Here in the monastery we pray the Divine Office five times a day. This is the official prayer of the Church comprised of Psalms and Canticles taken from the Bible, along with various scriptural and spiritual readings, and ending with intercessions on behalf of the people of God. One gets familiarized with the sentiments of these prayers after praying them continually day after day, but there is also something strikingly fresh and relevant in their ancient pleas and praise of the Creator. Most of the time it seems that the Psalmist is in need, dire need, I would say, as he cries out for God’s help in some situation that is pressing down upon him, be it an army of invaders at his door or the weakness of his own puny human resources. There is that realization that without God’s assistance, he just can’t do it alone. So whenever he is in crisis, he does the only logical thing: he lifts up his hands in prayer and cries out to God for help.
Somehow along the line of human history, this simple direct method of unburdening ourselves has been replaced by so many other sophisticated processes. Our knowledge of the human person has expanded in so many directions that asking for God’s help has often been left out of the picture. Indeed, it has frequently been looked upon as an escape or defense mechanism to subvert the true way to get to the real answers to our human dilemmas. So we see how minimally it is called upon in our modern world and tossed aside as an “out-grown” garment would be. There is just no need for it any longer.
Then comes the “uncontrollable” situation. With all our advances and “know-how to’s,” something emerges which is utterly inconceivable and incomprehensible to everything which we have carefully created contingencies for. Again, we are in a jam and that “jam” can be a precious moment of truth or consequences. Does God purposely delight in confounding our best laid plans to teach us that reliance upon Him is what is most important? Surely He does not want to leave us crippled by an unhealthy dependency. His gift of free will to us, as we Christians understand it, leaves the ultimate choice up to us. We can turn to Him when the going gets tough or we can go it on our own. The beauty and the terror are all there in their raw potential. However, should we choose to go the path of trust… well, that is another matter. We must in any case be prepared to travel the road less traveled because nobody gets anywhere without the courage to face up to the fears that surround us on all sides. As someone has phrased it: “Not just fear, but THE fear – the fear that limits the possibilities of human life – fear of death, fear of self, fear of the universe.” Reading the Psalms we encounter this world of distress, fear, annihilation, and taste the inner conflicts of human existence. And what do we learn from such an engagement? We learn true wisdom, if we are open to it and ready for it.
Here are a few proffered morsels of reflection that come from reading the Psalms on a daily basis:
As I continue writing this, I encounter a relevant message during Midday Prayer:
“When I fear, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise. In God I trust, I shall not fear: what can mortal man do to me?” [Ps 56]
Ah, the good God seems to be right on track with sound advice given at the right moment. Then at Evening Prayer, it continues: “I trusted, even when I said: ‘I am sorely afflicted,’ and when I said in my alarm: ‘No man can be trusted.’” God knows our fears just as He knew the psalmist’s. God assures us just as He assured the psalmist that the time of sorrow will pass and that we can count on Him when all else fails.
The barriers of fear that hem us in due to our human brokenness do have an “escape hatch”: it is the grace that comes from drawing close to the Heart of our Redeemer. Christ is the healer of all our wounds and will aid us in the restoration that we all need. His Divine Heart is a wellspring and when we look to Him and place Him at the center of our lives, spiritual waters of rejuvenation begin to flow over us, helping us to change our fearful hearts into trustful ones.
Recently I’ve become acquainted with the life of Father George Calciu who is a good example of someone whom Christ’s grace slowly transformed into a pillar of fearlessness. Father George was of Romanian birth and Orthodox faith and became enmeshed in the communist crackdown which began to take place in his country around 1944. He was imprisoned in 1948 and mercilessly tortured until he became helpless in body and spirit. “They wanted our souls, not our bodies,” he later confessed. While in captivity he made a vow to become a priest, if he survived his ordeal. His prayer was heard and upon his release in 1964, he entered into the academic world, married, and was secretly ordained in 1973. As time went on he began to speak out more vehemently against the oppression which still gripped his country until he was imprisoned for a second time. This time, however, he did not waver despite beatings and torture and years of solitary confinement (all tolled he spent twenty-one years in prison). Here is a story which he later recounted after his miraculous release and exile to America. It occurred one night when he began to hear the peal of church bells at Easter. “Early the next morning, the worst guard in the prison ‘who delighted in torture’ entered the priest’s cell. He should have turned his face to the wall. Instead, Fr. George looked his tormenter boldly in the eye and proclaimed, ‘Christ is risen!’ Rather than delivering a blow, the guard paused, and blurted out, ‘In Truth He is Risen!’ and nervously backed out of the cell.”* It was then that Fr. George experienced what in the Orthodox faith is known as the Uncreated Light.
