Feast of the Sacred Heart
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
"This is life everlasting that they may know Thee, and whom Thou hast sent, Jesus Christ."--John xvii, 3.
As the pulpit text which I have just read for you, dearly beloved in Christ, admonishes us, more is necessary for our salvation than faithfully to confess God the Father, and whom He has sent, Jesus Christ; for, if this confession is to deliver and save us, we must follow Christ by obeying the teachings of the faith He brought into the world. The devils also confess God, and yet they remain devils; they also confess Jesus Christ, yet they are damned forever. Therefore, St. Paul so expressly declares to the early Christians: "And what else do I require of you, by all I have told you, by word and by our epistle, than that you advance in the knowledge and love of Christ?" which means that, in proportion as this knowledge and love takes root in your heart, and increases and fructifies, so also will you, together with me, follow Jesus, and be saved through Him. These are the words of the Apostle of nations.
But it is precisely in this regard that a very great deficiency is generally manifested. Not to speak of those who know nothing of Jesus save what they have learned from history, and who are not members of the true faith, how many, even among those who call themselves Catholics, and, perhaps, live exteriorly as such, in reality know Him not! They know Him, as it were, only by name; they know Him not personally; and the "knowledge they have of the divine Saviour exercises no beneficial influence upon their lives.
In this meditation, therefore, my dear brethren, I will endeavor to demonstrate, that a true veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the portal through which we must enter into the sanctuary of a sweet, a loving union, with Christ, an intimate, personal knowledge of the Saviour. O Mary, who, as His Mother, didst know and love the Son of God, following Him with devoted care even to the foot of the cross, we pray thee, obtain for us the grace to know and love Him too. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
Christ is, as holy faith teaches, the incarnate Son of God. That this knowledge may enkindle within us, and fan the fire of divine love, in so ardent a manner that we may imitate our divine Saviour, we must often meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, of which a tender devotion to the Sacred Heart can not fail to remind us. The Angels cherish the most profound veneration, and yet God did not become an angel--but a man. To this He was impelled by no other consideration than His love for us.
"I have loved thee with an eternal love, and drawn thee with merciful love to Me." What a powerful motive for love and gratitude! God was pleased to create us, not only after His own image, but to take upon Himself our very nature, inexpressibly inferior as it is, and thus elevate it above the angelic nature. They possess not, like us, the privilege of calling him brother. Should not this urge us to listen to our Lord when He speaks thus to our hearts: "And now what else does thy God require of thee, than that thou shouldst love Him?"
Christ, as God and man at the same time, is our Redeemer, Who shed His precious blood for us in that atoning sacrifice, completed through the infinite merits which accompanied all His divine actions; and He offered it as an expiation to the infinite justice of God. But if we wish fully to understand this tremendous sacrifice which Christ presented to His heavenly Father for every human soul, the love of Christ, and His character as Saviour of the world, must arise clearly before us, and this will be attained by looking into the depths of the Sacred Heart.
For "the redemption of the world" would have been realized by the first aspiration to which Christ gave utterance in His mother's womb, at His Incarnation, when He confessed before His Father: "Behold, here am I, and Thy law is in the midst of my heart." I have come to reconcile the human race with Thee. This prayer was, as St. Paul assures us, already sufficient for the salvation and redemption of every member of the human family, for it was of an infinite value. But the overwhelming love of Jesus for us demanded something more than our mere redemption, for He wished to deliver us in a manner indicative of that love, so that our hearts might the more readily turn to Him. O how He wished us to follow His divine example, and make the merits of His life and death our own, no matter how great the cost!
And now, to understand this in the most effective manner, let us glance at His heart, and remember, at the same time, that Christ offered His life, sufferings, and death, to His heavenly Father, not only for all mankind, but for every individual soul; as if that soul had been the only one He came to save, as will be manifested, in the clearest light, by a glance at the Sacred Heart. You have a right to say this very heart beat in the breast of the Infant Jesus as He lay in the manger at Bethlehem, and offered the pains and griefs of infancy for me. The circumcision, the flight into Egypt, the weary toil which marked His daily life at Nazareth, He offered for me! This Sacred Heart throbbed for me in every phase of His Apostolic life, and offered all for me! This same heart throbbed for me in His breast at the Last Supper, and throbbed for me when Jesus resolved to offer Himself daily in the Sacrament of His love, until the very end of time, to remain with me, to unite Himself with me, body and soul, divinity and humanity, in every holy Communion which it would be my privilege to receive.
