Thursday, 17 November 2016

The Heart Of The Gospel. Part 2.

By Francis Patrick Donnelly

II. In discussing devotion to the Sacred Heart there is especial need of remembering what devotion really is and how it may exist without great feeling or many devotional practices. The devotions of the Church have all enriched her emotional language, but none perhaps more so than devotion to the Sacred Heart. The most sacred words on man's tongue, words throbbing with the tenderest feelings, are frequent in this devotion, and one who would forget that devotion was of the will might feel that such language was a foreign one to him and one he could never master or speak with ease. Devotion to the Sacred Heart has also grown and developed, manifesting itself in a variety of ways, and, if devotional practices constituted devotion, the bravest would perhaps be appalled and discouraged when they saw how impossible it would be for them to take up a small part of the countless practices that the friends of our Lord's Heart have invented and spread abroad to do Him honor. It is consoling, however, to remember that we can be truly and profoundly devoted to the Heart of Christ without these many means that help others. We need not sing, or need not be able to sing, all the hymns or say all the prayers or attend all the meetings or join in the services that have multiplied and will multiply around this devotion. We shall have as much of that as we like and as will help us, but to have devotion to the Sacred Heart, we must have, first, our conviction, and then our determination.

The fireman goes to a fire wherever it may be and whenever it may be because it is his conviction that his place of business is there, and he is determined to be at his place of business if there is anything to be done. What is the conviction of a man devoted to the Heart of Christ? Devotion to the Sacred Heart is devotion to the love of Christ. It comes from a profound conviction that Christ is our true friend, that at first He was God without a human nature, that afterwards He became man, that He became Christ, all for us and to show His friendship for us. "God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son." Christ our Lord was born of friendship for us, had no other reason for every breath of life He drew except friendship for us, and hesitated not to give the supreme test of the most loving friendship by going to His death for us. Admit that truth: "Christ is my friend"; don't merely say it to yourself but realize it; possess it and let it possess you, and you have the beginning and seed of devotion to the Heart of Christ. Now, follow up that conviction with a determination that you will recognize the fact of Christ's friendship in your life, that you will be His friend as He has been yours, and you have the full-grown devotion to the Sacred Heart. You may not dance with joy under the circumstances, though it would be an excellent thing if you could; you may not be thrilled through with the grandeur, the divinity of that conviction, though perhaps some day you may; but if the conviction is there, and the determination is there, you need not be alarmed at the absence of the feeling; your devotion is true devotion. The fireman says: "My conviction is that I should be at the fire; my determination is to get there as soon as possible." He is devoted to his duty. Let any man say: "My conviction is that Christ was and is my friend; my determination is to show myself His friend," and he is devoted to the Heart of Christ and will be ready with the
brave fireman to make sacrifices, and heroic ones, if his duty calls for them.

It may be objected here that there is, then, no difference between being a good Catholic and being devoted to the Heart of Christ. There need not be any difference at all in what is done, but there is a great difference in the motive for which it is done. To go to Mass on Sunday, to go to Confession and Communion, to observe the laws of God and His Church for no other reason but because you are afraid of hell, is to be devoted principally to your eternal
comfort; to perform those very same actions because you wish to acknowledge and testify your friendship for Christ, your friend, is to be devoted to the Heart of Christ. The motives for which we do an action are under the control of our free will and we are responsible for them. Of course, good motives will not make a bad act good, but they will ennoble any act that is not bad and intensify one that is good. The cup of water that is given in kindness deserves our gratitude; the cup of water that is given in the name of Christ will receive the reward of Christ because it is an act, if we so wish it, of loving friendship for Him. A man dies for his wealth and he is a brave man; he dies for his country and he is a hero and a patriot; he dies for his religion and he is a martyr. Christ died for me and He is my friend and my God. The death is the same; the motive is different and makes a profound difference in the result. You may be a good Catholic for many good and laudable motives, and if you are a good Catholic because you wish to testify in some small way your love of Christ, then you are devoted to the Sacred Heart.

