraculous Hearts” (H 40:37). Before this he had written: “This is the sacred door / Leading into the Spouse’s sacred alcove” (H 40:22).

In a letter he wrote to his sister Guyonne-Jeanne, who was then a nun of the Blessed Sacrament under the name of Sister Catherine de Saint Bernard, he gives thanks to God that she has become “a perfect victim of Jesus Christ, an adorer of the Blessed Sacrament and one who is called to atone for so many bad Christians and unfaithful priests” (L 19). The idea of victim is connected with the reparation requested by the Heart of Jesus. Even though he does not use the expression “devotion to the Heart of Jesus,” it is implied. In other contexts Montfort associates the idea of reparation and victim with the Blessed Sacrament: “Let us make amends / To his Heart so despised / Since this most lovable Heart / Has given all for our sake” (H 133:9). “O Sacred Heart, set us ablaze . . . / Here are our hearts, consume them / Turn them on your altar / Into a pleasing sacrifice” (H 132:9). “To make amends for these crimes / We offer you our hearts / Take them and sacrifice them / At the foot of your altar.”27

The Sacred Heart is also mentioned in other places. The prayer that Montfort suggests accompany the third of The Seven Last Words of Jesus (“Woman, behold your Son . . . Behold your mother”) reads as follows: “O Jesus, when you were dying, you manifested the tenderness of your heart for your Blessed Mother, and you confided to her all your disciples in the person of Saint John. Place me, I beg you, under her protection and give me the heart of a son to honor her” (HD 36). Finally, HD 49 reads, “Eternal Father . . . by the loving heart of Jesus Christ our Lord, I offer you countless acts of thanksgiving for all the blessings you were pleased to bestow upon me purely out of your goodness.”

b. In the hymns.

Through his magnificent hymns on the Sacred heart of Jesus, Montfort contributed much to spreading adoration of the Heart of Christ. From the theological standpoint, the Sacred Heart hymns are clearly along the lines of Bérulle’s teaching. Whose Heart is it? “It is the Heart of the Son of Mary / And of God’s only Son” (H 40:4). Because of the Hypostatic Union, he is worthy of adoration: “Mortals, worship with the angels / That Heart that must be worshipped / In the most Holy Trinity” (40:9). He is the only Mediator (1 Tim 2:5): “Before his Father at all times / He praises, adores, entreats / He speaks on our behalf powerfully” (H 40:8). “It is that great wounded Heart that calms / And disarms an angry God” (H 40:20). “That Heart calms his anger / Obtains his grace and favor” (H 40:21). It is full of all the gifts and virtues and is the source of life: “O great Heart, wonder of the world / That contains all things . . . / All the Holy Trinity” (H 40:32). “From this source of light / The favorites of Jesus Christ / Have drawn the greatest mysteries / The greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit” (H 40:27). “O great Heart, O profound abyss / Of profound humility / O great Heart, O sublime throne / Of perfect charity” (H 40:31).

In the following verses, the influence of St. John Eudes is apparent even in the wording. The inseparable presence of the Heart of Mary is emphasized, and a “proportionate” devotion is given to her with all the required nuances: “In praising this adorable Heart / I praise in due proportion / The Heart of his admirable Mother / So close is their union” (H 40:33). “It is only you that I adore / Heart of my God, glorious Heart / But in adoring you I honor / The Heart of the Queen of Heaven” (H 40:34). The Heart of Mary is the origin of this human and divine Heart: “From the blood of her heart all aflame / The Heart of Jesus was formed; / They have but one heart and soul / Both of them invite you / To look on them as one” (H 40:36). For Montfort, too, the Heart of Christ and the Heart of Mary form but one Heart: “Our hearts were only one victim / During our life on earth / The two of them were firmly bound / And in heavenly love, now only one” (H 42:28). From the spiritual point of view, H 41:1 sets out a program: “Let us enter this marvelous Heart / To love as he did.” The following three verses draw attention to the obligation to love God, do his will, and take up one’s Cross (H 41:3, 4, 5).

c. Similarities with St. Margaret Mary.

