Our Lord showed His Sacred Heart, to St. Margaret Mary. From every side of It flames of fire were issuing forth, which He explained symbolized the fire of love for us sinners which consumed Him. "Behold this Heart on fire with love . . . . ."
The lucid teaching of the Holy Father now echoes the Master's voice. His Vicar too exhorts us to behold this Heart. He takes us through the Old and' New Testament, insisting on the expressions and proofs of God's love of us which crowd into every page. Holy Scripture, it is quite true, does not make explicit mention of the Heart. But this omission "cannot even faintly obscure the fact that the divine charity towards us, which is the principal reason for this devotion, is proclaimed and instilled, by means of the most moving images, both in the Old and New Testament."
As one instance of this love, symbolized by the Sacred Heart, the Pope refers us to the prophet Osee (Hosea) "who has given us the clearest and most powerful expression of the abiding love of God for His people . . . an anxious love, a holy love, a love that is consistent with the demands of justice, such as is felt by a compassionate loving father or by a husband whose honour has been slighted. Osee depicts our God as eager to heal the breach, to assure His ungrateful people that His love is not weakened or extinguished by their sin. Justice calls for punishment .But, once the demands of justice have been met, let God's erring children draw nearer to Him than ever.
Then there is the wonderful story of divine love, traceable throughout the long journey, lasting forty years, of the Israelites across the desert to the Promised Land. Time and time again they fell into idolatry; time and time again they forgot their promises to love God and serve Him. Never did He reject them. Each time the promises were renewed the loving mercy of God prevailed. He forgave and restored them to His friendship.
All this was a foreshadowing of the supreme love of the Redeemer Who was to come. The Christian Covenant is "sustained by a far more bountiful outpouring of grace and truth" than was the Ancient Covenant. So we are invited to ponder prayerfully in our hearts the merciful love of the Blessed Trinity and of the divine Redeemer. The human race was absolutely powerless to atone for its sins. It must remain to this day and to the end of time and throughout eternity, estranged from God, banished from heaven, were it not for "the exceeding great love" which our Mediator showed us. He loved us even when we were dead in sin, quickening us again to a new life in union with Himself.
A Real Man.
Since He was a real Man, like us in everything, sin alone excepted, it follows beyond all question that He had a Heart like ours, which beat with love and was affected by other human emotions. These, indeed, were in complete harmony with His human will. "The only begotten Son of God took on a human nature capable of suffering and dying, chiefly for this reason — that He desired to offer a bloody sacrifice on the Cross, so as to accomplish the work of human salvation." He would thus become, as St. Paul would describe Him, "like unto His brethren in all things, a merciful and faithful high priest before God, a propitiation for the sins of the people."
"Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And the Pope's argument is that devotion to the Sacred Heart is the will to give oneself to God, making a return of love for love.
This love existed before God laid the foundations of the world. Accommodating Himself to our modes of expression, God assures us by the prophet: "I have loved you with an everlasting love." He tells us, secondly, that His attitude towards us at this moment is one of love. "I have you graven in My hands." People who are forgetful will take care not to allow some object they value leave their hand. They cannot forget it as long as they hold it. Now "the souls of the just are in the hand of God." Finally, that love which He has will never wane. "Can a mother forget her infant, so as not to remember the child of her womb? And, even if she should forget, I will not forget you."
Stop and Listen.
Hence we may say, concerning this love which God bears each of us that "it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be." Any words we can employ to express the stunning reality of this statement must always prove pitiably inadequate. Realisation will come only through the action of grace, generously granted to the soul that prays, and, like Our, Lady, ponders the whole marvellous story in the heart. The man who begins to come to grips with the truth will rise from his knees, transformed into a new person, like Saul on the Damascus Road.
"My divine Heart," He told St. Margaret Mary, "is so inflamed with love for men, and for you in particular, that, not being able any longer to restrain within Itself the flames of Its ardent charity, It must spread them everywhere through your means, and manifest Itself to men that they may be enriched with Its precious treasures." "He was brilliant with glory," she writes in another place. "His five wounds shone like five suns. Flames darted forth from all parts of His sacred Humanity, but especially from His adorable breast. This resembled a furnace, and on opening, it displayed to me His loving and amiable Heart, the living source of those flames."
Such passages might be multiplied. The saint repeats herself. Her sentences are at times long and involved. She is diffident and fearful of being deceived. She longs for the coming of the priest promised to her, Our Lord's "faithful friend and perfect servant, who would teach her to know her Saviour and abandon herself completely to Him."
When Our Blessed Lady heard the angel's message she too was agitated — ‘turbata est.’ The prospect of the place assigned to her in the divine scheme left her breathless with amazement and fear. A similar reaction is easy to discern in St. Margaret Mary. To her timidity and joy combined, must be attributed the fact that at times she is almost incoherent in her account. She is speaking under strong emotion.
Love for the Sinner.
