"Who, then, shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Or the sword?
. . . . . I am sure,
That neither death nor life,
Nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,
Nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor might, nor height, nor depth,
Nor any other creature,
Shall be able to separate us
From the love of God
Which is in Christ Jesus
(Romans 8:35 and following verses.)
A man walked down the street. He spoke and people found themselves listening, almost in spite of themselves. No one ever spoke like this and they wanted to hear more. The man moved out of the town and they followed Him. Whole days passed, but nothing seemed to matter so long as they had Him. They forgot about sleep. They forgot about food. It was the man who remembered. He told them sit down and He would feed them. Thousands sat down, but there were no rations except five loaves and two fishes. These He took and blessed and they multiplied so that there was enough to go round, and plenty over.
The man was Jesus Christ. He might just as easily have created the food but His way is to make use of whatever we can supply ourselves.
Wine ran short at a marriage feast. He told the servants to fill six jars with water. It was all they had, and this He took and changed into wine.
What Have You?
With a piece of moistened clay He anointed the eye of a man born blind. He told him to go to the pool and wash it off. The man did, and at that instant he received the gift of sight. Ten lepers cried out to Him to have mercy on them. He ordered them to go and show themselves to the priests, and on the way the hideous scars fell from their bodies.
These instances, chosen at random, show that Our Lord wants to enter into partnership with us. He looks for our co-operation however insignificant it may be. "Do your own share," He seems to say, "and certainly I shall not fail to do Mine. Bring as much as you can and after that depend on Me to supply the rest."
Apostle of the Sacred Heart.
This was His principle, too, in dealing with St. Margaret Mary. Margaret was a shy, timid little girl from the country, and it was she whom He chose to be the apostle of His Sacred Heart. Margaret's father had died when she was a child. Her poor mother and herself were forced by circumstances to go over and live with three dreadful female relatives, reminiscent of the three witches in Macbeth.
She had none of the innocent joys of childhood. She soon developed an inferiority complex. She dare not leave the house except with the permission of each of the three dames, who ruled over it with a rod of iron. The unfortunate child would hide herself for whole days in a corner of a stable or garden where some sympathetic neighbours would bring her scraps of food. "When at last I came back," she tells us, "it was with such terror that I felt like a criminal going to receive the death sentence." The evil-minded women leeringly accused her of misconduct during these intervals with some lads of the village. The charge drew from her the most vehement protests. So great was her horror of anything which might tarnish her purity that she declared she would prefer to be torn into a thousand pieces than even to think of it.
This much must suffice to indicate the background of the girl of twenty-three who rang the bell one evening, at the Visitation Convent, in Paray, in France, and asked to be accepted as a postulant. The door swung open and she was admitted. She was in an ecstasy of joy at the prospect. A violent temptation seized her, on the very threshold of the convent, to fly back to the mother she loved and have done with this crazy notion of a nunnery. But she went on. "I was, in fact, so transported with joy that I exclaimed: `It is here that my God would have me to be’."
But Paray would prove to be no paradise. Ancient biographers, fearful of shocking their pious readers, were careful to suppress in their accounts any details which seemed to smack of what was dis-edifying. Modern writers have reacted against the tendency. They favour a healthy frankness and realism. "It must needs be that scandals come,” and the story of scandals can often yield undoubted advantages in the telling.
There were scandals at Paray. They were not of as deep a dye as might he found in other monasteries round about Margaret's time. (She was born in 1647.) But the little convent had its problems just the same. The fact was that some of the sisters did not have a vocation.
These grand ladies looked down the nose at the child of a mere notary from some backwater hamlet in Burgundy. They soon made poor Margaret keenly conscious of the inferiority of her position. She began to realise that she had been delivered from the claws of the three witches only to be lashed by the tongues of scorn and ill-concealed contempt of her sisters in religion.
