Doctrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Nothing is more suited to help us attain the two ideals of the priesthood – to be holy priests and successful apostles – than the doctrine of the Sacred Heart, when it is really understood according to the spirit and teaching of the Church.

How the great saints of other ages would have rejoiced in knowing the Heart of Jesus as we do today! More fortunate than they, we who are living in the full splendour of the rays from that divine Sun – the Heart of Jesus – should know how to profit fully from the light and fire pouring forth from this adorable Heart upon the Church and upon souls.

Let us now try to fathom what St. Paul calls “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of God, manifested to the world by the love of Jesus Christ. Theologically speaking, what do we understand by the expression “the Heart of Jesus”? We do not mean only or principally His heart of flesh, which is worthy of adoration as is the whole divine Person. Under the symbol of a physical heart the Church teaches us the same doctrine taught by St. John: “Deus caritas est” – “God is love.” Furthermore, the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is the God-Man is the revelation of that infinite love which is God the Father: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” [cf. John 31:3].

Again, even as all the relations of God with His creatures begin and end in love and by love, so also, as creatures, all our relations with our Creator must, “through Jesus Christ,” have their starting point and completion in and by love.

Notice how this Deus-Caritas in giving Himself to us gives us only love, and likewise in exercising His rights over us, asks in return only for the love of His creatures. This led St. Paul to say “Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” [Rom. 13:10]. To confirm and to accentuate this law of love, which embraces the entire economy of the reciprocal relations between heaven and earth, the apostle breaks forth into the most astonishing and sublime passage in all his famous epistles: “If I should speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have charity, I have become as souding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, yet do not have charity, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing” [I Cor.1-3].

In this sense – and it is only a doctrinal one – ”Cor Jesu” is not a mere devotion in the ordinary and popular sense of the word but a wonderful synthesis of Catholic dogma and morals. This was the way a former archbishop of Poitiers explained to a young priest how he understood the theology of the Sacred Heart: “My dogma – dilexit me [He loved me]. My morals – diliges [you love] – this is what I mean by Cor Jesu” [Heart of Jesus].

The doctrine of the Sacred Heart can be summed up in what I call “the Gospel of the Heart of Jesus” in three chapters. The first chapter: because of His infinite, incomprehensible love, God willed to redeem the guilty world. He might have done this in one of a thousand ways, each one worthy of his divine majesty. But He chose the lowliest way of all, that of humiliation: “And the Word was made flesh.”

If a simple child or a learned theologian asks the why and the wherefore of this mystery there is but one answer – the only one that is enlightening, the only doctrinal one – the answer given by God Himself: “Thus God so loved the world” – love! Let us now turn the page to the second chapter. The Incarnation was more than enough to save a thousand worlds, and yet God willed to do more. He did not have to become incarnate, yet He was made man. Having accomplished this stupendous miracle, being God, He did not have to die, yet He willed to become a corpse: “He was crucified, died and was buried.” The astonished angels ask the “why” and “wherefore.” For them as well as for us, the answer is the same: “Thus God so loved the world.” The “folly of the cross” can only be explained by the excess and folly of a divine love.

The third chapter: before dying and returning to His Father, Christ determined not to leave us orphans. And so, on Holy Thursday, the Man-God of the Incarnation and of the cross gave Himself to us until the end of time in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament. Before you ask the “why” and the “wherefore,” I forestall you and repeat the words which give us the key to this mystery: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” The infinite charity of God; the love – and nothing but infinite love – of Jesus Christ, is the only adequate explanation of this supreme gift of God.

Now, which of these three chapters contains the true doctrine of the Sacred Heart? Is it the first, the Incarnation? Is it the second, the cross? Or is it the third, the Holy Eucharist? Obviously, we may prefer to meditate on or preach about one or another of these three marvellous mysteries, according to our personal devotion and attraction: “The spirit breathes where He wills.” Thus in the annals of the Church we have a great number of saints who have been attracted especially by the Incarnation. An example would be St. Therese of Lisieux. Many others have been fascinated by the beauty of the cross; for instance, St. Francis of Assisi and St. John of the Cross. Still others have devoted their lives to loving the Blessed Sacrament, towards which they felt a special attraction. Among these we might mention St. Paschal Baylon, Father Eymard, or St. Julianna of Falconieri. In each instance these saints followed the inspiration of the Holy Ghost according to their special vocation.

