The Social Reign of the Sacred Heart

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

The series so far:
PART 1: The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World's Darkness
PART 2:  What Do We Really Mean By “The Heart of Jesus”?
PART 3:  Devotion to the Heart of Jesus and its Roots in Holy Scripture
PART 4: The Heart of the Savior in the New Testament
PART 5: 
 The Heart of Jesus Manifest in His Tender Affections and Compassionate Love
PART 6: 
 The Heart of Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross
PART 7:  From Easter Onward: The Heart of Jesus Lives in His Church
PART 8:  The Flowering of Love for the Heart of Jesus in the Middle Ages
PART 9:  Saint Gertrude the Great on Bringing Comfort and Joy to the Heavenly Christ
PART 10:  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Reparation to the Sacred Heart
PART 11:  On Consoling the Heart of Jesus
PART 12:  Saints and Servants of Consoling Reparation to the Heart of Jesus
PART 13:  The Twelve Promises — and the Great Promise — of the Sacred Heart 
PART 14:  Holiness from the Heart of Jesus: St. Charles De Foucauld
PART 15:  Holiness from the Heart of Jesus: Blessed Dina Bélanger

PART 16: The Social Reign of the Sacred Heart

With the global spread of Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart in the forms given by our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, especially personal consecration to His Heart, and consoling reparation to His Heart in the Blessed Sacrament — as well as the tremendous fruits all this bore in greater sanctity and missionary zeal — one might think that the Church finally had reached the pinnacle of the development of this devotion. In reality, the plan of the Sacred Heart for driving back the world’s darkness was far from complete.

Saint Margaret Mary’s devotion to the Heart of Jesus focused primarily on the cultivation of personal sanctity. There are indications in her autobiography and in her letters, however, of a broader, social dimension. For example, she wrote in a letter to one of her religious superiors in 1684 that Jesus had promised that His Heart “would abundantly pour forth” its blessings “wherever the image of this lovable Heart should be exposed in order to be loved and honoured. … It would reunite families divided by discord and assist and protect those that would be in any need, and that It would shed the sweet unction of Its ardent charity on all communities in which this divine image should be honoured …” (cited in Verheylezoon, Devotion to the Sacred Heart, p. 130).

What might have been
Through St. Margaret Mary, our Savior also made a specific request of King Louis XIV of France to consecrate the entire nation to His loving and merciful Heart. One cannot help but wonder how the course of history might have been completely different if the kings of France had not waited more than 100 years — until the last possible moment (indeed, until it was actually too late, because the French Revolution was already under way and largely out of control) — to fulfill our Lord’s request.

We will never know the answer. But we need not repeat the King’s mistake. The Merciful Heart of Jesus is not only a refiner’s fire of divine love for the sanctification of individual souls; it is also a burning furnace of charity in which all families, all communities, all nations — indeed, the entire world — can one day be transformed into the new “civilization of love” repeatedly called for by the See of St. Peter.

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, a number of (what were at that time) largely Catholic countries consecrated themselves to the Sacred Heart by solemn acts of their own national governments: for example, Ireland, Ecuador, San Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, Spain, Nicaragua, Poland, Costa Rica, and Brazil. Pope Leo XIII consecrated the whole world to the Heart of Jesus in 1899, at the dawn of the new century. This intention to dedicate all nations to the service of Jesus Christ is in full accord with the Gospels, especially Matthew 28:18-20, in which the Risen Lord says to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go and make disciples of all nations … .”

Two commitments
No one sought with greater zeal to bring all of society under the reign of the Heart of Jesus than the founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, the Ven. Fr. Leo Dehon (1843-1925). His life and witness shows that the desire to offer consoling reparation to the Heart of Jesus must not be restricted to acts of pious devotion to the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament: It must also bear fruit in the service of human need, and the pursuit of social justice. For Fr. Dehon, these two commitments — love of the Sacred Heart, and commitment to meeting the needs of the poor and the suffering — are deeply connected. Almost a century later, the very same connection inspired the work of another great saint of the Church, St. Teresa of Calcutta. She taught that there are two kinds of Real Presence in the world: the Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, where He is at work to fill us with His light, life, and love; and the presence of this same Lord in the poor, where He is waiting for us to give Him back His light, life, and love.

Very early in his priestly ministry, Fr. Dehon found himself involved in the social issues affecting the lives of his parishioners, many of whom were poor factory workers. One of his biographers explains (André Perroux, SCJ, Leo Dehon: A Passion for Christ, A Passion for the World. Priests of the Sacred Heart, 2000, p. 30):

He lived in close proximity to the harsh conditions of the workers, especially those in the textile industry: for starvation wages a man worked on average 14 hours a day, a woman worked almost as long, and children as young as six years old worked 12 to 13 hours for even less pay. Father Dehon denounced this exploitation and the absolutely inhumane working conditions which were creating a wide gulf between the classes.

Father Dehon compared the widespread social misery of his day with the social principles taught by Pope Leo XIII, and with the love of the Heart of Jesus for all people, manifest in the Gospels, Christ’s special concern for the plight of the poor and the suffering. On Christmas Day in 1871, therefore, just six weeks after his arrival at his first parish, Fr. Dehon delivered a passionate sermon on “the deplorable conditions of the world of business and labor.” The homily took the form of a meditation on the poor Christ Child in the manger, in which he condemned the worship of money: “Godless capitalists are exploiting the worker and are destroying his body, his soul, and his eternity … often without giving him an adequate share of the profits earned by his sweat” (cited in Leo Dehon, p. 40).

