Heart of the Redeemer by Timothy T. O’Donnell (Review)

 

Heart of the Redeemer - Timothy T. O'Donnell

Heart of the Redeemer by Timothy T. O’Donnell

This is a great and important book – a comprehensive scholarly work on the Sacred Heart, which is also filled with moving faith and reverence.

That is to say, this book is rare in combining a remarkable level of scholarship with real piety and beauty! Alas, too often these two orientations are not united!

For there are pious books filled with genuine devotion to God, yet written with such a degree of simplification and excess, that I have trouble being sure the the scholarship is sound.

Then there are dry academic texts, whose authors, I am sure, are well versed in exegesis, dogmatics and more, but who seem to have forgot that God exists!

I am very happy to say then, that Dr O’Donnell is clearly a scholar, yet possessed with faith and heart. He is in fact the long-time president of Christendom College in Virginia (a fact that makes me only more interested in the clear, good work of that institution!)

Still, it is not difficult for me to imagine certain people mistaking the author’s pious approach for something lightweight. I can only pray that such folk may persist. Many sections of this book will repay careful study and re-reading.

At least, I have found a great depth indeed, more than perhaps immediately meets the eye. Moreover, this is a volume, which is the result of a serious sense of mission or vocation.

As the author himself writes:

It was only after a great deal of serious reflection that I decided to write this book, which is an outgrowth of studies begun in the Angelicum in Rome in 1978.

I chose to write on the loving Heart of our Lord because I believe the devotion to be of vital importance today … I firmly believe that the spirituality fostered by this devotion can best meet the spiritual needs of our age.

It is a practical form of spirituality which emphasizes famialiaritis cum Christo … in an age which is characterized by an increasingly hostile secularization, a spirituality which centers on love and aims at setting the world on fire is precisely what is needed to instaurare omnia in Christo.

The moral seriousness in these words is borne out by the text itself. For here is a wealth of abundance – the clear evidence of years of dedicated research – leading to nothing less than a masterful and comprehensive synthesis in one volume of the theology and history of the Sacred Heart devotion.

There is nothing else like it in English, that I know of. It is then a very key book for this webproject. It also seems to me a necessary work.

Clearly the author felt it necessary. Necessary, for as he explains, there seems to be concerted effort to relegate the devotion to the Sacred Heart to a minor, optional part of the Catholic Faith, partly due to the notion that the devotion stems from nothing more than a private revelation to a cloistered, seventeenth century nun. That is to say, St Margaret Mary in Paray-le-Monial, France.

By contrast, O’Donnell has endeavoured to show that the cult of the Sacred Heart rests on rich and complex scriptural and dogmatic foundations. Not to say, the insight and experience of many a medieval mystic …

What wealth there is here! The author begins with Old Testament reflections on the heart, before moving on to the New Testament, Patristic and Medieval Theology.

Too much is on offer here for me to detail, but to give just one rich example of what I mean, may I say I was particularly helped by a moving contemplation of the passages from the Johannine Gospel, which have served as a foundation over the centuries for the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

This is why, as O’Donnell explains:

The devotion is considered to be of Johannine origin and why the beloved disciple is frequently referred to as the evangelist of our Lord´s heart.

And with these words, the author commences his meditation on the Johannine passages, which, even without explicit mention of the heart of Jesus, have served to foster the cult of the Sacred Heart.

Here then, the author takes us into a beautiful exploration of such distinctively Johannine elements as the Beloved Disciple resting on the breast of the Master, the piercing by the lance from which poured forth both blood and water, and the doubt of Thomas who needed to place his hand in the wounded side …

From these profound roots, the author establishes a rich development through patristic and medieval theology as well as the Jesuits and the French school, which recognising the Grace that poured forth from the wounded side of the Lord as the Grace which established the Church, began to turn ever inward toward the Grace of His Wounded Heart.

Finally of course, our attention is turned toward the Saint of Paray-le-Monial who beheld the Heart of Jesus blazing like the Sun and who received the Mission of establishing the Cult of the Sacred Heart …

From there, O’Donnell continues with the successors to the Saint of Paray, who carried the cult to the ends of the Catholic World. Christendom as even the Popes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries still called it.

And the writings of a number of these Popes is examined in the context of the Cult of the Sacred Heart. And it is here that O’Donnell brings to the fore the concerns mentioned at the outset of his book about the “increasingly hostile secularization of the world”.

For here we hear the oft long-forgotten voices of Popes warning against the dangers of materialism … warning against a climate in which, children – to take just one example – would receive an entirely materialistic education … warning against many other ills that our society reaps today.

And the remedy for these put forth as the solution? The Cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus …Or as Pope Pius XI called it in 1925:

The extraordinary remedy for the extraordinary needs of our time.

And here I would like to make a note regarding the Catholic traditionalism of the author. Here is a scholar working to recall to memory a major aspect of pre-Vatican II Catholicism, perhaps one could even say the beating heart of Tridentine Catholicism itself.

And yet unlike certain Catholic traditionalists, the author shows no hostility to Vatican II or the post-Vatican II magisterium. The book is in fact dedicated – most movingly I find – to the towering figure of that magisterium, with these words:

This work is dedicated to a man who comes from a land deeply committed to the Heart of Christ. He is most certainly a “man of the heart” who radiates the love of Jesus Christ to all men. In him the Lord has truly blessed us all with a “shepard after his own heart. With deep respect and thanksgiving I humbly dedicate this work to our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

Now the man who is presently our Holy Father has recently said that the Tradition must not be frozen in 1962!

