The Sacred Heart:
Giver of all good gifts
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.†