I have been telling many of our students here, that when we die, God is not going to be interested in how you did in this module, or what mark you got in this exam – however He will be interested in how much love you shared in your life. Today the church focuses on the mysterious way that God manifests his love for us through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a beautiful devotion that has been part of the Church’s armoury of prayer since its earliest days. There are countless schools, hospitals, orphanages, parishes and even universities around the world that proudly carry the name of the Sacred Heart in their Title.
The limitless ability of God to love us is made most visible with the historical figure of Christ on the Cross, on Golgotha, outside of the city walls of Jerusalem. There is a famous story of a German Jesuit who appeared on a late night discussion programme with a famous imam. When the presenter pressed them to explain the difference between the Muslim and Christian understanding of God, the Jesuit said – ‘Through human eyes, the Christ was a failure ‘ – this was followed by a profound silence (which you don’t often see on television!). When the camera panned to the imam, he was sitting there with silent tears rolling down his face. A deeply holy and spiritual man, who was obviously close to God, the imam recognised the power of his German friends words.
In the early church, a very popular devotion developed which was contemplating on the sacred wounds of Christ . We know these wounds, on his forehead the marks of the crown of thorns, on his hands and his feet the holes from the nails, and in his side the large wound that the lance made that pierced his side, were still present in the glorious body of the risen Christ. Even nowadays they mysteriously appear in cases of stigmata, in the body of mystics. The wound in his side, opened up Christs heart to us, and so the devotion to Christs wounds, developed to a devotion to his heart, promoted by St Bernard in the eleventh century, and promulgated most notably by the Franciscans and the Carthusians.
In its modern form, the devotion is associated with Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque, a French Visitation sister who claimed to have a series of visions in the 17th Century, that lasted for 18 months. In these visions, she claimed Jesus appeared to her radiant with love and asked to be honoured under the figure if his heart. Her spiritual director was Claude de Colombiere SJ, is now a Saint. He was crucial in that he did not dismiss Margaret Mary’s claims, but wisely accompanied her and discreetly encouraged her, in spite of widespread disbelief and even jealousy from many of her sisters and friends. The series of promises that were made to those who followed the devotion,
which include regular communion, attendance of mass on ‘First Fridays’ and weekly holy hours, were sent around the world under the patronage of an American Businessman, with the approval of the Church. Although the Church officially approves of the devotions, individual Catholics are not bound to follow them. I wonder whether it could be the perfect antidote to the epidemic of pornography in our times.