Sacred Heart: Gateway to God by Wendy M. Wright (Book Review)

Sacred Heart - Wendy M. Wright
Sacred Heart: Gateway to God by Wendy M. Wright

‘By the eve of Vatican II, the Sacred Heart had become virtually the defining symbol of Roman Catholicism.’

So writes Wendy M. Wright in this book – and if I may indulge in hyperbole, this sentence alone might be worth the price of the book!

For it invites us to meditate on how and why it is that the Sacred Heart is no longer that defining symbol.

Wright continues:

It had been the standard under which a persecuted church rode out the terrors of the French revolution as well as the standard flown over the late-nineteenth-century church in its reactionary battle against the modern world.

It was the cherished symbol that graced the walls of Irish-American immigrants and the ubiquitous image of Latin American popular devotion.

Then came Vatican II with its shift of focus away from devotions to the common prayer of the liturgy and toward scripture.

The ground out of which the devotion grew ebbed away.

On the contemporary American landscape the Sacred Heart appears to many as an archeological relic, a shard still visible from an antique civilization long passed away.

Like an intriguing shard, I pick up the remnants of the Sacred Heart devotion, brush them off, turn them over and try to reassemble them like the numinous puzzle they are.

Yes, we are now left only with remnants of the Sacred Heart devotion – while the Church is dying …

What was once central to the Catholic Faith has now become ‘like an intriguing shard’ …

God help us!

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Here is a profound tragedy, which, dear Lector, lies at the heart of this website and the heart of my life …

Be that as it may, Wendy M. Wright has given us a very untraditional book about the tradition of the Sacred Heart – yet one which is not without real merit.

By way of explaining that last statement, let me begin with a few words, I wrote years ago for Amazon – when I was a far less traditional Catholic than I am today.

This is an unusual book in its genre, in that the author interweaves a great deal of material about the traditions concerning the Sacred Heart, with a near-equal amount of material about her own life story and theological quest!

It is easy for me to imagine certain readers being irritated with the latter – perhaps scratching their heads and saying: ‘Why is this woman telling us all about herself?’

Not me. Wright’s recollections of her life feel very, very human to me. Very moving indeed, by a woman living a very genuine Christian journey …

Beautiful indeed, and her authenticity only serves to undergird what she is saying about that very human symbol of the divine … The tender, Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Still those who prefer straight theology should be warned. There is very useful theology here in my opinion, but it is also presented with an unusual amount of the author’s HUMANITY.

And as a far more traditional Catholic today, what do I think?

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In one sense, very much the same – for I was warmed by the author’s humanity then and I am still warmed today.

However, I do feel I need to warn more traditional readers of this website that this is a far more liberal text than the kind we usually feature here.

Some might be baffled indeed that I could still feel so kindly towards it.

But I respect warm, wise, reflective human beings, wherever I find them on the theological spectrum.

Moreover (alongside her own story) Wright does give us a knowledgeable, accessible and compact introduction to the Sacred Heart tradition.

This is to say she provides a little panorama – from the earliest beginnings of the Tradition, till its flourishing during recent centuries.

Within that recent flourishing, she tells of the Saints, Francois de Sales and Jane de Chantal (two Saints that she clearly and dearly loves, moreover) and Saint John Eudes – before moving into the astonishing story of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in Paray-le-Monial.

Finally she takes us on through the likes of Karl Rahner and Teilhard de Chardin, whom she regards as ‘two towering twentieth century theologians’ …

Throughout it all, there is a very personal and ongoing meditation on Divine-Human love  – and what it really means to aspire to love as a particular human creature of the flesh and of the blood. All of this is drawn from her own life story, which, as we have observed, features prominently here.

Now, I find her very personal meditation beautiful indeed and I trust the book will speak to far more liberal, far less traditional Catholics as I once was myself.

Still I said that I need to warn traditional Catholics.

And I do.

And it is painful for me to do so, for I actually like Wright – a lot.

I think one problem traditional Catholics would find with Wright might be summed in the following formula: Too much regard for the fashions of the academic zeitgeist – a reductive, Freudian zeitgeist! – and not enough regard for the continual Tradition of the Church.

Modern academia is a cynical, cynical institution. And although I think Wendy M. Wright is far – very far – from being a cynic herself, too much of that academic zeitgeist has rubbed off on her.

At least, that is how I account for much of what I find in her book.

For example, this is how I regard her telling of the the French Counter-Revolutionary Catholic politics of the Sacred Heart. For her account seems largely, perhaps almost entirely drawn from the learned, yet cynical, work of Raymond Jonas (which I have reviewed here).

And I cannot help but imagine Wright has spent much more time listening to the likes of Jonas’ Freudian reductionism, than to the pious hearts of the French Counter Revolutionaries themselves.

Or to take another example, I imagine her approval – is it is only my imagination? – of the

towering theologian … Rahner’s [refocussing of] the devotion away from its sentimental and sin-conscious Paray-initiated form to place it in the mainstream of modern theology.

I write all this to warn many traditional Catholics who will be offended by her ongoing – and perhaps fairly unconscious – deference to contemporary academic fashion.

And perhaps I should be more offended than I am!

For the Church is being corroded and devoured by the impiety of modern academia.

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We desperately need Catholic Theology taught with reverence to the Tradition and not obeisance to a cynical, reductive Zeitgeist …

The Church is dying – how can I write a review praising Wright’s work?!

How can I praise a book which uncritically parades this contemporary corrosion of the Church, and the work of theologians who come perilously close to what Valentin Tomberg called The Judas Kiss of Demythologisation?!

If you are scandalised, Lector, please forgive me.

There is too much understanding of real human flesh-and-blood love in this book for me to simply write off Wendy M. Wright.

But I do wish that I felt rather more devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and rather less devotion to the latest trends of  ‘critical modern mainstream theology’.

For I cannot help but feel that Wright is uncritical indeed of what so many of those trends are rooted in.

For this is a cynicism which has nothing to do with the Sacred Heart of Jesus …

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, King of Hearts!
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2 responses to “Sacred Heart: Gateway to God by Wendy M. Wright (Book Review)”

  1. […] What of hope, when I invoke the very recent loss of what had become the central image and devotion of the Catholic Chur… […]

  2. Edwin Shendelman Avatar
    Edwin Shendelman

    thanks so much for recommending this book. I ordered it off Amazon and thoroughly enjoyed it. Hope to give it a review soon on I see some of the more “liberal” attitudes more of an adornment. It is truly an invitation to get to know the Sacred Heart better. Loved her personal touches…prayers, songs etc.