Our spirituality

Heart speaks to Heart

When did people start praying to a ‘Heart’? Should they not be praying to a Person?  Desmond

About thirty years ago, the Cleansing Department of New York State asked for help from their colleagues in Public Relations. They were planning a big clean-up. One of the PR men had just got to work on a new logo when an advertisement for Sony caught his attention. It featured simply the trade name with one modification. The letter 'O' had been replaced with the image of a heart.

From this he got a brainwave. By simply replacing the 'S' with an 'I', he stumbled on the most ubiquitous logo of recent decades: I♥NY. What began with New York has now been adapted to every imaginable object of affection, and is used and understood in every language under the sun.

St. Margaret Mary
Over 300 years ago, long before the era of the logo or the soundbite, Our Lord made an extraordinary promise to St. Margaret Mary during his appearance to her at Paray-Ie-Monial in France: 'I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart shall be exposed and honoured'.

Obviously this required making something as down-to-earth as a drawing, so Margaret Mary set about making a sketch of what she had seen. 'I saw this divine heart as on a throne of flames,' she wrote, 'more brilliant than the sun and as transparent as crystal.' She then got another nun in the community to improve on her design.

The result was not the height of art, but Margaret Mary considered it adequate for the purpose. She and her novices first venerated it on 20 July 1685. It was meant to remind people of the most important message there is: that God has a heart for every one of us.

Today, there is hardly a Catholic church in the world where you will not find either a painting, a stained-glass window or a statue inspired by this simple, naive drawing. The inspiration for Margaret Mary's sketch was something much more significant than an advertisement for a modern gadget. It was the very Heart of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Even children know that in venerating the image they are lifting their minds to the reality that it symbolizes.

Primordial Word
Words and expressions based on the heart always refer to something more than the physical organ that keeps the blood running through our veins. Karl Rahner said of the word 'heart' itself that it 'wanders through the languages of the world'. As a 'primordial' word, it has to do with the 'deep-down things of life,' such as light, darkness, bread, water or love. Indeed, the words compounded from heart all try to get to the very core of the person: kind-hearted, hard-hearted, soft-hearted, big-hearted, a heart 'of stone. There are lots of others.

None of us has much difficulty understanding the motto chosen by Venerable John Henry Newman on being made cardinal: cor ad cor loquitur - 'heart speaks to heart'. Again, when somebody says to you, 'Have a heart,' you are not being encouraged to visit a cardiologist. You are being told to be less severe in your judgement. In fact, it is a recommendation that you be more like Christ, the one who was 'gentle and humble of heart' (Mt.ll:29).

A Burning Love
Fifty years ago this year, Pope Pius XII wrote his great encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart, entitled Haurietis Aquas. He encouraged people to trust their instinct that the Risen Lord, as one 'like us in all things but sin' (Heb.4:5), still wants to deal with us in an entirely human way.

'After Our Lord had ascended into heaven,' he wrote, 'with his body adorned with the splendour of eternal glory and took his place by the right hand of the Father, he did not cease to remain with his spouse, the Church, by means of the burning love with which his heart beats. For he bears in his hands, feet and side the glorious marks of the wounds which manifest the threefold victory over the devil, sin and death.'

Sacred Heart Devotion
Fr. James A. Cullen, S.J., founder of both the Messenger and the Pioneer Association, was tireless in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart. It was largely through his unceasing efforts that the image of the Sacred Heart appeared on the walls of so many homes in Ireland, as well as on the lapels of the coats of hundreds of thousands of Pioneers.

He was convinced that the honour shown to the Sacred Heart in such a simple and unpretentious way would bring great blessings to the human community. Such witness to faith is as relevant in the twenty-first century as in any other. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged people to make a place among the decorations in their homes for religious objects, as a simple but effective step towards rekindling faith in the family.

Feast Day
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the occasion on 23 August 1856 when Pope Pius IX extended the Feast of the Sacred Heart to the Universal Church. A hundred years later, his successor Pope Pius XII wrote, 'This act richly deserved to be commended to the lasting memory of the faithful, for as we read in the liturgy of the same feast: From that time the devotion to the Sacred Heart, like a stream in flood sweeping aside all obstacles, spread out over the whole world'.

The establishment of this feast was the answer to a request of the Lord himself to St. Margaret Mary more than two centuries earlier. Its time had finally come.   

A forty-five-minute DVD, The Heart of Jesus in History, is available from the Pioneer Shop on-line (€10. 00). It tells the story of devotion to the Sacred Heart from its beginnings on Calvary up to our own day.