Love Letters from the Sacred Heart

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.

Our Monastery Meadow

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:

Mosaic of the Sacred Heart at Paray le Monial

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. †

* quotes taken from Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed by Roger Buck;  Kettering, OH, Angelico Press, 2016.

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on November 5, 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, December 3, 2018 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.

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Our Indifference: Finding Our Way Back to the Heart of Christ

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

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:

St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

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.

Let us point others to the Heart of God

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.  †

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on November 5, 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, December 3, 2018 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.
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The World’s a Mess: How Will the Sacred Heart Fix It

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.

Marthe Robin

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.†

This Sacred Heart talk was given in the Gathering Room of the Sisters of the Visitation in Tyringham, MA on October 1st, 2017.  The next talk will be held by the Sisters on November 5th, 2017 at 4:00pm
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Consecration to the Sacred Heart: A Necessity for Our Times

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.

 

King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette

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

Eucharistic Miracle at Solkolka, 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.†

This Sacred Heart talk was given in the Gathering Room of the Sisters of the Visitation in Tyringham, MA on October 1st, 2017.  The next talk will be held by the Sisters on November 5th, 2017 at 4:00pm

 

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Leaning on the Lord’s Heart or What to do in a time of Worry

Leaning on the Lord’s Heart or what to do in a time of Worry

Dear Friends of the Heart of Christ,

For my last birthday, I received a card from a long-time college friend that played a symphonic version of Happy Birthday as a whirling bear spun to the music. I was amused and fascinated by what the card could do, yet the message inside was of a more sober note. The letter tucked in the envelope from my friend, who has been happily married for over 30 years, with wonderful adult children, lamented that she is still plagued by an old, unrelenting problem — chronic anxiety. And even though her family is, by today’s standards, solidly Catholic and stable, still the stresses of living in today’s world often put her in panic mode and fearful of what might happen — to her kids, to her finances, to her husband’s work and health, and to herself. Questions like “what if…?” and “should I do…?” whirl around her head and keep her fettered to her worries. Even her children — all professionals in their own right — are manifesting that nagging anxiety over their careers and responsibilities.

I wish I had an easy answer to her dilemma and for so many people’s similar difficulties who are perpetual worry warts. Because we are vulnerable human beings not meant to live forever on the face of this earth, we’re all susceptible to worry. And no matter who you are or where you are (in a monastery or outside of one) we all have experienced times of worry — sometimes intensive worry — when we really don’t know what to do next and can’t even think straight about how to fix, let alone cope with, our dilemmas.

This is probably why the Church has so appropriately selected for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the passage from Luke’s (10:41-42) or Matthew’s (11:28) Gospel that reads, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” We all need to remind ourselves that those words are meant for each of us — you and me — whether we lived back in Jesus’ time or in today’s mixed-up world. For all of us who are anxious and burdened by life’s cares and concerns, Jesus says to us individually, “Come to me and give me those burdens, problems, heartaches and worries.”

A little story in the booklet entitled When Anxious and Weary (Abbey Press) expresses how one man dealt with his problem. He writes,

“I awoke one morning years ago in a panic, believing I no longer had the strength to carry on. It was a difficult time at work as disagreements with co-workers flared up and major deadlines loomed. I had hurt my back, and for months it had been a constant source of pain throughout the day and kept me from sleeping at night. In that state, I felt abandoned by God and at the end of my rope. Then my daughter, an artist, handed me a shoebox and said, ‘This is for you, Dad.’ Inside was a statue she’d made of Jesus, seated, looking kind and compassionate. In the box were also a dozen small stones. ‘What are the stones for?’ I asked. ‘They represent your troubles and your worries,’ she said. ‘Whenever something is bothering you and you can’t get free of it, just place your worry in Jesus’ lap.’ In the midst of my agitation, my daughter had shown me the way: when worries intrude, turn to Jesus.”

Perhaps we can take this one step further. Recall the Apostle John’s posture at the Last Supper. He’s the one who leaned on Jesus’ heart. Do you think that his troubles were on his mind in that privileged position? I bet he was resting there and enjoying his Lord knowing that Jesus loved him immensely and would take care of everything. Listen to the sage advice of someone like St. Padre Pio who heard countless troubles in the confessional: “Be of good cheer; abandon yourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and let Him take care of everything!” Or we can heed the advice of St.Therese of the Child Jesus, that consummate contemplative, who puts it this way: “It is such a folly to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the Heart of Jesus.”

The Saints always have words of wisdom to impart to us to guide us through our worrying times. Recently, as I was reading the Diary of Saint Faustina I came across some enlightening passages. Here are two of them that I think are very illuminative:

Once I was summoned to the judgment seat of God. I stood alone before the Lord. Jesus appeared such as we know him during His passion. After a moment, His wounds disappeared except for five, those in His hands, His feet and His side. Suddenly I saw the complete condition of my soul as God sees it. I could clearly see all that is displeasing to God. I did not know that even the smallest transgressions will have to be accounted for. What a moment! Who can describe it? To stand before the Thrice-Holy God! Jesus asked me, Who are You? I answered, “I am your servant, Lord.”  You are guilty of one day of fire in purgatory. I wanted to throw myself immediately into the flames of purgatory, but Jesus stopped me and said, Which do you prefer, suffer now for one day in purgatory or for a short while on earth?” I replied, “Jesus, I want to suffer in purgatory, and I want to suffer also the greatest pains on earth, even if it were until the end of the world.” Jesus said, One [of the two] is enough; you will go back to earth, and there you will suffer much, but not for long; you will accomplish My will and My desires, and a faithful servant of mine will help you to do this. Now, rest your head on My bosom , on My heart, and draw from it strength and power for these sufferings because you will find neither relief nor help nor comfort anywhere else… (Diary #36)

Along with this significant passage, consider this entry made by Faustina which enlarges our understanding of the difficulties we face:

One day, I saw interiorly how much my confessor would have to suffer: friends will desert you while everyone will rise up against you and your physical strength will diminish. I saw you as a bunch of grapes chosen by the Lord and thrown into the press of suffering. Your soul, Father, will at times be filled with doubts about this work and about me. I saw that God Himself seemed to be opposing him, and asked the Lord why He was acting in this way toward him, as though He were placing obstacles in the way of his doing what He himself had asked him to do. And the Lord said, I am acting thus with him to give testimony that this work is Mine. Tell him not to fear anything; My gaze is on him day and night. There will be as many crowns to form his crown as there will be souls saved by this work. It is not for the success of a work, but for the suffering that I give reward. (Diary #90)

These two citations from the Diary of St. Faustina help us understand how to get through life’s difficulties and worries according to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ and why the Lord allows us to go through these hardships.