This, then, was the nun, who, in the inscrutable designs of Providence, was chosen to be the apostle of the Sacred Heart, entrusted by Our Lord Himself with the arduous mission to propagate this devotion. "The foremost place," writes Pope Pius XII, "amongst those who promoted this excellent devotion, must assuredly go to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Inspired by her own burning zeal, and with the assistance of her spiritual director, Blessed Claude de la Colombiere, [now Saint Claude, as he was canonized in 1992,] she richly embellished this devotion, and caused it to take clear and definite shape, much to the admiration of the faithful."
But, to tell the truth, the prospect scared Margaret. Our Lord appeared to her repeatedly, explaining different things He wanted her to do. Thus on one occasion she was ordered to tell Mother Superior that God was not pleased with the spirit of the community. The poor girl began to tremble and implored to be excused. But the Lord was inexorable and Margaret had to go. She prayed that day, she tells us, on the way to her Superior's room, that she might drop dead
Worse was to come. She was to undertake a big mission, none other than to spread all through the Church the devotion to His Sacred Heart. Again she expostulated and pleaded, and again her pleading was without effect. She pointed out that she was a nobody. With charming naiveté she reminded Him that there were several other nuns in the convent more capable by far than herself. All she wanted to do was to hide herself and give herself to prayer and sacrifice. Why would He not permit this, and hand over His commission to someone else?
"It is precisely because you are an abyss of ignorance and of nothingness that I have chosen you. It will thus be clear to all men that the mission is Mine, not yours." As He took the water at Cana, as He took the five loaves and two fishes, so would He take Margaret, just as she was, devoid of any outstanding merit or talent, and, using whatever amount of co-operation was possible for her to give, He would Himself provide for what was lacking.
It is with reluctance that we leave the rest of the fascinating story of Margaret. In her distress, Our Lord promised to send into her life "a priest after His own Heart." This proved to be the young Jesuit, Father de la Colombiere. He became her staunch friend and support, having first thoroughly tested her spirit. He was convinced she was led by the spirit of God, and told Mother Prioress so.
His verdict caused another flutter in the dovecot! So now she has succeeded in deceiving even the wily Jesuit! Margaret would have an interview with him lasting a whole hour or longer. The great ladies were graciously bowed out after being accorded a minute or a minute and a half! What the results were, we can leave you to surmise.
Pope Pius XII.
This happened three hundred years ago [during 1673-1675]. With what zest the message of the Sacred Heart has since been relayed can be judged from the following facts. They are found listed by Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical on this devotion, (in his encyclical letter Haurietis aquas on May 15, 1956,) "Our predecessor, Clement XIII," (1758-1769) he writes, "granted to the Bishops of Poland and to the Archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart at Rome, permission to celebrate the feast liturgically . . . . . (so as) to renew through this symbol the memory of that divine love by which Our Saviour was driven to offer Himself as a victim to atone for the crimes of mankind."
This was in 1765, seventy-five years after Margaret's death. Ninety years later "Our predecessor Pius IX, [in 1856] acceding to the prayers of the bishops of France and of practically the entire Catholic world, commanded the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to be extended to the whole Church and celebrated in every part of it . . . . . . From that time devotion to the Sacred Heart, like a river in full flood, sweeping away all obstacles, spread over the entire world."
On this occasion Pius IX invited all the faithful to consecrate themselves publicly to the Sacred Heart. But Leo XIII went further. In an Encyclical in 1899 on this devotion he compared the Heart of Christ to the Cross which Constantine had seen ablaze in the sky, assuring him of victory. "In the same way do we place all our confidence in this Sacred Heart, asking from It and hoping and awaiting for, our eternal salvation." The great Pontiff then solemnly proclaimed that Christ is King of all men, and to His Sacred Heart he consecrated the whole world. This consecration he regarded as the "outstanding act of his pontificate."
Twenty-five years later Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King and ordered the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart to be renewed yearly throughout the world. Pius XII quotes him as saying: "Does not this devotion — which causes an intimate knowledge of Christ Our Lord to grow in us, engenders in our hearts an intense love of Him, and leads us to model ourselves on Him completely — comprise the sum-total of our religion and therefore the rule of perfection itself?"
