With so many spheres of life capable of being locked down at a moment’s notice, a heavy toll is taken on our mental health, hearts and souls. In times like that, it’s good to get back to basics. To reset. To rekindle an old flame we’ve let burn too low. The solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus might just be that opportunity.
Psychologist Adam Grant says the dominant feeling of 2021 might well be ‘languishing’. It’s more than an emotion: it’s a state of stagnation, aimlessness, and emptiness; a weariness that comes upon us when we’re going nowhere and unable to do anything about it. When we factor in the endless stream of news and media, burdening us with politics and human brokenness on a global scale, sometimes it can be too much to handle.
The solemnity of the Sacred Heart (11 June), perhaps it might be good to reconnect with the visions of the French nun St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) and see if they reveal something to us of Jesus that can bring life to our weary souls.
Apparitions of Jesus (validly approved ones, that is) are rare. There are more approved Marian apparitions than there are of Jesus. Yet, the two major apparitions the Church has elected for approval and popular devotion should tell us something important about who Jesus is and who the Church believes him to be.
Firstly, there are the private revelations to St Faustina Kowalska of the Divine Mercy. Secondly, there are the revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St Margaret Mary. In both of these private revelations we see Jesus coming to reveal something essential, something we too often forget are the very heart of the Christian ethos and spiritual life: love and mercy.
Sometimes it’s tempting to avoid talking about love and mercy because of the way their frequent usage numbs us to their power. They become pious sentiments and clichés.
To read St Margaret Mary’s autobiography is not to read anything sentimental or cliché. Take, as an example, the description of her first encounter with Jesus, the first revelation of the Sacred Heart. When Jesus appears, he says this:
My Divine Heart … is so inflamed with love for men, and for thee in particular that, being unable any longer to contain within Itself the flames of Its burning Charity, it must needs spread them abroad by thy means . . .
Jesus reveals himself to harbour a love for humanity so powerful that even his heart cannot contain it; it has to break open and overflow into the life of humanity. During this vision, Jesus takes Margaret Mary’s heart and encloses it within his own, what appears to be ‘a burning furnace’. He then returns it to her aflame:
I give thee a precious token of My love … that it may serve thee for a heart and consume thee to the last moment of thy life; its ardour will never be exhausted, and thou wilt be able to find some slight relief only by bleeding.
Margaret Mary found herself for some days in a state of intoxication, feeling this fire of Divine Love inside of her. It was consuming and, at the same time, painful. One of the interesting things Jesus says, however, is that relief will only be found by bleeding. The Divine Love, when it consumes us, expresses itself in suffering for other people because that’s the only way it can be expressed. Suffering becomes not an evil to be tolerated but the overflow of the Divine Love in us. It’s a powerful way of looking at the Cross: not as something Jesus had to suffer, sinners that we are, but as Divine Love breaking itself open on behalf of us. If that Love became flesh, it could do nothing but bleed for our sake. It is the only relief Love can find from its own intensity.
To perform a ceremony of enthronement in our homes is one way of prayerfully rekindling a cold or lukewarm love. Usually this ‘enthronement’ involves participation in Mass, placing an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus somewhere in the home, gathering as a family and performing an act of consecration to the Sacred Heart. Since many people won’t be able to gather for Mass, with their families, or have the opportunity to acquire an icon of the Sacred Heart, a more modest personal ceremony might be in order.
If you would like to perform the whole ceremony, a 12 step guide can be found here.
If need be, though, keep things simple. Take the time to light a candle and gather around whatever icon of Jesus you have available to perform a personal act of consecration. Do the rest of it when you are able. The extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in today mean we should do what we can when we can.
A personal consecration written by St Margaret Mary can be found here.
Then, if and when you are able, receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of nine consecutive months on behalf of all those who do not know the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Let this be an act of overflowing love on behalf of others.
This solemnity, perhaps the Sacred Heart of Jesus is needed all the more. Hearts that are weary, worn down, locked down, broken down and languishing are hearts aching for the Divine Love, for the fire that consumes without destroying; that stretches, expands, ennobles, and makes space so that Love can abide unendingly in us.
No matter where we find ourselves this solemnity, let's take the time and opportunity to reconnect with this incredible revelation of God's love, to contemplate it and invite the Lord to set our hearts aflame once more with the fire of his own love.
St Margaret Mary, pray for us that we may unite our hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and burn with love for him always.
Fiona Basile03 August 2021
CatholicCare Victoria03 August 2021