He shut the door and I was petrified, because of what he had said. And little by little, I saw myself full of light. The board against the wall was shining like the sun; everything in my cell was full of light. I cannot explain in words the happiness that invaded me then. I can explain nothing. It simply happened.*
Fr. George lived out his days in freedom but deposited his bad memories in the heart of the merciful Redeemer. It is said of him: “He had a beaming smile. He was often amused by life, and ready to laugh… he was joyful… he was naturally affectionate and would hold hands with others… just beaming with a radiant smile.”*
In the Salesian tradition of our founder St. Francis de Sales there is also a great emphasis on confidence in God. We probably all have heard the rather famous prayer which Francis composed:
“Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow. The same everlasting Father who cares for you today, will take care of you tomorrow and everyday. Either he will shield you from suffering or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then.”
William Barclay, the renowned scripture scholar reiterates why this is so: “Because God is love, his creating act is followed by his constant care.” Francis truly believed this. God’s constant care, his providence, is always at work, and the more we trust in that providential care, the more we lean into His love, thus lessening our fearfulness. Of course, Francis had many suggestions as to how this could be done. As one current writer noted: “Little consoling phrases pepper Francis’ texts; for instance, “‘we must not fret over our own imperfections’; ‘let us be of good heart’; ‘God will help us’; ‘we will do better’; ‘have great courage and confidence in his mercy’; ‘do not be solicitous and worried’; ‘you will receive countless blessings’”…**
There is a poignant aspiration in this month’s Magnificat magazine which prays:
“Father of all, I am rough, unfinished, and immature. But, however I am, I want to be all yours.”
Surely the fears that lurk in all our hearts can find their consolation in the caring heart of the Eternal One who came as a small babe to assure us and to assuage our fears. The proclamation of good news which the heavens echoed on the first Christmas night of peace to all of good will is something that we need to ponder because only hearts that carry “good will” shall know the absence of fear. Only when the shadows within us are brought into the light will we begin to sweep away the unnamed fears that haunt us and block real peace from happening. The saints tell us that it is only through the trusting embrace of the cross of Christ that we come to understand what true peace is and this doesn’t guarantee the elimination of all fear, but it does give us a supernatural entry into God’s heart. Come what may, then, we have the presence of grace to aid us in our hour of need. So let us look to the Sacred Heart for strength and courage in the days ahead, believing in His immense love for each of us, praying the final words of the Church’s Te Deum: “Come then, Lord, and help your people, bought with the price of your own blood, and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting.” AMEN.†
For the past few days, I have been thinking of some adverse things in life that I would like resolved. Some of these are small difficulties and some of them are bigger and their solution and outcome sometimes generates within me pangs of anxiety and concern. (Just think of the recent news coming out of North Korea and its new development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could even reach the eastern shores of the U.S.) So I have been turning over in my mind a phrase I read not too long ago in a spiritual book and simply saying throughout the day, “Jesus, take care of things.” Do you think the Lord heard me? Well, I was somewhat taken aback as I was looking for an article relevant to this talk. One of the comments at the end of this particular article made an impression on me and I copied it down. The person wrote: “I had a dream—I think it was a dream—but I thought I had woken up… I saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus surrounded by thorns. Just beside it I saw an image of Jesus’ face. I had started praying the Novena of Surrender to Jesus a few days before and have a great sense of peace.” I said to myself, “What is the Novena of Surrender to Jesus?”
When I looked it up, I was amazed. Now this novena was compiled by Father Don Dolindo Ruotolo, an Italian priest who died in 1970, and whose cause for beatification has been introduced. This holy priest used to go around constantly commending his concerns and the concerns of his people to the Lord by saying, “Jesus, you take care of this.”
Do we really believe that the Sacred Heart of Jesus can help us with our own concerns and dilemmas? Do we believe in his love, his power and his special care for us? Will we trust him enough to help us resolve our own problems and those of our world as well?
To appreciate the infinite capacity of the love and goodness of Christ’s Heart, just listen to St. Margaret Mary as she tries to describe her visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
“Once, when I happened to have a little more time to myself than usual, and I was spending it in front of the Blessed Sacrament, God’s presence seemed to envelop me completely. I forgot all about myself, and where I was, it was so intense; I simply gave myself up to the Spirit of God—my heart, a willing prey to the violence of his love. For a long time he kept me leaning on his breast, while he revealed the wonders of his love and the mysterious secrets of his Sacred Heart.”
She goes on to use descriptions like—“this divine breast was like a furnace which he opened to disclose his utterly affectionate and lovable heart; he revealed to me the indescribable wonders of his pure love for us; I felt saturated with God; Our Lord still kept bestowing graces on me… it seemed the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity appeared to me and filled me with indescribable happiness.”
