My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The church’s annual celebration of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus will take place this year on Friday, June 23. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has long been an important part of my spiritual life, going back to when I was a child and our home always had a calendar from the Sacred Heart League on our kitchen wall. Barely a day would go by when I would not look at this calendar with a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
My mother says that I was about 4 years old when I first mentioned that I wanted to be a priest. Playing “Mass” as a young boy, I named my pretend parish after the Sacred Heart. Because of my life-long devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, when I was named a bishop I included the image of the Sacred Heart on my episcopal coat of arms, above two scales of justice, emblematic of the fact that I am both a civil lawyer and a canon lawyer. The icon of the Sacred Heart, together with the scales of justice, is a visual depiction of my episcopal motto “Lex Cordis Caritas.” This Latin phrase expresses my profound belief that “the law of the heart is love.”
Two important elements of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus are the novena prayed for the nine days preceding the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and receiving holy Communion on the first Friday of nine consecutive months. The institution of the feast was a result of the appearances of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675. The celebration of the feast was extended to the general calendar of the church by Pope Pius IX in 1856.
Appearing to St. Margaret Mary, Jesus said, “I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.”
This message of Divine Mercy continued in the 20th century, when the Lord appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska near Krakow, Poland, who wrote in her diary these words of Jesus: “I have opened my Heart as a living source of Mercy, from it all souls draw life, all approach with deep confidence this sea of Mercy. Sinners will obtain justification and the just will be strengthened in goodness. I will fill the souls of those who put their trust in My Mercy with My divine peace at the hour of their death. My daughter, continue to spread devotion to My Mercy, in doing so you will refresh My Heart which burns with the fire of compassion for sinners. Tell my priests that hardened sinners will be softened by their words if they speak of my boundless Mercy and of the compassion which My Heart feels for them. I will give priests who proclaim and exalt My Mercy wondrous power, unction to their words and I will move all the hearts to which they speak” (Book 5, Jan. 21, 1938).
St. John Paul II, who as a young man employed at a factory in Krakow would visit the grave of Sister Faustina on his way home from work, introduced the church into the Third Millennium with a mandate for Christians to become “Apostles of Divine Mercy.” Pope Benedict XVI picked up where his predecessor left off, reminding the faithful of the necessity to rediscover the merciful Heart of Jesus, this infinite Love of God, who reveals himself in our lives if we open ourselves to him.
Last year on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass with priests in St. Peter’s Square as part of a special Jubilee of Mercy for Priests. In his homily for that Mass, the Holy Father said, “The Heart of the Good Shepherd tells us that His love is limitless; it is never exhausted and it never gives up. There we see His infinite and boundless self-giving; there we find the source of that faithful and meek love which sets free and makes others free; there we constantly discover anew that Jesus loves us ‘even to the end’ (John 13:1), without ever being imposing.”
May the grace and mercy that stream from the Sacred Heart of Jesus fill our hearts with an abundance of love that flows from us back to God and extends to everyone in our lives.
May God give us this grace. Amen.