Friday, 6 June 2014

The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the First Friday Devotion

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus originates in the early centuries of the Church. Exactly when we do not know.  In the seventeenth century, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque made this devotion widespread.
Icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Michael O'Brien
"The prayer of the Church venerates and honors the Heart of Jesus . . . which, out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins." (Catechism of the Catholic Church  266)

In 1675, in the octave of the feast of Corpus Christi, our Lord appeared to her and said: 

"Behold this heart which, not withstanding the burning love for men with which it is consumed and exhausted, meets with no other return from most Christians than sacrilege, contempt, indifference and ingratitude, even in the sacrament of my love [the Eucharist]. But what pierces my heart most deeply is that I am subjected to these insults by persons especially consecrated to my service." 
From The Autobiography of St. Margaret Marie Aloque.
To those who show him love and who make reparation for sins, however, our Lord made a great pledge: "I promise you in the unfath­omable mercy of my heart that my omnipotent love will procure the grace of final penitence for all those who receive communion on nine successive first Fridays of the month; they will not die in my disfavor, or without having received the sacraments, since my divine heart will be their sure refuge in the last moments of their life." (Autobiography)

The promise of the Sacred Heart consoles us: the grace of final perseverance and the joy of having Jesus' heart as our sure refuge and infinite ocean of mercy in our last hour.

To share in this grace we:
- Receive holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays.
- Have the intention of honouring the Sacred Heart of Jesus and final perseverance.
- Offer each holy Communion as an act of atonement for offenses against the Blessed Sacrament.

Introductory Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, look upon the heart of your well-beloved Son and upon the praise and satisfaction which he offers to you in the name of all sinners; and grant them pardon when they seek your mercy. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever.
R.  Amen.

Reading: John 19:31-37

Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

 He who saw it has borne witness-his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth-that you also may believe. For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of him shall be broken." And again another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced."

St. Josemaría Escrivá, "Finding Peace in the Heart of Christ," 162-170, Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publishers,1974. 

Love is revealed to us in the Incarnation, the redemptive journey that Jesus Christ made on our earth, culminating in the supreme sacrifice of the cross. And on the cross he showed his love through a new sign: "One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water."
The water and blood from the heart of Jesus speak to us of a self-sacrifice brought to the last extreme: "It is finished" everything is achieved, for the sake of love. 

The fullness of God’s love is revealed and given to us in Christ, in the love of Christ, in the sacred heart of Jesus. It is the heart of him in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." If we lose sight of this great plan of God, the overflow of love in the world through the Incarnation, our Redemption and Pentecost we cannot understand the power of love with which our Lord deals with us.
What do we mean by "the Sacred Heart of Jesus?" When we speak of the human heart, we are not just referring to sentiments, but to the whole person and to our relationship with others. Scripture uses the expression "heart" in its full human meaning, as the summary and source, the expression and ultimate basis of our thoughts, words and actions. One is what one's heart is. 
So, when we talk about the heart of Jesus, we stress the certainty of God's love and the truth of his commitment to us. When we recommend devotion to the Sacred Heart, we are recommending that we should offer our whole selves to Jesus: our feelings and thoughts, our words and actions, our joys and our sorrows, achievements and failures. This is to enter into a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves. We look to Jesus, turn to him, and allow him to encourage and teach us. This devotion is rooted in the reality of God incarnate, Emmanuel – God become one with us.

Our lives are so important to God that the Son of God gave himself to redeem and cleanse and raise us up. Who will not love his heart so wounded?  Who will not return love for love? 

We, who are made of flesh, want to repay love with love. We embrace the wounded One, whose hands and feet men have nailed to the Cross for us.  We pray that we may link our hearts with his love.

God has given us a human heart, like that of Jesus.  We do not have one heart for loving God and another for loving people. We love Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit who, with our Lady,  touch our hearts.  This is the same we have for our parents, for  friends, for the destitute, those in anguish, those in need. 

If we don't learn from the heart of Jesus, we can never love fully. If, like some people, we were to think that to keep a clean heart, a heart worthy of God, means "not mixing it up, not contaminating it" with human affection, we become insensitive to other people's pain and sorrow. 

Apart from the Heart of Jesus We may only express a kind of  legalistic charity, something dry and soulless. But this would not be the true charity of Jesus Christ, which involves human affection and warmth. 

It is difficult for us as human beings to be truly just.  Without divine grace from the Sacred Heart of Jesus it is difficult for us to be inspired by love and not hatred or indifference towards those who differ from us. 

We must aware that, even if we achieve a reasonable distribution of wealth and a harmonious organization of society, there will still be the suffering of illness, of misunderstanding, of loneliness, of the death of loved ones, of the experience of our own limitations.

Faced with the weight of all this, a Christian can find only one genuine answer: Christ on the cross, the God who suffers and dies for us , who gives us his heart opened by a lance for the love of us all. 

Our Lord abhors injustice and condemns those who commit it. But God respects the freedom of each individual. He permits injustice to happen because, as a result of original sin, it is part and the human condition and linked to our freedom. Yet God's heart is full of love for all. Our suffering, our sadness, our anguish, our hunger and thirst for justice . . . he took all these upon himself by means of his passion and death.
Unfortunately suffering linked to the freedom God gives to us. We would be free if we could not choose evil as well as good. This is the truth, however difficult it may be for us to understand.  

It was difficult for Jesus Christ the man to undergo his passion: "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." In this tension of pleading and acceptance,  Jesus went to his death for our sakes, pardoning those who crucify him.

The supernatural grace to accept suffering is, precisely, the greatest of all conquests. By dying on the cross, Jesus overcame death. The attitude of a child of God is not one of acceptance that we may possibly face pain and suffering. 

Christians have a sense of sharing in the passion of Christ, with a foretaste of victory. In the name of this victorious love of Christ, we go out into the world to be sowers of peace and joy through everything we say and do. We have to fight the fight of peace against evil, against injustice and against sin. We serve notice that the present condition of humanity needs not be permanent.  

Only the love of God, shown in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, can give us the grace to truly love others and together strive for the glorious spiritual triumph of life fully in communion with Christ forever.

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