Devotion to the Sacred Heart
In 1689, St. Margaret Mary informed Louis XIV, then King of France, that the Sacred Heart wished to enter his royal household and to be honored by the king and his court. Furthermore, Our Lord requested that His Sacred Heart be placed on the banners and arms of France while promising the Catholic forces of France victory over her enemies. The saint wrote that the Sacred Heart willed “to reign in the King’s palace, to be painted on his standards, and engraved on his arms, in order to render him victorious over all his enemies.” As is well known, Louis XIV declined to honor the Sacred Heart in this manner. Exactly 100 years later, the French Revolution erupted and set in motion a series of events which, in the short term, ended in the murder of Louis XVI and, in the long term, inaugurated an era in which France and nearly all that remained of Christendom saw the unabated advance of a profoundly secular, anti-Christian regime. Now, over 300 years later, we live in a world wholly dominated by ideals and aspirations radically at odds with the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If we wish to safeguard our souls in these dangerous times, it is necessary to consider the preventive remedy which Our Lord once proposed to a formerly Catholic nation.
What, then, is the devotion which Our Lord asked St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to introduce to the halls of Versailles? Is it merely the response to certain perverse doctrines—such as those of the Jansenists—which highlighted and distorted the justice of God and held that to enjoy His love and friendship was a privilege reserved to those somber few who had unswervingly held to a harsh and rigid law? No, for this would make it nothing more than a temporary solution fit to be set aside when the danger presented by such ideas had passed. In other words, it would be irrelevant to us now that Jansenism no longer holds sway over the minds of men.
Is this devotion simply an appeal to make reparation for sins committed by men who do not know God, or who have long since abandoned Him, or who even claim to be His servants but whose hearts are far from Him? Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Haurietis Aquas, mentions this attitude: “Moreover there are those who consider a devotion of this kind as primarily demanding penance, expiation and the other virtues which they call ‘passive,’ meaning thereby that they produce no external results. Hence they do not think it suitable to re-enkindle the spirit of piety in modern time.”1 He goes on to say that such a belief is in entire disagreement with the teaching of the Church. While reparation is certainly an integral and necessary aspect of this devotion, this cannot explain the urgency with which Our Lord spoke to St. Margaret Mary: “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love” (apparition of June 16, 1675).
What then is the special character of this devotion? Archbishop Lefebvre was accustomed to say that the Creed was the “love song” of God for men, for in it we see all that the good God has done for mankind. Everything which God has accomplished for us—whether it be the creation of man or the redemption of a fallen race—has been motivated by His ineffable will to communicate to us some share in His infinite goodness and happiness. It is for this reason that St. John wonderingly declares that “God is charity.” He exclaims, furthermore, that we ought to “behold what manner of charity the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called and should be the sons of God.”2 Now, Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, the ardent evangelist of devotion to the Sacred Heart of the early 20th century, taught that, “under the symbol of the physical heart [of Jesus] the Church teaches us the same doctrine taught by St. John: ‘Deus caritas est.’”3 In other words, the Sacred Heart is the expression of the Creed in a visual format; it is, in the words of Pius XI, a summary of all our religion and, moreover, a guide to a more perfect life.4
We may even go so far as to say that Our Lord Jesus Christ intended this devotion to be the most powerful means with which to defend ourselves in these times of silent though bitter persecution. It was the conviction of Pope Pius XII that “the devotion to the Sacred Heart is a remedy for the evils which cause sharp conflict among individuals, families, nations, and the whole world.”5 Indeed, whether we consider the profound threats to individuals or to all levels of society, we can find no better nor more appropriate protection than devotion to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.
