Sunday, 28 June 2020
Friday, 26 June 2020
As the month of June draws to close, so does our month long meditation on the Sacred Heart, and it is useful to turn again to the pages of Fr Bierbaum’s homilies on the topic which we mentioned in the last post. Below is a selection from his sixth homily regarding the devotion to the Sacred Heart and its great importance today. The pious preacher outlines that is precisely in devotion to the Sacred Heart that we are to find solace in the impious world. He mentions that it is indeed a timely devotion, one which is directly in opposition to the proud and selfish spirit of modernity.
“But to come to our own times, do they not bear a striking resemblance to the age in which Jesus revealed His Divine Heart to the world? Do we not find the same appalling coldness and indifference towards God and everything holy? Yes, men frequently are not satisfied with turning and wresting hearts from God, but would were it possible, drag the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth from His throne. The history of our day records the most horrible crimes against God, against Christ, against the Church and her head, against innocence and virtue, against every social right and duty; and these crimes are not only perpetrated with satanic deliberation, but in cold blood approved and publicly extolled. Satan, in a word stalks through the world, followed by an innumerable throng of exultant satellites from all conditions and all ranks in life.
Man sees himself encompassed with a chaos and wild disorder which he is powerless to rectify and every quiet thinker asks himself: How will it all end? What will it lead to? Whither are we drifting?
But in the midst of this night and obscurity which darken the spirit and threaten to spread ever farther and farther, the Sun of grace shines with still greater splendour in the firmament of the Church: the Divine Heart of our Saviour rises before us, shedding luminous rays of grace and glowing love. We are invited, nay, implored to fix our eyes upon this triumphal sign of victory, to hasten to this Heart and draw from It the fulness of light, strength and perseverance. In this cold unloving age, the bride of Christ directs us to the loving Heart of her Founder and Spouse, Who offers, not a few marks of love, but all the love of His Divine Heart, that it may soften and enkindle a return of love in ours. In this sensual enervating age the Church, the teacher of mortification, shows us the Heart of her Master, which, as the seat and source of love, was also the centre of all the suffering which It endured from the first moment of Its earthly existence until It was broken and pierced on the cross.
Yes, the Heart of Jesus is the remedy chosen and appointed by God Himself for the great evil of the day; and anyone who considers the needs of his times will confidently and devoutly have recourse to the Sacred Heart of the Saviour. The spirit of this Heart is directly contrary to the spirit of the age; if we were to represent the latter, it would be in the form of a heart without the cross - that is without faith; a heart without thorns, yet apparently encircled with roses - that is, a heart thirsting for earthly things; a heart from which issue no burning flames - that is, a cold and loveless heart…There can hardly be found in history a time when so much has been said of faith and when men have believed so little as at the present day. All assail the Catholic faith, however great their ignorance or meagre their knowledge of it. Not only Catholics, but Protestants, Jews, Turks, infidels of all classes, deem themselves fitted to sit in judgement, to decide, to determine upon matters of faith.
In this age so devoid of hope it is the thorn-encircled Heart of Jesus with Its sacrificial symbols which shows us our true destiny; which impressively reminds us of the value of a human soul created for a glorious end; which forcibly tells us, ‘The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us’(Rom 8:18); it is this Heart which shows us suffering as the path which Jesus trod, as the royal road which leads to the crown of life. Thus, the Heart of our Redeemer is a salutary and efficacious solace in the sufferings which come to all, but which are truly sweetened and softened to all who bear them with Jesus.
The heart of the present age is a heart devoid of love. this is a fact which we cannot sufficiently deplore; a fact which shows most clearly the decline of Christianity, for our Saviour has made love the characteristic mark of His true disciples: ‘By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another’(John 13:35). At the present day, however, everyone seeks himself, and considers his neighbour only in so far as he can use him for his own ends.
What is to remedy this capital evil? What is to rekindle love in the cold hearts of men, if not the loving Heart of our Redeemer which so loudly preaches love? This Heart sending forth streams of grace and burning rays of love! This Heart that endured all things for all men; this Heart that sought not Itself, but us alone, in all that It suffered; this Heart that offers all things to all who lovingly draw near to It - only this Heart can rekindle love which is extinguished, and will rekindle it in all that confidently have recourse to It.