These brief excerpts from St. Margaret Mary give us an idea of the tremendous love of the Sacred Heart for each of us. He knows our deepest concerns and hears our prayers. As the Lord tells us, “I receive your petitions and your prayers and take them into my Sacred Heart, the burning furnace of charity and the wellspring of every grace and blessing” (see In Sinu Jesu, p. 167). But being weak humans who have an innate propensity to do our own thing, it is often hard to let go—even of our problems—to the Lord. We may be tempted to think we know better than Almighty God and frequently phrase our prayers in ways that tell God what to do. The following poignant thoughts (from In Sinu Jesu) are quite enlightening. Here is what the Lord has to say to us:
So much time and energy is wasted in futile worrying and in endless discussions about what is needed and how to go about getting it. Simply present your needs to Me with a trusting heart and I will show you that I am a lavish provider for those who let Me take charge of their needs. The obstinate desire to control all things and to obtain by purely human means the things necessary to My work is an affront both to My merciful love and to My infinite generosity. Has this not been My message all through sacred history: “Trust Me, and you shall see wonders.” (p. 101)
Then the Lord asks: “How does one come to that degree of trust? By entrusting to Me very little things, day by day, as they arise, and by leaving them to Me. This was also the wisdom of My priest Don Dolindo. ‘Jesus,’ he used to say to Me, ‘you take care of this.’ And then he went his way lighthearted and confident that I would honor the confidence he placed in Me” (see In Sinu Jesu p. 101). Ostensibly, viewing this advice seems so genuine and simple. Yet, it requires on our part a deliberate, profound act of trust in God’s wisdom and providence over us. Can we do this? Will we do this?
Here is another pertinent passage from In Sinu Jesu in which the Lord exhorts us to give him all our heartfelt concerns:
I am here—really present—available to you at any hour of the day or night. I wait for you. I want to listen to the cares and preoccupations that you carry like a heavy burden. Give them all to Me. Trust in Me and I will act. I have told you this before: for me nothing is insignificant. No detail of your life is too small and no sin of yours too shameful to be brought to Me and to be abandoned at My feet. Yes, this is how My saints acted. They were certain that any difficulty entrusted to My Heart would find there the best of all possible solutions. Tell Me that you trust in My merciful love by letting go of the things that burden and oppress you. I am the Lord of all things in heaven and on earth, and to Me nothing is impossible. (p. 100).
To understand how this works in real life, consider what happened in Juarez a city located in northern Mexico with a population of 1.4 million. From 2008-2010 Juarez was considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world due to drug trafficking violence and the constant struggles for power and territory between the cartels. In 2010, the number of homicides in the city was nearly 3,766; in 2015 it had dropped dramatically to 256. What had happened? Although there was an improvement in the work of local authorities, there was another “behind the scenes development” at work. At the peak of its criminal drug activity, forty people a day were dying because two drug gangs were fighting over the city to move drugs into the U.S. Houses were being burned down and there were hostile clashes all over the city. Out of desperation, one of the local parishes asked that a perpetual adoration chapel be opened because they declared “only Jesus is going to save us from this, only Jesus can give us security.” Within two months after the chapel was opened, there had not been one gang-related death in Juarez. Beside that, at this same time the seminary was scheduled to close because only eight seminarians remained. After the adoration chapel opened, the number of seminarians shot up to 88—many of whom had participated in the Holy Hours at the chapel. Father Patrico Hileman, the priest responsible for establishing the perpetual adoration chapels, declares that the real reason for the changes is Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. “When a parish adores God day and night, the city is transformed,” he says. And emphasizes, “If you are generous with Jesus, he is a thousand times more generous with you.”
This very real and practical example illustrates so well the efficacy of prayer over mere human solutions. These powerful words (taken from the Lord’s messages in In Sinu Jesu) clearly delineate how God likes to work:
Chapels of adoration are not mere refuges for the devout. They are the radiant, pulsating centers of an intense divine activity that goes beyond the walls of the place where I am adored to penetrate homes and schools, and hospitals; to reach even those dark and cold places wherein souls are enslaved to Satan; to penetrate hearts, heal the infirm, and call home those who have wandered far from me. (p. 169)
My presence in the Blessed Sacrament preached, and confessed, and surrounded by adoration, love, and heartfelt reparation is the single greatest remedy for the evils that afflict my Church… My ways are not your ways, nor do I act according to the principles of worldly success. I act in the silent, humble, hidden reality of My Eucharistic presence. Adore Me, and the radiance of My Eucharistic Face will begin to change the face of the earth, even as it heals My priests, calls sinners home to My Heart, and enlivens the hearts of those grown weary and sad… (p. 170)
We may feel it is a waste of time to sit before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer or to pray quietly in our own rooms, but this so-called waste is the fuel that propels all active undertakings for the Lord. The modern trend toward pastoral efficiency has made deep inroads into the priority of prayer and contemplation over works of the active life. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (i.e., Pope Benedict XVI) frequently wrote about this problem of activism which he considered symptomatic of a loss of confidence in the reality of Jesus Christ and the primacy of His kingdom. He says, “Activism—the will to be productive and relevant, come what may—is the constant temptation of modern man… It is the product of a Church in which there is no longer any room for mystical experience… All methods are empty without the foundation of prayer.”
