BY VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M.
Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
SOME time ago, while on a visit in one of our monasteries, I was invited to give a sermon on the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our church there. The opportunity arose at the inauguration of a statue destined to commemorate the consecrating of local Catholic families to the Sacred Heart. I willingly answered this kind invitation, and wishing to instruct the faithful in the true significance of the homage they were paying, I set about to study the inner meaning of this beautiful devotion, a devotion which has latterly spread itself in so marvellous a manner over all the world.
Indeed, the first thought which devotion to the Sacred Heart suggests to our minds is that of infinite love on the part of our divine Redeemer. It was this love which urged Him to give Himself entirely to us in His passion and death, as well as in the institution of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. It appeared to me equally manifest that this devotion, while it reminds us of the love of Jesus toward us, is ordained to inspire our hearts with the flame of reciprocal love, and this is especially shown in the imitation of those virtues which chiefly adorn that loving Heart, the virtues of humility and charity.
However, it seemed to me that still more could be said about this devotion, if only it were studied in relationship to the Sacred Person of our divine Redeemer. In fact, considering the nature of the homage paid to the Heart of Jesus in the twofold light of faith and theology, I found in it a newer and higher signification, perhaps not so obvious as the first, but certainly not less true and appropriate. This signification is the regal dignity and sovereignty of the Heart of Jesus over our hearts, a truth fitly expressed in the well-known invocation: "Heart of Jesus, the King and Center of all hearts," Cor Jesu Rex et Centrum omnium cordium.
Now the relationship between us and the Sacred Heart of Jesus is based on the fact that our divine Redeemer has been set over us as King and Sovereign by His eternal Father. But unlike temporal sovereigns, who wield their power by force, Jesus Christ holds His blissful court in our hearts, bending them gently, yet overpoweringly whither soever He will. That His ends may be accomplished, it is enough that we should refrain from hindering the operation of His divine grace and let ourselves be guided by Him, conforming our lives to His life and our desires to His desires.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, considered in this light, includes all He did and suffered to gain His sway over our hearts. It sums up all we should do, as subjects, to share in the fruits of the Redemption. The love which Jesus bears us, symbolized by the living flame leaping forth from His Heart, earned Him the glorious title of King of our hearts. Likewise, by submitting ourselves entirely to Him as His servants and subjects, we become His purchased people.
This idea, certainly not new, but perhaps somewhat neglected, was what I sought to set forth to my audience, not only in the discourse I had been asked to give, but in a series of sermons which followed it.
In these I endeavored to show how our divine Saviour was predestined by His eternal Father and foretold by the prophets to be the future King of our hearts; how He came into the world in that capacity; how He was so recognized by men of good will throughout His mortal life; how for this cause He was condemned to death by Pilate at the instigation of the Jews, though at the same time His regal dignity was solemnly proclaimed by both His friends and His enemies; how He died a martyr to this truth, and how He continues to exercise His regal power in this world. From which it follows that if we wish to receive the ample benefits of the Redemption, we should submit our hearts entirely to Him, open them to the influence of His grace, and abandon ourselves absolutely to His holy dispositions in our regard.
The spiritual pleasure which I found in studying up and setting forth these consolatory truths, induced me to put in writing what I had preached from the pulpit, in the hope of bringing many to realize what the Heart of Jesus is for each one of us. I therefore rearranged these sermons and divided them so as to form thirty chapters which might serve for spiritual reading or meditation in the month of June, which is more especially consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Our Saviour.
These pages were already written when, on the sixth of January, 1918, it was my enviable lot to hear that sublime truth of the sovereignty of the Heart of Jesus over all mankind pro claimed to the world by the mouth of our Holy Father Benedict XV himself. This day which reminds us of the solemn homage paid to the King of the Jews by the holy Magi, had been fixed for the reading of the Decree acknowledging the miracles wrought through the intercession of Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque, in view of the canonization of this distinguished propagator of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
On this occasion, the Sovereign Pontiff took the opportunity of proclaiming in noble and almost inspired words this consolatory truth of the sovereignty of the Heart of Jesus over mankind. In the meantime, he expressed his opinion that the fact of the canonization of the virgin of Paray-le-Monjal, which was soon to take place, would serve to mark a period of greater development in devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
"Oh, if all families," exclaimed the Holy Father, "would consecrate themselves to the divine Heart, and if all would fulfill the duties attached to such a consecration, the reign of Jesus Christ over human society would be assured. And should We not rejoice to see the cause of so desirable an effect, as is the canonization of Blessed Margaret Mary now taking place? . . . From the dawn we foretell the noon; and We, in this most auspicious practice of consecrating families to the Sacred Heart, salute the dawn of that longed-for noon in which the sovereignty of Jesus Christ shall be recognized by every one. We repeat with confident exultation the words of St. Paul: 'He must reign.' (1 Cor. XV, 25.) Oh, what a new manifestation of His love is this which is made today, on the Feast of the Epiphany, a feast destined to commemorate the first disclosing which the incarnate Word made of Himself to our first Fathers in the Faith! On that first Epiphany were laid the foundations of the social kingdom of Jesus Christ. Oh, may the Epiphany we celebrate to-day assure the extension and stability of this His kingdom!"
