Devotion to the Sacred Heart

You are My friends, if you do the things I command you.

Devotion is not to be identified with devotional practices any more than patriotism is with fireworks. A man may spend the great holidays quietly in his home, may saw wood on Washington's Birthday, and read a book on the Fourth of July, but if he observes the laws of his country and practises the ten commandments, he will be a true patriot and need not worry because he has not shouted himself hoarse hurrahing for the blessings of freedom or burnt his fingers setting off firecrackers, or even tired the muscles of his arm waving the Stars and Stripes. All of these actions are laudable and have their good effects. They are manifestations of patriotism, although not the highest manifestations, and they are means in some cases necessary means to enkindle and foster true patriotism. Devotional practices are indeed much more necessary to devotion than all the usual means of displaying and stimulating patriotism are for the proper development of that virtue, yet a devotion may exist and be intense without having any particular and exceptional ways of manifesting itself. The hymns, the lights, the pictures, the beautiful shrines, the special services on certain days, these and many other excellent practices are required to arouse and keep alive true devotion. With out all that, there may often be reason to suspect the absence of devotion or to be skeptical of its intensity. By such displays, too, true devotion is exercised and developed, not wasting itself by use, but growing stronger, like a muscle, with exercise. Devotional practices, then, are helpful and even necessary, but they do not constitute devotion. Light and air are helpful and necessary for life, but they are from without and life is from within, and devotion, too, is from within.

We sometimes hear good men say: "This business of devotion is not for me. I am not much for feeling or sentiment." What should be said in answer? These good people should be politely but firmly assured that they do not know what devotion is. If devotion is not the same as devotional practices, neither is it the same as sentiment and feeling. True devotion is not feeling; it is willing. It is conviction, not sentiment. Feeling and sentiment are not always within our complete power. They may vary with the weather or with the pulse. Devotion does not watch the thermometer or fluctuate with the barometer. It does not disappear with our appetite and return after a good meal. Devotion belongs to the will and has its source in solid convictions. Give a man a firm unyielding grasp of a truth; follow that up with a relentless determination to abide by that truth, and you have equipped a man with a full-fledged devotion.

Every year many of our gallant firemen meet the death of heroes. Do they wait, when the alarm comes, for a gush of sweet feeling or the spur of sentiment to rouse them from sleep and put them in motion? They have no time to wait for such superfluities. As they rush to their post, hastily tightening their belts, one idea is uppermost in their minds: There is a fire somewhere and our place is at it to put it out. That is their conviction; that is their willing. Next morning, perhaps, they may feel the warmth of feeling and sentiment, if they can find in the papers, as often they will not, the scanty recognition of their bravery. Have they devotion? The noble deaths of so many are a testimony beyond the power of words to show that men, who may not know how to define devotion or call it by its right name, know well how to practise it in its highest and most unselfish form.

Yet, if devotion is not perfect or perfected without some devotional practices, so we may not deny the splendid influence of true feeling and right sentiment upon devotion. The man who would banish sentiment and feeling from the hearts of the world is an active worker for the return of the glacial period of very hard rock and very cold ice. Who would eclipse the dawning hopes of youth or draw the curtain of twilight over the sunset memories of old age? Must all the canvas, on which are painted the pictures of the world, be made into flour-sacks, and all our monuments broken up to macadamize our roads? The eloquent vendor of food tablets may prove by facts and figures, by analytical tables and accurate weights, that his vest-pocket breakfast has all the nutriment of a table d'hote dinner, but the world will not be won away from its varied and substantial meal to any tasteless, odorless, colorless, sizeless substitute for a bill of fare. If man were a machine, then sentiment would be as useful as a bouquet on a locomotive. If we were all angels, and had minds not continually swayed by conflicting currents of the body, or forever unsettled by brilliant pictures of the imagination, then a truth would mean a resolution, and a resolution an act, and we should leap without a pause from duty to devotion; but unhappily we are not yet bodiless angels. We throb with feeling, we glow with sentiment. Devotion is indeed conviction and willing, but true feeling and right sentiment must grace the path of duty, making conviction easier and willing prompter. Devotion will never produce its fullest and richest harvests unless feeling soften the soul and sentiment keep it ever warm. It is the purpose of many devotional practices, of pictures and songs and meetings, to awaken these emotions, stir up the being to some of its untouched depths, and so elicit the full cooperation of soul and body in realizing all the results of devotion.


