Sr Merle Salazar, fdnsc
posted by Andre Claessens, MSC
This paper was published by: RELIGIOUS LIFE ASIA MAGAZINE – Publication of the Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia (ICLA) Vol. XV No. 4 October – December 2013
Many Filipinos heeded the Church’s call to ‘Tell the world of His love’ and joined Religious Life in the 1990s. I am one of them and I joined a congregation dedicated to the Sacred Heart. All throughout my years of formation, I could not remember having been instructed on ‘devotion’ to the Sacred Heart. What I was formed in is what we call ‘Spirituality of the Heart.’ In my understanding, a Spirituality of the Heart is a way of living compassionately based on a deep conviction that our God is love and that this God, in Jesus, loves us with a human heart and commands us to love others. Through the years, I have come to realize that what generations before us called ‘Devotion to the Sacred Heart’ is what we now call and promote as ‘Spirituality of the Heart.’ I know that we are not the only group that lives and promotes this kind of Spirituality. Many other religious congregations do.
I am convinced that devotion to the Sacred Heart actually lives on today. The overwhelming response for the victims of typhoon Yolanda, a super typhoon that hit central Philippines in November 2013 leaving thousands dead, is for me a clear manifestation that ‘devotion’ to the Heart of Christ is alive because the love of God is active and working in the hearts of so many people today. Philip Endean, SJ suggests that “authentic devotion to the heart of Jesus may be no less present in the Church than ever it was: it is just that the forms it takes have become more difficult to recognize.”
In this paper, I would like to look at the living tradition of the Sacred Heart devotion – from its roots in Scripture to its beginnings in the Fathers of the Church; its development in the Middle Ages to its peak in the 18th-19th centuries; its decline in the 20th century to the efforts of renewal after Vatican II; and what I think is the ‘new form’ it may be taking on today. Finally, I would like to offer a biblical triptych that I hope may help us live more deeply the meaning and fulfil more radically the challenge of Sacred Heart spirituality.
Theological and Biblical Foundations
The devotion to the Heart of Christ is founded on sound theology and has clear roots in Scripture and tradition, what Pius XII calls the ‘solid foundations’ on which ‘the worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus rests.’ For this, our generation thanks the scholars of the 20th century for their efforts to anchor Sacred Heart devotion on biblical and patristic foundations.”
When we speak of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are not referring only to the physical heart of Jesus of Nazareth. Karl Rahner speaks of ‘Heart’ as a primordial word (Urwort). “Taken in this primal sense, (it) denotes the centre which is the origin and kernel of everything else in the human person…Here is the focal point of a man’s primal and integral relations with others and above all with God.” K. Rahner’s understanding corresponds to the biblical concept of ‘heart’. “In biblical usage, the word ‘heart’ means more than a bodily organ. The heart is the wellspring of life. It indicates what is present and living in the depths of a person. It refers to the origin of what we feel and think, of what we decide, say and do.”
The ‘Heart of Jesus’
This understanding of ‘heart’ as the core of the person is the way by which we are to understand the Heart of Jesus. It is important to note that ‘heart’ in general does not automatically imply love. As our human experiences show, the heart can also contain hatred and evil. K. Rahner reminds us that finding “that the innermost core, the ultimate reality of a person is love, is something we experience only in the Heart of our Lord.” In the Sacred Heart, “the proper and adequate object” of our devotion “is always the person of our Lord… ‘under the aspect of his Heart,’ that is, of his primal, innermost formative centre.” This centre, this Heart of Jesus “is possessed by a free, unfathomable love” and in this Heart we experience the love of God, pouring itself out on us.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is thus, first and foremost, a devotion to God who is love. For Pope Benedict XVI, this is the “heart of the Christian faith” – that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 Jn 4:16). Our founder, Jules Chevalier, MSC puts it beautifully.
“God is love – Deus caritas est– or if you prefer, God is all love; he is love itself, love in essence. From all eternity, he planned to reveal to us this love which is the very substance of his nature…In fulfilment of this plan, he sends on earth his Word, his only Son…This uncreated Word clothed himself in our flesh, in order to show the excess of God’s love for us.”
For Pedro Arrupe, SJ, “Christ’s heart is the smelting vessel of his love for the Father as Word and as man, and also of his love for mankind.” He says “this gift which the Father has given us in the person of Christ is our salvation.” But this gift of love is also a commandment, “the commandment which the Lord chose to call mine”– “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
The Commandment to love
Devotion to the Sacred Heart therefore demands a response which is to love our brothers and sisters the way Jesus himself loves us. Love of God and love of neighbour are one and the same love. For K. Rahner “love of neighbour is a contemporary form of devotion to the Sacred Heart.” The story of Jesus’ life is a love story which reaches its peak in his passion, death and resurrection. We notice that in his life, he showed a preference for the poor and little ones, the ones marginalized in society. “Following his example, we too must give preference to them.” For John Flynn, MSC, a ‘contemplative contact with the poor of the earth’ awakens compassion in us. He writes “these people (i.e. the powerless poor) are the Word of God to us. The Word of God touches our hearts, it wounds, it needles, it pierces, it cleaves our heart open. It jolts our heart awake. Our ‘hearts of stone’ are broken and we are given a ‘heart of flesh’ instead.” Aloysius Pieris, SJ, insists that one’s encounter with the heart of Jesus “is not a mere devotional exercise of romantic heart-gazing, but a programmatic faith leading to a shared commitment to brave deeds of love on behalf of his least brothers and sisters.” The writer of the Johannine epistles is very clear, “Those who say ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or a sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 Jn 4:20-21).
