The Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolises God’s love for mankind. However, the love that God has for the human race is not symbolic, it is actual. It is made known to us through the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, and that humanity is rendered accessible in images of His Sacred Heart.

Metaphorically and iconographically, the heart is the seat of our human emotions; tenderness, devotion, affection, commitment, attachment, love. In reference to Christ’s Heart these words are an attempt to convey what in His humanity He personally feels for mankind. The human feelings of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are the truest reflection that we have of what “feelings” the Godhead has for His human creation.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart flowered in the 17th century. Both St Francis de Sales and St John Eudes were drawn to it; and from 1673 to 1675 at Paray-le-Monial in France, the Visitandine nun St Margaret Mary Alacoque experienced visions of the Sacred Heart.

In 1765, the Church authorised the liturgical observance of the feast of the Sacred Heart. This was extended by popes Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius XI. In 1899, in response to the visions of Sister Maria Droste zu Vischering, Leo XIII consecrated the whole world to the Sacred Heart. Maria Droste died on the feast of the Sacred Heart that year. She was beatified by Paul VI in 1975.

In her visions, St Margaret Mary understood that Christ promised rich blessings to those who persevered in devotion to His Heart. The Lord, she said, promises them the following: He will give them all the graces necessary for their state; He will grant peace to their family; He will console them in all their troubles; He will be their certain refuge throughout their life and above all at the time of their death; He will bestow abundant blessing on all their enterprises; in His Heart sinners will find an infinite ocean of mercy; lukewarm souls will become fervent; fervent souls will be raised up to a level of great perfection; He will bless those homes where the image of His Sacred Heart shall be displayed and honoured; He will give to priests the gift of touching even the most hardened of hearts; those who propagate this devotion will have their name written on His Heart from whence it shall never be effaced; to those who receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of the month, nine times consecutively, He will grant the grace of final repentance, so that they will not die in His disfavour nor without receiving the sacraments; and that in their final moment (in their last breath) His divine Heart will be their certain refuge.

We should be slow to dismiss such assertions of God’s love on the grounds of it being simply private revelation. It is that, of course, but a private revelation which is in harmony with the general public revelation given to us through the Scriptures and the Church’s living tradition.

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