Sacred Heart of Jesus - Mosaic on the facade of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Shutterstock

My Heart, His Heart, All Hearts!

On the 125th anniversary of the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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An aging, ailing pope undergoes a risky surgery. In gratitude, he offers a prayer to God. He rereads a letter from a cloistered nun who claims she has received powerful visions from the Lord. In her letter, this sister made a bold request — Jesus wants the pope to consecrate the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

After prayer and consultation, Pope Leo XIII made this consecration in 1899 — 125 years ago. Consecration to the Sacred Heart has been renewed every year by every pope since then, including Pope St. John Paul II in 1999, on the 100th anniversary of the original consecration. Leo XIII consecrated the world on the eve of a new century. For John Paul II, it was the eve of a new millennium. As priests, we can share in this consecration by offering our own hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, especially in 2024, a jubilee year honoring his heart.

Consecrating the World

Contemporary devotion to the Sacred Heart is rooted in revelations received by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, VHM, in France in the 1670s. Catholic paintings and sculptures reflect the imagery she recorded in her journal. As she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament in her community chapel, she saw Christ’s heart, pierced and bleeding, with flames and a crown of thorns.

According to St. Margaret Mary: “He told me to behold his heart which so loved humanity. Then he seemed to take my very heart from me and place it there in his heart.”

Her spiritual director was a young Jesuit priest, St. Claude la Colombière, SJ. He saw that her visions were authentic, rooted in Scripture and tradition. Claude’s own prayer was more and more steeped in Sacred Heart imagery; he writes in “The Spiritual Direction of St Claude de la Colombière” (Ignatius Press), “This heart is still the same, always burning with love for us, always open so as to shower down graces and blessings upon us, always touched by our sorrows, always eager to impart his treasures to us and to give himself to us.”

During this time, the French Church was battling the dark heresy of Jansenism. Influenced by Calvinism, Jansenist preachers emphasized God’s power, judgment and perfection, and the utter depravity of humanity. They discouraged Catholics from receiving Communion due to their inherent unworthiness.

In a sense, Jesus took matters into his own hands. In his messages to St. Margaret Mary, he encouraged her and devout Catholics to receive Communion more frequently so as to encounter his love and mercy in the Eucharist. He also asked the faithful to honor his heart on the first Friday of each month and on the feast of his Sacred Heart, following the Corpus Christi celebration. In time, the Church approved these practices; priests are invited to celebrate a Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart on first Fridays, and a solemnity of his heart has also been established.

Returning to Leo’s historic act, we see that his prayer of consecration was controversial in 1899, and still is today. A Portuguese sister, Blessed Mary of the Divine Heart, received a vision from Jesus asking that the pope entrust all of humanity to his Sacred Heart. She wrote to Leo. It was a complex question: Could the pope consecrate all people to the Sacred Heart of Jesus — including non-Catholics and non-Christians?

After prayer, discussion with bishops and theologians, and reflection on the Scriptures, Leo and his Vatican team discerned a positive response: Yes, he can offer this consecration. Yes, he should, and, yes, he would consecrate the world to the heart of Jesus. Leo wrote his 1899 encyclical Annum Sacrum describing the forthcoming consecration and laying the spiritual foundation for this spiritual event. He writes that, in the Bible, Jesus “declares that he has power from God over the whole Church, which is signified by Mount Sion, and also over the rest of the world to its uttermost ends” (No. 3).

In this sense, Jesus is not just Lord and king for Catholics nor simply for all Christians. Truly, God has made every person in his own image and likeness (cf. Gn 1:26); and Jesus is Lord and king of the whole world. Christians acknowledge and honor Jesus as Lord; yet, he is Lord of all, whether everyone knows this or not. Indeed, a quarter century later, another feast day would underline Chist’s authority: the solemnity of Christ the King, established in 1925 by Pius XI in his encyclical Quas Primas.

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Devotion to His Heart

2024 is a jubilee year, which corresponds with the 350th anniversary of the visions of St. Margaret Mary. Many parishes and dioceses are offering special events to honor the Sacred Heart. In 2024, we also celebrate 125 years since Pope Leo’s courageous consecration and 25 years since Pope St. John Paul’s renewal of this event. Brothers, now is the time to draw close to His heart. Let us pray:

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

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Leo’s act of consecration was profoundly pastoral, as well as deeply prophetic. He desired to entrust all of humanity to the Heart of Christ because “there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another” (Annum Sacrum, No. 8). God is love. Jesus is God. Jesus commands us to love one another, and he gives us the grace to do so. Leo battled not the scourge of Jansenism, but rather the beginnings of secularism. Powerful and well-armed European nations boasted, rattled sabers and demanded allegiance from their citizens. The ground was being prepared for the Great War, World War I, in 1917 — followed by the devastating sequel, World War II.

Leo hints at his own mystical experiences in Annum Sacrum. He refers to an event in the early Church when a “young emperor saw in the heavens a cross, which became at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious victory that soon followed.” Pope Leo then writes of “the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendor amidst flames of love. In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed” (No. 12). Did Leo experience his own vision from Jesus, confirming God’s call for this consecration? This seems likely, for Leo then speaks of his own physical healing, which he attributes to miraculous causes: “We are unwilling to pass over in silence, personal to ourselves it is true. … God, the author of all good, not long ago preserved our life by curing us of a dangerous disease” (No. 13).

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Daily Offering Prayer

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month: _____. (Find the intentions at popesprayerusa.net/popes-intentions).