Montfort knew about the revelations of the Sacred Heart either because he had read Father Croiset’s book or because of his contacts with the nuns of the Visitation.28 Hymn 42 on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Hymn 43 on the outrages against the Heart of Jesus, and Hymn 44 on the practices of devotion to the Heart of Jesus tie in with the requests that the Sacred Heart made to St. Margaret Mary. In Hymn 43, which is thirty-eight verses long and concerns the outrages against the Heart of Jesus, Montfort mentions the profanations committed in his time: “How many infamous heretics / Have profaned your sacrament!” (H 43:5). In another place he mentions witchcraft, which was common in those days— “Alas! how many have used witchcraft / To hand over the host to demons” (H 43:12)29—and other profanations, which he sums up when he alludes to the revelations that had taken place at Paray-le-Monial twenty-five years earlier but were not to reach the general public until the end of the century. “Never before has the world been / So full of enemies of God / Crime and war are rife everywhere / And Jesus lamented this not long ago” (H 43:20); “It was in his Heart that our Master / Harbored all his secrets of love / Before he revealed them / And brought them to light” (H 40:25). Among the practices of devotion, he mentions love (H 44:2), adoration (44:3), Consecration (H 44:4), speaking about it (H 44:6), joining confraternities (H 44:26), and making reparation—an idea unknown before St. Margaret Mary: “The most useful practice / Which gives our Lord most glory . . . / Is to make reparation” (H 44:17). Jesus asked St. Margaret Mary to offer her suffering “particularly for consecrated souls,”30 which Montfort expresses thus: “Alas! how many bad priests /Wolves in sheep’s clothing / How many traitors like Judas / More cruel than the tormentors!” (H 43:29); “I have suffered countless outrages / to be with you now. / Atone for them by honoring me / I beg you with all my heart” (H 42:33).

V. Relevance Today

Although some of our contemporaries show a certain lack of enthusiasm for devotion to the Sacred Heart (and some of its iconography is admittedly in poor taste), this devotion is bound up with the very foundation of our faith,31 which acknowledges that Christ is one person— the Eternal and most adorable Wisdom—in two natures, human and divine. We are therefore justified in worshipping his Heart as an appropriate object of the adoration given to him and as the most profound expression of what humanity of all ages has recognized as the symbol of their noblest sentiments. Adoration of the Heart of Christ is strong testimony that this man Jesus is personally our God. The Heart of Jesus is the Heart of our Incarnate God.

Devotion to the Heart of Jesus gives a new, “intelligent” (= intus legere, “to read deep within”), and penetrating insight into the Word of God, who has kept on saying to humanity from the beginning of its history, “I will take you for my wife . . . in steadfast love and in mercy” (Hos 2:21-22). Jesus carried this love to extremes during his earthly life by lavishing blessings on those suffering physically and mentally: “They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well: he even makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak’” (Mk 7:37).

How have humans repaid him? Their fickle hearts have repeatedly broken “the everlasting covenant” (Is 24:5) that God made with them and have repaid Him only with ingratitude. Montfort said in his time, “It was that blood-stained mouth / That spoke seventeen hundred years ago / In a dying and living voice / Words that I can hardly understand” (H 41:37). These words are no less relevant at the threshold of the third millennium: “As the world nears its end I open / My heart burning with love for sinners. / But to my advances they respond / Only with cold indifference” (H 42:15). In 1990, on the occasion of the three-hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Margaret Mary, Pope John Paul II wrote to Bishop Raymond Séguy of Autun that St. Margaret Mary “was conveying to us an ever-relevant message,” and he urged that it be made “more widely known.” At a time when humankind worldwide fills the air with groans of misery and loneliness and rushes headlong after false and elusive happiness, the Sacred Heart repeats with more aptness than ever: “Come to me, all you that are . . . carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