This spiritual perspective of life’s adversities is totally absurd to the reasoning of our secular society in which we are all immersed. It is so necessary in order for us to survive spiritually in this arid environment of godless morals and philosophy to keep our eyes focused on the Lord and His messages. The writings of St. Margaret Mary, St. Faustina and the saints will help us form our thoughts and guide our actions according to the Heart of Christ. And good Christian friends will help sustain us in our quest to do the right thing before God. Our thrust must be toward trust in Jesus Christ and not fear of what the world threatens will happen.

Having said all this, I am not oblivious of the manifold concerns and serious dilemmas that people face. Life is complex. And there are no easy answers to some of its tangled problems. But the Sacred Heart of Jesus has the answers. And we do not have to figure them all out by ourselves. Sometimes our dear Lord works by labyrinthic ways, and it is only by hindsight that we see how our difficulties have shaped our spiritual growth and character. A concrete example of this can be taken from the life of our foundress St. Jane de Chantal. Tragic but providential circumstances forged her destiny and formed her into a real woman of God.

As most of you know, St. Jane de Chantal is one of those unique saints who can be a model for several states of life. Single, married, widowed and finally the co-founder of the Visitation Order with St. Francis de Sales, she has, as the saying goes, “done that, been there”. Her mother died shortly after her younger brother was born — she was just a toddler — and her father, president of the Burgundian parliament, raised her with solidly Catholic values. Married at the age of twenty to Baron Christophe de Rabutin-Chantal (about six years older), their life together, spanning nearly nine years, was essentially happy and comfortable. They lived in the countryside where Jane became the chatelaine of a large castle and estate, originally belonging to Christophe’s family. For being such a young and inexperienced administrator, she ran the estate with an expertise that paid off the debts and satisfied the servants. Life was going well, and her only real deprivation was the absence of her husband when he was called to court or military action in the King’s service. In 1601, the baron finally retired at age 35, partly due to an illness acquired during his last campaign. Jane, now a mother of four small children (one boy and three girls), looked forward to a life of peaceful security as her beloved husband regained his strength under her skillful care. One day in autumn, all this would change. A good friend invited Jane’s recuperating husband to take advantage of the fresh air and do some deer-stalking in the nearby woods. Passing through some dense undergrowth, the friend’s gun accidently went off, sending shot into Christophe’s thigh. Nine days later, the wound, which had become infected, sent Jane’s treasured spouse to the grave. When Jane realized that her husband was dying, she called out in desperation for the Lord to save him. Her biography says that she was in such a state of distress that she ran into the woods frantically calling out to God, “Take all my children, everything, but leave me my husband!” Her profound grief and sense of loss nearly overwhelmed her. But she clung to the Lord and even though her resignation did not lessen her anguish, it helped to turn it into a means of drawing closer to Christ’s Heart. Gradually, a longing to do God’s will filled her, and she dedicated herself to the care of her children while deepening her spiritual life. Three years later she would meet St. Francis de Sales, and God’s designs would begin to unfold for a new religious order. What appeared as tragedy, actually was the stepping-stone to greater graces and God’s providential plans.

Our anxious feelings over life’s problems and challenges can be hard to cope with, but we can turn to the Lord and ask for His help. We can lean on His Sacred Heart and consciously place our trust in Him. It is our wills and intellects that operate on a higher spiritual plane than our feelings that come and go. When we intentionally give ourselves over to the Sacred Heart, His love and care will not fail us.†

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on August 13th, 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, October 1st, 2017 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.

 

 

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The Sacred Heart as Divine Artist

The Sacred Heart as Divine Artist

 

Dear Friends of the Sacred Heart,

Whenever the month of August rolls around I always think of our move to the Berkshires from our former home in Wilmington, Delaware. This year will mark our twenty-fourth anniversary… hard to believe how fast the time has passed! One of the things that continues to amaze me about our coming to Tyringham is our immersion in beauty. Yes, a natural beauty that is a daily reminder of God’s glorious creation and a neighborly reminder, too, that we live so close to a world famous musician and a renowned liturgical arts designer “just down the street”. For us it seems most fitting that God’s providential ways planted us where we can quench our thirsty contemplative spirits in one of the most wonderful gifts from the Lord’s Sacred Heart: the eternal splendor of divine beauty.

Perhaps in our busy lives with so many demands on our shoulders, this sense of wonder which is an avenue to contemplative prayer gets mostly overlooked. Even in monasteries, the humdrum of routine can bear down upon our consciousness, eclipsing the surprises and joys that await the attentive listener, watcher, dreamer. I think of something Saint Teresa of Avila once said: “I found gazing at fields, water, or flowers a great help, for they spoke to me of the Creator, and served as a book in bringing me to a state of Recollection.” It is certainly true that the monastic founders of old searched out places of great earthly beauty, places where the human soul could find a point of transcendence, knowing that something and Someone more alluring than what the eye or ear could feast upon, was accessible to them (if they would only seek it).

From my place sitting in our choir stalls during the chanting of the Divine Office, I have a constant view out our big picture window that runs along the ambulatory of our church. One’s gaze often catches wondrous sights: the pink-tinted clouds of a breaking dawn, the quick flight of birds, the unexpected emergence of a rainbow, and, of course, the changing landscape of the seasons, with the adjacent hills decked in white, or browns, or deep blues, or the red, orange, and yellow hues of autumn. The majesty of the Lord which we sing about in the psalms is visibly manifest in a mere lifting of the eyes. There are also other wonders that appear less predictably, though they are all manifestations of the nearness of the Divine who wishes to refresh our journey to His Sacred Heart with the delights of His creative artistry.

Reading the life of Saint Margaret Mary one comes across an often-told story associated with her early days as a religious. The saint is being given advice as to how to conduct herself at prayer and her novice mistress recommends that she place herself before the Lord as a “blank canvas”. Surely, here is a reference to the Divine Artist who must have the freedom to create His divine work upon the soul of His beloved without any hindrance. Margaret Mary must have taken this counsel seriously to heart. She begins to make herself totally available to the creative action of the Master so that everything which has been “painted” upon her soul up to that point is erased (by renunciation), and offered anew, like a fresh canvas, to her Lord. The more she opens her heart and soul unconditionally to her God, the greater the graces the Sacred Heart pours into her being, re-fashioning her into a chosen vessel for His glory.