It throbbed for me when, with prophetic vision, the Redeemer saw the many temptations which would surround me in life, and His precious blood burst forth from every pore, as Gethsemane's groves witnessed His terrible agony there. And, oh, how bitterly it throbbed when the cruel scourge laid open the quivering flesh to the very bone, and the aching brow was made to feel a keener pang from the pressure of the sharp thorns, put on in mockery of a crown, and the heavy cross was laid upon those weary shoulders until all that was human in the Son of God was well nigh crushed to earth. And at last the weary walk was over, but only to give place to new and bitter pain as the nails were driven through the sacred hands and feet. And now behold the Creator of heaven and earth hanging on the cross, a bleeding victim for our sins. Ah, then His Sacred Heart throbbed for me as He cried out to the eternal Father: "Father, forgive!" Then, when he yielded up the Ghost, behold, a soldier opened His heart, and from it fell the last drop of His precious blood-- for me. I am redeemed, and with a Redemption superabundant indeed!
"They will see Whom they have pierced." These are the inspired words of the prophet; yes, and they will adore the triumph of infinite mercy by which the greatest crime which a creature can commit, Deicide, became a source for the pardon of every sin, as St. Paul implies when he says: "Christ destroyed sin through sin upon the cross." This open heart, this sacred wound, removed the vail which rested upon the work of Redemption. To glance at it, nay, to look into its depths, we can see the glimmer of a lovely light which illumines the work of the Saviour's mercy and love, penetrating our hearts with a longing to reciprocate that love which led Him to purchase our salvation at the cost of life.
This Jesus is, as Saviour, the founder of that Church to which He confided His infinite merits, and the dispensation of the means of salvation. She rose from His heart in the symbol of blood and water, even as from the side of the sleeping Adam God called our mother Eve into existence. And behold us, without any merit of our own, members of this Church so holy and divine. What a motive for us, as children of this loving mother, to grow in the grace of God, and by constant intercourse with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, to grow also in His personal knowledge.
Yes! to look into the Heart of Jesus, gives us a glimpse, in all its splendor, of the majesty and sanctity of the one true Church, and can not fail to excite in us the most ardent desire and longing to live as her faithful children, grateful that we are so highly favored as to be children of that glorious mother. It animates us to more earnest efforts to propagate the faith, over the whole world, according to the desire of the Sacred Heart.
This Lord and Saviour is, according to His Person, at once our Father, Friend, and Brother; the Spouse of our souls--Christ! He it is Who regained for us the right to enter heaven. He is our Brother, Who took upon Himself our nature; our Friend, Who provided for us as for Himself; and the Spouse of our souls--infinite goodness and greatness--Christ!
To behold all this we must look into the depths of His Sacred Heart. The world is full of brothers, friends, and spouses, but how different are they in the measure of love they bear to their own! In the open Heart of Jesus we behold, united, the hearts of loving fathers, brothers, and friends; and yet His love is greater than all! Did He not give the very last drop of blood from that heart, and am I not, therefore, right when I say: If we wish to attain to a knowledge of this dear Redeemer, in all His divine sweetness, we must cast frequent glances into the Sacred Heart, and seek refuge in its bleeding wound? We will then adorn our own hearts, so that we will one day be worthy to enter into an abode of eternal blessedness. Blessed St. Gertrude, devoted adorer of the Sacred Heart, obtain for us the grace to love it with your fervent love, and through a like imitation of its virtues, to share with you the glorious reward of its faithful servants.--Amen.
"For this cause I bow my knees to the Father, that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of this mystery."--Eph. iii, 14, 18.
"To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace to preach among the Gentiles, and to enlighten all men what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God, Who created all things. For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, That He would grant you the grace to be strengthened by the power of His Spirit unto the inward man; That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts: that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of this mystery; To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all human knowledge."