Yes, the Heart of Jesus is the remedy for the great evils and needs of our time.”
Fr. Ewald Bierbaum, Six Sermons on Devotion to the Sacred Heart, (New York, Benziger Brothers, 1886). Sermon Six.
Sunday, 21 June 2020
This past Friday marked the great feast of the Sacred Heart. The month of May, devoted to Mary, leads us straight into the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of her Son, and after celebrating the great feasts of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, the beautiful feast of the Sacred Heart is now upon us in the fast paced movement of the liturgical year.
Evidence of a devotion to the Sacred Heart is found even in the writings of the fathers of the Church, such as the Adversus Haereses of St. Iraneaus as well as the writings of Sts. Justin Martyr and John Crysostom. The devotion to the Sacred Heart further grew out of a devotion to the five wounds of Jesus. The public practice of both laity and clergy was so widespread, that in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass in honour of the beautiful mystery of the Sacred Heart. However it is with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque that we most associate the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Starting in December of 1673, she received a number of visions of Christ who revealed the nature of the devotion and His wish to institute a feast honouring His most Sacred Heart. After her death in 1690, the devotion grew in popularity until it was established as a feast in the whole of France in 1765. Finally, in 1873 the devotion was approved by Pius IX and in 1899 Leo XIII beseeched the bishops of the Church to celebrate the feast in their dioceses.
In what manner then, is this devotion so important? Pius XII mentions that firstly, Christ’s heart is the noblest part of human nature and is hypostatically united to the Person of the Word. Thus we must pay due reverence to His heart as we would the Son of God Himself. But more than this, the pope mentions that “His Heart, more than all the other members of His body, is the natural sign and symbol of his boundless love for the human race”.(1) Just as with any man, the heart is considered the symbol of love for another, the pope teaches that it is so with Christ. Thus the chief sign of the love of Christ for His Father and for man is His Sacred Heart. It is with this beating heart, the symbol of the deepest and most perfect love, that Christ loves wayward man and loves His Father. He was endowed with a true body and real emotions, just as is any man, yet His love exceeded all of mankind’s love throughout history. It is a boundless love which cannot be contained nor hidden. His most Sacred Heart is thus the symbol of this love, as Pius XII teaches. In reverencing this Heart we reverence Christ and become more united to Him.
Indeed, it is a devotion based upon humility, which is placed in stark contrast to the proud vulgarities which dominate this month in modern society. Through reverencing the Sacred Heart, we reverence the purest and most perfect act of true love, based not on selfishness or sensuality, but on selfless sacrifice. In loving the Sacred Heart, we love that “source of expiating blood which effaced the sins of the world”.(2) We have thus a devotion not only to the corporeal but to the spiritual - to the beating heart which was pierced on the cross and which pours out His blessings upon us each day.
In loving the Sacred Heart, we are responding in precisely the manner which is fitting to do, since is this not the reason that Christ revealed that we should love Him thus? In fact we can relate this to any devotion to Christ, particularly a devotion to the Crucified Saviour. For in proffering Himself to us, and enabling us to know and love Him more through such devotions, He requires of us that we return such love through availing of these devotions. The devotion to the Sacred Heart is the offering from Christ to win the cold hearts of modern man. Love moved God to create man, to become incarnate and die on the cross. Love moved God to give to us the Holy Spirit and the great gift of the Holy Eucharist. Love has now moved God to reveal such a devotion to Him through His Sacred Heart, that we might atone for the coldness with which we have treated Him and return His love. He longs for us to return His love to Him.
Indeed, in an age when material and sensual pursuits are foremost, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is particularly poignant, since it is a devotion to true and lasting Love. Instead of focussing on distortions of love, such a devotion allows us to turn to God as the proper end of all our endeavours and the highest good. Such devotion to the Sacred Heart, alongside the Immaculate Heart, can be the remedy for modern society that hardens its heart to the point of blaspheming God and killing the innocent unborn. We need this devotion more than ever, and the world desperately needs it in order to have any hope of turning back to God.