But why, it may be asked, do we speak of devotion to the Sacred Heart instead of devotion to Christ? The question may be answered by another. Why have nations flags; why have causes their rallying cries, and colleges their colors and cheers? Why do we speak of the War of the Roses; why of the thistle of Scotland and the shamrock of Ireland? Why, but because we want a brief, telling way of summing up and expressing what we hold most dear? A word will do service for a thought, will hold it and keep it for centuries still fresh and green. So a symbol will express a whole cause, will explain it, will enshrine it forever. Symbols many and various have been seen among men, but where has there been one more touching, more significant that the one used in this devotion? Christ himself, we fondly believe, chose this symbol of His Heart as His standard, a symbol that is the complete and tenderest expression of all we mean and practise in this devotion. The Heart of Christ is the symbol, the representation, the expressive picture of the love of Christ. Every language has made the heart a synonym for love, and the Heart of Christ, as the standard of this devotion, means and signifies Christ's love, and bears in all its details the strongest and most lasting proofs of that love.

It should be noted that there are different kinds of symbols. The flag is an artificial symbol for country: the heart is a natural symbol of love. There is no connection between cloth of certain shapes and colors and a government, except by a common agreement of the citizens. But between the heart and love, there is a connection established by nature, beyond and above all convention of man. The highest, the noblest love is not rooted in flesh and blood; it is of the soul and spiritual. The love of art, the love of country, the love of religion, like the love of one's mother and father, move in regions above the excitement of passion. Yet, as man is made up of soul and body, even his most spiritual aspirations are registered in their effects upon the less noble part of him. The purest love of God which filled the soul of a
Saint Stanislaus caught up into its flame his innocent blood, and his heart beat with a fever-heat of fervor. The fact, then, of the natural connection between love and the heart is a matter of easily verified experience, even though the exact nature of the connection be not understood or even investigated, and so there is sufficient reason to make the heart a natural symbol of love.

The full symbol of devotion to the Sacred Heart contains elements not put there by nature, elements revealing the supreme love of Christ and persuading His followers to new and more tender expressions of their affection. The full symbol is not the Heart of Christ as it came from the hands of God, unwounded, uncrowned, in the vigor of life, in the perfection of Its being. The Heart, that is the royal standard of this devotion, is pierced with a spear, clasped with a crown of thorns, and forever supporting the weight of a Cross; It is a crucified
Heart, the Heart not simply of a friend, but more, of a wounded friend. The full realization of this symbol will make clear another touching feature, that is found and should be found in true devotion to the Sacred Heart. That feature is reparation. Reparation is the Good Samaritan for Christ's Heart. It pours the oil and wine of an intense love and devotion into the wounds which others have made by neglect or offence. Gratitude is the birth of love; reparation is its full and perfect growth. Gratitude is turning from self; reparation is forgetfulness of self. Gratitude is gladness that a friend has shown his love for us; reparation is sadness that a friend has received harm from others. Reparation, then, naturally follows upon true devotion to the Sacred Heart. Reparation is love's noblest and most perfect revenge. Base revenge attacks the offender, visiting punishment upon him for his offences; reparation, with the revenge of love, flies to the one offended, and lavishes upon him fuller, warmer love, because others have been cold and cruel. When the mother dies, the father strives to be mother and father to his little ones. He is trying to make up for and repair the sad loss of death. Reparation strives to supply to Christ for every other friendship denied Him. The crucified Heart of Christ is, therefore, the complete symbol of this devotion. Whether the devotion inspires new deeds or vivifies with new meaning the customary actions of a man's life, it will put a purpose into them that was not there before. His heart will go out to his friend, his benefactor, his crucified Saviour; it will flame with the motives of gratitude, love and reparation. His life will be lived, influenced by such consoling convictions. He will be practising true devotion to the Sacred Heart.

On the battlefields of old, just where the enemy turned to flight and defeat, the victorious general built of the spoils of war and the weapons of the conquered, an enduring memorial which in days gone by was called a trophy. Our leader, our greatest conqueror, has reared a trophy. The enemy had advanced, apparently victorious, until his spear was thrust into the very Heart of our Captain, but there, where the enemy's victory seemed complete, his overthrow was accomplished. The tide of victory swept at that point to its highest and bloodiest surge, but then ebbed forever. From the weapons of His enemy, from cross and crown and opened Heart, our conquering leader fashioned a trophy which was the best testimony of His love and the most abiding memorial and standard of the cause to which we give ourselves in Devotion to the Sacred Heart.