Homilies - May 2008

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The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
: May 26, 2008 by Fr. Hilary

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

  • May 26, 2008
  • by Fr. Hilary
  • Deut. 7:6-11
  • Psalm 103:
    1-4, 6-8, 101
  • John 4: 7-16
  • Matthew 11:25-30

“My house, I say. But hark to the sunny doves
That make my roof the arena of their loves,
That gyre about the gables all day long
And fill the chimneys with their murmurous song:
Our house, they say; and mine the cat declares
And spreads his golden fleece upon the stairs.”
. . . . .
Robert Louis Stevenson, Underwoods, XXXVI

This part of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson came to mind when I was reflecting upon this feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and its history. “My house.” The word “house” is often used as a metaphor for “church.” “This is the house of God and the gate of heaven,” says an inscription at the top of our chapel’s façade. But what is “church?’ One definition of the Catholic Church: “A divinely ordered community of people with a recognizable divinely ordained government.” From another point of view: When we say, “The Church teaches,” we restrict the meaning of the word to only a part of the total reality. A more inclusive description is, “The church is the Body of Christ.”

Whose house is it? I deeply believe in the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. I also deeply believe that through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation each and every Catholic is transformed, by a sharing in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and is thus plunged into Jesus’ own relationship to the Father and gifted with their Holy Spirit.

We could look at the church as a series of disparate houses: The Holy Father and the hierarchy; the religious; the laity; the official liturgical worship; but also other kinds of worship, like the devotions; various other movements, like RENEW, the Common Ground approach, or The Voice of the Faithful. We can look at all these as all parts of the one Body of Christ; My house? Whose house? Do we have to take sides, pitting one approach against another?

Let us take a part of the total question. What is the relation among the revised liturgy, devotions as old as the Miraculous medal, devotions as recent as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and various renewal movements: Can we not look at all these as cousins, with the same ultimate common origin, rather than as contradictory elements? Why cousins? Because “The Holy Spirit over the Church broods, with warm breast and ah, bright wings,” to paraphrase G. M. Hopkins. We can look at the Holy Spirit as the one source of all these.

The history of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus shows how this facet of the total mystery of salvation has been clarified and emphasized in recent centuries. The new Testament is rich in expressions of God’s love and the intimate love of Jesus for his disciples. Through the centuries new ways to describe this mystery developed. For example in the fourteenth century the great Franciscan theologian St. Bonaventure reflected on the piercing of Jesus’ heart at the crucifixion:
The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace . . .
(Quoted in Liturgy of the Hours for the feast of the Sacred Heart).

Devotion the passion and the heart of Christ grew strong in seventeenth century France. St John Eudes founded two religious congregations, one for men, one for women. These had a strong devotion to the heart of Jesus, celebrated by a special office and mass formulary. St Francis de Sales often referred to the heart of Jesus in his spiritual teaching. With St Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the Sisters of the Visitation. There is an interesting portrait of the latter. She is seated, with her arms crossed in front of her. In her left hand she holds a crucifix; in her right hand she holds what can only be interpreted as a human heart, surely the heart of Jesus.

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in 1648. At the age of 23 she entered a Visitation convent. From 1673 to 1675 she experienced a series of visions of Christ and His Sacred Heart. He also spoke to her and asked her to have a special feast established in honor of His Sacred Heart on the Friday after the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi. She was helped greatly by her confessor Father Claude de la Columbiere in the promotion of this devotion.

Church authorities reacted slowly. It was not until 1856 that permission was extended to the whole church to celebrate the feast. In 1889 it was raised to a higher rank and became a mandatory feast. Finally in 1956 Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical clarifying the meaning of the feast and devotion to the Sacred Heart.
What began as a devotion celebrated by some has become a major feast integrated into the Liturgical Year and the life of the Church. Here is an invitation to be aware of the Holy Spirit giving life to the Church in developing ways.

Fr. Hilary Hayden
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