As with all creative endeavors, there are periods of seemingly low productivity. I recall (as a former art major) that it seemed to take six or seven tries before something of value began to emerge in my assignments. One thing would fail to work out for some reason or another, and then after several aborted attempts, a small success would result. Rarely would there be instantaneous satisfaction, only the hint that something pleasing to the eye might be in the making. One learned patience with the process and the hope that the final product would be worth the hours spent in the time and effort expended. A good analogy, I think, that can be applied to our spiritual quest as well. It takes great patience and fortitude to continue in the constant practice of virtue, especially when the world in which we find ourselves doesn’t value any of it. So many good people resist the overtures of divine beauty that present themselves, turning away from a deeper awareness that it is God’s hand at work in the world around them. That one step further – to acknowledge the Creator with creation – seems to constitute the perennial dilemma of our age.

Then there is what I like to think of as “hidden beauty”.  One has to have the right kind of interior lenses to see the worth of this kind of loveliness for it is truly a matter of the heart, a kind of deep intuitive discernment that grasps what is not readily apparent. St. Francis de Sales definitely had this gift of seeing through to the “essence” for his powers of human assessment went beyond what met the eye alone. He reminds others through his letters and counsels that it is the heart that matters and that true re-formation begins in the hidden recesses of our interior spirit. So, he cautions, be careful not to judge by the exterior, but look to the inner workings of the spirit. In this way you will encounter the real place of beauty and transformation, the unchanging point of contact that does not shift with the “swaying sands of time”.

Of course, it is here in the human heart, that the Divine Artist, uses His most powerful strokes to create the image of Himself upon our interiors. He imprints in our being the reflection of goodness, incarnated by His Son, whose features stir our faculties to devotion, adoration, worship, imitation. He uses us as the medium of His great attributes of love and mercy especially when we proffer ourselves as instruments of His providence. He masterfully weaves our lives into the fabric of His inscrutable wisdom for Creation, if only we would allow the threads of our wills to be joined to His. This is what He has done time and again throughout history, for He, above all is a Creator, whose creative love, flows unceasingly from His Divine Heart to ours.

It is interesting in the world of art dealership to learn how the true value of artworks are appraised. For it is not necessarily the inherent qualities of a piece of art that determine its monetary value in the long run, but who possessed the work in the history of its existence. When we transfer this understanding to the realm of the sacred, how precious we must consider the human heart as a divine work of art made in the image and likeness of the One, True God. And, yet, we need to surround ourselves with visual reminders of that transcendence. Churches that are devoid of beauty, that are stripped of anything that might lift the eye and heart upward, only negate the purpose for which they are created. So, too, our homes which can serve as “wayside stations” help us orient ourselves to God’s presence. How right the castles of old were to incorporate a chapel into their domains where the aura of something supernatural could permeate their everyday activities. These constant visual reminders communicate to us the sense that God is in our midst and that His grace is fortifying our hours with heaven’s blessings even in the monotony of our everyday labors.

The Sacred Heart, I believe, is continually “bombarding” us with signs of His love, if we would only have the eyes to see and the awareness to catch the wonder of His creative touches that “flit” through the ordinary moments of our day. He is, of course, present in the Holy Eucharist where we can intimately take Him into ourselves as food to nourish us on the road to paradise; but, we must not fail to perceive His calls to us that come when we encounter the amazing variety of His creativity. God is enhancing our journey to His heart with every colorful leaf, with the sounds of nature’s creatures, with the shapes of clouds and waterfalls. He is there, loving us, in the fireflies, in the hummingbirds, yes, even in the mosquitoes, if we but turn our inner gaze toward His divine goodness and trust that all is bringing us closer to Him.

There is a wonderful hymn which we sing in our Morning Prayer (on Sundays) that captures God’s never-ending act of creation breaking through the mysteries that we hear about in our faith. The second verse is most poignant for it says:

Yet God is recreating

More than our inner world:

Look up beyond the planets

Where galaxies are swirled.

Look out and see how often

Surprising love is shown.

Christ is at work re-shaping

Both stars and hearts of stone.

(from Hymnal of the Hours. 1989, GIA Publications)

 

The heart of our God will never stop His divine advances on our hearts. After all, as the English poet Francis Thompson has rightly surmised, He is the “hound of heaven”, forever on the pursuit of the return of our love for His and wooing us with the marvels of His divine artistry.†

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on August 13th, 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, October 1st, 2017 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.

 

 

 

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The Sacred Heart: Giver of all good gifts

The Sacred Heart:

Giver of all good gifts

Christ in Majesty
Basilica of Sacre-Coeur / Paris, France

 

Dear Friends of the Sacred Heart,

        In the writings of our founder Saint Francis de Sales there exists a picturesque description of the gifts that emanate from the bounty of God’s heart. Francis, so fond of using images from the world of flora and fauna, likened these spiritual gifts to a bouquet of flowers. He names the consummate bouquet maker Glycera and says this about her: “Glycera, a bouquet maker, was so skillful at changing flowers in order and arrangement that out of the same ones she made many different kinds of bouquets.” The incredible diversity that comes from the hand of our Creator as observed in nature is mirrored in the innumerable ways He works in souls and the different charisms that mark the manifestations of His Holy Spirit. As Saint Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians: “There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.” [1 Cor 12: 7-12] Saint Paul additionally points out that though God has many gifts to bestow, there must be a discernment applied to whether or not these gifts are truly from the Lord. So we must test the Spirit, Scripture says (1 John 4), by probing beneath the surface to determine the real origin of the gift.

        The saints were filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Yet, they, too, had to be tested. Saint Margaret Mary’s own revelations are a case in point. Her sisters in religion were wary of her extraordinary spiritual gifts, some even dousing her with holy water, fearful lest she be possessed of a bad spirit. But with the arrival of the Jesuit priest Claude la Colombiere, she was gradually proved to be authentic, and eventually esteemed as a saint at her death. She was able to make this enlightening statement about the abundant graces and gifts that she received: “I have always felt drawn to love my Sovereign Lord for the love of Himself, neither wishing nor desiring anything but Him alone. I have never been attached to His gifts, however great they might be in my regard; I valued them only because they came from Him, and I reflected upon them as little as possible, trying to forget everything in order to remember Him alone, without Whom all the rest is nothing to me.” This saint’s sublime detachment is testimony to her innate humility and her spirit of pure love of God.