And now Pius XII enlarges upon his own consistent efforts to implement the work of the Popes who went before him. "At the beginning of Our Pontificate we noted with pleasure that the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus had made great advances and was continuing to make triumphant progress . . . . . Throughout the years of Our Pontificate — years full of trials and cares, but full, too, of sublime consolations — these blessings have not grown less; rather have they become more abundant, richer and more splendid than before.
"Various projects conducive to fostering this devotion and most suited to the needs of our times have happily arisen; associations for cultural development and for the promotion of religion and charitable works; published works treating of this devotion from the historical, mystical or ascetical viewpoints; pious works of atonement, and, in particular, the extremely fervent expressions of piety which are the fruit of the Sodality of the Apostleship of Prayer, under whose aegis, principally, families, colleges, institutions, and at times even whole nations, have been consecrated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus."
The august writer, viewing this happy development, considered that the time was ripe for a new Encyclical which, while warmly encouraging the devotion, would at the same time clarify it and ward off possible misconceptions concerning it. With this in mind he wrote "Haurietis Aquas". The words are from Isaiah: "You shall draw waters with joy out of the fountains of the Saviour." These fountains well up in the Sacred Heart, and the saintly Pope, who had drunk of them so deeply, is a sure guide to lead us to assuage our thirst at the same inexhaustible source.
The Heart of Christ, he points out, like every other member of Christ's Body, "is entitled to that same cult of adoration with which the Church venerates the Person of the Incarnate Son of God. But, moreover, in every language Heart and love are synonymous. The heart is of its very nature the symbol and sign of love. That is why it is particularly well fitted to express the love of Jesus for us, and the love which moves us to love Him in return.” Indeed, as He shows at great length, the kernel of the devotion consists precisely in an interchange of love. This was graphically illustrated in the revelations made to St. Margaret Mary.
The remainder of this pamphlet will be, for the most part, an effort to comment on the teaching of the late Holy Father, as found in this letter. But first may we be permitted a digression? It is by way of illustrating in a specific instance, the zeal of a fervent Catholic in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Father Aloysius Kemper is a wonderful priest in Chicago, who, well on in his eighties, is still tireless in his many works of apostolate. His father had always had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart. He never wearied of recommending people to say: "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in You." He had done wonders to spread everywhere copies of the Twelve Promises made by Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary, on behalf of those devoted to His Sacred Heart. These he had translated into all sorts of languages — Arabic, Chinese, the different Indian dialects, etc. Father Kemper assured me that he circulated these literally by the million. Often on the eve of a First Friday, he would see his father going to the post office laden with parcels. These contained hundreds of thousands of copies of the Promises. They were being dispatched to the ends of the earth.
Pope Leo XIII heard of this man's zeal and wrote him a personal letter commending him for his fine work: Moreover, the Holy Father incorporated into his Encyclical on the Sacred Heart, some of Mr. Kemper's ideas on the devotion.
One Holy Thursday, this saintly man spent nearly the whole day before the Altar of Repose. He returned at evening, had his supper, and retired. He was found dead in bed on Good Friday, beside him the book he had been reading. It was open at the chapter entitled "Easter in Heaven."
A New Devotion?
Pope Pius XII is concerned, in the first place, "to admonish all these Our children, who, in their prejudice, sometimes go so far as to consider this devotion unsuitable, not to say harmful, in face of the spiritual needs felt by the Church today . . . . . Some fail to distinguish between the devotion itself, in its essentials, and various special forms of piety which the Church commends and promotes but does not impose as of obligation . . . . . . Others who devote the greater part of their time, energies, and resources to teaching and disseminating Catholic truth and inculcating Catholic social doctrine . . . assert that this devotion is burdensome and of little or no value . . . . . Yet others look upon it as a sentimental form of piety . . . more fit for women than for men of culture, of whom they deem it in some way unworthy . . . ."
All these critics the Pope takes back to Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, showing forcibly how futile and superficial these objections are thus seen to be.
