June is a month of fulfilled promises and ones yet to come. This is especially true this year as we continue to move away from the quarantine imposed by the coronavirus to more of a semblance of normalcy in our lives. June holds the center of the year. Its days are longer and brighter and it also holds the longest day of the year on June 20, which marks the beginning of summer. The days of summer are before us as we look ahead to some more relaxed days.
It is fitting that the month of June brings the celebration of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which we will celebrate this year on June 19. Indeed, June is the month of the Sacred Heart and its many signs of fulfilled promises, hope and life are quite appropriate for what the Sacred Heart symbolizes. Through the human Heart of Jesus, the very divine love of God is made manifest in a manner that we can touch and experience. Just as June holds the center of the year and the brightest day, so the Sacred Heart reveals the brightness of the center of Christ, both in His human and divine natures. His human Heart is from where His Blood and life flowed and that Heart manifests the center of His divinity which is love and mercy!
Devotion to the Sacred Heart, although not formally defined until the eighteenth century, goes well back into the Middle Ages and, indeed, into the Gospels themselves. From the Heart of Jesus, which was pierced with the lance on the Cross, blood and water flowed which began the life of the Church. Saints such as Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153), Bonaventure (1221 – 1274), Gertrude (1256 – 1302), Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380), Frances of Rome (1384 – 1440), and many others helped to define this devotion in their writings and personal practices. The devotion to the Sacred Heart was especially fostered by the Carthusians in the sixteenth century. Later, particularly in France, the Jesuits and the Visitandines worked together to give devotion to the Sacred Heart a prominence in the official and popular life of the Church. Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622) was quite influential in this regard and Saint John Eudes (1601 – 1680) was the first to provide an elaborate theological and liturgical foundation for the doctrine. However, it was through the visions of the Visitandine nun, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, that the devotion, as we know it today, took its definite shape. It was she who received the twelve promises from the Sacred Heart at Paray-le-Monial in France during the period 1673 – 1675.
The liturgical observance of the Feast was authorized by Pope Clement the XIII in 1765 and Pope Pius IX extended the Feast in 1856 to the Universal Church. Pope Leo XII consecrated humanity to the Sacred Heart in 1899. The Feast was fixed on the Roman calendar in 1969 as the Friday following the second week after Pentecost and was made a Solemnity. Devotion to the Sacred Heart has received even more attention with the canonization on April 30, 2000, of Sister Mary Faustina (1905 – 1938) who received extraordinary visions of God’s merciful love through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was to her that Jesus expressed His desire to press the world to His merciful Heart.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus makes divine love visible in human form. We experience the depth of God’s love in the human Heart of Christ. God’s desire to assume a human heart and His willingness to let it be pierced for our sakes speaks movingly to us of how much God loves us. Indeed, God’s love for us was made manifest to us when we did not deserve it, when we had sinned. God created us out of love and redeemed us, with His Son’s pierced Heart, out of mercy. This is the fullest embodiment of His love. “Love consists in this: not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and has sent His Son as an offering for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). Pope Francis expressed this well in his homily on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart last year when he said “God is like that: He is always first. He’s the first to wait for us, the first to love us, the first to help us.”
The Sacred Heart of Jesus also reveals to us how much our love means to God. God’s love for us is so intense that He truly wants us to enter into a loving relationship with Him. The saints devoted to the Sacred Heart had a great sense of this real relationship. In fact, it is this union with God that was at the core of their own spiritual lives. If we look at the Gospels, we can see so many instances of how our love matters to God. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus shows sadness when the nine lepers do not return to thank Him. He weeps over Jerusalem. He is hurt by Judas who betrayed Him. When we read the Gospels over and over, we can see how God became man to experience what we do and to show us that He understands. God loves us and wants us to love Him and that desire is reflected in the loving Heart of His Son.
Again, Saint Francis de Sales did much to cultivate devotion to the Sacred Heart. He saw the Heart of Jesus as central to holiness and the core of the spiritual life. He wrote, “If we touch His Heart, we will find it completely inflamed and burning with incomparable love toward us.” His devotion to the Sacred Heart became so much a part of the Church’s devotion, especially in France, that we can see its influence in the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873 – 1897), the Little Flower. She realized how much God loved her and how much her love mattered to God. She composed a moving poem, To the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which sums up well her sentiment expressing God’s relationship to us and our relationship to God. She wrote:
I need a heart burning with tenderness,
Who will be my support forever,
Who loves everything in me, even my weakness…
And who never leaves me day or night.
I could find no creature
Who could always love me and never die.
I must have a God who takes on my nature
And becomes my brother and is able to suffer!
June is indeed a central month, filled with hope, promise and life. As we celebrate this month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we realize how His Heart is central to His person and to what our faith is all about. That faith has to do with hope, promise, life, and love. As the brightest day of this month shines its rays of sun upon us, may the love of the Sacred Heart brighten our lives with the realization that God is the center of our lives and that He has made us the center of His own divine life.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 12, 2020