'Another Fresh Stream'

June is dedicated to The Sacred Heart of Jesus. The following is a series of excerpts from Jesus, Mercy Incarnate, Marian Press, 2000 (currently out of print), by Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. The series explores the relationship between The Sacred Heart and The Divine Mercy.

According to the popes of the last 100 years, there is no devotion more important to the life of the Church than devotion to the Heart of Jesus. For example, in 1899 Pope Leo XIII, in what he called "the greatest act of my pontificate," consecrated the whole world to the Sacred Heart on the threshold of the new century, and he wrote of the Sacred Heart as "the symbol and sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ."

In 1928, in his encyclical "Miserentissimus Redemptor," Pope Pius XI taught that devotion to the Heart of Jesus is "the summary of our religion," which, if practiced, "will most surely lead us to know intimately Jesus Christ, and will cause our hearts to love Him more tenderly and to imitate Him more generously." Then in 1956, in his famous encyclical on the Sacred Heart "Haurietis Aquas," Pope Pius XII was even more effusive than his predecessors in praise of this devotion:


It is altogether impossible to enumerate the heavenly gifts which devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has poured out on the souls of the faithful, purifying them, offering them heavenly strength, rousing them to the attainment of all virtues ...

Consequently, the honor paid to the Sacred Heart is such as to raise it to the rank - so far as external practice is concerned - of the highest expression of Christian piety. For this is the religion of Jesus, which is centered on the Mediator who is man and God, and in such a way that we cannot reach the Heart of God, save through the Heart of Christ ...

After the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI pleaded with the Church not to forget the devotion to the Sacred Heart. In his apostolic letter of 1965, "Investigabiles Divitias Christi," he wrote:

This, therefore, seems to us to be the most suitable ideal: that devotion to the Sacred Heart - which, we are grieved to say, has suffered somewhat in the estimation of some persons - now reflourish daily more and more. Let it be esteemed by all as an excellent and acceptable form of true piety ...

In a follow-up letter to the heads of the religious orders, Paul VI was even more emphatic:

Thus, it is absolutely necessary that the faithful venerate and honor this Heart, in the expression of their private piety as well as in the services of public cult, for of His fullness we have all received; and they must learn perfectly from Him how they are to live in order to answer the demands of our time.

Finally, in 1994, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, contains the following remarkable statement about the importance of the symbol of the Heart of Jesus (no. 478):

The Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, "is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that ... love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings" without exception.

We need not belabor the point. Suffice it to say that for more than a century now, the successors of St. Peter have repeatedly exhorted the faithful to honor the Heart of Jesus, and to practice this devotion with love and zeal.

The popes have good reason for this recommendation, for the devotion to the Heart of Jesus has an impressive pedigree. It is rooted in the gospels, in our Lord's call: "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt 11: 28-29). Again, our Lord cried out on the feast of the tabernacles: "If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink ... as the scripture has said 'Out of His Heart shall flow rivers of living water' " (Jn 7:37-38). In the Heart of Jesus, therefore, we can find rest for our soul's weariness, and refreshment for our soul's thirst. All this was made manifest on the Cross, when His side was opened by the lance, and out of His Heart flowed streams of water and blood (Jn 19:34), symbolic of all the graces of Baptism and the Eucharist.

Many great saints have had a special devotion to the Heart of Jesus, including St Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Lutgard, St. Gertrude the Great, St. Peter Canisius, St. Francis De Sales, St. John Eudes, St. Claude De La Colombiere, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, and Bl. Dina Belanger. The greatest impetus toward the spread of this devotion, however, came from the apparitions of our Lord Jesus Himself to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1670s. To her the glorified Jesus unveiled His tender, burning love for souls, and through her He asked for the establishment of the annual liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart, as well as devotional practices such as the Holy Hour, the First Friday Communions, and the veneration of the image of His loving Heart. By these means our Lord intended to rekindle the fire of love in the hearts of the faithful, in a modern world in which the hearts of many were growing cold.