Theologically then, the Sacred Heart ‘devotion’ is not just the performance of certain practices. It is an encounter with the person of Jesus (a devotion), it is a way of life, of abiding in God’ love (a spirituality), and an active response to the commandment to love as Jesus himself loves (a mission).
The bible is replete with references to God’s love and one such reference is the ‘key scriptural text’ of the Sacred Heart tradition John 19:34-37
Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true and he knows that he tells the truth). These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of scripture says, ‘they will look on the one whom they have pierced.’
In searching for a biblical basis of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, Hugo Rahner believed that it is not enough to “press into the service of the devotion every scriptural allusion to the ‘Heart’ of God.” Neither is it enough for him to find “casual allusions to the heartfelt love of our Lord.” What he tried to do was to find a series of Old Testament prophecies that gave him “glimpses, which, when taken together merge into a complete picture of the innermost dispositions of the Messiah.” He then went to the New Testament to seek confirmation for this prophetic vision of the Christ and he finds it predicted in John 7:37 and revealed in John 19:34. For Cardinal Ratzinger “Hugo Rahner, had indeed, made it convincingly clear that the devotion to the Sacred Heart is ordered to a central biblical reality…the paschal mystery. He has placed before our souls the great image of the opened side of Jesus, from which blood and water flow, as the new devotional image, so to speak, as the biblical icon of the Sacred Heart for all Christianity.” Let us follow H. Rahner’s line of thinking.
His study of the messianic texts of the Old Testament led Rahner to the discovery that “all these mysterious prophecies fuse into one sublime picture of the inmost dispositions of the future Messiah; and the element that fuses them is…the Heart.”
The Heart of the Lord’s Anointed is submissive to the God who sent him, it is humble and self-sacrificing. It is a Heart full of majestic anger, or sunk in mortal anguish, or leaping with ecstatic joy. All the throbbing human life of this Heart is spent in the accomplishment of the messianic mission, in saving mankind by sacrifice, and dispensing to the souls of the redeemed, the living water of the Spirit. Blood and water, heart and spirit, death and life, are indissolubly united …There could be no finer summary of this messianic concept than the prayerful phrase of the Church…Thou who pourest forth grace from thy heart.”
H. Rahner proves that this Old Testament vision of the Messiah is confirmed by the New Testament in Jesus. Rahner reads John 7:37-39 as Jesus’s revelation of his own messianic office (i.e. that rivers of living water, which is the Spirit, will flow from his breast)  which is then fulfilled in John 19:34-37 when Jesus is lifted up on the cross and blood and water flow from his pierced side.
“The lifting up of Jesus on the cross is also the glorification of Jesus and this becomes clear from the giving of new life that commences to flow at that moment from Jesus’ side.” The solemnity by which the evangelist recounts the story tells us that this is not just about proving the physical death of Jesus. He obviously wants us to see a deeper meaning in the event – “He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true and he knows that he tells the truth” (Jn 19:35). The evangelist is insisting on three things: his vision (he saw), the need for him to communicate it to others (he testified), and the intended result (that you may believe). So what is it that he saw and is testifying to? “When the stream came out of Jesus’ side, John saw three things combined in the one vision: the sacrificial death of Jesus; his being taken up by the Father; and his glorification as the Christ.” To further lead us to the deeper meaning of this episode, the evangelist presents the piercing as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah – Exodus 12:46, “no bones of his will be broken,” and Zechariah 12:10, “they will look on him whom they have pierced.”
In summary, the fourth evangelist, through the episode of the piercing of Jesus’ side is teaching us that “life came to birth on the cross and so he bears witness to this so that our believing hearts will benefit from it. He saw not only blood and water but the communication of the Holy Spirit. The water from Jesus’ side mixed with the blood of his spent love is in fact the water of life for us. From John’s point of view we see here ‘water and spirit’ which brings about a new birth for those who believe.”
“But from the adorable Heart, torn by the lance,
from which life had gone, another life appeared for us.
The Word, coming from the Heart of His Father,
made the world emerge from nothing,
and from the Heart of the incarnate Word, pierced on Calvary,
I see a new world emerging.” (Jules Chevalier, MSC)
The theological and biblical foundations give us clear affirmations about the Sacred Heart. First, the Heart of Jesus has a subjective, personal connotation. It refers to the whole interior life of Jesus Christ which is rooted in and unified by love and symbolized by his pierced physical heart. Second, this same pierced heart, pouring out blood and water, is seen objectively in its redemptive role, as the source of all the messianic treasures of salvation.
Motifs from the Patristic Period
H. Rahner argues that it is ‘historically incorrect’ to say that the concept of the Sacred Heart was unknown in the first one thousand years of Christianity. We will now look at these first one thousand years very briefly with Hugo Rahner as our main resource. Rahner’s study reveals during this period, three themes emerged: (1) the living water that flows from Jesus’ breast (Jn 7:37); (2) John, the beloved disciple, who rested on Jesus’ breast (Jn 13:23-25); and (3) the birth of the Church from the side of Christ (Jn 19:34).
The living water, the Spirit, that flows from Heart of Christ
The first theme is seen in Justin Martyr and in his followers who read John 7:37-39 to mean that the Spirit will flow from the Messiah’s heart. St Justin Martyr, who offered his life for Christ about 165 CE sees Jesus as ‘the Rock’ from whom the ‘living waters flow’ to those who desire it. He says, “We even rejoice as we die for the name of that noble Rock…who proffers the waters of life to those desiring it.” St Irenaeus (140-160 to c 202) echoes the teaching of Justin on this theme and so does St Hippolytus of Rome (c170-c 230). In his Commentary on the Book of Daniel the following text is found: “Christ is the current of living waters and he is preached throughout by the four gospels. Flowing thus in the entire earth, he sanctifies all who believe in him. To this the prophet gave witness by the words: ‘Streams of water will flow from his body’.”
