Winning the World for Christ: The Merciful Heart of Jesus and the New Evangelization

“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
PART 17:  The Reign of the Heart of Jesus in Families
PART 18:  Jesus Unveils the Great Mercy of His Heart
PART 19:  Popes, Saints, and Visionaries on the Merciful Heart of Jesus
PART 20: To Console the Heart of the Merciful Savior
PART 21: Trust Completely in Divine Mercy, and Be Merciful to Others

PART 22: Winning the World for Christ: The Merciful Heart of Jesus and the New Evangelization

As we draw near to the end of this web series, it’s time to review what we have learned so far from the history and theology of devotion to the Heart of Jesus as it has unfolded in the Church over the centuries under the guidance of the Holy Spirit — and what we can discern about the future.

We can be sure that our Lord has a plan for the triumph of His Sacred Heart over the powers of the world’s darkness. However grim the course of human history may look at the moment, that plan has neither been rescinded, nor decisively defeated, and it continues to move forward in His own time, and His own way.

1) To begin with, the devotion to the Sacred Heart calls all people back to Holy Scripture, and especially to the Gospel story, where we can meditate on the virtues and compassion of His Heart, and where we can personally encounter the mystery of His love for each one of us. Saint John summed it up: “‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (I Jn 4:9).

2) As we have seen from the story of the development of devotion to the Sacred Heart in the life of the Church, many great saints have found in the symbol of the Heart of Jesus the source of the streams of “living water” of the Holy Spirit promised in the Gospels, and all the graces of sanctification and salvation that our Savior longs to pour out upon us (see Jn 7:37-39). When we focus our prayers and meditations on the ineffable love of His Heart, then He brings us right back to the heart of the Gospel message, and into a life-giving relationship with Divine Mercy Himself. That is why Pope Pius XI said in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (On Reparation to the Sacred Heart, 1928) that devotion to the Sacred Heart 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.”

3) We discovered from the writings of Bl. Julian of Norwich and St. Gertrude the Great in the Middle Ages — and many saints after them — that we can bring joy and delight to our Risen Savior in Heaven by cooperating with the divine grace flowing from His Heart, especially through our works of authentic piety and virtue.

4) Then by the extraordinary revelations given to the Church and the world in the 17th century through St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, our Lord called all Catholic Christians to center their hearts and lives on our Savior’s love for us all, “returning love for love” as St. Margaret Mary liked to say, especially by regular and sincere acts of consecration and reparation to His Heart.

As we have seen, acts of “consecration” to His Heart enable us to keep our priorities straight. We dedicate ourselves to the worship and service of Jesus Christ as individuals (renewing our personal commitment to become the saints He always intended us to be); we can also consecrate our families (especially through the enthronement of an image of the Heart of Jesus in every home), our communities, our nation, and the entire world to the Sacred Heart, prayerfully offering each and every aspect of our lives to Him as our rightful King, Lord, and Savior. As Ven. Fr. Leon Dehon put it, we then live out our consecration by seeking to establish the “reign” of the love of Christ, both in souls and in society.

By acts of “reparation” to the Sacred Heart, we seek to make up in some way for our failure to return His love. This fulfills a duty of justice when our works of reparation flow from the Spirit of Christ, united to the merits of His saving Passion and death for us; but even more, our works of reparation fulfil the call to love by bringing consolation to the Heart of Jesus, wounded by the sins and ingratitude of those for whom He gave His life on the Cross.

By acts of “reparation” to the Sacred Heart, we seek to make up in some way for our failure to return His love. This fulfills a duty of justice when our works of reparation flow from the Spirit of Christ, united to the merits of His saving Passion and death for us; but even more, our works of reparation fulfil the call to love by bringing consolation to the Heart of Jesus, wounded by the sins and ingratitude of those for whom He gave His life on the Cross.

5) We also discovered that the mystery of consoling the Heart of Jesus is a special and distinctive feature of this devotion; it has inspired the love of many great saints of the Church — and it has two dimensions. First, there is the mystery that we can assuage the “thirst” and “longing” of the risen and glorified Heart of Jesus by our trustful surrender to His love. Second, we can console the Heart of Jesus “retroactively” (so to speak) along His human journey from Bethlehem to Calvary — but above all in His Agony in the Garden — through His foreknowledge (infused into His human soul by the Holy Spirit) of all those who accept and return His love in every generation. We saw that the unfolding of this mystery of “consolation,” through saints and theologians devoted to the Heart of Jesus (such as St. Charles de Foucauld and Bl. Dina Belanger) has opened a spiritual pathway to the most intimate bonds of compassion with our Savior. It has also given new clarity and impetus to His call to serve the needs of the poor and the lost, the sick and the suffering, for by serving them we are bringing consolation to Him as well, He whose compassionate Heart embraces them all. Jesus told us in the Gospels: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

6) Finally, we saw that from the middle of the 20th century onward, and especially through St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, our Lord has unveiled in a new, clear, and powerful way, the great mercy of His Heart.

