The Sacred Heart, by Father Alfonso de Zulueta

Sacred Heart of Jesus stained glass window, Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA; artist unknown; photographed by the author, summer 2003The month of June brings round once more a special emphasis of the Church on this great modern devotion of the Sacred Heart. It is a devotion which is often misunderstood, which is at times dismissed on account of the questionable taste of some of the artistic manifestations which surround it; or its profound significance is not duly grasped, and it is mistaken, by some, for sentimentality.

The revelations to Saint Margaret Mary are not, of course, a matter of Faith, any more than any other private revelations. But the tremendous weight of the Church’s approval of the cult, and its remarkable success in bringing souls nearer to Christ, together with the Providential circumstances under which the revelations took place – providing, as they did, a timely antidote to Jansenism – all this should help to set aside indifference and to ensure a good reception for the devotion.

The objection has been raised against it that it is unnecessary; that Christ is not to be “divided up,” that surely the traditional devotion of Christianity to His divine Person is enough for us, that we need no more than Crib and Crucifix. But it must be remembered, in the first place, that all parts of the Sacred Humanity are adorable; that the heart – pace the physiologists – has traditionally been regarded as a convenient symbol of the emotion of love, and is still so regarded in popular parlance; and that in an age which began with Jansenism and which has led on to secularism and unbelief, nothing could be more timely than this focussing of the Christian mind on the Love of Christ as such. The formal object of our adoration, then, is the love of Christ, of which His Heart is the material symbol. This love, though that of a divine Person, is a human love, as intense as, indeed far more intense, loyal and true than any human love, for Christ’s Humanity was perfect and crowned with every grace, and thus possessed a power of loving, in the best sense of the word, unequalled in the history of the human race. Moreover, the Person to whom this sacred Humanity is united is God, and this gives to the perfection of His human love the added might and splendour of the divinity. Can we, therefore, imagine any stronger love for us, or any worthier object of our love than that of the God-Man? Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ will help to focus our attention on what the Cross, and indeed the whole life of Our Lord, from start to finish, cries unceasingly: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”

The devotion to the Sacred Heart is the emphasis of the Church on the love of Christ, whether we consider it as the love of Christ for us, or, conversely, our love for Godmade Man.

Let us here note the special connection between the Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist, which makes the time chosen for the feast singularly appropriate, coming as it does immediately after the Octave of Corpus Christi.

The love of Christ for us is nowhere more evident than in the greatest of His gifts, the supreme legacy, interwoven as it is with the perpetuation and renewal of His Passion, which is also the proof par excellence of the greatness of His Heart. The love, the magnanimity, the self-forgetfulness of Christ are all shown forth, as in epitome, in the Holy Eucharist, the fruit of Calvary. And as for our love for Christ, how can it possibly increase, how can it be quickened except by contact with that sacred Flesh whose reception makes Him to abide in us and we in Him? The mutual interpenetration, the close union that Holy Communion achieves between us and Him, is the surest way to grasp what devotion to His Heart can mean. “Gustate et videte quoniam suavis est Dominus.” And how else should it be? It is only by persistent personal contact that we grow gradually to appreciate and love a Friend.

Hence is it surprising that Christ, in revealing the intense love of His Heart for men, should have once more invited us to His sacred Table? The “Nine Fridays” properly understood, the devotion of the First Friday, these were encouragements, pointers in an age of infrequent Communion, towards what has since become the common practice of the Church. We need not dispense with them now, not only because of the remarkable pledges this Promise contains, for those who fulfil it in the right spirit, but because if ever there was an age in which we needed to be near Christ, and when we needed to make reparation for to Him, surely it is ours. But, moreover, this is a devotion to be used for others, as well as ourselves, and the Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Charity and the bond of union between the faithful: “O vinculum caritatis!”

Is not this, then, a specially opportune devotion for these days of humanitarian generosity? So often do we find this impulse misdirected, wasted for lack of supernatural intention and of a co-ordinating object and end. Yet it derives from our Christian heritage, and there is much that is noble in it. Only with a return to Christ Himself, with the recognition of His divinity and of His Humanity as the supreme source and inspiration of all worthy love of our neighbour for His sake, can humanitarianism return to its Father’s House. Only by setting the second great commandment in its proper relation to the first can the true order of love be restored. “Instaurare omnia in Christo,” the great motto of Pius X, should be the programme of every Christian – to restore all things in Christ. With the intensity of our personal devotion to Him will grow our well-ordered and fruitful love for our fellow men, something transcending the limits of this world, and following them into eternity. One calls to mind Chesterton ‘s apostrophe of the wrong kind of humanitarianism: “Oh you who love your fellow men, And love not God” – it is really a contradiction in terms to love men regardless of their last end, of their eternal happiness. We can only love our neighbour truly if, through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we love him in and for God. That is the message of the divine Heart, a message in these days of war and suffering, a message to a world sick through neglect of the divine Lover, a message to each one of mercy, of pardon, and of undying love: “Behold this Heart, which has so loved men.”

– article from The Tablet, 21 June 1941