John 7:37-39 was read in another way and given another meaning by Origen. His reading (i.e. the living waters flow from the heart of the believer), actually becomes the more popular reading of the text. Some of his followers were St Ambrose (339-387), St Augustine (354-430), St Cyril of Jerusalem (350-387), St Cyril of Alexandria (?-444), St Gregory of Nyssa (334-394), and St Jerome (345-420). H. Rahner notes that “even in the interpretation which owes its general acceptance to Origen, and which sees the waters streaming from the interior of the believer, the interior of our Lord is ultimately the source at which the heart of the believer is sated.” It is not surprising then that St Ambrose, one of his followers, has written the following prayer exulting Jesus as the ‘fount of living water’:
Drink of Christ, for he is the rock, from which the water springs,
Drink of Christ, for he is the fountain of life.
Drink of Christ, for he is the stream whose torrent brought joy to the city of God.
Drink of Christ, for he is Peace.
Drink of Christ, for streams of living water flow from his body.
John, the beloved disciple, leaning on Jesus’ breast
Origen is also recognized as the originator of reflections on John 13:23, the beloved disciple reclining close to Jesus during the last supper. This is the second theme that we inherit from our Patristic sources. In the account of the last supper, after Jesus told his disciples that one of them will betray him, we read “One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him.”(Jn 13:23) Origen, whose asceticism is permeated by Greek spiritualism, started to speak of the Heart of Christ as “the Hegemonikon, the innermost self, the source of thoughts and of wisdom.” He then presents to us the apostle John as ‘the prototype of the gnostically illumined man’ who drinks “from the Heart of hearts the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Among those who followed Origen’s reflections on this theme were St Augustine (354-430), St Paulinus of Nola (354-431) St Gregory of Nyssa (330-395) and St Gregory the Great (540-604). St Gregory the Great gives us a summary of the teachings of his predecessors saying “At the table of the paschal mystery, he rested at the eternal font of life, on the bosom of the Saviour. Drawing in the uninterrupted streams of heavenly doctrine, he was filled with divine and mysterious revelations so that his spirit, raised up, contemplated, and his evangelical voice proclaimed: ‘In the beginning was the Word.”
The birth of the Church from Jesus’ pierced side
“Both dogmatically and historically, the vision of the Church proceeding from the Heart of our Lord was the fundamental notion of the early Christians on the subject of the Sacred Heart.” Following Pauline thought, the early Fathers saw Christ as the new Adam (1 Cor 15:45) and saw the Church as the new Eve (Eph 5:29-30). Just as Eve was formed from the side of Adam while he was asleep (Gen 2:21), they began to think of the new Eve (the Church) as being formed from the side of the new Adam (Christ) while he was asleep in death. This idea is connected with the episode of the piercing of Jesus’ side in John 19 where ‘blood and water’ flow. Blood and water were read symbolically, blood for the Eucharist and water for Baptism, two major sacraments of the Church, and therefore symbols of the Church herself.
This idea is clear in Tertullian (160-230) who says “If Adam was a type of Christ, then the sleep of Adam was a type of the sleep of Christ, who slept in death in order that, through a similar cleaving of his side, the true mother of the living might be formed, namely, the Church.” In reality, the idea that the Church was born from the side of Christ is as old as St Ignatius of Antioch (110). It is also in Clement of Alexandria (150-217), in Origen, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Augustine and others.
Notice that during the Patristic period, the reflections on what would later be identified as Sacred Heart devotion were done almost exclusively by theologians who saw the Heart of Christ “objectively, in its redemptive role, as the source of all the messianic treasures of salvation.” H. Rahner can therefore say that “The whole history of patristic teaching on the wound in Christ’s side can be summed up in the single formula: fons vitae.”
This does not mean though that there was totally no reflection on the ‘subjective, personal connotations’ of the Heart of Christ. Even during the Patristic period, some Fathers had already started to reflect on the sentiments of Jesus’ heart. One example is “the great doctor of the heart…St Augustine” who puts the following in Jesus’ mouth “My Heart is ready, Lord, my Heart is ready. What has been done to me? A ditch has been dug for me. Even while they have prepared pot-holes for my feet, could I have done other than prepare my Heart for acceptance?…Could my Heart have done other than become ready for suffering?” With these dramatic, emotional reflections on the sentiments of the Heart of Christ, the stage is ready for the mystics of the Middle Ages.
Sacred Heart Devotion in the Middle Ages 
The Middle Ages, primarily owing to the ‘medieval temperament’, rediscovered the personal dispositions of Jesus’ Heart. Christians started to meditate on the reason behind the salvation that Jesus offered and saw that it was love. They realized that the motivation behind the birth of the Church from the side of Christ is love. “The treasures of salvation from the pierced Heart of the Crucified were seen as gifts of the personal love of the Redeemer’s Heart. It was a vision that spontaneously and inevitably spurred men (and women) on to a true devotion, which meant a personal return of love for this gift.”