        So we might ask ourselves: Are we showing gratitude to the “giver of all good gifts?” We are reminded of this in the beautiful Sacred Heart encyclical Haurietis Aquas where it says “…that they [we] are moved to honor God not primarily for their [our] own advantage in what concerns soul and body in this life and in the next, but for the sake of God’s goodness they [we] strive to render their [our] homage, to give Him back love for love, to adore Him and offer Him thanks.” So it is to the Heart of Christ that one’s thanks are ultimately due, for that Divine Heart is at the center of all creation. This is so visually striking when one enters into one of the great sanctuaries of Christendom: the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur in Paris, France. Assuming the focus of attention in the interior of this church is a mosaic like none other. Here we see a monumental masterpiece of Jesus exposing His heart of gold, flanked by His mother and St. Michael and surrounded by the people in history who have honored His Sacred Heart. Called “Christ in Majesty” visitors are often caught up in the powerful and evocative imagery which greets their eyes. One such visitor wrote his impressions as such:

“There is Christ with His vast all-embracing arms stretching out and touching the whole of the universe. From His golden glowing heart streams beams of light. Everything is converging towards Him in the final Parousia. This is the Sacred Heart as the King of creation. He is the center of centers which extends throughout the universe. His is triumph and is clothed in glory. He extends Himself to unite the universe with heaven: father, son, and holy spirit.” (quoted from the website Elias Icons: writing and reading an icon of the Sacred Heart)

        It is no wonder that the heart of Christ has drawn out the most enlightened sentiments from the hearts of so many people. Consider, for instance, this excerpt from a poem by Saint Edith Stein: “In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the Kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts… It draws us to itself with secret power, it conceals us in itself in the Father’s bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in a small tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that still, white host.”

        And from the profound reflections of Pope Benedict XVI, we read: “When we practice the devotion to the Sacred Heart not only do we recognize God’s love with gratitude but we continue to open ourselves to this love so that our lives are even more closely patterned on it. God, who poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (who has been given to us / Romans 5: 5) invites us tirelessly to accept His love.”

        Christ’s power of opening hearts has never ceased to show itself even in the most unlikely of people and circumstances. An example of this recently came to my attention through reading about the life (and conversion) of Jean-Marie Elie Serbon. A brief synopsis of his life tells his story:

“Jean-Marie Elie Setbon, the son of non-observant French Jews, was first attracted to Jesus when he saw a crucifix at a young age. He hid a crucifix in his room and contemplated it often, even though he knew his family would be hurt and angry if they ever caught him.

Seeing the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur from this apartment window, he was drawn to the church, where he found himself powerfully pulled toward Jesus in the Eucharist. After several years of surreptitiously attending Mass, he resolved to convert to Catholicism in spite of the scandal it would cause, but God had other plans…” [quoted from the back cover of the book From the Kippah to the Cross, Ignatius Press. 2013].

        Many twists and turns in life’s road would take Jean-Marie further and further from his heart’s secret desire until years later when the doors of his heart would be “pried” open by a series of providential circumstances propelling him toward the Catholic Church. Today, this former Orthodox Jewish rabbi is a lecturer and educator specializing in theology and biblical exegesis. He leaves us with so many important messages about our faith: not to give up is one of them… “Since my baptism, the Holy Spirit has brought forth His fruits in me: love, joy, peace, kindness, faith, and freedom. I have lived through trials and will live through others. I know that I will continue to sin, as this is part of the human condition, but I also know that our God, who is so like a father, will always be there to pick me up again, to forgive me, and to love me. That is the essential thing.”

        On this day of Pentecost, our heartfelt gratitude should show itself, for what the heart of Jesus has left us: His Spirit. In her liturgy, the Church tells us that the Holy Spirit is the highest gift, the donum dei altissimi. Without the Holy Spirit our souls cannot live the supernatural life which we are called to live in Christ. But with the Spirit we are made vessels of grace, enabling us to be molded into a greater resemblance to Jesus. Perhaps that is why the beautiful hymn Veni Creator Spiritus is heard so often during this season: we invoke the Holy Spirit to come and take possession of our hearts, of our entire selves, filling us with wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of offending God. And, most of all, like Saint Margaret Mary, after we have tasted of the Spirit’s goodness, we acknowledge that our sole attachment is not to these marvelous gifts, but to their Holy Source.

        In the Sacred Heart encyclical Haurietis Aquas we become aware of other precious gifts from the Heart of Christ: the gift of Himself in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, His most holy Mother, and the office of the priesthood. These are all manifestations of Christ’s divine love for the Church, of which we are a part. “He shows His living Heart, wounded as it were, and throbbing with a love yet more intense than when it was wounded in death by the Roman soldier’s lance.” So it is that the modern day mystic Teilhard de Chardin could cry out: “Our Lord’s Heart is indeed ineffably beautiful and satisfying: it exhausts all reality and answer’s all the soul’s needs. The very thought of it is almost more than the mind can compass.” And Pope Benedict XVI could proclaim in his encyclical Deus Charitas Est: “The gifts received from the open side, from which ‘blood and water’ flowed, ensure that our lives will also become for others a source from which ‘rivers of living water’ flow.”

        One of my favorite scenes from a video on the life of Saint Teresa of Avila (which I saw a number of years ago but which still vividly stays in my memory) is how she loved to hide away by herself and softly sing the Veni Creator Spiritus. I must confess that I have tried doing this myself and it is mesmerizing. There is something so awesome in calling forth the Holy Spirit, asking to be filled with His light, His warmth, enflamed by love itself, seeking to be made “wholly teachable”. For the Holy Spirit teaches us about divine love. As the great communicator, the Holy Spirit searches our hearts and brings to light how we might better reform our lives and make them more pleasing in the sight of God. As the gentle compeller, the Holy Spirit inspires us to have confidence in the mercies of the Father, and to forge ahead with hope that we will be lead unerringly in the ways of providence. And as the supreme expression of love, the Holy Spirit draws us ever deeper into the Heart of Jesus, where we shall find our final place of rest and happiness.†

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on June 4th, 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, August 13th, 2017 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.
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Is the Sacred Heart of Jesus blessing you?

Is the Sacred Heart of Jesus blessing you?