With these words to the Ephesians, and similar assurances in many passages of the Epistles which St. Paul wrote--not only for the faithful of his own day, but for those of all future time--the Apostle of nations exhorts us in the most expressive manner to advance in the knowledge of Christ. And if we wish to comprehend the total height and depth, the entire breadth and length, of the love of Jesus, we can only do so by looking into the depths of His Sacred Heart; and to make this clear, will be the object of my words today. O Mary, Mother of the Divine Heart, obtain for us the grace to enter into the full knowledge of Christ's love for us, that we may meet it with faithful reciprocal love! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
To contemplate in its entire extent the love of Jesus Christ, and to open our hearts in true reciprocal love to the Lord, that He may dwell therein, we must go to the Sacred Heart and look into its depths. There, ah! there, we can behold in all its immensity a love so mighty that it drew Him away from the throne of His glory in heaven to earth, and urged Him not only to assume human nature, but by so doing, as St. Paul assures us, to annihilate Himself and take the form of a slave. For, appearing as a man among men, He concealed His divinity before them; and although He wrought miracles, other men, with the Divine assistance, performed wonders still greater:--Moses, for instance, at the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt.
Men in general acknowledged Him so little as God, that they threatened to stone Him when He declared that He was. They persecuted at every occasion this meek Lamb of God, and at last nailed Him to the cross. And what brought to such depths of humility the King of kings and Lord of lords? Because He chose not to appear as a powerful monarch, as a ruler over the whole universe, before whom all nations would tremble, but as a slave; for He entered this world as the subject of an emperor who governed only the Romans as free men, while those nations he had conquered were held in subjection. And therefore Christ suffered the death of the slave--crucifixion.
Why did He humble Himself so deeply? One glance into the Divine Heart will tell us that it was His merciful love to us. Great God! what misery overwhelmed the human race, and what would have become of us if the arm of Thy infinite justice had not been stayed! But Christ the Son of God, equal in essence and nature to His eternal Father, wished, through love, to celebrate the triumph of His infinite mercy; and this love urged Him not only to grant pardon to penitent sinners, but to make satisfaction for them, and take upon Himself the justification for sin.
Not only, beloved in Christ, did He mean to pardon this or that sin, to forgive this or that sinner, but for every sin that would ever be committed, and for every sinner, if he were truly contrite, a gracious pardon would be found. Christ requires but one thing of the sinner--that he avails himself of those efficacious means of salvation to be found in the true Church, and takes refuge in His Sacred Heart.
Dearly beloved Christians, souls redeemed by the blood of a God, reflect upon this precious truth; and that you may realize the depth of His love for you, look at the Sacred Heart -- look into its bleeding wound. The Almighty, the Omnipotent God, the gracious and merciful Saviour, comes from the heaven of His glory to afford us a certain refuge therein--to save us from that pit which the malice of sin has prepared for us in hell.
The Deluge prefigured the spiritual ruin which overwhelmed the whole human race. Now, Holy Scripture testifies that the waters thereof rose to the height of fifteen cubits above the loftiest mountains. This indicates the degree of malice which characterized the wickedness of mankind, it being greater than that of the fallen angels. Their sin was that pride which led them to wish to be like God; while man, on the contrary, committed Deicide, as St. Peter, in his first sermon, called the Crucifixion, when he said: "The Author of life you have killed."
This reproach applies not only to those Jews who personally laid hands on Christ, but to all men as sinners; for St. Paul asserts: "Whosoever sins, crucifies God in his heart, tramples His precious Blood under foot." And yet God forgives on account of the merits of Christ! Whom? The greatest sinner if he but repent. And what means does He choose for this? Let us adore and wonder, for the commission of the greatest possible sin--attempted Deicide--became for us the source of every grace. What a triumph of Infinite Mercy!
Glance at the Heart of Jesus, opened after His death: by this He opened His arms to every soul, with the loving words: "I have loved thee unto death, and presented the last drop of My heart's blood for thee to draw thee from the abyss of destruction which thy sins prepared for thee in hell." Oh, what a depth, and, at the same time, what a height of love! The work of Redemption as consummated by this love, made fast the gates of hell, and rescued us from that fiery pit; but not content with this, our loving Saviour would open the portals of a heaven more beautiful than the one which would have been our portion had Adam never sinned.