Consequently, it is not merely advisory but almost a duty of filial love, to reverence and honour the Sacred Heart, in order that we might partake more fully of the goodness of His love which He wishes to impart to us. There are so many graces and blessings which God wishes to bestow upon us if we only ask Him and turn to Him in this devotion. The very heart that we adore in this devotion is the heart that cannot stop loving and calling us to Him. He is not content with giving us this devotion as a means to unite ourselves with Him, for Christ then further blesses those who avail of this means. It is an opportunity to console His suffering Heart through the sorrows and pains which He has endured as a result of our sins; so also it is an opportunity to rejoice with Him in the glories which He has won through His salvific redemption. But chiefly it is an opportunity to grow in love and adoration of the sweet Saviour, who so ardently wishes that we might come to know and love God ever more perfectly.
Here below are the twelve promises of the Sacred Heart to those who practice a devotion to His Sacred Heart:
- I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
- I will give peace in their families.
- I will console them in all their troubles.
- I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
- I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
- Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
- Tepid souls shall become fervent.
- Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
- I will bless those places wherein the image of My Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
- I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
- Persons who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my Heart.
- In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.
Here also is the Litany of the Sacred Heart.
- Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas, in Denzinger §3922.
- Rev. Bierbaum, Six Sermons on Devotion to the Sacred Heart, (New York, Benzinger Brothers, 1886), 49.
Sunday, 14 June 2020
The Gospel of today, the second Sunday after Pentecost, recounts the parable of the ungrateful guests. Despite being invited to a marvellous by the gracious host, they chose to decline the invitation at the very hour in which they should have been making their way to the banquet. Excuses are given and absences justified: “I have bought a farm and must needs go out and see it…I bought five yoke of oxen…I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come”. (Luke 14:18-20).
The result, of course, is that the generous host sees through the excuses of the selfish guests, and responds “none of those men that were invited, shall taste of my supper”. (Luke 14:24)
These excuses sound all too familiar in our own daily lives; how often do we find ourselves producing similar excuses for avoiding daily prayer or even the general pursuit of perfection? The struggle between the call to perfection and the duties and frivolities of temporal life are very aptly found in this parable. Be it through the call of work or pleasure, it is all too common that we can become like the ungrateful guests, rejecting the union with Christ found in the practice of the spiritual life. We have been called, given the grace of Baptism and then nourished by the sacraments of the Church, particularly the Holy Eucharist. Just as with those guests, we are underserving of the riches to which the Host, our Eucharistic Lord, calls us to share in.
So how can we guard against becoming like these ungrateful guests? The answer lies in the first of the inner means of perfection outlined by the spiritual authors, namely the desire for perfection.
No action would be taken in any area of life if there were not some purpose or motivation behind the action. Even if the motivation is very slight, the person performing the action still has a desire to achieve the end, else we can be sure he would not put himself to trouble. For instance, the first step in the entire process of building a ship is to have the firm desire to build a ship. In the same way the first step in the spiritual life, the pursuit of perfection, is to have the desire for perfection. All the spiritual writers agree on this matter, man cannot take even the slightest step in his path to sanctity if he does not wish to. St. Alphonsus’ first line of advice to the soul desirous of perfection is “to desire ardently to increase in the love of Jesus Christ”.(1) God created us with the great gift of free will, which can be used either to follow God or to turn away from Him in the path of sin. No one can commandeer this free will, for it must remain entirely free in order for our actions to be attributed to us. For example, if God did command man’s will to love Him, then this would be not a proper act of love, since it would not be free. Consequently, in order for us to attain perfection, we must first engage the will and actually wish for perfection. God will not act in violation of our free will: if we choose to desire something else rather than the spiritual life then we are permitted to do so, but we are choosing ourselves instead of God. So it is that this desire for perfection is a necessary part of the spiritual life, without which perfection cannot be reached. Abbé Tanquerey defines such a desire as “an act of the will, which, under the influence of grace, ever seeks after spiritual progress”.(2)
Why is this desire such an important aspect in the spiritual life? The saints and spiritual writers have often used the image of the spiritual life being a great mountain, which we must climb in order to attain the glorious summit. We cannot hope to reach the summit if we do not even begin the climb. Another image used is that of a spring or river: Christ is the river that nourishes and all who come to Him will be given the water of eternal life. (John 4:14) In order to reach this spring of life, we “must thirst for virtue and walk generously along the narrow way of abnegation”. (3) God is ready and eager to pour out His love upon us, if only we should turn to Him and ask. The greatest gift anyone could wish for, God Himself, is ours if we truly desire. This desire must therefore be put into effect, by stern resolution. It must have certain qualities in order to be an aid to perfection; notably, it should be supernatural, fervent, persevering and practical.