 Dear Friends of the Heart of Christ,

       One of the benefits of living in a monastery, at least in this monastery, is to be surrounded by constant reminders of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Throughout our monastery building, the inhabitants and visitors are privileged to gaze upon some traditional and contemporary images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They are there to call our attention to the fact that the Sacred Heart is with us, cares about us and is the very center and meaning of our existence. Therefore, these material representations help to keep us focused on the loving heart of Christ and on His tremendous love and mercy for each of us. I often remember from my Wilmington days a dear old Sister who had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (our community resided in our Wilmington, Delaware monastery for over 100 years). She made the most exquisite Sacred Heart badges. Taking the small elevator to the upper floors always meant that she passed by a particularly archaic statue of the Sacred Heart on a pedestal attached to the wall. The three or four foot statue had its arms extended in a sign of welcome. A bare light bulb hung in front of it which created a shadow of the statue on an adjacent side wall. Typically, as this Sister went by she tapped on the bulb and sent it swinging which made the shadow of Jesus’ arms move in a beckoning gesture. One could not help smile at the thought that Jesus was inviting her into His holy embrace and next to His Sacred Heart.

        Of all the images we have of the Sacred Heart in our monastery, I think that my favorite are the ones in which the Sacred Heart of Jesus is portrayed in an attitude of blessing us. With one hand pointing to His heart and the other hand extended in blessing, this particular pose represents St. Margaret Mary’s comprehension that all the blessings we receive come to us from Christ’s Heart. As a matter of fact, in her writings we can read in several places the words, “He (i.e., the Sacred Heart of Jesus) is the source of all blessings.” It is from Christ’s Heart—that furnace of love—that we draw all the blessings of our God. The word blessed which we hear so often in Sacred Scripture is translated from the Greek (makariori) and means to be fully satisfied. It refers to the fact that those who are blessed receive God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances. When we are blessed by God, no earthly or satanic forces can overcome us. We stand fast in God’s protection no matter what hits us.

Shinto Meiji Shrine Tokyo, Japan

Hindu Temple of Tirupati

        After the recent celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the May 13th apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, I did some research on the religious shrines around the world. I was amazed at what I found. Millions and millions of people of all religious persuasions seek out these places of religious significance. For example, in the neighborhood of Tokyo, one can find the most visited religious shrine in the world. The Shinto Meiji Shrine attracts roughly thirty million visitors annually! Multimillions of visitors seek out the Hindu temples in the country of India — some of which are the richest in the world. Just think of it… In the Hindu temple of Tirupati for instance, over 60,000 pilgrims a day visit the temple to ask blessings from the Hindu God Vishnu. It is said that people drop bags of gold at the feet of these so-called deities or as Isaiah describes them, “…to these gods that cannot save.” (Isaiah-45:20) What has motivated such massive numbers of people to visit these places? Aren’t they seeking spiritual experiences and blessings in their lives? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they would seek them from the Sacred Heart of Jesus — the true source of all our blessings?

        In a recent article entitled, “What Does It Really Mean to Be Blessed?” the author makes some thought-provoking reflections. She begins by saying, “Feeling blessed is in vogue.” It seems that our social-media world is fixated on worldly blessings… “College scholarship? Blessed. Unexpected raise? Blessed. Wonderful family? Blessed.” Certainly, we should be grateful for these successes in our lives and we should thank God for them. But when everything is going perfectly or at least relatively smoothly in our lives, we often fall into a state of complacency (smug satisfaction). We let down our spiritual guard. What the author of this article aptly points out is that when everything is going serenely, we often lose opportunities for spiritual growth. She writes, “My desire for God is greatly fueled by my need. Unmet desires keep me on my knees. Deepen my prayer life.” She reveals:

Earthly blessings are temporary; they can all be taken away. Job’s blessings all disappeared in one fateful day. I, too, had a comfortable life that was stripped away within a span of weeks. My marriage dissolved. My children rebelled.  My health spiraled downward. My family fell apart. My dreams were shattered. And yet, in the midst of these painful events, I experienced God’s richest blessings. A stronger faith than I had experienced before. A deeper love than I had ever known.  A more intimate walk than I could explain. My trials grounded by faith in ways that prosperity and abundance never could. While my trials were not blessings in themselves, they were channels for them.

        Hmm… When life’s hard knocks come at us we can either become discouraged and despair or we can use them as pathways for spiritual maturation. Have you ever read a saint’s life that was without troubles and difficulties? Doesn’t happen. Saints are saints because they have used all that life dished out to them as means to ascend the ladder of holiness and become closer to the Heart of Jesus where they crawl in and receive all the strength needed to keep going.

        It’s so easy to think of God’s blessings only in material terms. We are living in the here and now and we want our contentment, our promotions, our honor and prestige, our feeling good about ourselves. If these things are our priorities in life, we’ll be spending our prayer time asking God for them. And when we don’t get them, we’ll be wondering if we are really blessed by God. But the Lord is always thinking big and wants far more for us than fleeting enjoyments and comforts. He wants us to experience His real blessings — His peace, His joy and most of all His love. When we put limits on God’s blessings according to our specifications, we don’t get our full share of graces and gifts God has stored up for us in His Sacred Heart. It is then we need to humbly ask the Lord to open the eyes of our hearts to see beyond the physical and material blessings. We need to beg the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the desire to encounter Him as the greatest of all blessings.

        A real life experience of a woman who fell into an addiction to prescription pain medications illustrates this point. Once a Licensed Practical Nurse, this woman, after suffering through some major surgeries, became addicted to prescription drugs. She ended up losing her nursing license trying to support her habit. In deep depression, without a job for nearly five years, she felt her world had come to an end. Nursing was her livelihood and helping the sick was what she was all about. Submerged in self-pity, she admits that she woke up one day and said, “Okay, this is it. I want my life back.” Once she had humbled herself and given everything to God, life began to change. “I had to realize,” she said, “that God didn’t bring me this far to leave me.” Now after ten years of being clean, she avows, “I don’t make the money that I once made, but I thank God for what I do make. One thing I do know, it’s gonna get better. I pray for faith, knowledge, mercy, strength and wisdom throughout the day on a daily basis. I owe it all to God.”