In hearing such noble words we could not but rejoice, seeing sanctioned by supreme authority the principle of the sovereignty of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of His reign over our hearts and souls. At the same time, it seemed to us a remarkable occurrence to hear the reigning Sovereign Pontiff take up, complete and more clearly define the warm appeal which Leo XIII twenty-two years ago directed to the world, when he invited all to consecrate themselves to the adorable Heart of Jesus as King and Sovereign of their hearts. Such is the bond of union which links together the teaching of the succeeding Roman Pontiffs.
Now it is for us to hasten the fulfillment of this desire regarding the speedy advent of the social kingdom of Jesus Christ. This each of us may do by the holiness of our lives, bearing, as it were, graven on our foreheads, the divine impress of our submission to this King of Love, and so, manifesting the fact of His sovereignty over our hearts. Furthermore, we may do this, though in different degrees, by the apostolate of words, inducing as many as are under our influence, to choose this loving Lord as King and Center of their own hearts.
Now it should not be believed that there can be, in the Christian life, any class of people even though bound to God by solemn religious vows, to whom this form of consecration and this apostolate can be said to be extraneous. Should any one imagine devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, King of our hearts, to be either contrary or extraneous to any other form of devotion approved of or encouraged by the Church, he would certainly have ill understood the workings of the spiritual life. This is particularly the case as regards devotion to our blessed Lady. If there is a soul which should show itself intensely devout to the Sacred Heart of Our Saviour, certainly it should be the soul which has, by solemn promises, consecrated itself to the service of the glorious co-Redemptress of the human race.
Indeed, the sorrows which transfixed the soul of our blessed Lady had their origin in her seeing the sovereignty of Jesus Christ over man's heart fiercely and with diabolical devices opposed and combated. This opposition to the kingdom of her Son over souls and over society was the chief motive of all her anguish and of all the affliction of her maternal heart. It was for the purpose of cooperating with the future Redeemer of the world in establishing His Kingdom on earth that she consented to become His Mother, and in so doing to drink the bitter chalice of her own maternal compassion. Likewise, it was in order to secure a race of devout subjects that Jesus from His cross entrusted us to Mary, who accepted with perfect submission the high office of Mother of men.
To put it shortly, what is the meaning of devotion to the Sorrows of our blessed Lady; what is its intimate reason; what the aim to which tend the practices of this devotion so highly recommended by the Church and so universally spread throughout the world, if not to wage war on sin, the one obstacle to the reign of Jesus Christ over our souls and over society; to bestir ourselves to fight the battles of faith and to bring about by our good works the coming of His kingdom over our hearts, through grace in time and through glory in eternity?
Devotion to our blessed Lady, co-Redemptress of the human race, should not therefore be looked upon as an obstacle to worshiping in a special manner the Sacred Heart of Jesus, King and Sovereign of our hearts. For the tribute of homage we offer to the Queen of martyrs finds its natural complement in the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of her Son.
It should also be added that Jesus' Mother naturally shared the regal dignity of her Son; for the Church, spread throughout the world, exultingly salutes her as our glorious Queen: Salve Regina. For, as St. Athanasius beautifully puts it: "As He who was born from the Virgin is King, Lord and God, so the Mother who bore Him is fitly and truly named Queen, Lady and Mother of God." (Sermo in Evangel, de Deipara.) But this is not the place to discuss the regal dignity of Mary. This theme deserves a treatise by it self. We must confine ourselves to speaking of Our Lord Jesus Christ who, as St. Paul so powerfully urges, "must reign," oportet ilium regnare, (1 Cor. XV, 25.) over our hearts.
May the Sacred Heart of Jesus reign over the Christian Family, infusing into it that peace which rejoiced the Holy Family of Nazareth ; may it reign over society, calling it back, humble and penitent, to the throne of God; may it reign over every Christian heart, rendering it amenable to the divine command, and like to Jesus Christ Himself. May that day come speedily when all mankind, recognizing Jesus Christ as their beloved Sovereign, may perfectly submit themselves, all the affections of their hearts, all their thoughts and desires to Him, as King and Center of all hearts. Thus did the holy Magi who, attracted by the marvelous star to the humble crib of Jesus, worshiped Him as their Supreme Lord, and offered Him, with their precious treasures, their persons and their hearts. So may we, following their example, realize in ourselves the truth of the invocation: Cor Jesu, Rex et Centrum omnium cordium.
ROME, March 1, 1921.
(Being the forty-first anniversary of my clothing in the Order of the Servants of Mary.)