All the writings of Montfort are pervaded with these sentiments of the Heart of Jesus. Like his writings, his social and missionary activity was steeped in the compassionate understanding of human beings that characterizes the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. In this connection, reading his writings again with a different approach may be necessary for some who have only a superficial knowledge of him. The new evangelization is a much talked about topic nowadays, but the implication is that the world has lost the sense of the Good News that Christ brought two thousand years ago, and, in its bewilderment, looks to a host of self- styled saviors, as shown by the vast number of new religions. We live in a time of great confusion; the sheep are scattered, and the number of “lost sheep” keeps growing. “Oh, I have lost a precious soul / My sheep has gone astray / My sacred Heart is deeply grieved / Because my sheep has surrendered to my worst enemies” (H 98:7). It takes missionaries of Montfort’s stamp to care for the lost sheep. “Shall I stand by and see, indeed, / My brother die in sin / With heart unmoved? / Great Lord, not I!” (H 22:1). In the spiritual economy, in the eyes of the Heart of Jesus, there is neither inflation nor recession. In the year 2000, as in year 1 of the Christian era, the value of a human soul is the same. “God alone knows its invaluable price / . . . The price of the blood of Jesus Christ” (H 21:6).

Montfort’s writings make it clear that once devotion to the Sacred Heart has been renewed in the light of Scripture and with the help of reliable human sciences, it can be a radical remedy for the evils of our day, especially in the struggle against the tendency to regard each human being as a mere interchangeable number. “In this context, the heart of Jesus reminds men and women that their immortal destiny transcends their economic power and their social role within societies of mortals; they are the object of a personal love as individuals on the part of the One who, for the sake of all human beings, agreed to take a human body of flesh and bone and assume the human sufferings of all human hearts of all times (cf. Mt 8:17; Is 53:4) through his Incarnation, which was not only ontological and physical but also psychological and universal in its effects. Vatican II had good reason to declare in two successive sentences: ‘By his Incarnation, he, the Son of God has in a certain way united himself with each man . . . and with a human heart he loved’”(GS 22).32

