The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World’s Darkness

“More Brilliant than the Sun," a new weekly series by Robert Stackpole, STD, the Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy 

PART 1: The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World's Darkness

It was the evening of the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, Dec. 27, 1673. A seemingly ordinary French nun, Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque, was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, lingering a bit longer than usual to remain near to her beloved Jesus in the tabernacle. She had learned to find refuge and strength in His Eucharistic Heart even as a child, enduring poverty and crippling illness with patience and faith.

But this time, something was different; it was like the calm before a great storm. She wrote in her recollections:

The first special grace I think I received … was on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. Our Lord made me rest for several hours on His sacred breast ...

After that I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It had 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 which signified that, from the first moment of His Incarnation, that is, from the time this Sacred Heart was formed, the cross was planted in It; that It was filled, from the very first moment, with all the bitterness, humiliations, poverty, sorrow, and contempt His sacred humanity would have to suffer during the whole course of His life and during His holy Passion.

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 ... .

This devotion was a last resort of His love .… [He] wished to favour men in these last centuries with his loving redemption, in order to withdraw them from the empire of Satan, which He intended to destroy, and in order to put us under the sweet liberty of the empire of His love.

Two more times over the next 18 months, her beloved Jesus would appear to her and unveil to her the secrets and desires of His Heart, especially His plan to dethrone the prince of darkness by manifesting Christ’s love for all of humanity. Without a doubt, our Savior commissioned now-St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to spread devotion to His Heart, all aflame with love, as the healing remedy for a world full of cold hearts and broken hearts.

"Vision of Margaret Mary Alacoque, nun of the Visitation" by Armand Cambon, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Montauban, France.

Return His love with love
If we were to read through St. Margaret Mary's autobiography, and all her many letters to her spiritual directors and fellow sisters in religion, we would find a whole panoply of things that Jesus evidently hoped to achieve through His revelations to this humble sister of the Visitation Order. Above all, He wished humanity to return His love with love; to make reparation to His Heart for our many failures to return His love; to place all our trust in His Heart; to honor Him through the sign and symbol of His Heart; and to grow to love His Heavenly Father more and more.

Jesus sought to pour out upon humanity all the treasures of grace that flow from His Sacred Heart, and to inspire Catholics to work to establish the social reign of His Heart over families and nations everywhere.

One of the great scholars of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus, Fr. Louis Verheylezoon, SJ, in his classic work, Devotion to the Sacred Heart (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1955, p. 118), summed up for us this plan of the Sacred Heart for the healing and sanctification of all the world: 

What does Jesus desire? He longs for His Heavenly Father to be known, honoured, served and loved as perfectly as possible; for His Church to extend unendingly, to be flourishing, free in its action, true to its mission, pure and holy; for heathen, heretics, infidels and sinners to be converted; for the faithful to lead a truly Christian life, and for the religious and priests energetically and perseveringly to aspire to perfection; for all men to attain to eternal bliss in the life to come. 

He wishes in particular that His Heart should be better known, honoured and loved; the devotion to His Heart spread ever more and practiced ever more perfectly; the reign of His Heart to be established in the hearts of individuals, in the family and in social life; His Heart to be glorified by the fervor, generosity, charity, self-denial and holiness of those who practice this devotion; and to be consoled by the reparation made by loving souls.

A radiant vision … a beautiful ideal … and a heart-breaking tragedy! For if we look upon the state of the world and the Catholic Church now, 350 years later, we see almost the exact opposite of this dream being hammered into reality, day by day.

Devotion to the Heart of Jesus seems largely forgotten by the majority of the People of God. Instead of the reign of the Sacred Heart, a culture of death and a denial of Divine Love holds sway in society, and our Lord’s own prophecy seems to be coming true: Authentic love in the hearts of many is growing cold (Mt 24:12). In short, we seem to be light-years away from fulfilling the ardent desires of the Heart of Jesus, so beautifully expressed to St. Margaret Mary, and there is little sign of any fruition of His rescue-plan from the reign of Satan, either in this life or for the next.

