As many of you are aware, our Sisters have been involved in giving talks on the Sacred Heart (on a monthly basis) for many years now. We have a compilation of these talks outside our chapel entrance which anyone can help themselves to. We try to make a variety of different talks available that have been given throughout the years and as portress I’ve replenished these talks many times. Since the topics are so varied, I’ve come to see which ones are “always” taken and which ones seem to go a bit more slowly. Now it has been my observation that any talk which has the word “suffering” in its title is bound to be left alone and usually is taken far less frequently than the others. Perhaps it is just my imagination but I sense that suffering is not a subject that most people want to read about, no matter how enlightening the reflections may be. Should we ourselves be suffering, just reading about it can sometimes have an aggravating effect.
Instead, most of us value “respites” from the hard times of oppression and would much prefer the cool waters of a calm lake to sit by, or the soothing breezes of a peaceful meadow to relax in. When a recent issue of Reader’s Digest came into my hands, I realized how a new therapy called “nature cure” was helping frazzled humankind cope with their all too hectic lives. It highlighted the proven fact that being close to nature (even if only viewing it out of windows) has a significant healing effect upon people’s health. I certainly could relate to this finding as one of my favorite outdoor activities is taking our golf cart and driving to our lower meadow to watch the sky and the trees. While I’m engaged in doing this I’m thinking about nothing in particular, just taking in the presence of what I believe to be the goodness of God and His mysterious hold upon our universe.
As idyllic as this experience can be and as refreshing to our spirits, we are all called to mission. This is what our faith orients us to if we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. As surely as Jesus had a mission to pass on the Truth He received from the Father, so we also, each one of us have a similar mission to embrace. Those moments of refreshing retreat do not last forever, but are meant to re-energize us for the demanding parts of our lives that have become our “responsibility” or our “inevitability.” However, knowing what we are to do sometimes encompasses a mystery that we do not always hold the keys to unlocking. I remember as a young college student, saying to myself, what am I to do with my life? At the time I found great solace in a saying from the little book on Jonathan Livingston Seagull: “Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.” After pondering this saying, I found a direction that seemed right for the moment and bit by bit the way opened into new possibilities. However, I wanted to do it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was not just my determination that was important, but how God was mysteriously leading me forward, always with the element of holy fear and trust.
And so little by little the way became clearer, though not without surprises that were unexpected. All of us have a journey to make and sometimes that journey will make us or break us. However, with God each step can be taken with the assurance that there is purpose even when we fall into the darkness of uncertainty. Our Faith tells us that God has always broken through this darkness by sending us messages and messengers of light. In other words, God has, as it were, written love letters from his Sacred Heart, calling us back to Himself when we were in the midst of chaos. This has been so compellingly illustrated for me by a recent book entitled Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed. Its author Roger Buck is a convert whose life-changing direction resulted from his visits to the shrine of Paray-le-Monial in France. At this sacred place he and his wife were given new awareness to re-commit themselves to the Catholic Church and to one of its enduring devotions: that of the Sacred Heart. He writes:
Paray-le-Monial, what does it mean for the world today? The postcards on sale there speak of the ‘Coeur spirituel de l’Europe’ – the spiritual heart of Europe! When first I saw these, I imagine I laughed. A bit over the top, I must have thought! But now, after more than twenty visits, I am no longer as skeptical, as once I was. Once in Mulhouse, a great French city, hundreds of kilometers from Paray, I was praying in a church – when a complete stranger, an elderly Frenchwoman, interrupted me. We had a little conversation, which turned to Paray. She exclaimed: ‘Paray! One can feel the Heart of Jesus there.’ I had to say I felt exactly the same thing. He goes on to quote a lovely passage from Bishop Bougaud’s Life of Saint Margaret Mary describing the Chapel of the Apparitions: Our humble Margaret Mary now rests… under the very spot upon which Our Lord appeared to her… The pilgrim on his arrival pauses, involuntarily moved. The sweet mysteries accomplished in this place; on the one side, virginity, tenderness, thirst for immolation, heavenly detachment; on the other, condescension, mercy, infinite love… all that speaks to the soul. He forgets himself for hours in mute contemplation. There have been places more highly venerated on this earth, but there are very few more august or more sweet. *
It is amazing to think that a contemporary person wrote what he did in this book, living in a culture which has practically no regard for such things as “virginity, tenderness, thirst for immolation, heavenly detachment.” Buck purposely italicizes those words which emphasize his own reaction: “involuntarily moved… forgets himself for hours…” Something has taken hold of his heart and has drawn him again and again back toward the Heart of Christ at Paray-le-Monial, as he humbly admits:
“Truly, the presence in these two chapels transformed my life. I could never have written this book without them. Yet this presence also extended beyond these chapels. Waking in my bed at night, I felt struck; It is different here in Paray. Yes, around the clock in Paray, a very special presence could be felt bathing me, cleansing me, working on my soul. I confess there were times in Paray, where I endured real suffering. But how I felt succored and strengthened there, like nowhere else on earth. In my agony, I knew I was being held” [p. 341].
What comes shining through the pages of this book is the author’s extreme sincerity. It is a quality, I think, of great value in today’s world where so many of our encounters only get a half-hearted nod. But in our intimate relationship with the Heart of Jesus we acquire the wholesomeness of what “reality” is all about. That is why there is a spiritual renewal that takes place with every genuine encounter with the Sacred Heart, one that converts our baser tendencies into the finer qualities of virtuous living.
Can there be anything more inviting than to meet another heart whose sole purpose is to reflect the divine heart of Jesus? Our constant immersion into our “dog eat dog” society of manipulation and distrust is overwhelming at times. Its invisible prison sets traps for us every day, and we must look to the pure heart of Jesus to gain the fortitude and wisdom to move forward in peace and joy and trust. We must try to keep our eyes constantly on Jesus, placing Him front and center in our hearts.
Toward the end of his book, Roger Buck sums up his thoughts for other spiritual travelers. We can all harken to its simple and sincere advice:
“Modern society is overflowing – as never before – with a thousand hypnotic forces that would lull us all to sleep. How to remain awake? Prayer, devotion, examinationof conscience, loving attention to the needs of others. All these things are indispensable as they are to every religious and spiritual discipline, that is, Protestantism and Buddhism. But we are neither Protestants nor Buddhists. As Catholic we acknowledge these common religious disciplines are not enough. Rather, we must add something else to these – union with Jesus Christ and His Church through the Holy Sacraments. Thus, throughout this book, I issue a call.
“Let your soul be fortified by the Sacred Heart who pours Himself out to us daily in the Mass! Go to Mass as frequently as possible for you will certainly find there fire to sustain you amidst the deadening forces of modern culture. Also, let your sins be regularly washed away by Absolution’s merciful grace. Immerse yourself in both these Holy Sacraments and others that are appropriate to your situation. Pray your Rosary and harken to the things Our Lady calls for, including, for example, a medal worn around your neck. Avail yourself, too, of the healing stillness of His Real Presence in Eucharistic Adoration. And of course, in this book dedicated to the Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, I urge devotion to the Heart of Jesus. Recall the Holy Hour and practice it; observe the First Fridays; help revive the annual feast to His Most Sacred Heart.” [pp. 445-446].
Let us pray that our desires to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus will intensify each day and that our attentive hearts will draw down from heaven the graces we need to witness to Christ and to be faithful messengers of His truth and love. †