And now, as brothers of the Son of God, we may enter that region of bliss, and become as precious stones set in the celestial crown of the world of angels. We may, by our zeal in the exercise of good works, and their union with the merits of Christ, ascend higher and higher, through new and more brilliant merits, to an immeasurable degree of glory.
Look at Mary, whose throne is next to that of Jesus: she was, like us, a child of man, and her glory by far outshines that of the brightest angel. We, as her children, may hope to attain a place in heaven, near that of our gracious Queen; for from the Heart of Jesus came forth the cry: "To him that shall overcome I will grant to sit with Me on My throne."
And how shall we learn the breadth of this love? I answer: By contemplating the generosity which marked its course, and so animated the Sacred Heart in the
breast of the Infant Saviour in the crib and of the Redeemer on the cross. Even now it beats for us in the Most Holy Sacrament over the whole globe. Think of the generosity of that love by which Jesus has communicated to us the whole merit of His life, passion, and death.
The words of St. Augustine refer to this in the explanation and answer given by him of the words of Christ: "What price could man give for his soul?" "Remember," exclaims St. Augustine, "the price which Christ paid for you through the work of Redemption; you have been purchased by the life, passion, and death of Christ the Son of God." What He gave for you He did not give even for the angels. Oh, how sweetly are we reminded of all this by one loving glance at the Sacred Heart of Jesus! It beats indeed today on earth for each one of us. Go before the tabernacle and ask what is that which Jesus confers upon you in every Holy Communion. It is Himself.
And the length of this enduring love may be discerned by the unwearied forbearance He shows to man. From the first moment of your conception, Christian soul, He has loved you with an everlasting love. He has thought of you, and longed to bless you for all eternity. And it will be your own fault if He does not remain, until your very latest breath, the same faithful, loving Jesus, Who will assist you in that last dread passage where time is merged into eternity.
Yes, it is an article of faith that when the greatest sinner turns with a repentant heart to Jesus, even in his dying hour, he will still be saved through Him. And is this really so? Christian, look at the wounded Heart in the breast of your Redeemer. It has ceased to beat--it is dead! Yet from the wound came blood and water, the symbol of the Church to which Christ gave power to pardon the dying sinner whose heart cries out for mercy--for forgiveness through the merits of Christ.
Dearly beloved, who have listened to my words today, reflect upon what I have told you of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus--of the height, depth, breadth, and length of the love of Christ. Consider it daily, and the wish of St. Paul, of which I have already spoken to you, will certainly be fulfilled in you. You will become so strengthened in the love of God, through the Spirit of Christ, that He will abide in your heart, and, finding therein so firm a faith, earnest a hope, and ardent a love, will there take up His abode forever. Amen!
"Is thy heart right as my heart is with thy heart? "--4 Kings x, 15.
Centuries have passed since our Lord and Saviour, the loving Jesus, in His visible presence, walked the earth; and as the years roll on, He asks of every Catholic soul the same question which He put to the prince of the Apostles: "Lovest thou Me?" and every one should reply as did the ardent Peter: "Yes, Lord, I love Thee;" and yet the answer is not the same, for St. Peter not only assured the Lord of his love, but added: "Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee."
If our divine Lord possessed not the power to read what is written in the inmost recesses of our hearts, He might be deceived by the assurance of a love which has no place therein, and indiscriminately bestow those rich treasures of grace which He loves so well to give, and which we require to work out our salvation in that state of life to which we have each one been assigned. But the Lord searcheth the heart of man, and knoweth if his lips speak truth. And too often, my dearest Christians, the lives, even of those who possess the gift of faith, so directly contradict their professions, that to them might be applied the words of Isaac: "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are those of Esau."