The Sacred Heart was not an invention of the Middle Ages. Studies of the medieval forms of the devotion show that these leaned heavily on patristic traditions. In spite of this vital dependence, it developed the patristic heritage into its particular medieval forms. Josef Stierli sees three forces that led to this development. First was the contemplation of Christ, practiced with much emotion especially in the German speaking countries, which led to a profound understanding of the love and suffering of our Lord’s interior life. This explains the widespread practice of meditation on the Passion. Second, is the devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, considered to be the most loving gift of the Heart of Jesus; and third, the effect of mysticism which deepened and extended the cult of the Sacred Heart.
As the devotion moved to the hands of monks and nuns, it also took new forms. The most important form of expression was prayer. Hundreds of prayers, fruits of personal experiences and mystical graces, were composed. The devotion was also expressed through poems, hymns and plays. Nearing the end of the period, we also saw the beginning of the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart. With the prayers, poems, hymns and celebrations also came pictorial representations. “The medieval picture of the Sacred Heart is, like the medieval devotion, strongly influenced by the mystery of the Passion, and indeed grew out of this mystery: it shows the opened Heart of our Lord, surrounded by thorns, surmounted by a glowing cross, and encircled by flames.” A few examples of thoughts and experiences from the Middle Ages follow.
Early Middle Ages
The early Middle Ages was a period of transition and St Anselm of Canterbury (+1109), St Bernard of Clairvaux (+1153) and St Lutgard of St Trond (+1246) were among the personalities of this time. “St Anselm speaks of Jesus as dulcis (sweet or dear)” and St Bernard writes “The secret of his Heart lies visible through the clefts of his body; visible too the great mystery of his love, and the bowels of his mercy.” A third example from this period is St Lutgard of St Trond, a Cistercian nun who had the first recorded vision of the Sacred Heart. She was also given the gift of understanding the Latin psalms but she complained to the Lord and so the Lord asked her what it was she wanted. She said ‘I want your heart’ and after some exchange of words, the Lord exchanged their hearts!
The Great Mystics
The very strong emphasis on the mystery of the Passion, the Crusades, and the deep emotional meditations on the suffering of Christ all helped promote the development of the medieval devotion to the Sacred Heart, a devotion whose object was the suffering, wounded Heart which calls for a return of love. We enter the period of the great mystics and the leading roles were taken by the Franciscans, the women of Helfta, and the Dominicans.
Among the Franciscans, we have St Bonaventure (+1274) who wrote in The Soul’s Journey to God “The Heart I have found is the Heart of my King and Lord, of my Brother and Friend, the most loving Jesus….I say without hesitation that his Heart is also mine.” The second group of mystics were the nuns from the Cistercian monastery at Helfta. Among the women in this monastery, we have three who were “great promoters of the devotion to the Sacred Heart,” Mechthild of Magdeburg (+1285), St Mechthild of Hackeborn (+1298) and St Gertrude the Great (+1302), the best known of the three. The writings of St Gertrude in Latin have been preserved including the Messenger of Divine Love, a book of meditations and manifestations of Christ to her. The last group, the Dominicans, spoke of the Sacred Heart in terms of their mystical devotion to the Passion and deep devotion to the Blessed Eucharist. An example is St Albert the Great (+1280) who sees the Sacred Heart as “the golden Ark of the Covenant: therein is preserved the manna of grace, which dispenses the Holy Eucharist to us.” St Albert was followed by the Rhineland mystic Meister Eckhart (+1327) and his students John Tauler (+1361) and Blessed Henry Suso (+1366). Also one of the Dominicans is St Catherine of Siena (+1380), a member of the Dominican Third Order. She is said to have been mystically married to Christ, gifted with the stigmata, and in 1370, she too is said to have experienced her heart exchanged with the Lord’s Heart. For Catherine, the open Heart of Jesus is also the source of love where she found charity for the Father and for her neighbours.
The Devotion reaches the Laity
What distinguishes this third period of the Middle Ages from the first two is that during this period, the devotion begins to be shared by the ordinary laity. The beginnings of a liturgical expression of the devotion are also seen. In this time, there were the Carthusians and one of the most famous apostles of the Sacred Heart among them is Ludolf of Saxony (+1377) who wrote “let us hasten to enter into the Heart of Christ: let us gather up all our love and unite it with the divine love.”
“One of the most active centres of the devotion in the tumultuous period of the Reformation was the Charterhouse at Cologne” where the monks not only composed valuable works but also translated the works of the German mystics to Latin, printed them, and made them accessible to the rest of the world. One example would be Justus Landberger (+1539) known as Lanspergius who had the original Latin text of St Gertrude’s Messenger of Divine love printed and made available to a wide circle of readers. Another is Ludwig Blosius (+1566) whose Monile Spirituale, which was translated into most of the languages of the West, was drawn largely from the writings of St Gertrude, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Tauler, Ruysbroeck, and Lanspergius.
The young Society of Jesus also showed a widespread devotion to the Sacred Heart primarily because the Spiritual Exercises led many Jesuits to an “intimate familiarity with the mystery of the Lord’s Heart.” The first explicit expression of devotion to the Heart of Jesus among the Jesuits is that of St Peter Canisius (+1597) who was a friend of the Carthusians at Cologne. On the day of his profession in Rome in 1549, he had a mystical experience where Jesus opened his Heart to him.