In discussing devotion to the Sacred Heart there is especial need of remembering what devotion really is and how it may exist without great feeling or many devotional practices. The devotions of the Church have all enriched her emotional language, but none perhaps more so than devotion to the Sacred Heart. The most sacred words on man's tongue, words throbbing with the tenderest feelings, are frequent in this devotion, and one who would forget that devotion was of the will might feel that such language was a foreign one to him and one he could never master or speak with ease. Devotion to the Sacred Heart has also grown and developed, manifesting itself in a variety of ways, and, if devotional practices constituted devotion, the bravest would perhaps be appalled and discouraged when they saw how impossible it would be for them to take up a small part of the countless practices that the friends of our Lord's Heart have invented and spread abroad to do Him honor. It is consoling, however, to remember that we can be truly and profoundly devoted to the Heart of Christ without these many means that help others. We need not sing, or need not be able to sing, all the hymns or say all the prayers or attend all the meetings or join in the services that have multiplied and will multiply around this devotion. We shall have as much of that as we like and as will help us, but to have devotion to the Sacred Heart, we must have, first, our conviction, and then our determination.

The fireman goes to a fire wherever it may be and whenever it may be because it is his conviction that his place of business is there, and he is determined to be at his place of business if there is anything to be done. What is the conviction of a man devoted to the Heart of Christ? Devotion to the Sacred Heart is devotion to the love of Christ. It comes from a profound conviction that Christ is our true friend, that at first He was God without a human nature, that afterwards He became man, that He became Christ, all for us and to show His friendship for us. "God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son." Christ our Lord was born of friendship for us, had no other reason for every breath of life He drew except friendship for us, and hesitated not to give the supreme test of the most loving friendship by going to His death for us. Admit that truth: "Christ is my friend"; don t merely say it to yourself but realize it; possess it and let it possess you, and you have the beginning and seed of devotion to the Heart of Christ. Now, follow up that conviction with a determination that you will recognize the fact of Christ's friendship in your life, that you will be His friend as He has been yours, and you have the full-grown devotion to the Sacred Heart. You may not dance with joy under the circumstances, though it would be an excellent thing if you could; you may not be thrilled through with the grandeur, the divinity of that conviction, though perhaps some day you may; but if the conviction is there, and the determination is there, you need not be alarmed at the absence of the feeling; your devotion is true devotion. The fireman says: "My conviction is that I should be at the fire; my determination is to get there as soon as possible." He is devoted to his duty. Let any man say: "My conviction is that Christ was and is my friend; my determination is to show myself His friend," and he is devoted to the Heart of Christ and will be ready with the brave fireman to make sacrifices, and heroic ones, if his duty calls for them.

It may be objected here that there is, then, no difference between being a good Catholic and being devoted to the Heart of Christ There need not be any difference at all in what is done, but there is a great difference in the motive for which it is done. To go to Mass on Sunday, to go to Confession and Communion, to observe the laws of God and His Church for no other reason but because you are afraid of hell, is to be devoted principally to your eternal comfort; to perform those very same actions because you wish to acknowledge and testify your friendship for Christ, your friend, is to be devoted to the Heart of Christ. The motives for which we do an action are under the control of our free will and we are responsible for them. Of course, good motives will not make a bad act good, but they will ennoble any act that is not bad and intensify one that is good. The cup of water that is given in kindness deserves our gratitude; the cup of water that is given in the name of Christ will receive the reward of Christ because it is an act, if we so wish it, of loving friendship for Him. A man dies for his wealth and he is a brave man; he dies for his country and he is a hero and a patriot; he dies for his religion and he is a martyr. Christ died for me and He is my friend and my God. The death is the same; the motive is different and makes a profound difference in the result. You may be a good Catholic for many good and laud able motives, and if you are a good Catholic because you wish to testify in some small way your love of Christ, then you are devoted to the Sacred Heart.