        Yes, we owe our blessings to God. Saint Margaret Mary puts it this way: “The Divine Heart,” she writes, “is an abyss filled with blessings.” She uses the word abyss to give us an idea of the immensity of Jesus’ blessings for each of us that fills His heart. Abyss means an immeasurable space, a vast chasm, an infinite area. Margaret Mary, who has personally experienced the infinite love and goodness of Jesus’ Heart, wants to share some of her insights with us. She encourages us to sink all our needs into this Sacred Heart, to immerse all our sorrows there, to find mercy there for all our wretched actions, and to exhilarate in its boundless love for us. Our saint exhorts us in the course of every activity to say this little prayer: “My God, I do this or I endure that in the heart of your Son and according to His holy counsels. I offer it to You in reparation for anything blameworthy or imperfect in my actions.” “Continue,” she stresses, “to do this in every circumstance of life.” By praying this small prayer we can offer all our actions and sufferings to God as a means to repair our failures. And God’s blessings will flow more freely into our contrite hearts.

        We have often heard the familiar saying from scripture, “…to whom much is given, much will be required.” (Lk 12:48) This idea means, of course, that we will be held responsible for what we have. If we are blessed with wealth, talents, brains, physical well-being, a loving family, etc., it is understood that we’ll use these things well to glorify God and benefit others. When we have been entrusted with certain material riches, with certain gifts of nature and grace, with a certain expertise, with certain occupations and positions, our Creator requires that we manage these things wisely and unselfishly. When we meet the Lord someday face to face we will have to render an account of our stewardship. Will we be like the unfaithful servant who mismanages the master’s resources to satiate his own greed? St. Peter reminds us in his epistle (l Peter 4:10) that, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others…” We can’t plead ignorance and think that our busy lives and personal commitments get us off the hook. All of us will be held responsible to know our Master’s will. God has given us resources such as finances, time and talents, intellectual powers, musical abilities, a listening ear and an understanding heart or spiritual gifts as encouragement or teaching. We should ask God for wisdom on how to use them. As one spiritual writer puts it, “God doesn’t bless you so you can be greedy; he blesses you so you can be generous.

        Unfortunately, in our modern day culture, the God who can bless us is often distorted into an entirely different being than the one we find in scripture. With the liberalization of society, we seem to have recast our God to comply with our own inclinations and desires. No longer is it important to follow God’s laws and pursue God’s interests, but we feel we have every right to place our interests at the top of the list and live accordingly. Will the Sacred Heart of Jesus bless this kind of behavior? I don’t think so. We can be assured that manifold blessings await us in the loving heart of Jesus. But we must worship Him in spirit and in truth. May the Holy Spirit, God’s greatest gift to us, transform us into true worshipers and fervent disciples who seek to fulfill the desires of Christ’s Heart.†

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on June 4th, 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, August 13th, 2017 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.
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Our Faith Pilgrimage with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

Our Faith Pilgrimage with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary

 

Dear Friends of the Sacred Heart,

        A few days ago, our President signed an important executive order, doing so in the Rose Garden of the White House, to emphasis the religious liberty that all Americans are entitled to. Many diverse segments of the American religious community were present at this signing and applauded the foundation that faith has always had in our country’s history. The expression of one’s faith has now been given new impetus and the promise of new protections from our federal government is a blessed relief to many religious organizations. We can only pray and thank God that this turn of events will promote a renewed zeal to honor and worship our Creator, just as our first founders envisioned.

        Working on the exterior of the monastery as its portress, I sometimes encounter profound acts of faith quietly taking place. Several years ago, one such occasion happened that really touched my heart. Called to the front door in late morning, I was introduced to four people whom I had never seen before. They turned out to be a family: mother, father, and two adult children who came to seek out the prayers of our Sisters. I could see that the father, who was already sitting on the bench and who did not rise when I walked out, was in a suffering state. He seemed to be in pain, although the look on his face was strikingly serene. As I learned in the course of my conversation with them, the prayers they were requesting were for him. He did not have long to live as cancer had already claimed most of his bodily health. Although saddened, the family radiated what could only be described as a deep peace. They were opened to whatever God’s providence sent their way and the prayers they desired were for the strength to persevere in their trust in God. I took away from that experience an unexpected blessing: that living faith is still very much alive in the lives of ordinary people.

        As we know, faith was a crucial component in the lives of our biblical ancestors throughout the Old and New Testaments, and cannot be dispensed with even in our sophisticated world of advanced technology. Every living person’s heart has the potential for a faith response to God… to Jesus… to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The deeper our response of faith, the stronger the transformational power says Jesus, for “…If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you…” (Mt 17: 20)

        In a beautiful passage taken from the letter to the Ephesians we are told that Christ will dwell in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3: 17). In the revelations of the Sacred Heart given to Saint Margaret Mary, the message is clearly communicated as well: “If you believe you will see the power of My heart.” So many times this exhortation to faith is recommended as the surest means of availing ourselves to God’s divine presence. Yet to give our whole-hearted assent and consent to the work of God can be very hard. Faith challenges us to look ever beyond, to experience beyond, to understand beyond, and to act beyond what our best reasoning and resources would otherwise dictate. Whenever we are asked to go beyond anything, there is immediately released an element of fear that comes unbidden into our hearts and minds. Someone described it thusly: “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. What is most important is not the power of nature, or fate, or political, or economic forces, but the power of the God of Life itself.”

        I find this very true in my own experience. I love to hear and read about the lives and stories of people who have a profound sense of faith in God. I feel inspired by their witness and have a desire to follow their example. But if a crisis arises, I feel the crunch of faith. Faith exacts a price because the human mind and heart are so quick to generate objections. Immediately within the heart there is a surge to find a solution and dispel the need for faith. So it is that the crux of faith touches each one of us on a very personal level. No one can force us to believe something or someone that we really do not want to believe. It is a choice that only each individual person can make and continue to make on his or her own. It deepens and increases as our commitment becomes one of total trust in God. As we know from the biblical sources, the faith of God’s chosen ones was tried. Our faith is going to be tested too. Our faith may be pushed to the extremes as was theirs. God may appear to hide so deeply that it may even seem that we are forsaken; that God has not heard, or cared to come to our assistance.