During this very busy time of year, let us keep in mind that the Heart of Christ wants to be part of all we do and are. He is not suggesting that we fall into a sort of quietism by ceasing to perform the necessary duties of our state in life or to lessen our good works. But He is saying that we must make Him the principle and fountainhead of all we do and say and that everything we do should be referred back to Him. Taking time out for prayer, even in small doses during the day, is absolutely essential for our spiritual health. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is always there to help us and is patiently waiting for us to invite Him into our lives where He will take care of everything, if we let Him. †
*After Sister’s Talk, she read the following article: “Today, Jesus Scolded me while I celebrated Mass”
This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given onDecember 3rd, 2017 by one of the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, Massachusetts. The next talk will be held on Sunday, February 4th, 2018 at 4:00 pm. All are invited to attend.
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. †
On a recent trip that I had to make, I was—during this particular time of year—made very conscious of the decorations a lot of people chose to surround their houses and yards. Living in a monastery and accustomed to the liturgical seasons, I have grown used to our Catholic traditions and the ambience that we create to enhance each feast day of the Church. Seeing the displays for the secular days of Halloween and the upcoming solstice made me aware that many, many people are more concerned about ghosts and goblins, spiders and monsters than they are about Godly symbols that remind us of heaven, God, the angels and the saints. Would that all those houses I passed with so-called “Halloween” decorations spent as much time, effort and money displaying their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the saints. Wouldn’t our world be quite a different place if that really happened!
This may seem like a far-fetched dream but, actually, it is something that the Heart of Jesus wants from all of us. Yes, the Lord is yearning that we change our indifference toward Him and His holy ones, often revealed by the things we surround ourselves with, and instead put Him and all that points to Him first in our lives. This is very clearly manifested in the revelation that the Sacred Heart of Jesus gave to Saint Margaret Mary. I would like you to listen carefully to the words of this saint as she described what happened to her one day while she knelt before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar. She writes:
“One day while the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, I was experiencing an unusually complete state of recollection. My senses and faculties were utterly withdrawn from their surroundings when Jesus Christ, my kind Master, appeared to me. He was a blaze of glory, his five wounds shining like five suns. Flames issued from all parts of his human form, especially from his divine breast which was like a furnace, and which he opened to disclose his utterly affectionate and lovable heart, the living source of all those flames. It was at this moment that he revealed to me the indescribable wonders of his pure love for all of us, the extravagance to which he’d been led for those who had nothing for him but ingratitude and indifference. ‘This hurts me more,’ he told me, ‘than everything I suffered in my passion. Even a little love from them in return and I should regard all that I have done for them as next to nothing, and look for a way of doing still more. But no, all my eager efforts for their welfare meet with nothing but coldness and dislike.’”
How many people there are living in our vast world who are totally indifferent toward God and God’s love for them. So, so many of us—even those in rectories and in religious houses—are overwhelmingly preoccupied with our own concerns and interests that we sometimes go through the motions of giving homage to God when deep down inside we are really absorbed with our own plans and desires.
If you think that this indifference toward God, toward the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is just a minor thing that really shouldn’t bother us, I’d like to recommend to you a new book that recently came out entitled, In Sinu Jesu (translated: In the Bosom of Jesus). Its author—simply identified as “A Benedictine Monk”—subtitles this work: “When Heart Speaks to Heart / The Journal of a Priest at Prayer.” With an imprimatur dated October 11, 2016, this book relates the conversations of Our Lord and Our Lady who began to speak to the heart of a priest (in 2007) who was very much in need of their intervention. Impelled to write down what he heard, initially for his own spiritual welfare, it became evident that others (that is, priests, consecrated souls and lay people) would also benefit from these words and receive light and strength from them. Its monk-author explains that the style is his own, but the substance of what he wrote came during prayer, without any effort or prior reflection of his own. He says that “there would be an inner movement to write, and I would write until the inspiration stopped. After writing, there would be a grace of quiet union with Our Lord or with Our Lady. On a few occasions, there were words from saints or from holy people.”
With the onset of these interior messages from Jesus and Mary, this priest has been given a strong attraction to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus and to making reparation for priests in particular. As the unnamed Benedictine Oblate writer of the book’s Introduction wisely observes:
“We know from the history of approved private revelations that Our Lord and Our Lady intervene in special ways in times of ecclesial crisis, worldliness, lukewarmness, infidelity, intellectual confusion, or spiritual anguish. They speak to us of truths that have become obscured, neglected, or contradicted; they instruct us in attitudes, virtues, and practices that are forgotten, despised, misunderstood, or poorly cultivated.”
