Tag Archives: heart

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

By guest writer Catherine Sheehan.

The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most common images associated with Catholicism. Numerous Catholic churches and schools are named after the Sacred Heart and many churches contain an image or statue of the Sacred Heart.

But how often do we stop to think what the devotion to the Sacred Heart is actually all about? What was Christ communicating to us when He revealed His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century? Why did the Church establish a feast day devoted to the Sacred Heart and does this devotion still have relevance for us today?

For human beings, the heart symbolizes the very center of our being since it is the organ that keeps us alive by pumping blood around the whole body. It also symbolizes the depths of our feelings and therefore our capacity for love. We speak of being ‘heart-broken’ when something tragic happens to us, when someone we love dies, a friend betrays us or our love is rejected. When we desire to be close to others we refer to ‘speaking from the heart’ or having a ‘heart to heart’ conversation.

All of this tells us much about why Jesus desired a devotion to His Sacred Heart. He wanted to be close to us, to reveal to us the depths of His love for us, and to call us to respond to this love by loving Him in return and extending that love to others. Indeed He gave the commandment to His followers to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15: 12).

Since St. John told us that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), devotion to the Sacred Heart is nothing other than acknowledging and reinforcing this revelation of who God is, and asking us to enter more deeply into his love.

From 1673 to 1675, Our Lord appeared several times to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, in the French town of Paray-le-Monial. The first apparition took place on 27 December 1673, the feast of St. John the Evangelist. Interestingly, it was St. John who was called the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’, and who rested his head near Christ’s heart at the Last Supper (John 13: 23).

Christ showed St. Margaret Mary His Sacred Heart which was crowned with flames and a cross, and encircled by a crown of thorns. She also saw that His heart was pierced. This corresponds with the fact that Christ’s side was pierced with a lance when He hung on the cross (John 19:20).

Jesus expressed to St. Margaret Mary His desire that a devotion to His Sacred Heart be established and a feast day on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.

As part of this devotion, Jesus asked that people receive the Holy Eucharist on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months, in honor of His Sacred Heart. This is known as the First Friday devotion.

The feast day of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was officially established in 1765 and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart.

In his encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII wrote:

… Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race … Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.

He further wrote: “The Church gives the highest form of worship to the Heart of the divine Redeemer.”

Let us celebrate the great feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with particular fervor, since it announces to the world the unfathomable love and mercy of Jesus Christ. His Sacred Heart burns with love for us each and every day!

The 12 promises of Christ to those who have devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, as revealed to St Margaret Mary:

(1) I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
(2) I will establish peace in their homes.
(3) I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
(4) I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
(5) I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
(6) Sinners will find in My Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
(7) Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
(8) Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
(9) I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
10) I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
(11) Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart.
(12) I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays 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.

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Catherine Sheehan is an experienced writer and a journalist with The Catholic Weekly.

With All Your Heart

Sixteen years ago today, I stood in a white robe before the bishop as he anointed me with chrism and spoke the words of Confirmation: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I still remember the joy I felt walking into the church that day, feeling the presence of so many saints rejoicing over me. I was ready to take part in the mission of the Church, to follow those saints toward Heaven. I didn’t know how God would call me to serve in the years ahead, but I trusted in Him to lead me forward—and that was enough for me to say yes to the journey.

So many journeys start with a “yes.” There is no way for us to know every detail of the adventure that awaits, but if we know that the one who invites us is trustworthy, then we can accept the call with joy. Our relationship with God and our trust in Him are what allow us to do His work and keep His commandments. In last Friday’s Gospel we heard that the most important commandment is to love God, and then to see and love God in others and within ourselves—because without a foundation of love, all our efforts will be fruitless. If we don’t love God with all our hearts and all our understanding and all our strength, then we won’t be able to trust Him to lead us, and we won’t be open to receiving His grace.

He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
—Mark 12:32–33

All_Saints_Catholic_Church_(St._Peters,_Missouri)_-_stained_glass,_sacristy,_Sacred_Heart_detailIn Confirmation, we actively choose to follow God in a public way, opening our hearts to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and offering our lives to be used as God sees fit. But before we choose Him, He has already chosen us. The graces we receive through the Sacrament are meant to be used as resources for the mission on which we are sent, and He sends us gifts that are particularly suited for us. All we need to do is to be receptive, to open our hearts just a crack and allow His grace to flood in. We are called to do things that might seem impossible on our own, but when we remember the graces that have been given us, we realize that we are armed for the task.

We are called and chosen. The unfolding of our lives is not a random set of coincidences; rather, every moment carries great purpose and meaning. God has recruited us as unfit soldiers, yet by grace His will shall be done in us.