The Sacred Heart is worthy of love and adoration for two reasons. First, it is the Heart of a divine Person, the Incarnate Son of God; secondly, because it is the symbol most suited to express the love of God for us and our consequent obligation and privilege to love Him in return. The revelations made to St. Margaret Mary were new only in this — that they laid emphasis on what was always a devotion in the Church, namely on the love we owe to God in return for His love of us. This emphasis was necessary, Our Lord explained to His chosen servant, because "the charity of men had grown cold; because of the frightful sin and sacrilege and ingratitude of the vast majority of mankind."
Our Lord, therefore, came to her and gave her the mission to stir up His love once more in men's hearts and He showed her His own Heart as a symbol of the deep love He had for them. Hence devotion to the Sacred Heart has always been in the Church. It is the motive goading people to scale the heights of holiness. "It is the charity of Christ that drives us forward." It is senseless, therefore, bordering on blasphemy, to assert that it is a devotion devoid of solid foundation in Catholic dogma; to affirm that its appeal is only for the sentimental.
True, specific forms which the devotion takes may not, and need not, necessarily attract everyone. True also, that the revelations made to St. Margaret Mary did much to increase and popularize the devotion. But at the same time — and this point needs to be stressed — these revelations do not constitute the devotion. They gave it impetus, but its foundations are to be sought for in the New and even in the Old Testament. This is true because devotion to the Sacred Heart is simply "the will to give oneself readily to the service of God." This is St. Thomas' definition of devotion, and, asks the Pope, "what more obligatory or necessary, what nobler or more attractive service of God, that that which is given to His love?"
"Let everyone fully understand, therefore, that in the worship of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus external acts do not hold the primary place; nor is the chief reason for that worship to be sought in the favours which Christ has promised in private revelations."
Ways and Means.
There are Catholics who practise with commendable zeal the Holy Hour, the "Nine Fridays," the Apostleship of Prayer. There are Catholics who are attracted by promises made by Our Lord to those who are devoted to His Sacred Heart. St. Margaret Mary affirms, for instance, that through this devotion "tepid souls will become fervent." So a parent is drawn to the devotion in the hope that through it an erring son may be converted. The saint tells us that the Sacred Heart promises to restore peace in families which are disunited, if they practise this devotion. A sorely-tried husband or wife hears of this and resolves to follow the saint's recommendations, trusting that happiness may be given back to the members of the family.
"I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened sinners." This, the saint says, was told her by Our Lord, speaking of priests devoted to His Sacred Heart. A good priest, worried about sinners in his parish, may well be alerted by this assurance and undertake to spread and practise the devotion.
Then there is the "great promise" — that those who make the Nine First Fridays, as the saint explains Our Lord told her — "will not die without their sacraments, nor in My displeasure." Anyone meditating deeply and prayerfully on this promise might, very understandably, be led to receive Holy Communion on the days mentioned.
The Same Root.
All such specific forms of devotion stem from the same root. They are expressions of our love of Our Lord, of our confidence, of our desire to prove that our protestations of love are genuine. As such they are excellent. As such the Church approves of them, commends them to the faithful, rejoices when she learns that they are spreading. But the Holy Father's point is that these do not constitute devotion to the Sacred Heart, though undoubtedly they may help to foster it, though in many cases they certainly do.
But an excellent Catholic may be deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart and never engage to do any of these things. The case might be exceptional but it can easily be envisaged. The reason is that devotion to the Sacred Heart is devotion to His love for us; a fervent purpose and desire to love Him in return; an ardent zeal to draw others to His love. Such devotion has always been in the Church, as the Holy Father goes on to show. Hence the charge made against some Catholics is to be admitted as just, which states that their "devotion" is based on a mere selfish interest, that they are actuated merely by a desire to gain personal advantages, that they completely misunderstood the essentials of the devotion and concentrate on what is only accidental and secondary.
"The purpose of the ‘promises’," concludes Pope Pius XII, "was that men might more zealously discharge the duties of the Catholic religion, that is to say, duties of love and reparation, and thus serve their own spiritual interests in the best possible manner."
"We have not here an ordinary exercise of piety which a person may freely neglect for other forms of devotion, or esteem of little importance. Rather is there question of a practice intimately related to the achieving of Christian perfection."