Divine Love
We discovered that it has long been held by some of the greatest saints of the Church (such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena) that whenever Divine Love reaches out to humanity — to our nothingness, our brokenness, and our need — that love always takes the form of merciful, compassionate love. Divine Mercy is manifest especially in the Incarnation, death, and Resurrection of the Son of God. His Sacred Heart overflows with mercy and compassion for us. Thus, the center of our devotional life (our “first love”) should be the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus. Devotion to His Heart, and devotion to the Divine Mercy, by our Lord’s own design, are now two great fountains of life and light that He has given to His Church to drive back the world’s darkness in our time. Saint Faustina said it best in one of her poems:

Hail, most merciful Heart of Jesus,
Living Fountain of all graces,
Our sole shelter, our only refuge;
In You I have the light of hope
(Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1321).

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that St. Faustina’s devotion to the Merciful Heart of Jesus is a vital center and source of the New Evangelization so badly needed today. It does not replace devotion to the Sacred Heart, which retains all its former urgency and importance, but supplements and completes it in a way especially suited to the needs of our time.

Doctor of the Church
In the essay published on this website that makes the case for the ecclesial proclamation of St. Faustina as a “Doctor of the Church,” we emphasized the contemporary relevance of her devotion to Divine Mercy. We explained how the “language of the heart” of this devotion can reach the hearts of many people in ways that preaching and teaching alone cannot:

We live in a world now caught in a downward spiral of skepticism, cynicism, narcissism and despair. Without any anchor in God, nothing seems to correspond anymore to the deepest desires of the human heart for truth, beauty, and sanctity. Rational apologetics and doctrinal catechesis, though always necessary, will not be enough to cure this deep sickness of the heart. We need to be healed and transformed, not just instructed and illuminated. And through St. Faustina, our Lord offers us a remedy, and a sure source of renewal for a world full of cold hearts and broken hearts. Pope St. John Paul II alluded to this in his Regina Caeli addresses on two successive Divine Mercy Sundays:

As people of this restless time of ours, wavering between the emptiness of self-exaltation and the humiliation of despair, we have a greater need than ever for a regenerating experience of God’s mercy. ... Dear brothers and sisters, we must personally experience this [tender-hearted mercy of the Father] if, in turn, we want to be capable of mercy.

For this same reason, at the close of the second World Apostolic Congress on Mercy in Krakow-Lagiewniki in 2012, the assembled cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, and lay faithful petitioned the Holy See … to utilize the Divine Mercy message and devotion as “a key element of the new evangelization efforts.” They summed up the case as follows:

Often, this process of accepting the truth that God is loving and infinitely merciful is not easy, especially because of the wound of original sin, which leaves man with a distorted image of God and a lack of trust in his benevolence. Reading theological books and listening to lectures about God is not enough to heal this distorted image. In fact, man needs the language of the heart, which speaks of God’s mercy through art (e.g. the Image of Divine Mercy), devotional prayer (e.g. the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Hour of Great Mercy, Novena to Divine Mercy), liturgical prayer (e.g. the Feast of Divine Mercy), and personal testimony (e.g. Diary of St. Faustina). This multi-faceted language of the heart transcends cultural divisions, overcomes man’s brokenness, and inspires in him a loving attitude of trust in the God who is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4)

Because the Divine Mercy message and devotion touches the human heart on so many levels, it is a most effective tool for the work of the new evangelization.

The relevance and power of St. Faustina’s message for the New Evangelization was emphasized also by St. John Paul II, especially in his homily for the canonization of Sr. Faustina in the year 2000:

… And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy. Help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment, and say with firm hope: Christ Jesus, I trust in You! Jezu ufam tobie!

Through St. Faustina, therefore, God has given us a special way to “fix our gaze” on the merciful love flowing to us from the Heart of His Son, so vividly portrayed in the Image of the Divine Mercy. It is a language of the heart that goes beyond words, in which Heart calls to heart, and the seemingly impenetrable barriers of scepticism and disbelief can begin to come tumbling down.

This series concludes next week with Part 23: "Peering into the Mists of the Future."
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