June set aside for the Sacred Heart

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The month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, a special form of devotion to Jesus. This is one of the most widely practiced and well-known devotions, taking Jesus' physical heart as the representation of his divine love for humanity. The devotion especially emphasizes the unmitigated love, compassion, and long-suffering of the heart of Christ towards humanity. From the time of John the Evangelist and Paul, there has always been in the Church something like devotion to the love of God; nevertheless, the devotion remained an individual, or at least a private devotion until 1670.

It was in that year that the first feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated in Rennes, France, through the efforts of Fr. Jean Eudes (1602-1680). From Rennes, the devotion spread, but it took the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675 for the devotion to become universal. This French, Roman Catholic nun, Marguerite Marie Alacoque, said she learned the devotion from Jesus during a mystical experience.  These revelations to her were numerous, and in all of these visions in which Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus played a central role.

What has become known as the ‘great apparition,’ took place on June 16, 1675, during the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi. This is the source of the modern Feast of the Sacred Heart. In that vision, Christ asked Margaret Mary to request that the Feast of the Sacred Heart be celebrated in reparation for the ingratitude of men for the sacrifice that Christ had made for them. The Sacred Heart of Jesus represents not simply His physical heart but His love for all mankind.

The authenticity of these apparitions was debated, but by the time of St. Margaret Mary's death in 1690 the devotions had become very popular. However, because the Church initially had doubts about the validity of St. Margaret Mary's visions, it wasn't until 1765 that the feast was celebrated officially in France. Almost 100 years later, in 1856, Pope Pius IX, at the request of the French bishops, extended the feast to the universal Church. It is celebrated on the day requested by our Lord - the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi, or 19 days after Pentecost Sunday.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Sacred Heart has been closely associated with acts of reparation to Jesus Christ. In his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI stated: ‘the spirit of expiation or reparation has always had the first and foremost place in the worship given to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus’. By encouraging devotion to the Heart of Jesus, Pope Pius X11’s Encyclical Haurietis Aquas exhorted believers to open themselves to the mystery of God and of his love and to allow them to be transformed by it. In 2006, Benedict XV1  reconfirmed this ‘ After 50 years, it is still a fitting task for Christians to continue to deepen their relationship with the Heart of Jesus, in such a way as to revive their faith in the saving love of God and to welcome him ever better into their lives.’  

Furthermore, Benedict continued, re- iterating the words of his predecessor John Paul II, ‘In the Heart of Christ, man's heart learns to know the genuine and unique meaning of his life and of his destiny, to understand the value of an authentically Christian life, to keep himself from certain perversions of the human heart, and to unite the filial love for God and the love of neighbour’.

In biblical language, ‘heart’ indicates the center of the person where his sentiments and intentions dwell. In the Heart of the Redeemer we adore God’s love for humanity, his will for universal salvation, his infinite mercy.

The call which comes from this important feast day is first of all a call to Eucharistic adoration, because in the Sacred Host the Lord Jesus is truly present and He offers each of us His Heart, His Merciful Love. To spend time in the Presence of the Eucharistic Lord, to adore Him, is the best expression of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Who said to St Margaret Mary: ‘Behold the Heart which so loved mankind and is so little loved in return!’ For many years, Catholics faithfully practiced this nine first Fridays devotion, but more recently there seems little effort in this regard.

However, today’s pilgrims continue to visit the impressively humble shrine at Paray le Monial in France where they read the following promises Jesus revealed there to St Margaret Mary. For those souls who would honour the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus by receiving Holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of each month, Jesus promised to give them all the graces necessary in their state of life:

1.    I will establish peace in their homes
2.    I will comfort them in all their afflictions
3.    I will be their secure refuge during life and above all in death.
4.    I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings
5.    Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy
6.    Tepid souls shall grow fervent
7.    Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection
8.    I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honoured
9.    I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts
10.    Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out
11.    I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the first Friday in nine consecutive months, the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment     
I invite you to spend time in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord during the month of June and to reflect on the wonderful love of Christ for each and every one of us. This year, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on June 7. Since 2002, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is also a special Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.

   - Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, June 2013