To get an idea of how the Lord is still very much lamenting our present-day indifference to Him, listen to these excerpts drawn from the book. These are the words Jesus spoke to the heart of this priest while he was at adoration:
“It is enough for Me that you are here. I do not ask anything else of you. It is your adoring loving presence that My Heart wants from you. In this way, you will console Me and make reparation for so much coldness, ingratitude, and indifference. I am here for you. Be here for Me. Seek My Eucharistic Face. Know that My Eucharistic Heart is open to receive you, to comfort you, to strengthen you, and to purify you in the Blood and Water that ever flow from My pierced side.”
“When My love is spurned, when the gift of My Body and Blood is not discerned, when it is not received worthily and adored by loving and grateful hearts, I suffer a divine affliction. That is to say, I am wounded in love, wounded in My Heart. I look to My beloved priests to console Me and to make up for the coldness, the cruel indifference, the ingratitude, and the irreverence that I suffer, hidden in the Sacrament of My love.”
These words from Our Lady express similar sentiments:
“Know that my maternal Heart suffers and grieves over the irreverence, the coldness, and the ingratitude of so many souls towards the Sacrament of my Son’s undying love. It is in this Sacrament that He loves His own, loving them to the end… His Eucharistic love surpasses all the laws of perishable nature: there is no greater miracle on the face of the earth than the real presence of my Son in the Sacrament of the Altar. Even so, He is forsaken, neglected, and handed over to sinners to be betrayed, again and again… How is He betrayed? His priests, my own sons, betray Him when they fail to make Him known, when, by not teaching the mystery of His real presence, they leave souls in the darkness of ignorance, without fire or light. They betray my Son when, by their example, they discourage reverence, and adoration, and a loving attention to His presence. They betray Him when they offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass unworthily, and when they hand Him over to sinners who have no intention of giving Him their hearts and seeking His mercy and His pardon for their sins. They betray Him when they leave Him alone in locked churches and when they make it difficult or impossible for souls to approach His tabernacles and rest in the radiance of His Eucharistic Face. They betray Him when they allow His churches to become places of noise and worldly chatter, and when they do nothing to recall souls to the living mystery of His love, that is, His presence in the tabernacle.”
A continued reading of St. Margaret Mary’s revelation that was referred to earlier enlightens us further as to the Lord’s response to the indifference to His love shown by many. He tells St. Margaret Mary (and through her to us), “Do me the kindness, then, of making up for their ingratitude, as far as you can.”
Do we care about our family members who have wandered from the faith? Or how about our parish members who espouse a worldly morality and mentality? Or how about other Catholics who want to convince us that we should adjust the perennial teachings of Christ to the trends of the times? To effect a change in these errant patterns, we are called to make up for these deficiencies by our own acts of love and reparation. Small and insignificant though they may seem, the Sacred Heart of Jesus can use them to bring straying souls back to His Heart. The Lord reminds us in the messages of In Sinu Jesu,: “Love Me, for those who do not love Me; adore Me, in reparation for those who have set up false gods; hope in Me alone, in reparation for those who trust in their own strength.” The Sacred Heart of Jesus assures us that He hears our every prayer and uses them and our sacrifices for His mysterious work in redirecting souls to His heavenly kingdom.
Lately, I have read an interesting article detailing the ministry of Fr. Jeremy Davies. This London priest, former physician and leading exorcist for many years emphasizes that combating the forces of evil is an on-going struggle in which every soul is engaged. He specifically states that “all society is subject to demonic deception in so far as it accepts an unbelieving point of view.” He says we need to wake up to the reality of evil, especially in its more subtle forms, because hidden in the ordinariness of our existence are serious threats to the life of the soul. One of the most telling characteristics of those who fall prey to Satan’s antics, he has observed, are those who seek self-centered happiness which leads them to make unenlightened decisions that gradually move them away from Christ. In so doing, he says, they subtly change from being a child of God to living a lie.
There is an old saying that goes, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” We have all heard the Gospel admonition of Christ: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Lk 11:23). Indifference toward the One to whom we owe all our love, adoration and thanksgiving is neither honest nor reasonable. It can easily degenerate into confused thinking and contempt. For those around us who have deviated from God’s love and truth, let us turn to the Sacred Heart and earnestly entrust to Him these souls, begging for them the light and help they need. †
For the last few weeks I have been thinking of the principle of entropy. Being a biology major in college and having to take chemistry and physics courses besides, years ago I studied the scientific principle of entropy, that is, a system’s tendency to become disorganized overtime. Basically, this law of nature says that unless acted upon by outside energy, a system will either have the same or more disorder as time passes. Lately, we certainly have seen this principle at work around us. Images from the recent hurricanes make us gasp at the extreme destruction and disorder caused by these forces of nature. Scenes from once beautiful and harmonious landscapes now appear ugly and in total chaos. And much, much effort and energy must be expended to put it all back together again.