Finally, we mention St Francis de Sales (+1622) who founded the Order of the Visitation. St Francis, inspired by the Spiritual Exercises, was completely penetrated with the mystery of the Sacred Heart. In 1610, he wrote to St Jane Frances de Chantal “For truly our congregation is the work of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The dying Saviour has given birth to us in the opening of his Sacred Heart.” This then brings us to the modern times, the time of St Margaret Mary to the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Devotion spreads to the Universal Church
Just before the time when Margaret Mary Alacoque receives her visions, we will see that the devotion was still fostered by the older religious orders. The focal point of the devotion to the Sacred Heart shifts from Germany to France, thanks to the influence of Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle (+1629) and his followers and the zealous activities of St John Eudes. During these modern times, “the main line of development (was) the transition from the merely private practice of the devotion to its adoption into the public prayer of the Church.”
St John Eudes (+1680), called by Pius X as the “initiator, teacher and apostle of the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” composed Masses in honour of the Sacred Heart. Three years before the visions of Margaret Mary, he already celebrated in his own communities his first Mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart for which he received Church approval. The founder of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary (Eudists) and the Good Shepherd Sisters, St John “devoted himself to establishing a solid theological basis for devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which he saw in intimate union.” For many years, his writings were practically unknown. It was only in 1826, as his congregation was re-established, that efforts were made to recover his printed and manuscript works. For him, the Trinity lives in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He writes, “Consider that the Eternal Father is in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, bringing to birth His Well-beloved Son… Consider that the Eternal Word is in that royal Heart, united with it in the most intimate union imaginable, the hypostatic union…Consider that the Holy Ghost lives and reigns ineffably in the Heart of Jesus, where He conceals the infinite treasures of the knowledge and the wisdom of God.” 
St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), who had visions of the Sacred Heart from 1673 to 1675, is said to hold “the most distinguished place among those who fostered the devotion.” Unlike the many mystical visions which preceded hers, Margaret Mary’s visions at Paray-le-Monial did not center upon a personal grace for her own growth in holiness but rather upon a mission to the Church. From her visions, we have the external forms of the devotion that we know to this day: the first Friday Mass and Communion of Reparation, the Thursday Holy Hour, the Liturgical Feast of the Sacred Heart on the first Friday after Corpus Christi, and the emphasis on consecration and reparation.
It would not be right to claim that Margaret Mary single-handedly fulfilled her mission of spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart to the universal Church. Even before her death, she had the help of Claude de la Colombière (1641-1682), her spiritual director.
After de la Columbière’s death, two other Jesuits continued this mission, Fr Jean Croiset and Fr Joseph François Galliffet. The message of Paray-le-Monial spread far and wide even without official Church approval. In 1765 Rome finally gave its blessing on the cause of St Margaret Mary by approving the Mass and Office of the Sacred Heart, first for Poland and later for the Order of the Visitation. In 1856, Pope Pius IX extended the feast of the Sacred Heart to the universal Church and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the whole world to the Sacred Heart. By this time, the devotion to the Sacred Heart has become public and official.
It was also at this time that many congregations bearing the name of the Sacred Heart were founded and given the mission to help spread the devotion. Just a cursory reading of the directory of religious congregations in Italy showed twelve congregations of men (ten of which were founded in the 1800s) and 80 congregations of women (41 of which were founded from 1800 to 1900) with ‘Sacred Heart’ in their titles. Most of these are missionary congregations and they brought the devotion with them to their mission areas throughout the world.
With the coming of modernity and the continued increase in secularism in society, devotion to the Sacred Heart began to wane and lose its appeal. Continuing the work of his predecessors, Pope Pius XI, in 1928, wrote the first encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Misserentissimus Redemptor, which dealt with reparation due to the Sacred Heart. In 1956, to celebrate the centennial of the extension of the feast to the universal Church, Pope Pius XII wrote the second encyclical on the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas. Karl Rahner praises the document for its “comprehensive treatment of the subject.” Aside from its contents, it is also important to take note of the background against which the encyclical was written. E J Cuskelly, MSC says “to see its real import, we must read the Encyclical in the light of the attitudes and discussions which had preceded its writing…the Encyclical was a reply to an attitude of mind held by many and expressed by not a few, that devotion to the Sacred Heart had outlived its utility, that it was not suited to the spirit of our days; it was not adapted to the modern mentality.” Two years after the publication of the encyclical, Pope Pius XII died and a new Pope was elected, Pope John XXIII. A few months after his election, he announced his intention to call a General Council of the Church and in October 1962, he opened the Second Vatican Council and “threw open the windows of the Church” and so began the Church’s aggiornamento.
Vatican II and the Period of Renewal
The spirituality of Pope John XXIII had always been centred on the Heart of Christ and the Eucharist. But even his intense devotion to the Heart of Christ did not arrest the devotion’s continuing decline. With Vatican II’s more optimistic view on universal salvation and its focus on biblical and liturgical reforms, more and more Christians lost interest in devotion to the Sacred Heart with its “repellent pictorial representations…heavy emphasis on feelings…stress on the physical heart…dubious use of the promises.” Yet, in spite of the unattractiveness of the forms of the devotion, “there was widespread feeling” that there is ‘something precious’ in the devotion that should not be lost and so efforts to root and renew the devotion were made.
First, let us acknowledge the contribution of Hugo and Karl Rahner. Both of them wrote their doctoral dissertation on the patristic theology of Jesus’ Heart and both of them wrote numerous publications on this theme. We have been quoting many of their writings in this article. Hugo Rahner clearly established the biblical basis of the devotion and put in order its roots in patristic sources. Karl Rahner, on the other hand, who wrote in the area of speculative theology and spirituality “has made his choice not to find new words but to create new meanings for traditional terms. When Rahner speaks of the Heart of Christ as a symbol of the person of Christ, of God’s love incarnate, he means nothing romantic or naïve, but rather the realism of the cross. When he speaks of devotion to the Sacred Heart, he means nothing connected to sentimentality or piosity, but rather an aspect of spirituality grounded in Christology and ecclesiology.”