The lips say: "I love my Jesus who died for me," but as "actions speak louder far than words," they often proclaim the falsity of the assertion. We can not sufficiently appreciate the necessity of examining ourselves carefully on this point, and it were well to do so in presence of the Sacred Heart, as it beats in our midst, in the Most Holy Sacrament. What answer could we make to this question of our Lord? Could we truly say with St. Peter: "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee." Beloved in Christ, in this regard I will put into the mouth of our Saviour those words of Holy Scripture. "Is thy heart right as my heart is with thy heart?'' and after you have listened attentively to my words today, let each one make answer to his soul and his God. O Mary, Mother of Jesus, who lovedst Him with the most sincere and maternal love, grant that we also may love Him with sincere and filial love! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the honor and glory of God!
The first mark of sincere love is the silent testimony of the heart itself, which is felt only by those who love. The little child, which never even heard the word love, feels it in the depths of its tender heart toward its mother, who lavishes upon it every fond endearment as it lovingly clings about her neck. Question your own heart as to its feelings whenever you pronounce the sacred name of Jesus, or even think of Him.
St. Bernard sometimes, after he had uttered that holy name, tasted a sweetness upon his lips as though he had eaten honey. Can you say, O Christian! that your feelings are like his? Is it with you, as St. Augustine declares of himself, that you find every thing, wherein the name of Jesus does not occur, insipid and without interest? You love Jesus, you say, but if His name leaves you insensible and cold, I am forced to doubt the sincerity of your love. But as it is also true that mere feeling is very deceptive, therefore show, by your life, that you really speak the truth.
The second mark of sincere love is the care one takes not to grieve or offend the object of his love. Thus it may happen that a wife says to her husband: "Do you love me?" and what is his probable reply? "Silly question; would I have married you had I not?" But evening comes, and the charms of home are powerless to keep him there. So he goes to the tavern, where the midnight hour finds him still, yet he knows how much he will grieve his faithful wife by this evil course. Is she not perfectly right, therefore, if she says within herself: "Thy lips say I love thee; but thy life says it is a lie. Thy love is not sincere, or thou wouldst not be so ready to grieve my heart."
Christian, your Saviour asks: "Do you love Me?" How does your life answer this question of the Lord? With what care do you endeavor, not only not to commit a mortal sin, which would at once banish Christ from your heart; but to avoid committing even one deliberate venial sin which grieves and afflicts your Lord? Do you watch over your conscience by the most assiduous practice of the particular examen? If so, then, indeed, you speak the truth. But if it would seem that you are careless in regard to the trifling sins and imperfections,--if you neglect the particular examen, you place yourself in the greatest danger of sinning, even grievously, and your lips would utter a lie: your love is only an illusion.
Even if you would read from your book the most ardent affections of love, while your lips say: "Yes, Lord Jesus, I love You;" your life cries out: "It is false." But how is it, then, if you live with the guilt of mortal sin upon your soul? Ah! then, indeed, you deeply grieve your Saviour, and banish Him from your heart.
The third mark of sincere love is the desire to please the beloved, and to do with zeal what is required of us by the one whom we love. A well known proverb says that "love can read in the eyes of the beloved the desire of his heart." The same is true of a sincere love towards Jesus. A wife needs not to ask her husband whether he loves her, although he is of a very undemonstrative nature,--never expressing his love,--if his actions show that he does, if he is quick to anticipate every wish of her heart; and fulfill it, if possible; therein lies the real test of love. The same is true of the sincerity of our love towards Jesus. What He requires of us is made known by His admonition: "Follow Me!--Be ye holy, as your Father in heaven is holy." Ask your heart, with what zeal you walk in the path of Christian perfection, whether it is your earnest wish to become holy.
And not only that, but what zeal do you manifest in assisting Jesus to extend His kingdom on earth, through zeal in the exercise of the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy? With what solicitude do you endeavor to prevent others from offending God, particularly those whom the Lord has confided to your care, watching that they fulfill their duties as faithful and zealous children of the Church?