But from the moment we speak of the doctrine of the Sacred Heart, and not of a personal attraction and devotion, there will be no longer a question of one or another of the three chapters, but of all three. Together they form the integral gospel of the love of God manifested by the Incarnation of the Word, by His Passion and death and by the incomparable gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist. Thus the Summa Theologica contained in these words of St. John, “Deus caritas est” [God is love], is not to be found in one chapter more than in another, but in the three fused into one. If I were called upon to reproduce this doctrine in the form of a picture, I would present it as a triptych. In the center I would place St. Thomas Aquinas kneeling in adoration before the blessed sacrament, singing his marvellous Tantum Ergo. On the right would be St. Therese of the Child Jesus with arms outstretched towards the divine Babe of Bethlehem; on the left, Murillo’s painting of Jesus crucified, embracing St. Francis of Assisi. In the center, also kneeling before the blessed sacrament, we see St. Margaret Mary. Suddenly these three saints raise their eyes as though called by a mysterious voice. There above the altar they see our Lord as He appeared at Paray-leMonial, His transpierced Heart all on fire in the wound in His sacred side.

Then St. Margaret Mary bids the three of them to notice how they find in “this Heart which has so loved men,” the mysteries each of them symbolizes: the humiliation of the Incarnation, the folly of the cross, and the annihilation of the Eucharist. “Behold,” she repeats, “this Love which has so loved men.” Joining my voice to hers I add: “Who would not love in return One Who has loved us so much? In exchange for His love, our love; in exchange for His Heart, our hearts. ‘My son, give me thy heart.’” As far as sublime and abstract ideas can be painted on canvas, I think this triptych sums up the doctrine of the Sacred Heart very clearly and exactly.

According to this reasoning, which combines doctrine and love, theory and life, I find the Heart of Jesus – that is to say, his love – in His entire adorable Person: In His head crowned with thorns through love; In His eyes which shed tears of love; In His mouth which thirsted and spoke only words of love; In His hands pierced through love; In his feet transfixed through love; In His side opened through love; and in His whole body which became a living wound of love. Therefore, with a saintly cardinal I repeat: Jesus Christ whole and entire is nothing else but an infinite heart.”

And just as His divine Person is love, so do all His works proclaim His love and claim ours in return: the Creation, the Redemption, the priesthood, the Holy Sacrifice, the tabernacle, grace, the communion of saints, and our Lady. Furthermore, Jesus tells us the entire law is comprised in two commandments, the love of God and neighbour; but the second is absolutely dependent upon and presupposes the first. The Heart of Jesus, then is the center from which emanate as from a furnace of love all the divine actions and toward which all things in the divine plan converge. It is logical therefore to conclude that Cor Jesu is not a mere chapter, or tract, but a complete summa of the most sublime doctrine. In this sense heaven will be an everlasting feast of the Sacred Heart.

It is evident that there is nothing new as far as the doctrine of the Sacred Heart is concerned – it is found in the revelations of the gospel. But as regards the form, the external liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart, this is new, dating from the revelations of Paray-le-Monial. Here is one example of what can be called “new” in worship and form: the solemn feast of the Sacred Heart, raised by Pope Pius XI to a feast of the first class and celebrated on the Friday following the octave [now suppressed] of the feast of Corpus Christi, according to the explicit request of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary.

We must never forget that the essential doctrine of the Heart of Jesus is the very substance of dogma itself. This is so true that we can affirm that in order to preach the doctrine of the Sacred Heart we have no need of St. Margaret Mary. The gospel and theology suffice. If, with the Church, we love and admire the great events of Paray it is because we find them to be in perfect harmony with the gospel, as regards their requests, their spirit and their promises. Notice for example how our adorable Master returns to Paray with identically the same aim and plan as when He came to Bethlehem, to Calvary and to our altars: to give love and to receive love; to conquer and draw hearts to His Heart. In Palestine and in Paray He suffers from the same thirst, the thirst for love. He came to earth twenty centuries ago and appeared at Paray, for the same purpose, to enkindle a fire upon earth: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?”

Therefore, agreeing wholeheartedly with the Church’s verdict on the revelations at Paray-le-Monial, we can affirm that they had no other aim than to increase the knowledge and the spirit of our adoption as sons of God, stressing our relations with God through Jesus the Mediator, accentuating the princile of a love as “strong as death,” and reaffirming, as the foundation of the life of the soul and of it’s ascension to the Father and to the blessed Trinity, the queen of all virtues: love. This is the real meaning of those words addressed by our Lord to St. Margaret Mary, words that have now become a classic: “I will reign through My Heart!” He wishes to conquer, to triumph through charity, through love.

We must also confide blindly in the infinite wisdom of Him Who alone knows how to draw good from evil, health and strength from illness, and life from death itself. Have such a tremendous faith in the Heart and wisdom of God, that you will let Him do with you whatever He wants. Allow Him to work out His plans as he wills, to the extent of going against your own plans, overthrowing your own projects, even though they be, as far as you can see, for His honour and glory. A second source of peace and confidence in the Sacred Heart is the infinite justice of God, that justice so extraordinarily beautiful and so badly understood, so reassuring yet so calumniated, even by educated Catholics. How many there are who consider it as synonymous with punishment and hell!

