Each year, the Church dedicates the month of June to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and celebrates this Solemnity on the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost—June 28th this year. Traditionally, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is held on the Saturday immediately after. This year, however, Our Lady’s feast is superseded by the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, celebrated yearly on June 29th. Still, the faithful are encouraged to commemorate her Immaculate Heart on that day.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus
Reflecting upon these devotions, we begin by looking for inspiration to two holy people who shared much in common—Saints John Eudes and Margaret Mary Alacoque—and their connection to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. French by birth, they were 17th century contemporaries. Both grew up in humble circumstances and entered religious life in young adulthood.
The principal tie connecting these two saintly people is their passion for promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Saint John Eudes had worked to propagate the devotion for many years before the onset of Saint Margaret Mary’s involvement in the cause.
The Heart of Jesus is filled with love beyond our comprehension—not only for us collectively as His people, but for each one of us individually—for you, for me. When that love is not acknowledged and returned, Jesus feels acute pain on a level incomprehensible to us. Despite the overflowing torrent of love for us gushing from His Heart, we too often ignore Him or continue to hurt Him in unimaginable ways.
Consider this poignant statement of Our Lord during one of His apparitions to Saint Margaret Mary, a series of which occurred over many months: “If they [my people] gave me a return, then all that I have done for them would appear but little to my love. But they entertain only coldness toward me, and the only response they make to my advances is their rejection of me.” Does this not speak most eloquently of the pain of unrequited love?
Saint Margaret Mary urges us: “If you only knew how much merit and glory there is in honoring this loving Heart of the adorable Jesus and how great will be the recompense for those who strive only to honor it!”
The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is so familiar to us that it is easy to overlook the significance of each element. The Heart itself is surmounted by flames; Jesus is literally on fire with love for us. The thorns piercing the Heart continue to inflict wounds representing our sins. The cross surmounting the Heart is the eternal symbol of Jesus’ Passion and Death, endured out of His ineffable love for His people.
Jesus revealed twelve promises of graces and blessings to Saint Margaret Mary for the faithful devoted to His Sacred Heart. They can be found here.
What Jesus asks in return is that we honor the image of His Sacred Heart, promote this devotion, and receive Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has its roots centuries prior to the efforts of Saints John Eudes and Margaret Mary, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. Its timelessness has been carried through to our own time through modern-day Saints such as Faustina and Teresa of Calcutta.
In a 2009 address, Pope Benedict XVI cited this exhortation of Saint John Eudes: “Give yourselves to Jesus in order to enter the immensity of his great Heart which contains the Heart of his Holy Mother and the hearts of all the Saints and lose yourselves in this abyss of love, charity, mercy, humility, purity, patience, submission and holiness.” While addressed originally to the priests of Saint John’s day, this message is timeless for every one of us, the people of God.
The visceral connection between the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, while miraculous in its inception, is human and natural: the human heart of Jesus was formed beneath the heart of His Immaculate Mother as He grew and developed within her womb. The rhythmic beating of her heart was the first sound to reach His ears, connecting Him to her in the most profound way.
Several aspects of the image of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart are similar to those of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Mary’s Heart also is surrounded by flames and is wounded and bleeding. In some renderings, hers is pierced by a sword as prophesied by Simeon at the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:22-35); in others, by seven swords representing her traditional Seven Sorrows.
The Heart of Mary held the memories of all she experienced during her time on earth, as recorded in Sacred Scripture: “And His [Jesus’] mother kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:19; 2:51). The terrible sufferings she endured, climaxed at the foot of the Cross, are represented by the images of wounds and bleeding. Yet the Immaculate Heart, like the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is on fire with flames of love.
The heavenly message of the two Hearts upon which we reflect today is one of love —pure, unconditional, holy, and eternal. Devotion to these Hearts can only serve to intensify the power of that love in us.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in you!
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!