H. M. Guindon

Notes: (1) Not a word of it, not even “Sacred Heart” in R. Laurentin, Dieu Seul est ma tendresse (God Alone is My Tenderness), O.E.I.L., Paris 1984; in T. Rey-Mermet, Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Pneumathèque/ Nouvelle Cité, Montreal/Paris 1984; or in the biography by Papàsogli. In his book Ce Coeur si passionné (This Heart So Passionate), Saint Paul Publications, Paris/Fribourg 1974, Jean Ladame writes, “The devotion to the Sacred Heart also had zealous apostles after St. John Eudes, for example, St. Louis Marie de Montfort,” 56. (2) B. Porcheron, Le Diocèse de Paris (Diocese of Paris), Series Histoire des diocèses de France (History of the Dioceses of France) 20, 1:226-227. (3) Ibid. (4) Ibid., 233. The official register of the foundations of the Visitation mentions the first foundation in Paris on May 1, 1619, and that of Paris II by Paris I on October 21, 1627. (5) Ibid., 287. (6) J. Dheilly, Dictionnaire biblique (Dictionary of the Bible), Desclée, Tournai 1964, 202. “The heart is not only an organ that conditions the biological vitality of man but it is also a symbol. It expresses the whole interiority of man, with his inner spirituality” (John Paul II, general audience of June 20, 1979, Documentation Catholique [Catholic Information Services] no. 178, July 15, 1979, 676). (7) Traités sur l’Evangile de saint Jean (Treatises on the Gospel of St. John), 18, 1. (8) PL 158:762. (9) In Cant., Sermon 61, 4. (10) Bérulle, Oeuvres Complètes, 1052-1053. (11) Bremond, L’Ecole française (The French School), 23; Bérulle, in Dictionnaire des Connaissances religieuses (Dictionary of Religious Understanding), vol. 1, col. 787. (12) A. Molien, Ibid., vol. 3, under François de Sales. (13) Oeuvres, Gallimard, 1969, 334. (14) Traité de l’Amour de Dieu (Treatise on the Love of God), book 4, chap. 12, loc. cit., 644-645. (15) Ibid., book 1, chap. 9, 378. (16) Ibid, book 8, chap. 1, 665. (17) Vie et oeuvres de Sainte Marguerite-Marie (The Life and Works of St. Margaret Mary), introduction by Professor Darricau, vol 1, Autobiographie (Autobiography), Saint Paul Publications, Paris/Fribourg 1990, no. 26, 58. (18) Ibid., no. 33, 64. (19) Ibid., no. 53, 82-83. (20) Ibid., no. 55, 85-86. (21) Ibid., no. 60, 89. (22) Letter 130 to Father Croiset, April 14, 1689, ibid., vol. 2, chap. 1, p. 424. (23) Letter 135 to Father Croiset, January 17, 1690, ibid., vol. 2, chap. 1, p. 508-509. (24) Etienne Catta, La Visitation Sainte-Marie de Nantes (The Visitation Convent of Saint Mary of Nantes) (1630-1792), Series Etudes de théologie et d’histoire de la spiritualité 13, Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, Paris 1954, 463. See also Abrégé de la vie et des vertus de notre très honorée soeur Marie- Madeleine de Santo Domingo de la Bouleveray (Summary of the Life and Virtues of Our Very Honored Sister Marie-Madeleine de Santo Domingo de la Bouleveray), in Année Sainte des religieuses de la Visitation Sainte- Marie (The Holy Year of the Religious of the Visitation of Blessed Mary), vol. 9, November, Annecy-Lyon 1870, 488-490; Sr. Marie-Madeleine died in the convent in Nantes on 18 November 1725, aged sixty-two years with forty-four years of religious life. (25) The extraordinary increase in the number of convents of the Visitation during the first hundred years of its existence certainly played an important part in spreading this devotion even before St. Margaret Mary. “The Order established 149 houses in the eighteenth century, including 132 before 1660 and 87 during the lifetime of St. Jane Chantal, who died in 1641” (R. Devos, Les Visitandines d’Annecy aux 17ème et 18ème siècles, Mémoires et Documents [The d’Annecy Visitations of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Memoires and Documents], Académie Salésienne, Annecy 1973, 84:80). One of the early superiors, Mother Hélène-Angélique Lhuillier (1592-1655), who was under the guidance of St. Francis de Sales and joined the Visitation in 1621, said the year before her death, “We shall have the honor of being called daughters of the Sacred Heart.” These words are attributed to St. Francis de Sales himself. He said, “The nuns of the Visitation, who are happy to keep their Rule, will be allowed to bear the name of evangelical daughters; they were established during this time with the particular purpose of being imitators of the two virtues closest to the Sacred Heart of the Incarnate Word, namely, gentleness and humility, which are the basis and foundation of their Order and entitle them to the privilege and incomparable grace of bearing the name of Daughters of the Heart of Jesus” (Vie et oeuvres de Sainte Marguerite-Marie, 1:319). Etienne Catta, La Visitation, chap. 1, p. 454, n. 4, attributes this passage to Mgr. de Maupas, Vie de saint François de Sales (The Life of St. Francis de Sales), Paris 1657, 2d ed. 1669, 310. (26) Along the same lines, A. Molien has written: “In founding the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales prepared for it a cradle in which it was able to grow and then spread worldwide.” Coeur de Jésus (Heart of Jesus), in Dictionnaire des Connaissances religieuses (Dictionary of Religious Knowledge), vol. 2, col. 250. (27) Montfort also wrote to his sister: “The true Sister of the Blessed Sacrament is a real victim, body and soul” (L 18). (28) St. Margaret Mary wanted the requests of the Sacred Heart to be made known, though not by herself. On January 17, 1790, the year of her death, she wrote to Father Croiset, “As for your wish that I should tell you more about the graces granted by the Sacred Heart, as you intend to mention them in your book, I will from now on keep silent on this subject. I have already told you that I do not wish to be known in any way.” Letter 135, in Vie et oeuvres de Sainte Marguerite-Marie, 2:508. (29) Backed up by documents, Funck- Brentano, Sorcellerie (Sorcery), in Dictionnaire des Connaissances religieuses, vol. 6, col. 422, speaks about the Black Masses requested by Madame de Montespan. (30) Vie et oeuvres de sainte Marguerite-Marie, vol I, no. 46, 76. (31) C. Pozo, La teologia del Corazón de Jesús en la actual crisis del pensamiento teologico (The Theology of the Heart of Jesus in the Current Crisis of Theological Thought), in El Corazón en el Mundo de Hoy (The Heart in the World of Today), Semana de teologia y pastoral, Valladolid 1975, 37-55. (32) B. de Margerie, Sacré-Coeur, dévotion au (Sacred Heart, Devotion to), in DSAM 13 (1991), 301.

Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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