Having lived through a natural disaster when my family home was severely flooded in Pennsylvania in the 1970’s because of the historic overflow of the Susquehanna River, I know what these people are living through. There was unbelievable chaos around us as my parents were relocated to a safer location in a trailer park several miles away. It took years to rehabilitate the area and extensive measures to return to normal living.
It doesn’t take much imagination to apply the principle of entropy to our spiritual lives as well. How often we find ourselves, “off-track” when we let our spiritual lives and thoughts drift along with the tenets of the world or when we are too busy, too self-absorbed, too tired, or too apathetic to apply the energy necessary to think about God and to invite the Sacred Heart of Jesus into our lives to straighten out any wayward tendencies. Remember: a system will never get more ordered without outside intervention, so we all need God’s help to live the type of spiritual, moral, honest existence that puts us on the right path to God’s Kingdom.
An excellent article entitled “Repentance and Cleaning House” (see catholicgentleman.net) expresses how one Catholic father viewed the phenomenon of entropy in his own home and applied it to our spiritual growth. He writes:
I am the father of three children four and under. It is always startling to me, though it shouldn’t be at this stage, how quickly things can spin out of control. A perfectly clean house that took a great deal of effort to tidy up can nearly instantly be destroyed by our children with hardly any effort at all. Cheerios crunch under my feet as I gaze in stupefied awe at the explosion of food under our one-year old’s high chair. Pieces of Mr. Potato Head are unearthed in my sock drawer. Beds that were neatly made a moment ago are suddenly a tangled mess of blankets and sheets in no time at all. I could go on and on. It is as if a tornado sweeps through our home on a daily basis. It is the law of entropy experienced in all its brutal and chaotic reality. Yet, my wife and I both tend to crave order and neatness. We’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to just ignore it and let go. Maybe someday we’ll succeed. But for now we can’t. Each day, the house is nearly destroyed, and each day we begin again the futile task of picking up, wiping down, vacuuming, sweeping, emptying and organizing. It is a process that will never end—at least, as long as we have children in the house.
Musing on the fact of how quickly his tidy house descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, this perceptive Catholic Dad compares this to our souls which need constant vigilance and upkeep. There is, he explains, a spiritual law of entropy called sin. And each and every day we are pulled away from God by our sinful passions which literally make war against us and divert us from our true goal to God. Besides, there is no holding pattern in the spiritual life. The minute we stop advancing, we slip back and lose ground. Relaxing our guard means distancing ourselves from God. So again and again we have to exert ourselves and begin all over through constant examination, conversion and repentance. This never ending cycle will be with us till the very end of our days on the face of this earth.
How is it that spiritual entropy so subtly takes over our existence? Catholic priest for over forty years and author of several books, Father Charles T. Murr, when interviewed by Ignatius Insight, gives some enlightening responses to this question. Having lived his priesthood in Italy, France, Mexico, the United States, Austria and Spain, Father Murr has encountered a variety of cultures and peoples. When asked what are some of the common virtues and vices of Catholics, he responded: “I would say the sin that surprises me most is the sin of complacency—complacency of people who live comfortable and generally upright lives…” and who never once give “a serious thought to questions like where the universe came from, what makes actions right or wrong, what is the purpose of human life, what happens after death.” He goes on to propose that in his experience many people seem to live their entire lives systematically avoiding these questions. “This,” he believes, “is a serious sin.” Furthermore, he conjectures that a person will sin morally through not doing that which is in his or her power to do.
What then is complacency? It is the attitude of self-satisfaction, a sense that we’re really alright and that we don’t have to improve our spiritual life because God is pleased with us just the way we are. A modern evangelical writer refers to complacency as “one of the most prevalent afflictions” around today and even calls us a “culture of complacency.” The main dilemma he believes is that no one thinks they are complacent. He offers five checkpoints by which we can evaluate ourselves: (see: Five Marks of Complacency at christianity.com)
1) Far too easily satisfied: We’re complacent, when we’re easily satisfied with our incremental growth and minor achievements.
2) Quick to make excuses: When we’re complacent, we offer excuses why we’re not growing, why things haven’t worked. Any challenges become obstacles and we readily accept the status quo.
3) Never enough time: Complacent people exhibit a veneer of activity and busyness. They do things, but these do not produce real spiritual growth.
4) No longer teachable: Real inspirations from the Holy Spirit don’t motivate a complacent person who prefers to cling to their secure positions and wants to safeguard their own privileges.
5) Content with early success: Slight successes leave the complacent with the feeling that everything is OK and they needn’t do more.
It should be noted that these points were compiled by a person whose ministry spanned over thirty years and who freely acknowledges that he has experienced each of these characteristics in himself. And he states that each and every time complacency was broken, it was for one reason: realizing it, that is, the recognition of it in ourselves. He finishes by asking us: “So have you been a bit complacent of late?”