        Again, from my own experience I can say that one of the greatest obstacles keeping us from the presence of God is a nameless discouragement that sometimes wells up from some deep cavern within us. When distractions don’t go away, when feelings of comfort and consolation are sparse, when a kind of lethargy is present, it is difficult to sustain an optimistic and hope filled attitude. Sooner or later our pilgrimage to the Heart of God comes to an impasse when a crucial choice must be made. Either we opt to continue on the journey with trust and surrender or we stagnate in a kind of fogginess that brings us to a halt. God seems far, far away at such moments, but actually we are beckoned to step out into the darkness and trust His guiding hand. A comment I recently came across from Saint Faustina proved enlightening in this regard: “I fervently beg the Lord to strengthen my faith, so that in my drab, everyday life I will not be guided by human dispositions, but by those of the Spirit. Oh, how everything drags man towards the earth! But lively faith maintains the soul in the higher regions and assigns self-love its proper place; that is to say, the lowest one.” (Diary, #210)

        The Cistercian monk Thomas Merton also has some insightful words for us. Writing on the subject of faith and prayer he offers this advice: “For us let it be enough to know ourselves to be in the place where God wants us, and carry on our work, even though it be no more than the work of an ant, infinitesimally small, and with unforeseeable results. Now is the hour of the garden and the night, the hour of the silent offering, therefore the hour of hope: God alone, faceless, unknown, unfelt, yet undeniably God.” Another marvelous thought about building up our faith comes from St. Francis de Sales, who says this: “Let us keep on and on, making our way through the dark valleys; let us live with the cross in our arms, humble and patient. What does it matter whether God’s voice comes to us amongst thorns or amongst flowers? Indeed, I do not remember that God has ever spoken where there are flowers, but His voice has often been heard in deserts and thorny bushes.”

        As the Catholic community worldwide prepares to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the Fatima apparitions on May 13th of this year, we can stand in awe of the tremendous impact which these heavenly visitations have had on the faith of millions of people. The statue which represents our Lady of Fatima has travelled all over the world reminding pilgrims that they are very much in the thoughts and hearts of the Mother and her Son. Mary’s revelations to the three shepherd children stress the importance of not relinquishing our faith to the forces of secularism and questionable ideologies, but turning our inward attention constantly to “…the things that are above.” This is the recurring theme for so many Marian apparitions, but particularly at Fatima do we hear of the need for our co-operation with God’s grace to mold our hearts through a kind of spiritual discipline that prevents us from falling prey to the self-indulgence that pushes God completely out of our lives. We can get a glimpse of this happening right in our homes where even a religious object or picture is no longer displayed. Rarely does one see a crucifix, let alone a statue of the Sacred Heart or of Mary. Displaying one’s faith is hardly considered serious in our day, being reserved instead for the most private of spaces.

        So it is particularly through the messages of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Fatima that we are given a means of working through the blurred thinking of our day, making ourselves available to the light of the Holy Spirit, as Mary was, and enabling us to properly assess how God is really leading us. Mary desires our hearts to be in tune with hers where we can join her in pondering over God’s presence in our everyday lives, in entrusting ourselves to God’s providence through difficult situations, and in standing true to our faith under the cross of her Son.

        During this season of Paschaltide we hear again and again the promise of peace which the Lord Jesus wishes for His followers. This, too, is an important theme of Fatima. The idea of “total peace” is almost inconceivable in our day. Recently a friend of my sister’s whose son is serving in an intelligence post within the military, said that we will always be fighting a war somewhere in the world. Yet, peace is the continual message that is brought to us through the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart. Our personal journeys of faith with the Two Hearts cannot be authenticated unless we are touched by true peace, both interior and exterior, so we must hope that this gift of peace will somehow be realized. As Mary promised at Fatima, “My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” When this spiritual triumph has its day, then we will taste the fruits of peace. However until then, our pilgrimage must be one of faithful adherence to the ways of the Lord where we daily renew our efforts and place our inner spirits close to the sacred wound of Christ’s pierced heart and Mary’s immaculate heart seeking the grace of a faith that will remain unshaken. †

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on May 7th, 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, June 4th, 2017 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.
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The Immaculate Heart of Mary – Mother or Idol

The Immaculate Heart of Mary

Mother or Idol

 

Dear Friends of the Heart of Christ,

        Raised in a Catholic home, I have been exposed to devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary since my childhood. Around our family house, I was accustomed to seeing images of her on our walls, tables and bureaus. It was something I grew up with. I never felt that I was worshipping her but just honoring Mary for what she was and is — the Mother of Jesus. Since I went to a public school, I had Protestant friends and spent time at their houses which were noticeably devoid of anything Marian. Mary was not a part of their growing up experiences and they probably thought little about her. But as a child, I would often take part in neighborhood rosaries that were recited around backyard shrines in the summertime — one of them being a few houses away in a pleasing garden setting that brought neighbors together to pray. These memories are treasured reminders that Mary was a vital part of my Christian education from the start, and so I never had any prejudices against devotion to her. She was always the heavenly Mother of God who was there to help you, comfort you and lead you to her son Jesus.

        Regrettably, many people are brought up with the wrong perceptions of our Blessed Mother Mary. Our Protestant brothers and sisters and non-Christians have not been introduced to the real Mother of God and either have no knowledge of her or a distorted introduction to her. How sad this is, for Mary is our spiritual Mother, not only for Catholics but for all people.

        Soon we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions—beginning May 13th. Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the hallmark of these apparitions that took place from May 13 to October 13, 1917. Sister Lucia (one of the three seers) explains in her book The Message of Fatima why this is so. “God began the work of redemption,” she writes, “in the Heart of Mary, given that it was through her ‘fiat’ that the redemption began to come about. Thus, we see that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary must be established in the world by means of a true consecration through conversion and self-giving.”

        In the Fatima apparition of June 13, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary told Lucia: “Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved. He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” For all those who desire to minimize Mary’s importance in salvation history and view her simply as a vessel that God once used, this statement tells us a different story. God wants His mother to be especially honored by all of us and to be blessed by all of us. And He greatly desires that we have devotion (that is, profound dedication and earnest attachment) to her pure heart wherein she readily embraced the will of God and followed it at all times. She was His flawless earthly mother and His perfect disciple — truly the masterpiece of His creation.

        Our non-Catholic brethren often chide us for idolizing Mary. They say that we go overboard and accuse us of worshipping her and putting her on the same level as the Lord. But I would like to reflect on some scripture passages that show us how the Blessed Virgin Mary was Jesus’ revered and perfect disciple, His and our loving Mother, and humanity’s powerful intercessor before the Lord.