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
—Hosea 14:5–7

Reflect today on the journeys God has led you on in the past and where He might be calling you today. Are you ready to say yes to Him, to receive whatever He gives? Lay out your worries before Him so that He can demonstrate His love for you. Turn your attention toward this most important commandment and nurture your relationship with God. Let Him show you how loving and trustworthy He is, so that you can say yes to Him with all heart, all your understanding, and all your strength.


1. Hermann Hammer, Sacred Heart of Jesus on Pinus Cembra in the Stubai Alps between Salfains and Grieskogel / CC0 1.0
2. NheyobAll Saints Catholic Church (St. Peters, Missouri) – stained glass, sacristy, Sacred Heart detail / CC BY-SA 4.0

This reflection was originally published at Work in Progress.

The Conscience of the Modern Man

By guest writer Kachi Ngai.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey, its voice ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”
— Article 1776, Catechism of the Catholic Church

We no longer live in an age where truth and reason guide our principles. The mood of the current age is one of emotionalism, where a person’s feelings now become the inviolable truth for that person, and God forbid if someone else should dare to question it. The objective truth has given way to the subjective truth, provided that someone feels strongly enough about it. Take a look at how love is considered these days. The concept of agape (the supernatural, and certainly superior, sacrificial form of love) has been overthrown in favor of eros, the natural and more receptive form of love.

Variations on catchy slogans such as “love is love” and “love wins” are thrown around to somehow suggest that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of discrimination, and that only by “following what’s inside our hearts” will we find inner fulfillment and freedom. Arguments in favor of the protection of the family unit and society are pitted against the supposed personal fulfillment of the individual. If someone “follows their heart”, then they cannot stray.

I accept that I am taking liberties by assuming that the objective truth is a given, mainly because whether truth is objective is not the focus of this. I will discuss objective truth and how it is tied to human dignity in a later article. For now I will focus only upon the actual nature of the conscience, something on which Cardinal John Henry Newman spoke at great length, and how it applies to our Catholic Faith and the spiritual journey.

Newman was 15 when he experienced his first conversion which brought him into the Protestant faith. It was not until much later that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which he describes in his Apologia as largely due to the acting of his conscience.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman saw the conscience as the connecting principle between the creature and his Creator. He went as far as to describe it as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Newman, 1885). In the secular world, a certain primacy is given to the conscience, almost as if it is some infallible judge. This is a far cry from the notions Newman had.

Our concept of conscience is misconstrued these days, whereby if our conscience dictates that we can act upon our whims even if they be contrary to Mother Church’s teachings, this would be permitted provided that we are at peace with it. Newman argued that this disparity between the internal conscience and the teachings of the Church did not give us free rein to reject the Church’s teaching. When the conscience no longer points towards the external (the Church’s teachings), but instead towards the internal, instead of directing us towards God and a life of virtue through obedience and discipline, it is turned towards the selfish and interior. Instead of God being our Lord and Master, it will be as Henley once poetically described in his famous poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Henley, 1875)

A lovely-sounding sentiment of the triumph of the human soul over suffering, but it encapsulates the current idea that the personal conscience is the final judge.

Newman argues that conscience advocates for the truth, and that the conscience is much cruder and almost ruthless. The conscience is the compass for non-believers by which God re-directs us towards Him. The voice of conscience has nothing gentle, nothing to do with mercy in its tone. It is severe and stern. It does not speak of forgiveness, but of punishment” (Newman). This is why the redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ is The Good News. It provides the relief for the condemnation offered by the accusing conscience. The conscience is to direct us towards where there is a particular deficiency or uncertainty in our judgement and spiritual life, and the conscience is the starting point for a particular conversion in our life.

The conscience is the call for conversion and a sign of humility. This is counter-cultural to the secular understanding of conscience as a sign of personal freedom, especially the freedom to reject the objective truth when it makes one uncomfortable (Pell, 2005). As a result of free will, man can choose to reject the prickles of their conscience, but the conscience is the beginning of the exploration and conversion through prayer and discernment, it is not some infallible judge. In Veritatis Splendour, Pope St. John Paul II describes the formation of the Catholic Conscience as a dignifying and liberating experience (Pp. St. JPII, 1993), which is why as Catholics we have a moral responsibility to develop an informed conscience (CCC 1780).

By divorcing the Catholic Faith from reason, reason becomes effectively neutered because we fail to see the impact of moral predispositions in reasoning. Simply put, the conscience can easily be fooled by our own inclinations and desires whether subconscious or otherwise, and can lead us down the path of lining up our reasoning in view of a desired result (Armstrong, 2015). This is the danger of reducing the conscience to a mere moral sense. Natural religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but cannot find the remedy (Armstrong, 2015). To emphasize the earlier point, this is where the call to conversion is required, and through this we can start to appreciate the necessity of Christ’s redemptive act.