In the first place, an intimate knowledge of the Sacred Heart places the soul in close contact with the breadth, and length and height and depth of the charity of God.6 To paraphrase the Apostle of the Gentiles: If the Father has given us the Sacred Heart of His Son, how has He not given us all things?7 Now, if He has given us all things in the Sacred Heart, how is it possible to suspect that He might abandon us at a time when the devil seems so strong and the world seems structured precisely so as to make the Christian life impossible? After all, it is easy to become discouraged when we consider the contradictions to the Catholic way of life which we face on a daily basis from so many quarters: from the media, from the scandalous advertisements in public which all too often we cannot avoid, and perhaps even from our co-workers. Nevertheless, Our Lord assures us that He is stronger than the world while St. Paul teaches us that “all things work unto good for those who love God.”8 An individual who is penetrated with the conviction that He is loved by an eternal love cannot but exclaim in the spirit St. Paul: In all these things we overcome on account of Him who has loved us. For neither life nor death, economic crises nor the mass media, nor atheistic politicians nor unjust wars shall separate us from the charity of God which is in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.9
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is not merely a means of strengthening isolated individuals. Rather, it is also a pledge of God’s protection of the family, which is under a heavy attack by Satan and men of the world. Writing 50 years ago, Father Mateo observed: “The rock upon which we must construct the Christian fortress is, and will always remain, the home, [which is] under attack today with a diabolical hatred.”10 At that time, the scene of the battle was the attempt to normalize and permit divorce and immoral practices such as contraception. Now the battle has moved to the very nature of marriage. Recently, the 9th District Court of Appeals overturned Proposition 8, a popular referendum in California which forbade recognition of homosexual “marriages.” In so doing, the judge who wrote for the majority explained: “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”11 By reasoning that the union of homosexual partners is the equal of traditional marriage, the judge effectively denies the very nature of marriage, which is a society of common life whose first and principal purpose is the procreation and education of children. Given that only 52 percent of Californians opposed such “unions” to begin with and that in most public schools in the state children are already being taught that homosexuality is a normal behavior, it is only a matter of time before the majority of Californians accept the court’s reasoning.12
Families who wish to defend marriage such as it came from the hands of Our Lord thus already find themselves in a hostile environment and may soon find themselves persecuted for their fidelity to God. Where may they turn? Father Mateo points to the Sacred Heart, especially in the practice of the Enthronement. He defines the Enthronement as “the homage of adoration which the family, as the social cell, offers to the Heart of Jesus considered as King of Society; it is an homage of latria, made in a spirit of love and reparation for the modern social apostasy.”13 By consecrating their homes to the King of Kings—and living a family life worthy of this act—they both establish themselves under His protection and render testimony to the world of their faith in the royalty of Our Lord, and thus in His right to reign over the family and over society.
As is clear, the attacks directed against the family reveal a deeper problem in society, one which St. Pius X defined as “apostasy from God.”14 In the encyclical Annum Sacrum, in which he declared his intention to consecrate the entire human race to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord, Pope Leo XIII wrote:
“In these latter times especially, a policy has been followed which has resulted in a sort of wall15 being raised between the Church and civil society. In the constitution and administration of states the authority of sacred and divine law is utterly disregarded, with a view to the exclusion of religion from having any constant part in public life. This policy almost tends to the removal of the Christian faith from our midst and, if that were possible, of the banishment of God Himself from the earth.”16
In the hundred or so years that separate us from Leo XIII, this effort to thrust God from human society has intensified; now there is a concerted effort to remove even certain fundamental principles of the natural law. The answer which Leo XIII proposed to this grave social disease was to promote the Social Reign of Our Lord by consecrating the world and nations to the Sacred Heart. He made clear, of course that Our Lord’s right to rule does not depend upon man’s consent; nevertheless, he taught that Our Lord would not refuse the voluntary submission to Him as the rightful King of all nations. Father Mateo summarized this idea by exclaiming, “Christ wills to reign through His Sacred Heart,” while in Litany of the Sacred Heart Our Lord is addressed as the “King and Center of all hearts.” Rather than speak about the Church’s “right of conscience,” the American bishops would do much better to consecrate as a body the United States to the Sacred Heart while encouraging the faithful to obey the gospel and to make reparation for our apostate nation.
Evidently, hope is not lost. It is true that humanly speaking there are no solutions to the many and grievous dangers which threaten faithful Catholics from all sides in our day. However, let us not underestimate the precious treasure which Our Lord has conferred upon us in the devotion to His Sacred Heart. He has thereby not only provided us with an image of the charity which motivated all the mysteries which He revealed to us, but He has also endowed us with a powerful means to trod these dangers underfoot. Let us not forget that St. Margaret Mary explained that the Sacred Heart wished to make Louis XIV victorious over all of his enemies. We ought therefore run with confidence to the fight proposed to us,17 for, as Father Mateo says, “if the King of Love stand with us, who shall stand against Him, and against us?”18
1 Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas.
2 I John 3:1.
3 Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, Father Mateo Speaks to Priests (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press), p. 88.
4 Miserentissimus Redemptor, May 8, 1928.
5 Haurietis Aquas, §120.
6 Eph. 3:18-9.
7 Rom. 8:32.
8 Ibid., 8:28.
9 Ibid., 8:37-9.
10 Father Mateo Speaks to Priests, p. 146.
11 Judge Stephen Reinhardt writing for the majority in Perry v. Brown.
12 These results ought to be compared with a similar referendum, Proposition 22, which was held in March 2000. At that time, 61 percent of Californians wished marriage to be defined as a union between a man and a woman while only 39 percent were opposed. As was noted by the Los Angeles Times, the main proponents of Proposition 8 tended to be older churchgoers while the majority of younger voters were opposed to it.
13 “Bethany of the Sacred Heart,” Father Mateo Speaks to Priests, pp. 135-147.
14 E Supremi Apostolatus, October 4, 1903.
15 This language is distressingly similar to that employed by one of the greatest of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.
16 Annum Sacrum, May 25, 1899.
17 Heb. 12:1.
18 Father Mateo Speaks to Priests, p. 146.