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Note the warm piety and magisterial character of Leo’s prose — at once personal and ecclesial, with frequent use of the royal we. Trusting in the Lord, Leo underwent surgery to remove a large cyst in March 1899 at the age of 89. His doctors urged him to do so, with a sobering diagnosis: he would die without the surgery, and he may die during the surgery. He survived and made the global consecration weeks later on the feast of the Sacred Heart, June 11, 1899.

Leo’s Priestly Heart

In the year 2024, we can look at Western society and see rampant secularism, falling Church attendance and a growing divide between agnostic leaders and a wandering populace. Leo saw the beginnings of the materialist movement in 1899. He spoke about it. he prayed for God’s grace and intervention. He is known for his deep devotion to the Sacred Heart, as well as his commitment to social justice. For him, the two went hand in hand.

His best known encyclical is Rerum Novarum (“On Human Labor”). It was a groundbreaking document that in many ways set the trajectory for the modern papacy. Leo released it during the height of the industrial revolution, amid child labor, long hours in dank factories and urban tenements. Yes, popes continued to oversee Catholic events such as the establishment of cathedrals and the canonization of saints. Following Leo, however, 20th-century popes would also speak about challenges confronting the human race, including labor, poverty and migration — and later abortion, nuclear disarmament and the environment.

Leo’s devotion to the Sacred Heart had both a personal and communal character. In 1890, he began entrusting a monthly prayer intention to the Apostleship of Prayer (which is the Pope’s Prayer Network, and I’m the national director). The Apostleship of Prayer was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1844. They saw their own nation sliding into secularism, and they saw heroic Jesuit missionaries bringing the Gospel to the far corners of the world. These young Jesuits made a daily offering of their hearts to the Sacred Heart for the Church and the world, and especially for missionaries.

In 1890, Leo entrusted a monthly prayer intention to this little group — praying for missionaries, and for those fleeing natural disasters, among others. He significantly elevated the status of the Apostleship of Prayer and helped to put it on the international ecclesial stage — a group centered on devotion to the Sacred Heart. After Leo, every pope has continued this tradition, and the Apostleship of Prayer now has millions of lay and religious members in thousands of dioceses worldwide. In 1889, Leo gave official approval for priests to offer a Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart on the first Friday of the month, vindicating St. Margaret Mary’s revelations.

In Annum Sacrum, we see Leo’s tender warmth for the Heart of Jesus: “There is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another” (No. 8). Leo felt the love of Jesus and wanted to do all he could to share this closeness with the whole world.

Our Priestly Hearts

Brothers, our world looks much like Leo’s world. Our culture has a growing hostility to Christian faith and the Christian family. We see wars and injustice, violent protests, indifference and confusion, and young people seeking meaning and purpose. Leo didn’t give up. He prayed to deepen his own devotion to the heart of Jesus. As a pastor, he drew others into devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Last Supper
The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, located in Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Milan. Public Domain Image/Wikimedia Commons

The heart of Jesus beats with love for us at this moment. St. John, the beloved disciple, laid his head upon the Sacred Heart at the Last Supper in the Upper Room (cf. Jn 13:23). With John, may the Lord draw us closer to his heart! We need his love, we need his strength, and we need his wisdom in these troubled times. We need the Eucharist, to be nourished by his Body and Blood each day. We pray that he may make our hearts more like his heart. The heart of Jesus is wounded for love of us. St. John tells us that the “soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (Jn 19:34). Truly the sacraments of the Church flow from the heart of Jesus — the water of baptism and the precious Blood of the Mass.

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Consecration Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

A jubilee prayer, marking the 350th anniversary of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s visions of the Sacred Heart:

Lord Jesus Christ, I want to give myself to you completely.

When I see your Sacred Heart, I reflect upon your love. You came from the Father, taking a human body with a human heart. You taught us to love God with all our hearts. You suffered and died to save us from sin and death. As you hung on the cross, your heart was pierced by the soldier’s lance. Out of it poured blood and water to signify the birth of your Church (cf. Jn 19:34).

You rose from the dead, Jesus, to live forever with your Father in heaven. But your heart is still full of love for us. You still feel pain when people reject or ignore your love. You want us all to live forever with God.

I now consecrate my heart to your Sacred Heart, Jesus. You are the Son of God whom I love with all my heart. I offer you my body, my soul, my mind, and my heart. Receive me, make me holy, make my heart like your heart, and guide me in the way of perfect love today and every day of my life. Amen.

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In the Christian tradition, the human heart is seen as a center of emotion as well as a place of prayer and decision. The Lord speaks to my heart; I can put my whole heart into it as I seek to do his will. The heart is a muscle. Faith and love take effort and practice. Practicing my faith, turning to Christ in adoration, he can make my heart larger and stronger, like his priestly heart.

I can bring the wounds of my heart to the Sacred Heart for healing and renewal. I have wounded my own heart through bad habits, sin and laziness. My heart is at home in his heart.

Like a son leaning his head on his father’s chest, I can find rest in his heart. Leo’s prayer was essentially this: We pray to unite our hearts with the Sacred Heart for the salvation of all hearts. Concisely: My heart, with his heart, for all hearts!

FATHER JOE LARAMIE, SJ, is the national director of the Pope’s Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer). He is also a national Eucharistic preacher for the National Eucharistic Revival and the author of “Love Him Ever More: A 9-Day Personal Retreat with the Sacred Heart of Jesus” (Ave Maria Press, $16.95).

 

 
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