Do you try earnestly to lead infidels and heretics to the way of salvation, and the knowledge of the true and only Church wherein salvation is to be found; and to support over the whole earth the kingdom of God, that zealous missionaries may be enabled to preach the gospel among the heathens? Can you say with truth that you are zealous in each of the above duties? If so, then you may indeed rejoice, for it is well with you; and your life replete with holy deeds shows that you sincerely love your God. But, on the contrary--and oh, with how many is not this the case! --if you are satisfied to live an ordinary Christian life, and, even this merely from the force of habit; if you do not at the very moment you awake from sleep, resolve to let your aim be to grow always better and better; to constantly multiply the good works you perform, to never lose an opportunity to save and sanctify others;--if, I repeat, beloved in Christ, it is thus with you, then your love for Jesus is far from being sincere.
And if you are content to be solicitous only for your immediate family or your own parish Church, as far as necessity requires; and even if you show yourself an active parish child, yet neglect every thing in regard to caring for the salvation of souls, as if it were a duty belonging only to priests, then the sincerity of your love towards Jesus is rather self-deception. Whosoever loves Jesus sincerely provides for the salvation of souls, even though he be not a Paul nor a Priest, remembering the admonition of the disciple of love: "As He has shed His blood for us, so we should be ready to shed ours for each soul."
The fourth mark of sincere love is that magnanimity and fidelity which leads us to make sacrifices, even if we should have to suffer by assisting others. Behold a married couple blessed with the goods of the world, with health and happiness, because prosperity has smiled upon their lives. You ask me whether they love one another, and to what degree? A question difficult to answer, while they continue to lead such a delightful life. On the contrary, suppose a youth and maiden to enter the married life with every prospect of health and happiness, and behold! after a few months, the hand of the Lord is laid heavily upon her, and He calls her to pass under His chastening rod. The wife becomes incurably ill, the husband loses his entire wealth, yet their love remains the same; yes, its flame burns even more brightly than before. Ah, yes! they love each other truly.
You say: "Yes, I love Jesus;" show it by your love for the cross, by your patience, if the Lord imposes His chastening hand upon you. If then your affections of love multiply towards Jesus, and you esteem yourself happy that He has drawn you to Himself by the royal way of the cross, we know that you really have a sincere love towards Him.
And what in all this world so effectively conduces to this condition of sincere love, as one glance at the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and an assiduous cultivation of that beautiful devotion; for that Heart shed the last drop of blood for you on the cross, in sincere love. You have this Sacred Heart present in the Blessed Sacrament. Go then before the tabernacle, and think of Him who nourishes you so often with the Holy Sacrament, and gives it to you as food.
The better to illustrate this I will relate the following event: It happened that a ship was lost at sea, and those of the passengers who escaped the wreck were cast upon a desert island. Among them was a mother with a nursing infant. However, the joy of the passengers at their rescue was of brief duration, for they discovered that the soil was bleak and barren, and afforded no food whatever. And no vessel appeared to bear them away, the mother sat holding the starving child to her breast, from which it had drawn the very last drop of milk.
The mother had no nutriment, how could she nourish it? It drew with such force that it took from her veins the life blood, yet she uttered no word of complaint. The mother becoming weaker and weaker, the passengers entreated her to let the child die, and, perhaps, her own life might be saved. But she was deaf to their prayers, and still allowed the babe to drink her blood; yes, to the very last moment of her life, which was indeed at hand, for her head drooped upon that faithful breast; and when the prayers of wrecked passengers, that they might be rescued, were heard and a vessel came in sight, she was dead. The child lived and grew to man's estate, and when the youth heard what his mother had done for him, and how she had nourished him with her blood, the heroic act filled his heart with such ardent love for her, that from the very depths of his yearning heart he often cried: "O mother! mother! could I but once behold you, if even for one moment, only to thank you for your devoted maternal love. Oh, how happy would I not feel!"
Christians, what that mother did, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is doing daily in the Most Holy Sacrament, and has done it for nineteen hundred years, by nourishing us with His precious blood. As children of God, as members of the Church, we can thank Him for it personally. Oh, then, make good use of His Presence on your altars, particularly by frequent and worthy Communions. No doubt that will enkindle and nourish in your hearts the, fire of divine love, as nothing else could in the world; and you will find your dearest joy in cherishing a sincere, ardent, and faithful love towards the Sacred Heart of Jesus.--Amen!