Hence, rooted in scripture, the delight of many saints, and given the highest endorsement by the popes again and again, it is clear that the devotion to the Heart of Jesus - especially to the living Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist - is vital to the life and spiritual health of the Catholic Church. Simply put: A living body needs a living heart, and the Church, the Body of Christ, has its own living heart: we have been given the Heart of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Body, as our Heart, too, the living source of all our spiritual refreshment and peace.

In the twentieth century, however, from out of the heart of the Polish nation, our Lord has poured another fresh stream of devotion into His Church. It began when a simple Polish nun, Sr. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), with barely a third-grade education, wrote her Diary, which has been recognized as worthy of being numbered among the outstanding works of mystical literature. Now declared "Saint" Faustina Kowalska, she has been called by Pope John Paul II "the great apostle of Divine Mercy in our time." In St. Faustina we find a holy soul completely devoted to the Heart of Jesus, but in a new way. As she recorded in her Diary:

He brought me into such close intimacy with Himself that my Heart was espoused to His Heart in a loving union, and I could feel the faintest stir of His Heart, and He of mine. The fire of my created love was joined with the ardor of His eternal love.

O my Jesus, each of your saints reflects one of your virtues; I desire to reflect Your compassionate Heart, full of mercy; I want to glorify it. Let Your Mercy, O Jesus, be impressed upon my heart and soul like a seal, and this will be my badge in this and the future life.

On several occasions Christ Himself emphasized that His Heart is the source of Divine Mercy for the world:

My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled. All misery gets buried in the depths of My mercy, and every saving and sanctifying grace flows from this fountain.

In another passage in her Diary, St. Faustina poured out her soul in adoration of the living Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist:

O living Host, my one and only strength, fountain of love and mercy, embrace the whole world, and fortify faint souls. Oh, blessed be the instant and the moment when Jesus left us His most merciful Heart.

Clearly, for St. Faustina, the center of her life, her first love, was the Merciful Heart of Jesus. Her devotion was to the Sacred Heart, but focused on the merciful love that flows to us from His Heart.

Much like the traditional devotion to the Sacred Heart, our Lord gave to St. Faustina new forms in which His Merciful Heart was to be honored, and new vessels for a fresh outpouring of His grace: the Image of The Divine Mercy, new prayers such as the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy and the prayers for the three o'clock Hour of Mercy, and, of course, a new feast for the universal Church - the Feast of The Divine Mercy, intended for the Sunday after Easter.

In fact, all of this received the explicit endorsement and encouragement of Pope John Paul II in his address at the tomb of St. Faustina in Cracow in the summer of 1997. His remarks on that occasion largely echoed the words he spoke at the beatification of Sr. Faustina in Rome on April 18, 1993:

Her mission continues, and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world and gaining so many human hearts! This is doubtless a sign of the times - a sign of our 20th century. The balance of this century, which is now ending ... presents a deep restlessness and fear of the future. Where, if not in the Divine Mercy, can the world find refuge and the light of hope? Believers understand that perfectly.

All of this leads to an obvious question: What is the proper relationship between these two devotions, these two streams of Heart-spirituality in the Church, namely, the devotion to the Sacred Heart and the devotion to The Divine Mercy? Are they in competition with each other for the allegiance of the faithful? Is there room in the Church for both? Is there any need in the Church for both?

On the one hand, some Catholics seem to feel that devotion to the Sacred Heart is enough; there is no need for this new devotion to The Divine Mercy, they claim, because it largely duplicates what we have already been given in the Sacred Heart tradition. At the other extreme, some Catholics seem to feel that there is no longer any need for the traditional devotion to the Sacred Heart; now that we have the "new and improved" version, so to speak, in devotion to The Divine Mercy and to the Merciful Heart of Jesus, we can let the old Sacred Heart traditions, such as the First Friday Communions and the images of the Sacred Heart, fade away quietly and be forgotten.

This series continues next week on the topic: "The Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy Are Inseparable"


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