Second, we take note of Vatican II’s contribution. In the documents of Vatican II, there are two references to Jesus being “meek and humble of heart” and two references to the birth of the Church from the side of Christ. These references express traditional doctrine. There is also the text in Gaudium et Spes #22 – “For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart.” Even this is not expressing anything new. J. Bovenmars, MSC explains that the reference to our hearts is what is new in the Council. In this regard, “the council makes a solemn appeal for a change of heart” and for Bovenmars this is the most important aspect of the aggiornamento promoted by the Council. More specifically, the Council is asking that our hearts become like Christ’s Heart. In appealing for this change of heart, I think the Council was calling for a devotion to the Heart of Christ that is made manifest in our lives, a lived devotion, a Spirituality of the Sacred Heart.
Vatican II also called for the renewal of Religious Life stating very clearly the principles of renewal. “The adaptation and renewal of the religious life includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.” With so many religious congregations of men and women dedicated to the Sacred Heart, I believe the renewal of these congregations inevitably led to the renewal of their understanding and living of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Like most other congregations, my own congregation held a renewal chapter and revised its Constitutions. In preparation for these two big tasks, my sisters went back to Scripture, the congregation’s early history, the lives and writings of the Founder, the first Superior General and the early sisters. They also reflected on their contemporary context. The congregation’s charism, spirituality and mission were clarified. Thanks to the renewal efforts of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, a ‘new language’ evolved together with new forms of speaking about and fulfilling the mission of making the Sacred Heart everywhere loved. They spoke less and less of ‘devotion to the Sacred Heart’ and spoke more and more of living a ‘Spirituality of the Heart.’ What was passed on to the current generation is the product of this renewal.
The Sacred Heart Today
Today, 50 years after the opening of Vatican II, the call for renewal is again being heard. It is a call to believe more strongly in the love of God and to love more radically. Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est says “Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.”
In 2012, Pope Benedict opened the Year of Faith and a few months after he resigned, paving the way for exciting changes in the Church. A new Pope was elected and he took the name Francis. This Pope considers the “Sacred Heart of Jesus as the highest human expression of divine love” and “the ultimate symbol of God’s mercy.” He says that forgiveness and life for all flow from the Heart of Jesus. He clarifies that the mercy of Jesus is not just a sentiment but a force that gives life. He speaks of the Lord’s compassion as ‘mercy,’ as the attitude of God in the face of human misery, poverty, suffering and anguish. For him, the fruit of this compassion, this mercy, this love, is LIFE. With Pope Francis there is much hope for newness in the Church and change is indeed happening.
Karl Rahner had predictions about devotion to the Sacred Heart. He said the future will be a time of massive atheism and secularization; the devotion will not return anymore to being a popular devotion but it will be a grace that given to only a small group. It will have a completely different form. He spoke of the priest of the future as one with a pierced heart. Today, the Church is still being wounded by the sexual abuse scandal. Not only the priest has a pierced heart, the Church itself is one whose heart is pierced. In the world in general there is much suffering due to financial crises, political instability, endless wars, massive poverty and natural calamities that have become more destructive due to climate change. Have the predictions of Rahner come true? What is the place of devotion to the Sacred Heart in the world today? Does it have a place? I believe it does, but only if it is a living devotion-spirituality-mission.
The Sacred Heart: Devotion-Spirituality-Mission
To conclude, I would like to propose a biblical triptych. I am borrowing the idea from JF Lescrauwaet, MSC who explains that “the word ‘triptych’…refers to an ancient practice of some painters and woodcarvers. In order to give expression to the intrinsic connection between separate happenings in the history of God’s dealings with men, they painted or carved the separate events on three inter-connected panels. In this way, they invited viewers to ponder not only on the events but also the link between them so that they would have a comprehensive view of the whole.” I am convinced that a spirituality of the heart grows out of devotion and leads to mission. This three-fold movement (devotion-spirituality-mission) is the framework that guided me in choosing the panels for this biblical triptych.
Devotion: An Encounter with Jesus
The first movement is an encounter, a relationship with the person of Jesus. It is an experience of the love of Jesus for the person. In this encounter, Jesus takes the initiative, He offers an invitation. This invitation is heard in John 7:37-39, the text for the first panel of the triptych –“‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink!’ As scripture says, ‘from his heart shall flow streams of living water.’ He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive.” A similar invitation is heard in Matthew 11:28-30 -“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Note that the invitation presumes that the person who is invited realizes that he/she is ‘thirsty’ or is ‘weary or heavily burdened.’ For EJ Cuskelly, MSC, this is the first element in living a Spirituality of the Heart – “We have to go down to the depths of our own soul in a realization of our profound personal needs of life, of love and of meaning.” In this context of ‘thirst’ we hear Christ’s invitation to come to him and find our dwelling in his heart, a heart meek and humble, a heart that gives life. This brings us to Cuskelly’s second element – “we must find, through faith and reflection, the answer to our own questioning, in the Heart of Christ” for there we drink of the ‘rivers of living water’ and we find life, and love, and meaning. We also remember that this devotion carries with it a challenge: the ‘rivers of living water’ flowing from the heart of Christ is also expected to flow from our own hearts. In being invited to come to Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, we are also challenged to see and be like those who, like Jesus, are lowly. For this to happen, it is important that the encounter with Jesus is not just a one-time thing. It is in fact a relationship that has to be sustained and nourished. The devotion has to become a spirituality, and this leads to the second panel.
