Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy

Last Sunday I led Divine Mercy devotions at Marytown, the National Shrine of St. Maximillian Kolbe, who was a contemporary of St. Faustina. I talked about devotion to the Sacred and Merciful Heart of Jesus.

An optional closing prayer for the Divine Mercy chaplet goes like this: "Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself." This comes from #950 of St. Faustina's Diary.

What is this "holy will" of God? Our salvation. St. Paul, in his First Letter to Timothy, declares: "God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth" (2: 4). Our Lord's words to St. Faustina echo this: "Write that the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy; [urge] all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls--no one have I excluded!" (#1182).

God wills all to be saved but he cannot impose that will on anyone. God cannot force his love on anyone. Love must be freely given and received. So when humanity rejected God's will and love, God set out to prove his love by sending his Son to live and suffer and die for us. On the cross his Sacred Heart was pierced and blood and water flowed forth. The image of Divine Mercy with its red and white rays coming from the center of the risen Jesus depict this. Jesus told St. Faustina: "The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls.... These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross" (#299).

The rays come straight from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This Heart reveals God's greatest attribute--Mercy. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Merciful Heart. It is Divine Mercy.

Are devotion to the Sacred Heart and devotion to Divine Mercy in competition? Has Divine Mercy replaced the Sacred Heart? No. Dr. Robert Stackpole, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA, in his book Jesus, Mercy Incarnate, states that the Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart are "so closely bound up with each other as to be absolutely inseparable." The reason is simple: "Jesus has only one Heart! His Sacred Heart is His Merciful Heart--they are one and the same." These devotions are not in competition. Dr. Stackpole writes: "In short, the differences between these two devotions are best described as differences of emphasis, for both spring from a common source: devotion to the same Heart of Jesus, overflowing with merciful love for us."

Anyone who reads the Diary of St. Faustina will see that Divine Mercy was revealed to her in the context of her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to Divine Mercy is a further development of devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist.

At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now" (John 16: 12). Jesus is the fullest revelation of God. There is no new revelation after Jesus. This is the Church's constant teaching. Yet, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to continue to help the Church grow in its understanding of this revelation of God's love in the Person of Jesus. Moreover, after his ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus has also appeared from time to time to teach the Church.

He appeared to Saul and asked him: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9: 4). In this question Jesus made it clear to the future St. Paul that he and his Body, the Church, are one. Later, when he wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul would elaborate on this doctrine of the Body of Christ and the union of Christ with the members of the Church (see chapters 11-13).

In the 1200's Jesus appear to St. Juliana during a time when belief in the Blessed Sacrament was disappearing. He asked for a feast in honor of his Body and Blood, Corpus Christi. In the 1600's, at a time when devotion to God's love in the Eucharist had grown cold and many of the faithful were filled with fear rather than love, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary and asked for a feast in honor of his Sacred Heart. He told her: "My divine Heart is so passionately fond of the human race, and of you in particular, that it cannot keep back the pent-up flames of its burning charity any longer. They must burst out through you and reveal my Heart to the world, so as to enrich mankind with my precious treasures. He complained to her: "There it is, that Heart so deeply in love with men, it spared no means of proof--wearing itself out until it was utterly spent! This meets with scant appreciation from most of them; all I get back is ingratitude--witness their irreverence, their sacrileges, their coldness and contempt for me in this Sacrament of Love." The feast and devotion to the Sacred Heart in no way replaced the feast and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

Then in the 1930's, during what many have called the most merciless century in human history, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina, revealed his Heart to her in the context of Eucharistic adoration, and called for a feast and devotion to his Divine Mercy. In words that echo those spoken to St. Margaret Mary, he said: "The flames of mercy are burning Me. I desire to pour them out upon human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept them!" (#1074). And he complained: "Oh, how painful it is to Me that souls so seldom unite themselves to Me in Holy Communion. I wait for souls, and they are indifferent toward Me. I love them tenderly and sincerely, and they distrust Me. I want to lavish My graces on them, and they do not want to accept them" (#1447). The feast and devotion to Divine Mercy in no way replaced the feasts and devotion to the Holy Eucharist and the Sacred Heart.

Think for a moment: what is the greatest obstacle to holiness? Our natural response is to think of our temptations and sins. But Jesus told St. Faustina it was something else: "My child, know that the greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and an exaggerated anxiety. These will deprive you of the ability to practice virtue. All temptations united together ought not disturb your interior peace, not even momentarily. Sensitiveness and discouragement are the fruits of self-love. You should not become discouraged, but strive to make My love reign in place of your self-love. Have confidence, My child. Do not lose heart in coming for pardon, for I am always ready to forgive you" (#1488).

Dis-cour-agement. The center of that word comes from the Latin word "cor" or "heart." When we become discouraged we lose heart. To have courage we need only turn to the Heart of Jesus. He gives his Heart to us in the Eucharist where he is present Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, including his Heart. This is the new heart that God promised through the prophet Ezekiel (see chapters 11 and 36). God replaces our sin-hardened hearts with the Heart of his Son when we receive him in Holy Communion.

This Heart transforms our hearts so that we can be merciful as Jesus is merciful. We let go of resentments and past hurts. We pray, with merciful hearts, for the conversion of all who have hurt us and for all sinners. We pray that God's will may be done: that every soul may accept the knowledge of the truth of God's love and be saved. This is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and us, the Our Father. We pray to forgive as we have been forgiven by Divine Mercy. We pray that God's will--"which is Love and Mercy itself"--may be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Amen.

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