Fr. Most: Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Author: Fr.. William G. Most

1. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is part of the mainline of our faith: The reason is that it is basically honor paid to the love of God as seen in and symbolized in the Heart of Jesus. Without that Divine Love we would not exist at all, nor would we have been redeemed. For to love is to will good to another for the other's sake.It is because (1) He willed us the good of existence that we exist at all and continue to exist; (2) Our existence would be miserable without the redemption, which was needed not just for original sin--which if one had nothing else would not result in eternal punishment--but also and principally for the reparation of our personal sins, without which most persons would be eternally doomed.

So Pius XI, in his Encyclical, Miserentissimus Redemptor, wrote (as cited by Pius XII, in Haurietis aquas): "Does not this one devotion contain a summary of all our religion, and a guide to a more perfect life? Indeed, it more easily leads our minds to know Christ the Lord intimately, and it more effectively turns our hearts to love Him more ardently and to imitate Him more perfectly."

So it is not a peripheral devotion, like that to St. Anthony, for example, or to other Saints. To honor the love of God is the very heart of our faith.

2. Hypostatic union: The term means union of two natures in one Person, the divine Person. It is because of this that we can direct our devotion immediately to the physical Heart of the Redeemer. Pius XII wrote ("Haurietis aquas" par. 21): "We recognize that His Heart, the noblest part of human nature, is hypostatically united to the Person of the divine Word. Consequently, there must be paid to it that worship of adoration with which the Church honors the Person of the Incarnate Son of God Himself."

3. Triple Love: Haurietis aquas pars. 55-57: "It is a symbol of that divine love which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but which He, the Word made flesh, alone manifests through a weak and perishable body, since 'in Him dwells the fullness of the divinity in a bodily way' [Col 2:9]. It is, besides, the symbol of that burning love which, infused into His soul, enriches the human will of Christ and enlightens and governs its acts by the most perfect knowledge derived both from the beatific vision and that which is directly infused. And finally--and this in a more natural and direct way--it is the symbol also of sensible love, since the body of Jesus Christ, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, possesses full powers of feelings and perception, in fact, more so than another other human body."

To fill in on the triple love:

1) 1 John 4:8 says "God is love." In speaking of humans, we can see that he or she has love. But that is a duality. The perfectly undivided character of God means we must not say He has love,but that He is love. He is love within Himself since--in view of the fact that to love is to will good to another for the other's sake - the Father eternally wills the Supreme Good of the Divine Nature to the Son. That will is effective, and thereby the Son is begotten from the Father. Father and Son together will that same Supreme Good to the Holy Spirit: thus the Holy Spirit originates, is effected from and by both.--In His divinity He, the Divine Second Person of the Holy Trinity loves us, that is He wills to us the divine good of a share in the Divine Nature (cf. 2 Pet 2:4) making possible the superhuman happiness of the Beatific Vision in eternity.

2) The human will of Jesus, the Incarnate God, also wills us that same eternal happiness. We can as it were get a measure on this love. For if to love is to will good to another for the other's sake, then, if someone sets out to bring good to the other, but is stopped by a small obstacle, then that is a small love. If it takes a great obstacle to stop it, it is a great love. But if even an immense obstacle does not stop it - that love is immense, beyond measure.

So St.Paul says in Romans 5:8: that God "proved His love for us, since at the right time, Christ died for us." And what a death! Hideously painful. And He knew from the first instant of His conception what it was, for, as we shall explain later, His human soul from the first instant saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is available. He let us as it were look inside Himself twice. In Luke 12:50: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished." That is: I know what dreadful suffering awaits me. I am in a tight spot, cannot be comfortable until I get it over with. About a week before His death, He was speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem. He decided again to let us see within Him - for surely He could have held back the anguished cry (John 12:27): "Now my heart is troubled! What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour." If we have a long running pain or stress, it wears the skin thin, as it were, and it becomes all the more unbearable. We, however, can take comfort in the thought: May be it won't come--maybe it won't be so bad. But the vision of God was merciless; it showed Him infallibly everything to the last horrid detail. Since as Pius XII told us, He had the most perfect of all human bodies, being formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin, it would feel pain more than others. The vision showed Him too the coldness and ingratitude of so many who rejected Him. So He is said to have told St.Margaret Mary that that pain of rejection was worse than the physical suffering.

We can get a gauge on the severity of rejection too. The pain is in proportion to the form the rejection takes, and the love the rejected one has for the one who is rejecting. The form it took on Him? - the worst possible death. As to His love, it was shown by what lengths He would go to to bring us eternal happiness - so that love was beyond measure. So the pain of rejection was similarly beyond measure.

3) The third kind of love is a love of feeling. In human affairs, love itself is in the spiritual will; but normally along with that goes a parallel on the bodily side, which psychologists call somatic resonance. That is a love of feeling. Since, recalling again what Pius XII told us, that His human body was most perfect, it would be most perfectly resonant to the love in His spiritual will. Centuries before, God had told the people through Isaiah (55:9): "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways." On hearing this one might say in dismay: How can we hope to please Him? But now we know in Christ He has a human heart, with human feelings, that responds as our hearts do, minus our imperfections.