Spirituality: Contemplation of the Pierced One
The second and central panel is the frame of contemplation. In this panel we have the key scriptural text of the Sacred Heart tradition – John 19:34-37, “they will look on him whom, they have pierced.” As we contemplate the Pierced One on the cross, we see the depth of the Father’s love for us. We see Jesus, the Incarnate Word, loving us to the end and in his death and glorification, sharing with us the treasures of his Heart. As we look upon his side and see blood and water flow, we see the Spirit being given to us, we see ourselves not alone but part of a community of believers, the Church, the new world that emerged from his side. It is within the context of this community of believers, that the spirituality is lived and the mission is fulfilled. Cuskelly’s third element refers to that development when “our own heart will be an understanding heart, open to, feeling for, and giving to our brothers and sisters in Christ” – when our hearts have truly become like his and the devotion has become a lived spirituality.
Mission: Loving like He does
Contemplation of Jesus pierced on Calvary inevitably brings us to the third panel, the panel of mission. We reflect on John 21:15-19, that poignant conversation between the Risen Christ and Peter:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
I found Cuskelly’s reading of this text both enlightening and challenging so I would like to share it here. He says that this text teaches us what kind of love God asks of Peter, the same kind of love that he also asks of each of us.
If we want to appreciate this lesson fully, we need to recall the type of man Peter was – sure of himself, confident that he was loyal to the Lord. He believed so much in the strength of his own love that he assured his Master: ‘I will lay down my life for you’ (John 13:37)…When his time came, Peter’s failure was worse than that of any of his companions…Now, after his resurrection, Jesus wants to be assured of Peter’s love, not a love that is proud and self-confident, but the love of a heart that is humble, purified through failure and regret….
Running through the whole exchange is a very instructive play on words…for love…the Greek uses two (words): agapan – philein. In the Septuagint, agapan has a technical meaning indicating a consecration to God which expresses itself in total fidelity and obedience. Less strong is the word philein which, however, signifies a true and deep human attachment.
Against the background of Peter’s call, his confident declaration of love and his denial, this passage…becomes very rich and humanly beautiful. With all these things in both their minds, Jesus says to Peter: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me (agapas) with a strong and faithful love, more than these others do?’ St Peter will no longer compare himself with others. And he can not, he dare not, assert that his love is strong or that it will be faithful. Therefore he uses a different word for love, replying simply and humbly ‘Yes Lord, you know that in my weak human heart, I have a deep affection for you (philo).’ Our Lord notes the omission of any reference to others, and the second time he asks: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me (agapas)?’ Even on this second occasion, invited to it though he may be, Peter cannot bring himself to repeat the strong word suggested by Jesus. He simply repeats his philo, reasserting his human affection for his Lord, and suggesting that ‘only you know how strong and faithful it will be, for only you can give it strength’. For Jesus, this is sufficient; it is even necessary, for a love that is self-confident, sure of itself, is bound to fail. The only love that can endure is the love that, conscious of its human weakness, looks to God for strength….
In his third question, Jesus himself changes to Peter’s word for love – phileis – asking ‘Simon son of John, do you really have in your heart this deep human affection for me?’ At this Peter is upset – could Jesus really call into doubt the depth of his human friendship? Weak though it might be, it was deep and authentic. And so he replies: ‘Lord you know all things; you know that my friendship is real, although without your help, it will remain a weak and human love.’ And Jesus is satisfied. He confirms Peter in his mission to care for the flock of Christ, reminding him that he must always remember that they are ‘my sheep’ those for whom he had died, and towards whom the shepherds must show the same tender compassion as Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Our mission is to respond to the commandment of Jesus to love as he did. It is in our mission, especially with the poor, that we come face to face with our own inadequacy. In mission, we realize that what we can do is very little compared to what has to be done. We experience helplessness and hopelessness. In such situations, only a firm belief in the love of God can keep us going. This takes us to Cuskelly’s last element for a Spirituality of the Heart – “We will not be dis-heartened or discouraged in the face of difficulties. We follow Christ who ‘loved with a human heart’…he shared our humanness that we might know that over us all is the everlasting love of the Father…It is this love in which we have learned to believe.” This realization of our weakness and dependence on the love of God brings us back to the first panel of our triptych, Jesus’ invitation to come to him to drink of the rivers of life-giving water, the Spirit.
Today, I believe the devotion to the Sacred Heart continues to live, not only as devotion but as spirituality and as mission. For our religious family, Mary, Our Lady of the Sacred, is a model and companion is this living tradition. Pope Benedict XVI describes Mary’s love as “pure and not self-seeking” and says that such love is possible because it is the result “of the most intimate union with God…a condition which enables those who have drunk from the fountain of God’s love to become in their turn a fountain from which ‘flow rivers of living water.’” This Sacred Heart devotion-spirituality-mission, I believe, is being deepened and is growing, in many present day congregations, in religious men and women, and in lay groups connected with them. Although it is not and may never be again a ‘popular devotion,’ the Sacred Heart (devotion, spirituality, and mission) is, I believe, not just for a few.
Dear Reader, you and I have finally reached the end of this article. Outside, there are many who hunger for the warmth of the furnace of God’s love – victims of natural and man-made calamities, victims of violence and war, victims of selfishness and greed. It is now time to share the good news anew and, with our words and deeds, proclaim “the Word was made Heart and it beats among us.”