Prolonged inaction
Father Dehon frequently appealed to civic leaders to overcome their “apathy and astonishing inertia” in addressing these social injustices, calling their prolonged inaction “the violation of a grave obligation.” He also sought to instill in employers a sense of their Christian responsibilities.

In 1889, he began publishing a monthly magazine, “The Reign of the Heart of Jesus in Souls and in Societies.” Later in his apostolate, he wrote two books clearly explaining Catholic social teaching, especially as seen in the light of the groundbreaking social encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) of Pope Leo XIII: Christian Social Manual (1894), and The Social Catechism (1898).

But Fr. Dehon was no mere rabblerouser. In fact, he had such a warm and amiable personality that he was nicknamed by those who knew him “Le Trés bon Père” (that is, “the very kind Father”). Nor was he an ideological socialist or communist — and certainly could not be categorized as someone who reduced Christian discipleship to social action alone. Note again the title of his monthly magazine, “The Reign of the Heart of Jesus in Souls and in Societies” — both are necessary, and each is bound up with the other. Souls remade in the furnace of love of the Heart of Jesus cannot help but radiate the warmth of compassionate love for all those whom He loves so ardently. Father Dehon summed it up well when he wrote (cited in Leo Dehon, p. 82 and 79):

The Heart of Jesus and the love of Jesus make up the entire Gospel … . There is no need to look in the Gospel for anything other than the love of Jesus, from His Incarnation all the way to His death. Jesus is love itself. …

Let us establish in ourselves the perfect reign of our Lord; He should be the beginning and end of all our actions. They should originate in His inspiration and unfold according to His will, and their goal should be His glory.

Intimate bonds
The truth is that the merciful Heart of Jesus is tied by the most intimate bonds of compassion to the plight of each and every human being. We have explained all this before in other articles on this website, but it bears repeating: Christ’s compassion extends especially to the poor and the suffering, the lost and the broken, simply because they are most in need of His mercy. That is why our Savior can truly say in His parable (Mt 25:35-40): “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me ... . Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” In commenting on this passage from the Gospels, St. John Paul II restated this same truth in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (no. 8): the merciful God, he wrote, actually “invites man to have mercy on His only Son, the crucified one.” He does so by sending the Crucified Savior to knock on the door of the heart of every man, calling us to love, “which is not only an act of solidarity with the suffering Son of man, but also a kind of ‘mercy’ shown by each one of us to the Son of the eternal Father.”

In showing compassion upon our neighbors in need, therefore, we are also consoling the compassionate Heart of Jesus. We are loving Him in the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the lost, and the lonely — for He once shared the lot of the suffering and abandoned; in the depths of His compassionate Heart, He foresaw them from the Garden and on the Cross, long ago, and His sympathy even now embraces them from where He dwells in glory in the Heart of the Father (see Heb 4:15-16).

Discovering truth afresh
Over the past few decades, theologians of the Sacred Heart seem to have discovered this truth afresh. From Africa, for example, Fr. Bruno Ramazzotti has written (see The Spirituality of the Pierced Heart of Jesus, The Good Shepherd. St. Paul Publications, 1992, p. 50):

Consoling the pierced Heart of Jesus means working constantly and with ardent zeal to comfort people afflicted by a multitude of spiritual and temporal evils, and to help them to enjoy more and more fully the fruits of Christ’s sufferings and death.

From Italy, Fr. Angelo Cavagna has been equally emphatic (see Il Cuore di Cristo e l’apostolato sociale, in G. Manzoni, ed., La Spiritualita del Cuore di Cristo. Edizioni Dehoniane, 1990, p. 189 and 192):

The Spirituality of the Heart of Jesus … must activate in the Christian a sensitivity — a solidarity of merciful love towards the victims of sin and injustice today. … The purpose of devotion to the Heart of Jesus, like the Christian life (in general), is not merely to invoke “Lord! Lord! Heart of Jesus, Heart of Jesus,” but to put into practice the Reign of the Heart of Jesus in souls and in society.

Perhaps what we are seeing is the theologians finally catching up to what many of the saints of the Heart of Jesus recognized long ago (not least among them, the Ven. Fr. Leo Dehon): that devotion to the Heart of Jesus is inseparable from an earnest desire to build up a “civilization of love” in place of the decadent, soul-corrupting and life-destroying society humanity is fashioning for itself now. As St. John Paul II put it in his address on Oct. 27, 1986, at the convent of the Sisters of the Visitation in Paray-le-Monial (the religious community to which St. Margaret Mary belonged, and the site of her great revelations from the Sacred Heart): “The true reparation asked by the Heart of the Savior will come when the civilization of the Heart of Christ can be built upon the ruins heaped up by hatred and violence.”

This series continues next week with Part 17: "The Reign of the Heart of Jesus in Families."
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Part 23: In the final entry of his 23-part series on the Sacred Heart, Dr. Robert Stackpole discusses the role that devotion to the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus may play in the completion of our Lord’s plan to drive back the darkness of the present age.