It’s 3:55 in the afternoon and my cell phone has just buzzed. It’s my daily reminder that my Hour of Guard is coming up in five minutes.
Whatever it is I might find myself doing on that or any other afternoon, I say a quick prayer and, in my mind’s eye, I gaze upon my Lord on the cross. I approach Him. At the foot of the cross stand three of the faithful ones: Mary, His mother, Mary Magdalene, and John, the Beloved Disciple.
I take my place next to them. Without pausing, and without changing whatever activity I may find myself doing that afternoon, I offer this hour to the Sacred Heart, pierced for me at Calvary.
The “Hour of Guard” is a simple form of mental prayer put forth by the Guard of Honor of the Sacred Heart, an international association of the faithful which, for the last 150 years, has made the commitment to give “Love! Glory! Reparation!” to the much neglected and often forgotten Heart of Jesus. It is a simple – yet very powerful – way of connecting with Jesus in the midst of our busyness.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus today exists in various forms that have emerged over the years since 1675, when Jesus revealed His Heart of flesh to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a cloistered nun of the Monastery of the Visitation in Paray-le-Monial, France. Among the most notable of these are the Apostleship of Prayer, promoted by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and the Guard of Honor of the Sacred Heart, associated with the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines). These two associations, and their related orders, parallel the partnership between St. Margaret Mary and her spiritual director, St. Claude la Colombière, a Jesuit priest.
The gist of this devotion is to give a return of love and thanks to the Heart of Jesus. His Sacred Heart is the symbol par excellence of the love of God who becomes one of us: it is Divine Love expressed and translated, if you will, into our own human language, into terms we can readily understand – and respond to.
Entering into relationship with God, who is spirit, who is invisible, intangible, formless, can sometimes prove too difficult for us. By means of the Incarnation, however, God takes care of this problem. God, whom St. John tells us is love itself, sends us His only-begotten Son, who becomes, as St. Paul tells us, the mediator between God and man.
Sacred Heart devotion allows us to make up for the coldness and indifference, even the outright rejection that Our Lord Jesus, Love Incarnate, has received right from the start. Think, for example, of the difficulties and hostility surrounding the life of Our Lord from His very conception: Mary’s pregnancy out of wedlock, which could have gotten her stoned to death in the honor-shame culture of her day; His birth in unpleasant and inhospitable conditions, surrounded by farm animals; the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the Holy Innocents.
During His life of public ministry, Jesus will encounter rejection from His fellow Nazarenes, hostility from the religious and political authorities, as well as obtuseness and self-centeredness from His own apostles, which will culminate in Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and everyone else’s desertion at the time when He was most vulnerable.
The revelations of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary are not an isolated event in our history. They are for us, today, both an invitation and a challenge. An invitation to do what every Christian wants to do: to deepen one’s relationship with Christ, to know Him more intimately, to imitate Him more faithfully. At the same time, the message of the Sacred Heart challenges us to grow up, to become the men and women God calls us to be. We take stock of our lives, our personal histories, our walk with Jesus: Is Peter the only one who denied Jesus, or have I? Are the Pharisees the only ones who opposed Jesus, or have I? Is Judas the only one who betrayed Jesus and sold Him out… or have I?
- Father Seán O’Mannion, Director