Here I would like to proclaim outloud that in O’Donnell we find a beautiful Catholic traditionalism indeed, working to restore and renew that which has been lost; here we find a book that is pious and reverent, whose language and style in fact recalls to my mind certain writers of the pre-Vatican II period and yet whose approach I find open-hearted and expansive and not bitter about the post-Conciliar destruction.

Not bitter … I am sure that O’Donnell laments indeed what has been lost since the Council. But there is a difference between an acrid bitterness, which is always destructive and true lamentation which is creative …

Thus O´Donnell does not spend time in acrimony regarding the post-Vatican II period. Rather he chooses an approach that affirms what is positive therein.

Thus for example he turns to the rich Christological beauty he finds in the Council and the Magisterium which followed it. And he turns to Bl. John Paul II’s teaching on the heart. Here for example are the words:

The whole history of mankind is the history of the need of loving and being loved. … Whatever use humans make of it, the heart – the symbol of friendship and love – has its norms, its ethics. To make room for the heart in the harmonious construction of your personality has nothing to do with mawkishness or even sentimentality.

The heart is the opening of the whole being to the existence of others, the capacity of divining them, of understanding them.Such a sensitiveness true and deep makes one vulnerable.

That is why some people are tempted to get rid of it, by hardening the heart…

Raise your eyes more often towards Jesus Christ! He is the Man who loved most, and most consciously, most, voluntarily and most gratuitously … Contemplate the Man-God, the man with the pierced heart!”

Thus does O’ Donnell a traditional author to be sure, take an approach which honours that which is beautiful in both the pre- and post-Conciliar times …

But before closing this review, there is still one last tribute I must pay O´Donnell. For it seems to me that he has not only studied the devotion to the Sacred Heart in depth – he has also lived it. And the fruits of that living devotion are evident in his book. I have already mentioned the piety in the text, but I find yet another moving quality here, related to piety, yet distinct as well.

And how to name it …?

Perhaps by indicating that there is evident here, not only love of God, but often a tender love of the beauty of human love and emotion, as well.

This is perhaps most striking as the author draws our attention repeatedly to the “holy affectivity” of the Sacred Heart, in writing for example, of the “beautiful manifestations of the deep emotion and love of our Lord´s heart” …

And how shall I conclude this review? It seems to me fitting now to let my own voice recede and close with that belonging to Father John A Hardon SJ, who wrote the foreword to this volume:

Without sound doctrine, devotion becomes sentimentalism or even fanaticism. This is why a book like the present one is so necessary.

It is necessary for those who would dismiss the Sacred Heart devotion as just another, optional form of personal piety … It is necessary for those who may practice the devotion, but without spiritual depth.

They must be awakened to the facts of their faith. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, they need to realise who it is who is speaking with them.

When they recite the Litany of the Sacred Heart, the invocations are addressed to the living Jesus Christ. They speak to Him and He speaks to them. When they make the first nine Fridays, they are receiving the Son of God who became the Son of Mary to make Holy Communion possible. When they worship before the Blessed Sacrament, they are in the presence of the same Jesus Christ who walked the streets of Palestine, worked His miracles of mercy and preached the sermon on the mount …

Not only is devotion to the Sacred Heart not optional, it is absolutely necessary. For the same reason that the love of Christ for us is a necessary premise of our faith, and our love for Christ is a necessary principle of Christian spirituality. This is both the beauty and the awesome conclusion of Heart of the Redeemer.

We believers have no choice. Either we restore devotion to the Heart of Christ as the bedrock of the Christian way of life, or the world will become more and more Christless – and correspondingly Godless – and we shall be held responsible by default, for the secularization that is destroying the materially over-developed society in which we live.

If you would like to buy this book from Amazon US, or Amazon UK click on the relevant link below:-

 

From Amazon US:

These titles can also be found in our Amazon UK store here. There is also a review for each book at these links here: (Heart of the Redeemer) (The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque) (The Autobiography of Saint Margaret Mary) (France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart)

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. Peter Poppleton
    Posted 15 August 2009 at 14:23 | Permalink

    I fully recommend this book for all the reasons stated above. The restoration of the human personality is key to the authentic future of mankind. Truly “what it means to be human” is at the heart of today’s search for authenticity and meaning. The gift of Pope John Paul and the anthropological turn of the Council go to the heart of today’s secularism. May we respond with generous hearts.

  2. roger
    Posted 21 August 2009 at 17:35 | Permalink

    Lovely. Thank you for this beauty. Over the years as I contemplate the situation of the Church, I have become increasingly disturbed by so much that the Council at least helped set in motion. But not the personalism that John Paul carried so very richly forth – words fail for his genius of the heart – this personalism appears to be one of the most beautiful of the fruits of the Church in this troubled time …

  3. Gerard Tango
    Posted 9 January 2017 at 17:57 | Permalink

    excellent book. read substance, not a thin quick tour like that put out by the Jesuits/Sacred Heart League in Chicago.

29 Trackbacks

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