A Double Burden?

[EDITOR'S NOTE: June is dedicated to The Sacred Heart of Jesus. So this month, we are running 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. Catch up on the series by reading Part One and Part Two.]

The devotion to the Sacred Heart easily blends with the devotion to The Divine Mercy.

It is understandable that on a practical level, some people fear that these two devotions could become a "double-burden." In other words, despite their theological compatibility, and indeed their theological inseparability, nevertheless, any attempt by individuals or parishes to practice both at once could run into serious difficulties. That is why, as a practical matter, some people still see these two devotions as alternatives, rather than as joining together to form two complementary sides of a greater whole.

However, we shall show that the practice of these two devotions does not become a double burden. Rather, the Divine Mercy flows from the Sacred Heart devotion and completes it so beautifully that, as St. Faustina once wrote: "the Love of God is the flower, and Mercy the fruit" (Diary, 949).

Let us look at each aspect of the Sacred Heart devotion in particular and show how it naturally blossoms into the Mercy devotion as well.

The Lord Jesus specifically requested of St. Margaret Mary that the image of His Sacred Heart should be honored and venerated by all the faithful. In His first apparition to her (1673), for example, our Lord had said:

My Divine Heart is so passionately in love with men that it can no longer withhold the flames of that burning love; it must needs let them spread abroad by means of you, and reveal itself to men to enrich them with its profound treasures...

Then in His second apparition to her (1674), Jesus pictured His Sacred Heart for her, and made His designs more explicit:

After that I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It has its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him. It was surmounted by a cross ...

He made me understand that the ardent desire He had of being loved by men and of drawing them from the path of perdition into which Satan was hurrying them in great numbers, had caused Him to fix upon this plan of manifesting His Heart to men, together with all Its treasures of love, mercy, grace, sanctification and salvation ... It must be honored under the symbol of this Heart of flesh, whose image He wished to be publicly exposed. He wanted me to carry it on my person, over my heart, that He might imprint His love there, fill my heart with all the gifts with which his own is filled, and destroy all inordinate affection. Wherever this sacred image would be exposed for veneration He would pour forth His graces and blessings.

To those familiar with her writings, it will be immediately apparent that our Lord made very similar promises to St. Faustina, and to those who venerate the Image of The Divine Mercy:

Paint an image according to the pattern you see with the signature: Jesus I trust in You ... I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over (its) enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I myself will defend it as My own glory ... I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus I trust in You ... I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and (then) throughout the world (Diary, 47, 48, 327).

Not only did Jesus make similar promises to those who venerate these two images, but also, the movements inspired by His Spirit to promote such veneration seem remarkably similar. For example, early in the 20th century our Lord inspired Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, a priest from Peru, to initiate the movement for the solemn enthronement of the image of the Sacred Heart in families. Pope St. Pius X, when asked for his approval of this mission, answered Fr. Mateo, "I not only approve; I command," and called his mission the "work of social salvation." As a result, the enthronement movement spread rapidly throughout the world. Father Mateo described it as follows in his principal work, Jesus, King of Love:

What is the work of enthronement? It can be defined as the official and social acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the Heart of Jesus over the Christian family, an acknowledgment made tangible and permanent by the solemn installation of the picture of the Divine Heart in a place of honor, and by an act of consecration ...

The family is the source of life, the child's first school. If the source of national life is poisoned, the nation will perish. What we long to do is to plant faith deep in families, and love for the Sacred Heart. If Jesus Christ is in the roots, the whole tree will be Jesus Christ.

However, there is also a movement now for the solemn enthronement of the Image of The Divine Mercy in every home. It has its roots in Christ's words to St. Faustina, "I am King of Mercy," and in her own poem about the Image, in which she wrote: "O sweet Jesus, it is here that You established the throne of Your mercy..." Although Jesus never explicitly asked for acts of "consecration" to His merciful Heart, it seems to be implied in the complete act of "trust" called for by the signature on the Image - "Jesus, I trust in You" - and Pope John Paul II himself "entrusted" his entire Petrine ministry to the merciful Christ before the same Image. This enthronement movement has received ecclesiastical approval from several sources, and the aims of this movement are quite similar to those of the enthronement movement of the Sacred Heart:

Enthronement (of the Image of Mercy) provides a special welcome for Jesus to come into our hearts and homes to claim them for Himself. He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When the grace of God reigns in the members of a family, the presence of the Holy Spirit increases the divine life in them, immersing them in the sacraments of His mercy.