 The Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (FDNSC), an international missionary congregation founded by Jules Chevalier, MSC in Issoudun France in 1874. It is part of a worldwide religious family that takes its roots in Fr Chevalier (now called the Chevalier Family). Other members of the Chevalier Family are the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) founded in 1854; the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC Sisters) founded in 1900; and the Laity of the Chevalier Family (organizations of lay people associated with any of the three congregations). Other religious congregations founded by MSCs through the years in their mission areas are also part of the Chevalier Family.
 Bernard SJ, in the mid 1970s recounts ‘we – 14 or 15 Fathers – come together each month to ‘re-think’ the ‘spirituality of the Sacred Heart.’… The ‘we’ consists of a small group of Fathers, all belonging to Congregations with a special interest in the spirituality of the Sacred Heart, i.e. the Jesuits, and all the Congregations devoted to the Sacred Heart, and those who, according to their Constitutions, must propagate this spirituality.” Bernard, SJ, “The Spirituality of the Sacred Heart” in FDNSC Resource Material (Toowoomba:Australian Province, 1977) 219
See also Annice Callahan who speaks about a ‘Spirituality of the Pierced Heart’ for her Congregation, the Religious of the Sacred Heart. Annice Callahan, RSCJ, Appendix to Karl Rahner’s Spirituality of the Pierced Heart: A Reinterpretation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart (Lanham: University Press of America, 1985),140-149
 Philip Endean, SJ, “Karl Rahner and the Heart of Christ,” Philip Endean’s Webpages, accessed November 15, 2013, http://www.philipendean.dreamhosters.com/publication, 1. This article was originally published in The Month, 30 (1997), 357-363.
 Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, Encyclical on Devotion to the Sacred Heart (Vatican Website), accessed November 15, 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy-father/pius-xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_15051956_haurietis-aquas_en.html, 19
 Joseph Ratzinger, “The Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” in Towards a Civilization of Love: A Symposium on the Scriptural and Theological Foundations of the Devotion to the Heart of Jesus ( San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985) 146
Karl Rahner, “Some Theses for a Theology of Devotion to the Sacred Heart” in Heart of the Savior: A Symposium on Devotion to the Sacred Heart, ed Josef Stierli (Freiburg, Germany:Herder and Co. GMBH,1957) 133
Ibid, 137 Rahner does not agree with specifying a material and formal object of the devotion. He says it separates the heart and the person of the Lord too much, K Rahner, in Heart of the Saviour,138.
 Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, Encyclical on Christian Love (Vatican Website), accessed November 15, 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus_caritas_est_en.html, 1
 S. Lyonett, SJ, referring to Jn 19:34-37 says “I think it is the text which reveals to us most fully and most profoundly just what is and what must be the devotion to the Sacred Heart, for it reveals to us the Heart of our Lord.” “The Sacred Heart and the Bible” in FDNSC Resource Material, 211 See also E. Malatesta, SJ who says “Here we have the most fundamental text of scripture on devotion to the Sacred Heart.”, “The Heart of Christ and the heart of Man” in FDNSC Resource Material, 248
 Even today, the meaning of this text is unclear because the punctuation of Jesus’ pronouncement is unclear and allows for at least two possible interpretations. The New Jerusalem Bible (1990) follows what is called the Ephesian reading where the scripture citation refers to the Messiah from whose heart the streams of living water will flow. This reading, found in Justin and Irenaeus is the one endorsed by H. Rahner. The other reading is the one supported by the Latin tradition and by people like Origen, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine. The new American Bible (1970) follows it. Here, the text seems to mean that it is from the believer that the living water will flow. The New Revised Standard Version (1999) interestingly uses the Ephesian punctuation but follows the Origen interpretation. Obviously, there is still no agreement as to what the correct interpretation of this text is. Could it be that the evangelist intentionally made it vague so that the text is open to either or bothinterpretations?
For what the author himself calls a “long and complex” study of this theme, see Monsignor Jorge Mejia, “Born from the Side of Christ: An Orientation for the one Church” in Towards a Civilization of Love, 101- 143
What follows is a summary of Josef Stierli, “Devotion to the Sacred Heart from the end of the Patristic times down to St Margaret Mary,” in Heart of a Saviour, 59-107. His own summary of the whole period is found on pages 103-107. Some additional information and quotations from the mystics of the middle ages come from Aumann, Devotion to the Heart of Jesus, 40-127
 This section is based on Josef Stierli, “The Development of the Church’s Devotion to the Sacred Heart in Modern Times,” in Heart of the Saviour, 109-130 and Aumann, Devotion to the Heart of Jesus, 103-164.
 E J Cuskelly, The Sacred Heart of Jesus According to Fr Jules Chevalier, MSC and Pope Pius XII: A comparison of the doctrine on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus contained in the writings of Father Founder and in Haurietis Aquas of Pope Pius XII, 50th Anniversary of the death of Father Jules Chevalier, 1957; unpublished
 Callahan asserts that “Rahner’s development of thought in the last 20 years about devotion to the Sacred Heart is a significant contribution to theology. Callahan, Karl Rahner’s Spirituality of the Pierced Heart,114
 Pope Francis, “June 9, 2013 Angelus address,” accessed on Novenber 15, 2013, http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/2313/pope-francis-reflects-on-the-sacred The succeeding quotes come from the same message.
 Ibid, Prologue, Fr Lescrauwaet suggested the following biblical texts for his triptych, the first panel of the piercing on the cross (Jn 19:33-37); the second panel is the revelation to Thomas (Jn 20:26-29); and the third panel is the river through the city street (Rev 22:1-4). In this article, I would like to suggest a different set of biblical texts for the triptych.