Such a desire must be supernatural by its very nature, since the object and origin is God Himself. The desire for perfection must be grounded in faith, based upon such reasons as the nature of perfection and man’s ultimate end. Grace is needed to illumine our minds, in order to make this firm resolution to desire perfection, since the end of this desire is ultimately God. St. Alphonsus warns that the man who wishes to attain perfection must do so ardently and without hesitation. This is because if we have only a half-hearted desire we shall not reach the goal, but instead run the risk of becoming lukewarm. Instead, we must “desire, with a very great desire, to attain a lofty height of divine love”.(4)
It follows then that our desire must additionally be persevering, ever driving us to finish the race, to reach the summit and receive the eternal reward. Christ warned that our resolve must be constant: “No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”. (Luke 9:62) We cannot seek perfection if we still cling to the sins of our past, or try to fool ourselves into allowing a break in the spiritual life. The devil makes great use of human frailty, and should we pause on the mountainside, he will endeavour to make the summit appear too far off, leading us into despair and sin once more. Alphonsus warns of such an occurrence when he counsels the soul, “always to renew your determination of becoming a saint, saying, ‘My Jesus, I desire to be all Yours, and You must be all mine’ ”. (5) St. Teresa teaches that “perseverance is the first essential” in response to the countless attacks of the devils. (6) The soul who practices the desire for perfection, remaining firm and resolute in the face of the enemy, enjoys the divine aid of God who ever invites the fervent and persevering soul into an increasingly intimate union with Him.
Some care must be taken here, for the devil can seek to tempt souls from the path of perfection by means of apparent holy desires. He places before us the life of some great saint or mystic, that we might imitate their ascetical practices in pursuit of perfection. Yet such a path may very well be inconsistent with the duties of our state in life, and consequently even a hindrance to the spiritual life. For instance, a soldier defending his country from unjust aggressors, would not be fulfilling his duty, or increasing his spiritual life if he practiced extreme fasting which rendered him too weak to fight. Or again, we might be filled with a strong thought to leave our house and possessions, to practice penance in the desert. But it is very likely we cannot pass through one day without failing in charity to others, or carrying out our duties with love. Leaving the comfort of our surroundings for such a harsh life of penance will probably leave us discouraged and disconsolate with the spiritual life. Instead of seeking to correct the small, yet persistent faults of daily life, we are often tempted to do great things which are not compatible with our state of life. Yet the Gospels warn us that “he that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in that which is greater”. (Luke 16:10) Hence, the desire for perfection must be practical, calm and steady. It should grow reasonably, with steady increase, not in great peaks and troughs. St. Alphonsus warns that these grandiose ideas of attaining perfection can be “nothing better than mere fancies, which, instead of benefitting [men], do them great harm”. (7)
In order to develop and maintain this desire for perfection, which is a necessary starting point of the spiritual life, we should have recourse above all to prayer and meditation. By turning to God and asking for His help, along with meditating upon the beauty of the truths of the faith and God, our desire should be strengthened and increased. Certain occasions, such as retreats or even the daily temptations, can serve as a time when this desire can be greatly nourished by God. Should we fall and our desire weaken, instead of allowing ourselves to become despondent, let us rather throw ourselves at the feet of Mary Co-Redemptrix and beseech her help in the spiritual life.
Hence, the Gospel calls us to foster a lively desire for perfection, lest we become like the ungrateful guests and reject the gift of grace which has been won for us.
- St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Maxims for the direction of a soul that desires to obtain perfection in the Love of Jesus Christ, 1.
- Abbe Tanquerey, The Spiritual Life, 205.
- Abbe Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life - Volume One, 272.
- St. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, 184.
- Ligouri, Maxims for the direction of a soul that desires to obtain perfection in the Love of Jesus Christ, 50.
- St. Teresa d’Avila, Interior Castle, 2nd Mansion, 5.
- Ligouri, The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, 185.
Thursday, 11 June 2020
Sunday, 7 June 2020
- St. Alphonsus Ligouri, Sermons for all the Sundays in the Year, Trinity Sunday.
- Fourth Lateran Council, Denzinger §800.
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