It is all too common to attribute damnation to justice and salvation to merciful love. Yet the truth is that there are as many souls in heaven because of God’s justice as because of His love. Too often we forget that precisely because God is just He must be tender and bountiful. That wonderful little theologian St. Therese understood this when she wrote, “I trust His justice as much as I do His love.”

Fortunately for us we shall all one day be judged, not by an unjust judge, but by a Judge of infinite justice, Who knows and weighs all the evidence; Who, unlike men, is able to distinguish betwenn ignorance, weakness and malice; and Who, consequently, never makes a mistake. His decisions are always just because they are based on the the infinite wisdom. This infinitely just Judge cannot demand of a tiny bird what He expects of an eagle. That is why, to the astonishment and even scandal of certain severe, ignorant or hypocritical minds, Jesus pardons great sinners far more easily than does the most loving of mothers. He knows us far better than our own mothers know us.

St. Paul’s words on this subject are words inspired by deep conviction: “There is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will give to me in that day” [II Tim. 4:8]. Notice that St. Paul does not appeal to the Saviour of mercy but to the Judge of infinite Justice, claiming the crown He has promised and which, he says, He owed him in strict justice. Had St. Paul forgotten his violent persecution of and hatred for Christians? Had he forgotten his past sins? Not at all. Because he believed with a firm faith in the pardon promised to him [”but I obtained the mercy of God because I acted ignorantly, in unbelief ” I Tim. 1: 13], he did not hesitate to claim his reward.

How few Catholics – even priests – reason this way! Many look back over their lives and worry about past sins; by their attitude they seem to doubt God’s pardon, and thus offend both the justice and the mercy of God. This deplorable and dangerous frame of mind is due to a certain Jansenistic spirit which is stll quite widespread. Jansenism, which dries up the heart and freezes the blood, is rooted in a hidden pride; it is still one of the worst heresies for it has succeeded principally in deceiving many of the leaders among the elite.

One last word on the “nova et vetera” [new and old things] of the doctrine of the Sacred Heart: St. Francis de Sales says most beautifully: “If an autopsy had been performed on the body of Jesus as is done with kings, it would have been discovered that the wound in the Heart of Jesus did not date from the blow of the lance on Calvary, but rather from the Incarnation – that Jesus was born with a wounded heart, a heart wounded by love.” Paray drew attention to the opened side so that we might enter therein and understand by meditation and prayer what St. Francis de Sales also tells us, “if the wound made by the lance dates from yesterday, the lance only tore the curtain that we might see the wound of eternal love.”

The Son of God came to earth primarily to reveal to us the love that God has had for us from all eternity. He came to Paray-le-Monial for the same reason: to remind us of this everlasting love and to plead for the love of our hearts in return. Profit from this doctrinal devotion to the divine Heart of Jesus to develop your interior life, for your own benefit and for that of others. In this regard I call your attention to two promises of the Sacred Heart, to my mind the greatest of all those made at Paray. The first concerns advancement in holiness: “fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.” God is faithful, always and in all things, especially when it is a question of the sanctification of souls who are faithful in their devotion to his divine Heart.

he second promise has to do with the “cura animarum” [cure of souls]: “I will give to priests the power of touching the hardest hearts.” If priests wish to possess the true secret of converting the most obstinate sinners, if they wish to see a desert bloom for the glory of the Lord of the harvest, then they must take the triumphant standard of the Heart of Jesus, and with it make Him the loving King of souls, of homes, of your parish and of all your organizations; make this loving King the center of all hearts, by becoming genuine apostles of His Sacred Heart. Abide in His love, for “love is the fulfillment of the Law.” “Thou shalt love. . . this is the first and the greatest of the commandments. . . My son, give Me thy heart.” Love with an heroic love the Heart of the God Who has loved you so much.

Catholics who believe are to be found everywhere, but far too many have only a spark of love, and some, none at all. It was this lack of love on the part of His friends that occasioned the bitter complaints of our Lord at Paray. As Pope Pius XI stated in his encyclical on reparation, this is the origin of the practices of reparation now widespread in the Church, such as the holy hour, the First Friday communion of reparation, and the great feast of the Sacred Heart. For your part, fulfill generously all the requests made by the Sacred Heart and which have been seconded by the Church; and one day you will learn from a happy experience how royally faithful He is to His promises.

Dear Friends

In conclusion, these profound and very encouraging words of Fr. Mateo should all the more deepen our love of God through a faithful and genuine devotion to the Sacred Heart, fulfilling His request at Paray-le-Monial for the nine first Fridays, as well as having your homes solemnly enthroned to this divine Heart; Who is always most faithful to His promises, and Who will richly reward all of those – as the just and merciful Judge – who have been obedient to His divine precepts and to the teaching of His holy gospel.