The very first time that there was a liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was on October 20, 1672. St. John Eudes, the founder of our Congregation, composed the Mass himself and asked that it be celebrated in all 13 houses (seminaries) of the CJM. He had already established a feast in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on February 8, 1648. In those intervening years, he pondered the close connection between the hearts of Jesus and Mary. In his mind, it was the love of God which united these great hearts. But, in order to avoid confusion and to more clearly show the centrality of Jesus to our Christian faith, he established this separate feast in honor of the Heart of Jesus.
For St. John Eudes, the Heart of Jesus is a manifestation of the great love that God has for us in giving us his only begotten Son. Jesus is the greatest expression of God’s love. The gospel which St. John Eudes chose for the feast recalls the words of Jesus: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Live on in my love.” Not only is Jesus the gift of the Father’s love for us, but Jesus himself gives us his Heart. This is how St. John Eudes understands the words that the prophet Ezekiel puts on the lips of God: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. And I will put my spirit within you.” Our hearts are not capable of loving God and one another as we should. Sometimes our hearts can be hard and cold. St. John Eudes returns to one of his recurring themes and tell us that we have to renounce those hard hearts. In doing so, we open ourselves up to the loving Heart of Jesus. Jesus will give us his heart so that we can love like he does.
Our open hearts are ready to receive God’s mercy. In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are reminded that God’s mercy is unlimited. All we have to do is recognize our faults and allow the mercy of the Heart of Jesus to fill our hearts as well. We rejoice in the forgiveness God which is poured forth on us from the open Heart of Jesus.
For St. John Eudes, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a model of the way our hearts should be. As a symbol of God’s love, the Heart of Jesus embraces the poor and the suffering, it welcomes sinners, it reaches out to those who are neglected or shunned by society. So by giving up our hard hearts and receiving the Heart of Jesus, we are made able to love as we should.
So you can see that the spirituality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus proposed by St. John Eudes is quite apostolic. It is not merely about prayers, devotions and images. Those objects of devotion serve to remind us of the love of the Heart of Jesus in a way that moves us to love like he did. As we celebrate this feast, let our hearts be on fire with the love of God and show that love to all we meet, especially those who are in desperate needs of God’s love and mercy.
Fr. Ron Bagley, CJM