The questions naturally arise: are these two enthronement movements in competition? Is there any need in the Church for both? Should the new movement simply replace the old?

The best answer would seem to be that both movements are actually enthroning the same Sacred Heart of Jesus, but that Heart seen under different aspects. These aspects are true, and complementary, and therefore there is need, and room in the life of the Church for both enthronement movements to flourish.

If we are enthroning a more traditional image of the Sacred Heart, then we are honoring Christ's physical Heart as the best symbol of the mystery of His divine person, the "hidden center" and source of His love for our families, and for all men and women. Moreover, the traditional images of the Sacred Heart emphasize the tender, suffering, wounded nature of the love of Jesus for us; this is another reason why His Heart is shown as surmounted by a cross, pierced and crowned with thorns. The focus is on His wounded Heart of love: His burning thirst and ardent desire for our love, His call for reparation for our failure to return His love, and the image even suggests that we can console His wounded Heart by making a return of love. In short, in the traditional images of the Sacred Heart, Jesus is calling us back to Himself: calling us to love Him back, calling us to make that response of love in which our sanctification and beatitude ultimately consist, in return for all His tender, affectionate, and wounded love for us.

Many of the popular Italian "holy cards" of the Sacred Heart reflect these same emphases, even in the prayers which can be found on the back of them; for example:

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, filled with Infinite Love, broken by our ingratitude and pierced by our sins, yet loving us still; accept the consecration we make to Thee of all that we are and all that we have.

In the Image of The Divine Mercy, on the other hand, the emphasis is not so much on the movement from us to Christ, but more from Him to us. Everything about this image speaks of the risen Christ graciously taking the initiative, and seeking us out in the darkness with the rays of His merciful love. In this image Christ is shown walking toward the viewer, coming to find us; the rays of merciful love flowing from His Heart spread out to embrace the viewer, and His hand is raised with a blessing of peace even before we ask for it.

As Jesus once said to St. Faustina: Be not afraid of your Savior, O sinful soul. I make the first move to come to you, for I know by yourself you are unable to lift yourself to Me (Diary, 1485). Here what Christ calls us to do, above all, is simply to receive His grace trustfully: "Jesus I trust in You." It is no wonder that the Image is such a powerful one in the new evangelization, for it is a little summary of the basic gospel message: God's gracious offer to us of free, unconditional, merciful love, through Jesus Christ.

On one occasion, St. Faustina had a vision of the Heart of Jesus which confirmed for her the role of His Heart as the source of mercy:

After the renewal of vows (in the year 1932) and Holy Communion, I suddenly saw the Lord Jesus, who said to me with great kindness, "My daughter, look at My Merciful Heart." As I fixed my gaze on the Most Sacred Heart, the same rays of light, as are represented in the image as blood and water, came from it, and I understood how great is the Lord's mercy.

Again, the enthronement of the Image of The Divine Mercy is also an enthronement of the Sacred Heart, but that Heart seen under a different aspect. The focus is on the merciful love that flows to us from His Heart, for in that image, what stands out most distinctly are the red and pale rays that shine out from His breast. These rays represent the healing and sanctifying graces, especially of Baptism and the Eucharist, that flow from the Sacred Heart of Jesus toward us. This makes the Mercy image especially suitable for the desperate needs of so many families in our time, families all too often broken and wounded by evil: apostasy, adultery, divorce and division, contraception, fornication, greed, shallow consumerist materialism, and murder of the unborn. These assaults of evil, often promoted by modern culture, are simply overwhelming many Catholic families. The rays of the Mercy image show us the healing, sanctifying graces that our Savior is longing to pour into every human heart, if only we will receive them with trust:

My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world ... I let My Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain (Diary, 1485).

This series continues on the topic "Jesus Asked for Them Both.".

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