How many times have you heard the expression, “GET TO THE HEART OF THE MATTER!”? St. John of the Cross loses no time on that one for he counsels us, ” Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.”
To better understand the place of the Sacred Heart in the devotion of our Carmelite Community we will take a step back in our history to an old acquaintance of our Mother Foundress, who is now a Servant of God, Father Pedro of Saint Elias, O.C.D. He possessed a fatherly concern for Mother Luisita and the community from the beginnings of their days in Atotonilco, Mexico. At one point during the Mexican Persecution which forced the community into exile, he managed to visit them and lighten their burden. Unknown to him at the time, he was actually on his way to martyrdom. Below is part of a letter which he had earlier written to Mother Luisita.
I wish to write a few lines to tell you that I have taken the liberty of sending you a book entitled The True Practice of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Truly it can be practical to the one who wants to imitate the Sacred Heart of Jesus in His virtues and to respond to His love. Furthermore I wish to give Your Reverence some advice, and that is that you make it your purpose not only to be very devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but also that you spread His devotion in the knowledge that you will bring to yourself and to your daughters innumerable blessings from heaven and your Congregation will prosper extraordinarily. . .You will not regret it if you take upon yourself to spread the devotion to the Sacred Heart.
Father’s message was very clear. Do you want your community to prosper? Then spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus!
Rewind now and go further back in history to the Old Testament around the year 480 B.C. The prophet Jeremiah in the twelfth chapter of his book writes:
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
Another prophecy is taken from Ezechiel, who speaks of a healing water which will “flow from the sanctuary of the Temple” (Ez. 47:1-12). The Old Testament often contains veiled revelation which mysteriously reappears in the New Testament. Fast forward now to the New Testament to the Gospel of John as found in the Latin Vulgate Bible, Chapter 19:34 with Douay-Rheims. Jesus is on the Cross and He is already dead. A Roman soldier steps forth and “with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water”. Through the wound in the side, the wounded Heart was gradually reached, and the treasures of the Temple poured forth.
But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water. The Latin precisely says “opened”: …sed unus militum lancea latus eius aperuit et continuo exivit sanguis et aqua.
The piercing of the side did not cause the death of Jesus; that had already taken place. But the Spirit was waiting to be released. John was there, standing at the foot of the Cross, as a witness. Remembering this vivid scene, he later quoted two Old Testament passages which confirmed his observations:
Psalm 34:19-20 …Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones. Not one of them is broken.
Jeremiah 12:10 They will look upon him whom they have pierced.
Think again of the prophecy of Ezekiel as we contemplate the opening of Jesus’ side. Our Lord Himself spoke of His Body as a Temple and of streams that would flow from His Body. This water gives us the life of grace, the sacraments, the Church and the Holy Spirit. The wound in Jesus’ side thus becomes our gateway to eternal life. These are the blessings from heaven to which Father Pedro referred in his letter to Mother Luisita.
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries we find the first indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Benedictine or Cistercian monasteries. But let us move forward to the 17th Century where the private revelations of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary at Paray-le-Monial, France, happened between the years 1673-1675. The first apparition took place on December 27, 1673. Why is this particular day so memorable? It was the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the witness on Calvary to the opening of Christ’s side. Margaret Mary was in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. She describes it thus:
One day, having a little more leisure-for occupations confided to me left me scarcely any-I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, when I felt myself wholly penetrated with that Divine Presence, but to such a degree that I lost all thought of myself and of the place where I was, and abandoned myself to this Divine Spirit, yielding up my heart to the power of His Love. He made me repose for a long time upon His Sacred Breast, where He disclosed to me the marvels of His Love and the inexplicable secrets of His Sacred Heart, which so far He had concealed from me. Then it was that, for the first time, He opened to me His Divine Heart in a manner so real and sensible as to be beyond all doubt, by reason of the effects which this favor produced in me, fearful, as I always am, of deceiving myself in anything that I say of what passes in time. It seems to me that this is what took place.
Jesus continued telling her:
My well-beloved, I give you a precious token of My love, having enclosed within your side a little spark of its glowing flames, that it may serve you for a heart and consume you to the last moment of your life; although I have closed the wound in your side, the pain will always remain.
In John 15:12 Jesus tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Jesus loves us with both a human and divine love which springs from the center of the same Divine Person. The pierced heart of Jesus reminds us of our Redemption and speaks of our Lord’s self-sacrifice, His emptying out of self (kenosis). It enables us to enter into the innermost center of Christ and find the mystery of His Heart – the mystery of His infinite Love. In the depths of Divinity there beats a heart just like our own. Think of that when you re-read the words, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
In order to be conformed to the interior disposition of the pierced Heart of Christ and to understand that love that His Heart manifests, we need contemplation. We need to ponder the mysteries. Our hearts are not always loving. Our interior life must include the inner experience of God and its outward expression in relationships. Becoming one with the pierced Heart of Christ enables us to accept rejection, defeat and death as a part of a process that brings about resurrection and new life. It is in our most abandoned moment that we must say “yes” to God.
In this devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus we have an immense hidden force. We have a means of being firmly rooted in our relationship with Christ. It is a bond of unity since our community is openly committed to this devotion through the title we have embraced.
As a Community which has united the contemplative spirit to the works of the Apostolate our devotion to the Sacred Heart lies in the unity of love of God and love of neighbor. Therein, we as a religious community find the strength and power to love as Jesus does. “Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life” permeates our works of Healthcare, Education and Retreats. In John 13:15, following the washing of the feet, Jesus told His disciples, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Because of the growing secularization of our society we need to strengthen grass root communities, first of which is the family. “To be at the service of the family for life” enables us in this devotion to respond to one of the absolute human needs of today’s society. Saint Pope John Paul II said, “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (Origins, Dec 2, 1993).
St. Teresa of Avila was very devoted to the humanity of Jesus for it is through Jesus that we come to the Father. In our devotion to the Sacred Heart we reflect on Jesus in His humanity. John Paul II had reminded us that “In the Heart of Christ, man’s heart learns to know the genuine and unique meaning of his life and of his destiny…” Thus the devotion to the Heart of Jesus is for us as Carmelites a very real part of our pilgrimage to the Father for we can only come to Him through Jesus.
Pope Pius XII in his 1956 Encyclical “Haurietis Aquas” (On Devotion to the Sacred Heart) #58, proposed this devotion “as a sort of mystical ladder by which we mount to the embrace of God our Savior”. Each rung of the ladder brings us closer to the object of our love, the Person of Jesus Christ and to the beat of His heart which St. John the Evangelist experienced at the Last Supper. That is truly “getting to the Heart of the matter”!