But why, it may be asked, do we speak of devotion to the Sacred Heart instead of devotion to Christ? The question may be answered by another. Why have nations flags; why have causes their rallying cries, and colleges their colors and cheers? Why do we speak of the War of the Roses; why of the thistle of Scotland and the shamrock of Ireland? Why, but because we want a brief, telling way of summing up and expressing what we hold most dear? A word will do service for a thought, will hold it and keep it for centuries still fresh and green. So a symbol will express a whole cause, will explain it, will enshrine it forever. Symbols many and various have been seen among men, but where has there been one more touching, more significant than the one used in this devotion? Christ himself, we fondly believe, chose this symbol of His Heart as His standard, a symbol that is the complete and tenderest expression of all we mean and practise in this devotion. The Heart of Christ is the symbol, the representation, the expressive picture of the love of Christ. Every language has made the heart a synonym for love, and the Heart of Christ, as the standard of this devotion, means and signifies Christ's love, and bears in all its details the strongest and most lasting proofs of that love.

It should be noted that there are different kinds of symbols. The flag is an artificial symbol for country: the heart is a natural symbol of love. There is no connection between cloth of certain shapes and colors and a government, except by a common agreement of the citizens. But between the heart and love, there is a connection established by nature, beyond and above all convention of man. The highest, the noblest love is not rooted in flesh and blood; it is of the soul and spiritual. The love of art, the love of country, the love of religion, like the love of one's mother and father, move in regions above the excitement of passion. Yet, as man is made up of soul and body, even his most spiritual aspirations are registered in their effects upon the less noble part of him. The purest love of God which filled the soul of a Saint Stanislaus caught up into its flame his innocent blood, and his heart beat with a fever-heat of fervor. The fact, then, of the natural connection between love and the heart is a matter of easily verified experience, even though the exact nature of the connection be not understood or even investigated, and so there is sufficient reason to make the heart a natural symbol of love.

The full symbol of devotion to the Sacred Heart contains elements not put there by nature, elements revealing the supreme love of Christ and persuading His followers to new and more tender expressions of their affection. The full symbol is not the Heart of Christ as it came from the hands of God, unwounded, uncrowned, in the vigor of life, in the perfection of Its being. The Heart, that is the royal standard of this devotion, is pierced with a spear, clasped with a crown of thorns, and forever supporting the weight of a Cross; It is a crucified Heart, the Heart not simply of a friend, but more, of a wounded friend. The full realization of this symbol will make clear another touching feature, that is found and should be found in true devotion to the Sacred Heart. That feature is reparation. Reparation is the Good Samaritan for Christ's Heart. It pours the oil and wine of an intense love and devotion into the wounds which others have made by neglect or offence. Gratitude is the birth of love; reparation is its full and perfect growth. Gratitude is turning from self; reparation is forgetfulness of self. Gratitude is gladness that a friend has shown his love for us; reparation is sadness that a friend has received harm from others. Reparation, then, naturally follows upon true devotion to the Sacred Heart. Reparation is love's noblest and most perfect revenge. Base revenge attacks the offender, visiting punishment upon him for his offences; reparation, with the revenge of love, flies to the one offended, and lavishes upon him fuller, warmer love, because others have been cold and cruel. When the mother dies, the father strives to be mother and father to his little ones. He is trying to make up for and repair the sad loss of death. Reparation strives to supply to Christ for every other friendship denied Him. The crucified Heart of Christ is, therefore, the complete symbol of this devotion. Whether the devotion inspires new deeds or vivifies with new meaning the customary actions of a man's life, it will put a purpose into them that was not there before. His heart will go out to his friend, his benefactor, his crucified Saviour; it will flame with the motives of gratitude, love and reparation. His life will be lived, influenced by such consoling convictions. He will be practising true devotion to the Sacred Heart.