So, was the whole thing a total failure?

Not really; not if we see with the eyes of faith.

Refiner's fire of love
For the past 350 years (and even well before that), the Heart of Jesus has been a refiner’s fire of love for those willing to respond to our Lord’s invitation to draw near and take refuge in it. Many of the greatest saints have been sanctified in the burning furnace of His Sacred Heart, 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, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Bl. Dina Belanger, St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Padre Pio, and St. Teresa of Calcutta (just to name a few!).

How much good has been done for the Church and for souls even by the relative few who have given themselves totally to His Heart of Love!

That is one reason why the popes, the successors of St. Peter, continue to commend this devotion to the faithful as absolutely central to the life of the Church and its mission.

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 (On Reparation to the Sacred Heart), 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 devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Pope Ven. 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.

Excellent and acceptable
After the Second Vatican Council, Pope St. 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 exclaimed:

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.

Finally, in 1994, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II, contains the following statement about the vital importance of the symbol of the Heart of Jesus (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. 

In short, for the successors of St. Peter, devotion to the Heart of Jesus points us to the heart and center of the Catholic faith. As the saying goes, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” For many centuries, great saints have been forged in this devotional furnace of love, because it kept them centered on what matters most: the love of Jesus for us all, and His call to love Him back with the help of His grace, returning love for love.

Perhaps, with the eyes of faith, we can see another mystery unfolding here as well.

Certainly, it is tragic that so much of the secular world, and even so many Catholics, never responded to the desires of the Sacred Heart that He revealed through His servant, St. Margaret Mary. As a result, much of the world today remains cold to, and even completely ignorant of all this. (In this series of articles, we will do our best to call the minds and hearts of Catholics, at least, back to the tremendous gifts and graces offered to us in the Sacred and Merciful Heart of our Savior.)

No doubt the history of Western Civilization would have been vastly different if the response to these revelations of Divine Love had been anything close to what Christ had intended.

On the other hand, our Lord never said that the plan of His Heart for driving back the world’s darkness would bypass the way He Himself decisively triumphed over sin and death, long ago — that is, the Way of the Cross.

Final trial
The Catechism tells us that before the human story on earth comes to an end and Jesus Christ returns to the world in glory, the Church must pass through a “final trial” (675), a “final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection” (677). That sounds daunting, to say the least! Who knows when that terrible time of trial will be, and whether the collapse of Western Civilization all around us now may be a harbinger of things to come. In the 20th century, many Christians in various parts of the world already suffered a dreadful foretaste of this final crucifixion in the form of communist, fascist, and radical Islamist persecution. In fact, there were more Christian martyrs for the faith in the 20th century alone than in all the previous centuries after Christ rolled into one!

As we shall see in this web series, this means that although Jesus manifested the earnest desires of His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary, ultimately those desires may be attained in ways we might not expect. He promised her, at one point, “I shall reign in spite of My enemies and of all those who oppose this devotion,” and again: “What do you fear? I shall reign in spite of Satan and whatever else stands in the way.”

Indeed, in His Heart, even now, He is fashioning saints so on fire with love for Him that even if the whole world seems to have forsaken our Lord, and all hope for the earthly triumph of the Catholic faith seems to have vanished, yet still they will love Him with all their hearts, and obey Him to the end, until His return. When there are enough souls in the world like that, even if they are few in number to begin with, Satan will be rendered powerless, and his kingdom of darkness cannot stand.

The devotion to the Heart of Jesus, therefore, is all about fashioning saints in the Church filled with this heroic love. Walk with us in this series of web articles as we rediscover the one great Heart that truly is “more brilliant than the sun.”

This series continues with Part 2: "What do we really mean by 'The Heart of Jesus'?" 

Robert Stackpole, STD, is the director of The John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy.
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