4. Covenant and love: We saw one measure of His love, the obstacles it could overcome. There is another way to gauge its force: the new covenant.

A covenant is a sort of contract. In Ex. 19:5 God said to the people through Moses: "If you really hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." That means: "If you do this, I will do that." Now in a contractual type of arrangement, each party gives the other something of at least closely equivalent value. What was that which Christ gave to the Father? His own obedience unto death. How much was that worth? Of course, it was infinite. Therefore, what the Father pledged to give in turn would be similarly infinite. In other words, He bound Himself to make available, on behalf of our race as a whole, an infinite, inexhaustible measure of forgiveness and grace.

We said He did this for our race as a whole. That is true, but there is more: In Gal 2:20, St.Paul tells us that "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Was that true only for St.Paul, a most special person? Not at all. Vatican II, in Gaudium et spes par. 22 taught: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me." To translate that into contractual language: Our Redeemer generated an infinite objective title to forgiveness and grace not just for our race as a whole, but He created an infinite title in favor of each one of us individually.

In passing: How can anyone be lost with an infinite title to forgiveness and grace? Could he not go on sinning greatly for years,and then pull up short just before the end? We reply: God would not be unwilling to grant grace even to such a one, if he would really repent But there are two problems: First, if someone planned in advance to sin a long time and then quit in time--would there be really a change of heart? Hardly; it was all preplanned. Secondly, it is one thing for Him to give, another for us to take in what He gives. By sinning long and gravely a person makes Himself incapable of receiving. Much sin over time will result in hardness or blindness. So God might give, but the sinner could not see at all what God was trying to tell him. For the first thing an actual grace needs to do is to give the person the good thought of what God wants him to do. But the pull of habit coming from many sins can cancel out, overwhelm the pull of grace, which is gentle, in that it respects our freedom; while the pulls of creatures, if one lets himself be deeply enmeshed, do not respect his freedom: they take it away.

5. His knowledge and love: Pius XII, in his Encyclical on the Mystical Body, wrote: "The most loving knowledge of this kind, with which the divine Redeemer pursued us from the first moment of the Incarnation, surpasses the diligent grasp of any human mind; for by that blessed vision which He enjoyed when just received in the womb of the Mother of God, He has all the members of the Mystical Body continuously and perpetually present to Himself, and embraces them with saving love.... In the manger, on the Cross, in the eternal glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church before Him and joined to Him far more clearly and far more lovingly than a mother has a son on her lap, or than each one knows and loves himself."

6. Consecration and reparation: The essential devotion does not consist in singing hymns or lighting vigil lights, though these are good. Nor is it identified with the Nine First Fridays, though the Church highly favors these. Rather, Pius XII, in Miserentissimus Redemptor, explained: "Certainly, among the other things which properly belong to the worship of the Sacred Heart, that consecration stands out and is notable, by which we, recognizing that we have received all that we are and have from the eternal love of God, dedicate ourselves and all that we have to the Divine Heart of Jesus." But Pius XI added: "...if the first and chief thing in consecration is the repayment of the love of the creature to the love of the Creator, the second thing at once follows from it, that, if that Uncreated Love has been neglected by forgetfulness or violated by offenses, compensation should be made in some way for the injustice that has been inflicted: in common language we call this debt one of reparation...."

There are, then, two essentials: consecration and reparation.

When Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart in 1899, he explained it this way: "For we, in dedicating ourselves, not only recognize and accept His rule explicitly and freely, but we actually testify that if that which we give were ours, we would most willingly give it, and we ask Him to graciously accept from us that very thing, even though it is already His."

In other words, in consecration we as it were say that we acknowledge He already has most full rights over us, as Creator and Redeemer, and we owe Him everything, and He would not need to repay us at all. But we say that we beg Him to kindly accept the very same service on a title of love, and propose to serve Him better.

As to reparation: All sin is a debt. The Holiness of God wants it paid. A rabbi, Simeon ben Eleazar (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1.14) wrote: "He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him. He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world." The sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to have. The scale is out of balance. He could begin to rebalance in case of theft, by giving the property back; in case of a stolen pleasure, he begins to rebalance by giving up some other pleasure he could have had. But this only begins: for even one mortal sin has an infinity: Infinite Person offended. Therefore if the Father willed full rebalance - did not have to, but did will it - the only way was to send a Divine Person to become Man. He could generate an infinite value to fully rebalance. This does not mean we can do nothing. St.Paul makes clear that we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him - so we must be like Him in this work of reparation: rebalance is a most essential part. Pius XII, in Miserentissimus Redemptor: "If the soul of Christ was made sorrowful even to death on account of our sins, which were yet to come, but were foreseen, there is no doubt He received some consolation from our reparation, likewise foreseen."

Text of the file "Devotion to the Sacred Heart" by Rev. William G. Most.