On the battlefields of old, just where the enemy turned to flight and defeat, the victorious general built of the spoils of war and the weapons of the conquered, an en during memorial which in days gone by was called a trophy. Our leader, our greatest conqueror, has reared a trophy. The enemy had advanced, apparently victorious, until his spear was thrust into the very Heart of our Captain, but there, where the enemy's victory seemed complete, his overthrow was accomplished. The tide of victory swept at that point to its highest and bloodiest surge, but then ebbed forever. From the weapons of His enemy, from cross and crown and opened Heart, our conquering leader fashioned a trophy which was the best testimony of His love and the most abiding memorial and standard of the cause to which we give ourselves in Devotion to the Sacred Heart.


One more question, and everything on this point will, we think, be clear. What has the Apostleship of Prayer, then, to do with Devotion to the Sacred Heart? "It is in league with the Sacred Heart," is the full answer. They are allied forces in the same cause, partners in the same work, engaged in the same important business, fighting for the same great end. If, indeed, there can be an alliance or partnership where one of the two parties concerned does almost every thing and the other almost nothing. Yet little as the Apostleship of Prayer does in the great work of saving souls, that little must be done. Christ's grace does everything, but it does it, so Christ willed, through Sacraments and prayer. By prayer it is that we league ourselves with the Sacred Heart for the salvation of souls.

Again, the Apostleship of Prayer is in league with the Sacred Heart because devotion to that Heart is the great means by which it carries on its campaigns. From that devotion it draws its weapons and the strength to wield them; by that devotion it unites its forces and wins its victories. That devotion, too, it propagates with all its power and keeps alive by its essential practices. The motive, we said, makes the devotion. "For Christ, my wounded friend" is the motive of devotion to Christ's Heart. But how do we put that motive into our life? By willing it. And when do we will it? When we think of it; and we must often think of it and will it, if the flame of our devotions is not to fail. It is just here that the Apostleship of Prayer comes in with its Morning Offering, and makes us say every morning of our lives: "This day and all that is in it for the Heart of Christ, for Christ, my crucified friend." The Morning Offering is the daily birth of conviction and determination; it is the new making of the fire of devotion; it is the tightening of the belt as we go where duty calls us. In the Morning Offering we catch sight, "by the dawn's early light," of our glorious standard, our unexampled trophy, and plunge once more into the fray.

Finally, the Apostleship of Prayer in its divine ambition to enlist all souls in a union of prayer for the salvation of men, is trying to infuse into every soul the purpose that was in Christ's Heart, to warm every heart with Its warmth, and color every heart with Its color; to make of mankind, we may be so bold as to say, one great, throbbing heart, another Heart of Christ, doing by the count less acts of prayer what He did by His countless drops of blood, building up the Kingdom of God with the redeemed. All the rays of sunlight that fall every day upon the great globe of the earth are but a few rills of light from the fathomless ocean of the sun. The banded millions of the League are far from what they would like to be; they are a shadow to their Model's substance; their limited love compared to His is like the slight lift of the tide far up some inland river when compared with the mighty wave that rises in the central seas; yet if all hearts upon earth respond even faintly and far off to the pulsings of Christ's tide of love, they will be what the Apostleship of Prayer wants them to be they will form a throbbing, loving, world-wide Heart of Christ.

- text taken from The Heart of the Gospel by Father Francis P Donnelly, SJ; it has the Imprimatur of +Joannes Murphy Farley, Archbishop of New York, New York, 1 May 1911