The emphasis on God's love for us sinners is thus the first portion of the message of the Sacred Heart. The Holy Father has shown us how deep are the foundations upon which this astonishing truth rests. He moves on now to underline another truth conveyed by Christ to His chosen servant. This was a complaint, wrung from Him by the sins and ingratitude of the vast bulk of mankind. "They have nothing but coldness and rebuffs," He told her, "for all My eagerness to do them good . . . . . Behold this Heart which has so loved men, which has spared Itself in nothing, even to being exhausted and consumed, in order to testify to them Its love. And the greater number make Me no other return than ingratitude, by their coldness and forgetfulness of Me in this Sacrament of love. What is still more painful to Me is the fact that it is souls consecrated to Me who use Me thus."
"Many of the Church's children," writes Pius XII, "by their numerous sins and weaknesses, disfigure the beautiful countenance of their Mother, which is reflected in them . . . . . If it causes Us keen suffering to behold the weak faith of the good, in whose souls, deceived by the false desire for the things of this world, the flame of divine love burns low and is gradually being extinguished, We suffer much more intensely from the evil machinations of the wicked. Today more than ever, impious men, as if impelled by the infernal enemy, are consumed with implacable and undisguised hatred of God and of His Church. . . . . ."
So it is clear that the complaint wrung from the Heart of Christ three hundred years ago is still echoing throughout our world in the twentieth century. [And what of the Twenty-first?]
Christ stood on the balcony of Pilate's palace. He was crowned with thorns. His body was a mass of wounds. In His hand they had placed a reed in mockery of His royalty.
"Behold the Man," exclaimed Pilate, and the fearful answer was hurled back: "Away with Him. Crucify Him. His blood be upon us and upon our children." And today the same Christ stands before the modern world. "Behold this Heart," He cries, "on fire with love of men." And again the terrible rejection: "We will not have this Man to rule over us."
Once again realisation of all that this implies will begin to dawn upon our minds only through prayer and serious meditation. When we pray, when through the grace granted us, we are able to see and grasp the deep significance of what we have just read, we can never be the same again. "Christ needs YOU," cries out the Pope. "The Church needs YOU." And for what purpose? To make reparation to the Sacred Heart.
The Holy Father dilates on "the growing dominion over the hearts of men of a false materialist philosophy and way of life, while on all sides the free, unrestrained sway of the passions is proposed as an ideal. Little wonder if, in such circumstances many hearts lose the fervour of charity, which is the supreme law of the Christian religion.. . ."
This state of things is a challenge more than a threat. From every analogy in history a period like ours should be prolific in saints. The very fact that so many are consumed with "undisguised hatred of God" proves to be a mighty incentive to the good to love Him more than ever. And their love seeks to express itself in the deeds of sacrifice.
St. Paul described the essential notion of reparation when he wrote: "I fill up in my flesh the things that are wanting to the sufferings of Christ, for His Body which is the Church." On every side opportunities occur. There is the long-drawn-out sickness, or the acute financial worry, or the constant anxiety about the wayward son or daughter. All such more grievous trials can be made into material for reparation. By their means we fill up what is wanting to the Passion if we train ourselves to unite our sufferings with His on Calvary.
There are the petty annoyances too — a wrong number dialled on the phone and much consequent confusion; an importunate visitor who besieges us at a moment when we are particularly busy; the baby waking up at night; the heavy rain which comes to spoil our day's outing; the disappointing news we get in a letter this morning. "In all things seek God.” This is sound advice of St. Ignatius. The art of super-naturalizing everything makes everything material for a life devoted to reparation.
Among the exquisite pieces of literature dealing with the devotion to the Sacred Heart pride of place must be given to the Mass and Office composed by order of Pope Pius XI. These, too, like Pius XII's Encyclical, open up "the fountains of the Saviour" to the thirsting soul, assuaging its longing for the living waters of true devotion. As a mere sample of the riches to be discovered in this mine we propose the Preface in that Mass.
This Preface refers, in the first place, to the Sacred Heart as "the treasure-house of the divine bounty." When men have anything valuable, they take very good care to keep it under lock and key. The last thing a sensible man of business will do, before leaving his store at evening time, is to make sure he has put that day's takings into the safe. He will slam the door and tug at it to test it -and make certain that no thief can possibly force it open.
The Heart of Christ is a treasure-house in which are contained the riches accumulated by Him at such a terrible cost — all the sufferings of His Passion. But at this treasure-house, the door stands wide open always, day and night. The Preface speaks of the Son of God Who was pierced by the lance as He hung on the Cross. The soldier's spear opened His Heart that day and never since has It been closed.
Hence we have the "apertum Cor," "the open Heart." Why? What is the reason for this seeming disregard for the treasure? Is the Owner not afraid of thieves breaking through and stealing? No. A man with the wealth of earth is fearful because, no matter how much he possesses, his supply is necessarily limited. But the wealth of the Sacred Heart is inexhaustible. No need for lock or key here. He ardently desires, as He explained to St. Margaret Mary, that the entire world would come and draw off from the treasures He is offering. They are endless. No matter how much will be taken from what is infinite, infinity must ever remain. The only limitation is the measure of each soul's capacity to take and receive.
