Last week, we offered extracts from my upcoming book regarding the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This week we simply follow with another extract continuing from before:
There are many aspects of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, but I should like now to focus on the simple fact of the symbol of the Sacred Heart itself: the image with His Blazing Heart, implanted with the Cross and encircled by the Crown of Thorns.
We noted earlier how the Sacred Heart had first presented itself to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in this visual and symbolic fashion, a way that revealed both the infinite, blazing love of that Heart – and yet its very personal capacity to remain continuously wounded by sin of the world. And to this, we would append these further words from Ven. Pius XII:
‘In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign … of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.’
This sign, this symbol of the Sacred Heart – how prominent it once was across the whole of Catholic culture!
We Anglophones who have been surrounded by a culture of predominantly Protestant heritage are less likely to be conscious of this visual tradition – unless we have spent significant time, say, in France, Ireland or the Latin American countries.
But in the Catholic world, imagery of the Sacred Heart might have seemed almost omnipresent not so very long ago. Indeed a visitor to France today can still find it, not only in countless church windows, but also on weather-beaten wayside crosses with the Heart centrally displayed, statues of Jesus, decorative motifs with the Cor Jesu repeated endlessly and the like.
But in the Catholic France which has now been all-but-eradicated, there would have been still further innumerable forms of imagery: prayer cards, magazines, posters, scapulars as well as images enthroned in an incalculable number French homes, besides.
Now this vast diffusion of the image of the Sacred Heart is likewise related to the Devotional practices instituted by Saint Margaret Mary. In this context, let us cite another Nineteenth century biographer of Margaret Mary George Tickell SJ who reports:
Margaret Mary mentions also the pleasure, which our Divine Lord said He took in seeing His Sacred Heart visibly represented, in order that the hearts of men might be touched and powerfully drawn to Him by the cords of His Sacred Humanity.
“He assured me besides,” she says, “that He took a singular pleasure in being honoured under the representation of this Heart of flesh, in order, He added, to touch the insensible hearts of men. And He promised me that He would shed in abundance on all who should honour It all the treasures of grace with which It is filled. Wherever this image shall be exposed for special veneration it shall draw down upon the spot every kind of blessing [Emphasis mine]”
And let us turn our attention to a letter by Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque to her superior Mother Saumaise, where she speaks of the desire of Our Lord:
He wants you to have shields made with the image of His Sacred Heart, so that all those who wish pay homage to Him can place it in their homes; and also to make smaller ones for people to carry with them [Emphasis mine].
And in another letter of 24th August 1685, the Saint of Paray writes:
He takes great pleasure in being honoured by His creatures. He … seemed to promise …that all those who are devoted to this Sacred Heart will never perish and that, since He is the source of all blessings, He will shower them in abundance on every place where an image of this loving heart shall be exposed to be loved and honoured. By this means He will reunite broken families and assist and protect those in any necessity [Emphasis mine].
And from 1685, let us now turn to 1907.
For something happened in that year, once again in Paray-le-Monial, which is relevant to everything which concerns us here. And we have already mentioned it earlier in these pages, when we related how the Peruvian Father Mateo Crawley Boevey (of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary) had become gravely ill. Yet one night in Paray-le-Monial he found himself instantly healed.
For on the 24th August 1907, he was in the Chapel of the Apparitions at Paray-le-Monial and this is what he tells us:
I prayed, and suddenly I felt within myself a strange shock. I was struck by a blow of grace, at the same time very strong, yet infinitely gentle. When I arose, I was completely cured. Then, kneeling in the sanctuary, absorbed in an act of thanksgiving, I understood what Our Lord wished of me. That very evening I conceived the plan to reconquer the world home by home, family by family for the love of the Heart of Jesus.
Thus it was that Father Mateo Crawley Boevey came to the inspiration of consecrating the home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Now, this consecration usually involves one’s parish priest blessing the home and the image of the heart of Jesus being placed centrally therein- following, of course, the Revelation to Saint Margaret Mary that the image of His Heart should be placed in the home.
Here is the Enthronement to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which enflamed the now-healed heart of Father Mateo Crawley Boevey. And so it happened that throughout the world, the heart of Jesus began to be enthroned in home after home after home.
Perhaps this occurred nowhere more than in Ireland, where the tradition became deeply implanted within Irish culture.
How I recall living in Ireland and being deeply moved by this Irish tradition of the image of the Sacred Heart centrally placed in the home with the votive lamp beside it, ever burning.
Indeed, I recall an elderly Irish lady explaining to me that when she had a new home built in the 1970s or 80s perhaps, it had then been standard practice of the builders to ask the client: where do you want the fitting for your votive lamp to the Sacred Heart?
O Ireland, how you were – until even recently – so receptive to, so penetrated by, so blessed by the Heart of the Saviour.
But Ireland, how you are now in grave danger of losing your sacred traditions …
But in the present chapter, we are not concerned with the serious menace threatening the Irish soul.
Here it is a matter of simply reporting that a tradition has been established over the last centuries – a tradition beginning with Saint Margaret Mary in Paray-le-Monial and continued by Father Mateo Crawley Bovey following his healing in Paray-le-Monial – and that tradition involves ensuring that the Image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is as widely dispersed and is as widely known as possible …