A few years ago, a popular magazine which covers news analysis ran an article entitled “How to Fix the World.” It addressed the environment, immigration, terrorism and global issues of importance. It’s approach, of course, was mainly political and pragmatic, but it did clearly acknowledge that we are indeed living in chaotic times and we are weary and frightened. As Christians and followers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this type of reasoning only considers part of the problem. Delving into our Catholic tradition, we can glean from the saints a different perspective on how the Lord is going to fix the messes in our world and in our lives.
Taking some insights from the life of modern-day French mystic, the Venerable Marthe Robin (1902-1981), will enable us to view things from a heavenly angle. Bedridden and completely paralysed by age 28, Marthe turned her entire life over to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, completely abandoning herself to the love and will of God. And the Almighty totally accepted her oblation. Barely a year passed before she fell gravely ill. During the rest of her life she neither ate nor drank except for the Holy Eucharist, experiencing in her own body the Passion of Christ every week. For her generous offering, the Lord filled her with deep insight into people’s problems and prophetic knowledge of the future of the church and the world.
Passages from her biography entitled: Marthe Robin—the Cross and the Joy (by Rev. Raymond Peyret) attest to her God-given wisdom and supernatural gifts. It is estimated that during the fifty years that she was bedridden, Marthe received more than 100,000 individuals, including hundreds of priests and many bishops. From a 1936 interview with her spiritual director, Father Finet, these prophetic words of Marthe were uttered:
“She said that there would be a New Pentecost of Love, that the church would be renewed by an apostolate of the laity. She spoke a great deal about that even saying that the laity were going to play a very important role in the church; many would be called to be Apostles…”
Marthe then went on to predict the development of Houses of Charity which she said would consist of consecrated laity, not formed into a religious order. These “Foyers de Charité” would be directed by a priest and would be comprised of dedicated lay people. They would be “the expression of the Heart of Jesus to the nations after the defeat of materialism and satanic errors.”
From these prophetic words of the Ven. Marthe Robin we can see the supreme importance that the laity will have on the life of the church and on how their consecration to the Heart of Jesus would revive the church from within and bring the light of Christ to the nations. Marthe always repeated, “In the Heart of Jesus, I drown sin, hatred and godlessness.” As we observe the chaotic state of the world and the church today, let us be aware that your prayers, sacrifices and witness are the means that the Sacred Heart will use to bring about his reign of peace and love on the earth. May your personal dedication to the Heart of Jesus be the catalyst for much good in your families, your parishes, in the universal church and in the world at large.†
Close to the end of her life, Saint Margaret Mary did an unusual thing. Ever striving to hide herself from the attention of the world, she, nonetheless, turned her gaze toward the high and mighty of the land to deliver a message to the King of France. This divine communication had to do with the consecration of France to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Writing to one of her superiors she explains what it entailed:
He (the Sacred Heart) desires, it seems to me, to enter with pomp and magnificence into the palaces of kings and princes, therein to be honored as much as He has been despised, humiliated, and outraged in His Passion… (and here are the words that I heard on this point):
Make known to the eldest son of my heart that as his temporal birth was obtained through devotion to the merits of my holy childhood, in the same manner he will obtain his birth of grace and eternal glory by the consecration that he will make of himself to my adorable heart, which wishes to triumph over those of the great ones of the world. It wishes to reign in his palace, to be painted on his standards and engraved on his arms, in order to render him victorious over all his enemies.
It was unfortunate that this consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the supreme ruler of her country remained unfulfilled in Margaret Mary’s lifetime. The king, Louis XIV, though somewhat disposed to religious consecrations, did not respond as was hoped. Neither did his immediate successor, Louis XV. Only under the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the French Revolution did a private consecration to the Sacred Heart take place, and this, when the king, Louis XVI, was already in the custody of revolutionary forces. Some have contested that such a consecration never did take place, but it is incontestably true that King Louis XVI did compose an act of consecration to the Sacred Heart (for it was discovered more than eighty years after his death, hidden in the walls of his apartments in the Tuileries palace).
History is fascinating and anyone who is interested in the French Revolution can find many sources by which to delve more deeply into the many dimensions of this historical event. One current explanation of how the consecration took place gives us this bit of information:
In the spring of 1791, after signing the Civil Constitution of the Clergy a few months earlier, King Louis XVI fell ill at the Tuileries, where the royal family were living under house arrest. His illness was undoubtedly the result of the stress of the upheavals which he had tried to prevent, as well as the fact that his conscience was troubling him about signing the Catholic Church in France over to the revolutionary government, severing the ties with Rome. Louis had signed it under duress but deeply regretted this decision immediately.
We are now able to read the king’s opening words of consecration set as they are in a state of high anxiety:
“You see, O my God! all the wounds which tear my heart, and the depth of the abyss into which I have fallen. Evils without number surround me on all sides. My personal misfortunes and those of my family, which are dreadful, overwhelm my heart, as well as those which cover the face of the kingdom…”
Louis goes on to implore the mercy and succor of God, reminding himself of the divine help given to his kingly ancestors and promising, should he attain his freedom, to institute a great revival of devotions honoring the Sacred Heart.