        As Catholic Christians we are all familiar with the prayer “The Hail, Mary” which acknowledges Mary as full of grace and blessed among women. These salutations come from the biblical verses (Lk 1:28 and 42) in which Mary is greeted by the angel during the Annunciation and when Mary’s cousin Elizabeth greets her at the Visitation. Later in the Gospels, we read that a woman cried out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you…” And Jesus replies, “No, blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it…” (Lk 11:27-28). Now, some of our separated brethren like to use this example as a way to take a subtle swipe at Mary. See, they point out, Jesus is showing us that the object of His physical birth is just an earthly vessel and really nothing extraordinary. Would Jesus really consider His mother in this pejorative sense? Would He even remotely be disrespectful of her when He was the perfect observer of the Ten Commandments that calls us to honor our Father and Mother? There is no doubt that Mary heard the word of God and kept it fully. This is what Jesus is emphasizing, as Luke relates in his Gospel narrative about Mary: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord…” (Lk 2:51). The Virgin Mary believed the angel’s words that she would conceive the Son of the Most High, even though such a thing seemed impossible. This is why the Church holds Mary up for us as the crowning example of the one who heard God’s word, believed it, kept it and lived it. She is the one perfect disciple of Christ.

        Many people are totally repelled by the thought of Mary, a mere human, being called the Mother of God. Since the fifth century Council of Ephesus, the Church has given her the title Theotokos. This reinforces the belief that since Jesus is the Son of God, Mary was therefore the Mother of God. Moreover, the early Church regarded Mary not only as the Mother of Jesus, and hence the Mother of God, but also the Mother of all who believe in Jesus. We read how during His crucifixion Jesus entrusted St. John, His beloved disciple, to Mary and Mary to John with the words, “Woman, behold your son…”, and to the disciple, “Behold, your mother…” (Jn 19:26-27). With this act Jesus was providing for the material care of His mother. Furthermore, the beloved disciple represented every believer. Now all believers can place themselves in John’s shoes and are exhorted to: “Behold your mother!” This is Jesus’ authoritative gift to us all of Mary, our mother. He gives each of us who believe in Him, His very own mother to be our mother who loves us all and cares about us all.

        There is one more scriptural reference that I would like to ruminate on that gives us a good idea of Mary’s extraordinary intercessory power. It is the passage from the Wedding Feast of Cana (Jn 2:1-12). We are acquainted with this scenario. Jesus and Mary have been invited to a wedding celebration. The wine runs out. Imagine yourself at a big wedding bash and no more wine! What a disappointment! So Mary goes to Jesus with a hint to fix it. She simply says, “They have no wine.” And Jesus responds, “What does this have to do with me?” Now that may seem like an off-putting reply. But on contemplating it, I believe, Jesus was testing Mary (and us) a bit, stretching our faith. So I think Jesus showed us by His response to Mary’s request at Cana that His heart can be moved by His Mother’s intercession. Mary tells the wine stewards, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus turns the water into the best, the finest, the tastiest wine! That’s what Mary’s intercession provides—it moves her Son’s heart to grant us the very best.

        Sorry to say, these reflections are very troublesome for many, even for some Catholics. They think that if we honor Mary we are detracting from Jesus. If you do some research, you would be amazed at the intensity of objections leveled against those who venerate our Blessed Mother. They have created a word to describe us: Mariolatry which literally means “Mary-worship.” Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who venerate Mary as the foremost saint are accused of idolatry, of putting her before the one true God and of even giving her equal honor to God. “Mary,” they say, “has no power to connect us to God, to heal us, to hear our prayers. Singing hymns to her, praying to her, kissing her picture, parading her image through the streets, bowing down before her statue, reflect a degree of reverence that certainly imitates idolatry…” (quoted from: gotQuestions?org).

        For those of us who love our Blessed Mother and know that our veneration towards her does not take away or lessen our honor or worship of God, we are grieved by such statements. However, Mary is not driven away by such attitudes. She is only waiting in the wings for God’s light to permeate minds and hearts. A story from the life of a fervent Jew illustrates what I mean. Jean-Marie Elie Setbon was born in France in 1964 and trained in Israel as an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. From the age of eight he had an inexplicable attraction to Christ’s cross and would often as a teenager secretively visit Paris’ Sacré-Cœur Basilica to sit before the presence of Christ. Upon graduation from high-school, he moved to Israel to immerse himself deeper into the faith of his ancestors. He returned to France eight years later as an ultra-Orthodox Jew. Interiorly, he continued to struggle between his heart’s attraction to Christianity and his head’s affirmation of his Jewish faith. Eventually, he confided to a priest some of his mystical experiences. He would often find himself in chills in the middle of the night, overcome by the presence of Jesus. When speaking to his priest friend, the question of the Virgin Mary often came up and one day Jean-Marie declared, “I’m not interested in the Virgin Mary!” The priest persisted, “Why do you say that praying to the Virgin Mary is idolatry?” Setbon answered, “When I… see all those processions at Lourdes, these candles and prostrations before statues, it’s like idols in Asia, Africa or the Bible.” Nevertheless, Setbon was confronted by the priest to say the rosary before he went to sleep. Reluctant at first, he nonetheless took the flyer explaining the rosary. That night he nervously prayed the rosary before going to bed. He reveals what took place: “Then I fell asleep and slumbered like a baby — until morning! As it happened, since that rosary, I have not been awakened at night! Instead, when I opened my eyes in the morning, I was filled with a crazy desire to prostrate myself at Mary’s feet to show her my love! Unbelievable, no? Jesus led me to Mary, His Mother, while usually it is the reverse, one comes to Jesus through Mary” (quoted from: From the Kippah to the Cross: A Jew’s Conversion to Catholicism / Ignatius Press). Setbon entered the Catholic Church in 2008 and acts as a lecturer and educator in theology and biblical exegesis.

        Some of us may be familiar with the liturgical guide Magnificat. Its cover this month depicts the art work by Donatello, an early Renaissance sculptor from Florence, of the Virgin and Child, aligned forehead to forehead. Each one’s close-up glance seems to be penetrating into the soul of the other. That’s an apt representation of how close the Hearts of Jesus and Mary are to each other. We can’t talk about one of their hearts without including the other. It’s interesting to note for those who have been to Fatima or seen photos of the esplanade there that right in the middle of this world-famous shrine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary stands a pillar with a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on top of it. It is from these two Sacred Hearts so united that the world will be renewed. May they reveal themselves to each of us and to all and form in us hearts like their own. †

 

This talk on Sacred Heart Spirituality was given on May 7th, 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, June 4th, 2017 at 4:00 pm.  All are invited to attend.
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