The conscience points towards the need for constant discernment, prayer, and the turning of the heart towards the objective authority of Christ through His Church. To follow one’s conscience is not to do as one pleases, but to earnestly seek what is true and good, and to hold fast to this, as repulsive as it may appear. Only then can we truly and honestly say to our Lord: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).

_________

References:

Armstrong, David (2015). “Newman’s Conversion of Conscience and the Resolution of the Crisis of Modernity.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

Henley, William (1875). Invictus. England.

Newman, John Henry (1885). “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” V, in Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II (London: Longmans Green, 1885), 248.

Pell, George (2005). “The Inconvenient Conscience.”

Purity of Heart

“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

For most of my life I thought that the “purity of heart” line from Matthew was just a reminder to practice chastity in romantic relationships. In fact, it seemed like that was the standard line of thinking for most young Christian people—that the word “purity” was synonymous with physical chastity. We were taught that we must remain “pure” for our future spouses, that we must not sully ourselves with sexual sin, and that we must be spotless and clean if we had any shot of happiness in our marriage vocations. It was lot of pressure and emphasized only one small piece of such a beautiful and penetrating virtue.

It wasn’t until I had matured and journeyed through different seasons of my my life that I started to understand a deeper meaning of what it meant to have a pure heartsomething that was entirely outside the call to physical chastity. In a much realer sense, it meant living life with pure intentions, without malice, and with as much authenticity as possible. I realized that in the Beatitudes, Jesus was speaking about so much more than just “saving yourself for marriage”.

As an adult, living with a pure heart means something much different than what was taught to me in Catholic school. Along with pursuing sexual purity, it also means striving to be the woman that God created me to be, wholly and without pretense. It means growing in virtue and avoiding sinful behaviors that end up fostering anger, hostility, or fear within me. I find when I try to live this way, I feel a much deeper sense of “purity” than anything that ever came from an abstinence talk.

Of course, that’s not to say that sexual purity isn’t relevant. Part of what it means to be chaste is to also have pure intentions in your romantic relationships—that is, not using others, not leading them (and yourself) into sexual sin, and generally helping them to grow in holiness. Those things are very important and absolutely necessary. But it’s also crucial to look at purity in a holistic sense instead of turning it into a list of sexual things we have or have not done.

If you struggle with physical chastity, focus on living other areas of your life with pure intentions:

  • Be kind.
  • Be sincere.
  • Be honest.
  • Stay true to your word.
  • Serve others.
  • Love genuinely.
  • Have integrity.

You’ll find that when you operate from a truly pure heart in these ways, physical chastity will come much easier. It will be a natural byproduct of living a virtuous life free from selfishness and bitterness.

Possessing a pure, untainted heart means radiating the joy and peace of the Gospel. It means truly and authentically living the tenents of Christianity, resting in God’s goodness and mercy, and extending that to those you encounter. Yes, the pure of heart shall see God. And when we live this way, we can let others see Him through our own as well.

“Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” – Psalm 51:10

Photo Credit: Wonderfully Made

A Clean Heart

A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Psalm 51

The heart is one of the most essential organs in the human body because it pumps blood to every extremity. When it does not function properly and effectively, negative side effects occur. If we do not eat a well-balanced diet our arteries can become clogged, eventually leading to a heart attack, resulting in bypass surgery or the insertion of a stent. Sometimes, the heart operates so poorly that a transplant is needed. Ultimately, when our heart stops, death results.

The heart is not only a significant organ for the physical body, but for the spiritual body as well. Over and over again we are told to pray with our heart, to silence our heart so that God can speak to us. In Psalm 51 we pray, “A clean heart create for me, O God …a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” This psalm captures the movement of King David’s own heart, after he followed his heart’s lustful desires for Bathsheba, and then plotting the murder of Uriah.

These memories of our experiences sometimes haunt the inner depths of our spiritual heart and create blockages. We must ask God to remove the obstructions, so our heart can freely and openly speak to Jesus. In our spiritual lives, is there something blocking us from experiencing God’s love and expressing it? We might feel guilt and we ask God again and again to create in us a clean heart. Maybe it is a sin, that same sin we confess again and again. Are our hearts properly disposed to speak to God and receive His grace? Maybe our hearts have grown cold and hardened, so not only do we pray for God to clean our hearts, but to give us a new heart, a complete transplant.

Jonah prophesied to the Ninevites about the need to change their hearts, and they did.  As Christians we have someone greater than Jonah–Jesus is our Divine Physician who wants to diagnose, heal, and cleanse our hearts.  This Lent provides us opportunities to turn to God, and cry out: create in me a clean heart, cleanse me of my sin. Whatever the blockages are, find them, confess them, and receive God’s mercy. Then afterward, take up a new spiritual diet of prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving, so that your spiritual heart can be healthy for the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.