But it was not to be. On Monday, January 21, 1793 King Louis XVI was guillotined at the Place de la Revolution, having been beforehand, stripped of all his honors and titles. His wife Marie Antoinette died in similar fashion a few months later and their heir, Louis XVII never left captivity alive. It was the end of the royal dynasty of France as it was known for centuries.
What are we to make of the King’s heartfelt plea and words of consecration which seemed to be left totally unanswered? It was certainly reminiscent of Our Lord’s abandonment on the wood of the cross and the ultimate dispersal of his disciples in the days following his crucifixion. One can only look at the event, so disastrous in the estimation of the world’s judgement, and acknowledge the words which Jesus himself spoke: “My kingdom is not of this world.” This perhaps is the illumination which comes to us from any consecration which we might make, for to utter the sentiments of a consecration is to step into a new spiritualized dimension where faith takes center stage. A consecration is not a bargain with the Almighty, it is not a wedge which we can use to keep open ‘negotiations’ that will ensure the hope of future blessings and personal enrichments. No, the merit of making any act of consecration lies in its capacity to shift our inner human impulses completely over into the hands of God, allowing God to do what he wills, in his own way and in his own time. To think, then, that consecrations are useless formulas, outdated, and with no relevancy for any historical age, is to misunderstand how God honors his creation, for He takes what we say and do seriously.
When we are immersed in superficiality day after day allowing ourselves to be like ‘driftwood’ carried along aimlessly by the world’s trivialities we can easily become entrapped in a bleakness that has little depth and meaning. (I say this after taking several trips in the past year on public transportation watching people absorbed in their little hand pc’s, some spending their entire trip playing at video games or furiously scrolling through their apps). Supposedly these little diversions are the pain relievers for the spirit of purposelessness that grips so much of our society.
God, however, is ever calling us back to his heart. Perhaps some people will feel that God is trying to get our attention in drastic ways like the recent violent displays of nature. This can be very disturbing to those who want to find someone to blame for all the ills in life and discover that their wrath can easily be vented on God, who allows innocent people to suffer. But, I believe, God does speak to us through nature (through its beauty and through its destructiveness), though only so we can be taught that there is a far greater power at work in the universe than we can ever fathom or seek to master. The great spiritual masters realized that God’s providence is working itself out in the world in ways that cannot possibly be explained by scientific means. Things happen that remain a mystery beyond our abilities to analyze.
I am thinking here of the recent occurrences in Sokolka, Poland
where a consecrated host fell to the ground during the distribution of communion and later turned into a particle of cardiac flesh from a dying man. In our enlightenment culture, our skeptical spirits find such events unthinkably absurd. It is only on the level of faith that we can take in the ramifications of what is happening and that is true of any act of religious consecration we may choose to exercise…for God desires us to be consecrated to Himself… to God alone.
Despite the fact that the King of France did not live to see the earthly fruits of his consecration to the Sacred Heart, his offering did not go unrequited. Seeds were sown in the good soil of French hearts that would ultimately result in the building of a grand edifice dedicated to the Sacred Heart; a memorial whose purpose was to draw down upon France, especially the city of Paris, the merciful protection of God. Here is how Rev. Emile Bougaud, a prolific spiritual researcher, described it:
“‘I will reign in spite of all who oppose Me,’ said Our Lord Himself to his handmaid (Margaret Mary). It is a far cry indeed from the first humble altar in the novitiate of Paray-le-Monial, hardly more than a chair, with its small picture of the Sacred Heart and its few flowers and lights, to the magnificent Basilica of Montmartre, on which the wealth of human genius has been expended, and its Perpetual Adoration, with its daily and nightly crowd of earnest worshippers.”
[p. 361 The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Tan Publishers, reprinted 1990 from 1920 copyright]
Our ongoing devotion to the Sacred Heart has undergone many fluctuations in the course of history. Some would predict that its relevancy is no longer viable. They look at the closed churches, the lessening of church attendance, the priest shortages, the increased levels of polarization in understanding church doctrines, and do not know what to do. Surely these things are signs that we are undergoing a time of trial, but we must have confidence and courage to trust that when the Lord promises to be with his church until the end of days, then that is what will be. Today is the feast of a great daughter and doctor of the universal church, Saint Therese of Lisieux, who kept on the path of commitment, believing that her small acts of love could touch the heart of God even amidst the most wayward of her surroundings. This should give us hope that when we consciously pray our prayers of consecration, the ear of God is listening. That grace-filled heart of divine love is ready to pump out what we truly need despite the worst of our predicaments. For if we are willing to embrace the mysterious paths He leads us on while uniting our hearts to His, we will pass through life’s perils in peace knowing that in the end his divine wisdom will make all things right.†