The glorious words of the Preface now proceed to draw up a catalogue of what gifts are waiting in this treasure-house for the soul willing to search for them. There are '"torrents of mercy and of grace." One thinks of the thousands and thousands of tons of water falling from Niagara. One remembers the mighty dams in Holland built to keep back the waters of the ocean which maintain all the time their terrific pressure against the resistance of these barriers. These illustrate, but only feebly, the "torrents" in the Heart of Christ, as they keep on ever pressing, ever eager, to break down the obstacles raised by our own miserable selfishness.
In this treasure-house, with the door wide open, the soul finds "mercy and grace." Mercy! Here is that gift which blesses Him Who gives and him who takes away. That it is a source of blessings to the recipient is obvious. Here is a line of thought to return to again and again in prayer: If ever I committed a mortal sin, even one single mortal sin I owe it only to the infinite mercy of the Sacred Heart that I am not in hell at this moment.
As for Him from Whom this gift of mercy comes to us: we remember how He described the joy there is before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.
Side by side with mercy, there is also to be given from out the treasures, the gift of grace. Our whole booklet might be employed in the effort to speak about the marvels of divine grace and we should still be far indeed from having finished. "If you did know the gift of God!" All we can say here is that grace makes us sons and daughters, in a real sense, of God; that it gives us a sharing in His own life; that it enriches in a marvellous manner our every action; that it ensures our eternal salvation. And of this gift the Sacred Heart is the source and fountain-head.
This Heart, the Preface continues, never ceased to burn with love for us. We have tried, in language which must always be halting and wide of the mark, to offer some ideas about this gift of divine love and its claims upon us. We merely add here that God not only permits us to love Him, but actually commands it! "You shall love the Lord your God, with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with all your strength, with all your mind."
This Heart is a harbour of peace and rest and tranquillity to those who are in love with Christ. "In peace, in the self-same, shall I sleep and take my rest, for You, O Lord, have confirmed me in hope." A magnificent example of the peace communicated to the earnest soul is Blessed [Saint] Claude de la Colombiere's ‘Act of Confidence in God’.
Finally the Heart of Christ is a secure place of sanctuary for the repentant. We know that there were places where a criminal could flee to, and, if once he reached one of these, he acquired the right of sanctuary. His enemies were forbidden to lay a hand on him as long as he remained in such a refuge. The Sacred Heart is just such an abode of safety where the sinner is immune from all serious danger to his soul.
In case you have not your missal handy, it may be worthwhile transcribing the pertinent portions of this Preface composed by Pope Pius XI.
"It is right and just that we should praise You, O God, Who did will that Your only-begotten Son, as He hung on the Cross, should be pierced by the lance of the soldier; that the open Heart, treasure-house of divine bounty, might pour forth upon us torrents of mercy, and of grace; and that that Heart which never ceased to burn with love for us, might become to the fervent a place of rest, and to the repentant might be opened out as a sanctuary and a refuge. . . . ."
Behold this Heart! The key words to remember, as we meditate on this wonderful Preface, indicating the treasures to be looked for, are: OPEN Heart; TORRENTS of MERCY and of GRACE; LOVE; REST; a SANCTUARY and a REFUGE.
On the first-page of this pamphlet we printed St. Paul's rousing cry: "Who, then, shall separate us from the love of Christ?" In view of all we have seen, it does seem fair to suggest that that same cry, slightly adapted, might rise up too in the Heart of Christ and form itself on His lips. It is abundantly clear that, as far as He is concerned, nothing is “ever going to separate us from Him”. He is determined to have us, at almost any cost.
"Who shall separate ME from the love of men's souls? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers . . . nor any other creature, shall be able to separate Me, from the love of men, which wells up in My Sacred Heart, the Heart of Christ Jesus the Lord."
Preface of the Sacred Heart
It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, that we should in all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, and everlasting God; who didst will that Thine only begotten Son should be pierced by the soldier's lance as He hung upon the Cross: that from His opened heart, as from a sanctuary of divine bounty, might be poured out upon us streams of mercy and grace; and that in His heart always burning with love for us, the devout may find a haven of rest, and the penitent a refuge of salvation. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing:
The Promises of The Sacred Heart.
Made by Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary in favour of those who practise devotion to His Sacred Heart.
1. I will give them the graces necessary for their state.
2. I will give peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in all their trials and afflictions.
4. I will be their secure refuge in life and death.
5. I will bestow abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
6. Sinners will find My Heart an ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall advance rapidly towards perfection.
9. I will bless every dwelling in which an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured.
10. I will give priests a peculiar facility in converting the most hardened souls.
11. The, persons who spread this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.
12. I promise you, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that Its all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month the grace of final repentance; they shall not die in My disfavour nor without receiving the Sacraments, for My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.