Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
June 7, 2013
Today the Church marks the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a feast specifically requested by Jesus in his apparitions to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1670s.
Nine days ago I was privileged to be able to celebrate Mass in the Chapel in Paray-le-Monial, France, where these apparitions occurred. I was preaching a retreat in Ars to 30 seminarians from across the United States. Because the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, famously described the priesthood as the “love of the heart of Jesus,” I wanted to take these future priests to the place where Jesus taught us most powerfully about the love flowing from his priestly heart.
There’s also a special connection between priests and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because today is the day when the whole Church prays for the sanctification of priests, so that they might acquire a priestly heart like Christ’s.
During Mass, I pondered with the seminarians what Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary, something that should be a wake-up call for everyone who loves the Lord Jesus.
Pointing to his heart that was aflame with love and enveloped by a crown of thorns, Jesus said, “Behold the heart that has so much loved men that it has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming itself in testimony of its love. Instead of gratitude, I receive from most only the difference, irreverence, sacrilege, and the coldness and scorn that men have for me in the sacrament of love.”
The “sacrament of love” to which he referred is the Holy Eucharist. Jesus indicated that in response to this total gift of himself to us, he receives from “most” only apathy, impiety, frigidity, contempt, and desecration.
Jesus went on to describe to St. Margaret Mary something that I wanted to underline for the seminarians. The greatest sorrow of his heart, he said, comes when those who should love him more don’t really love him much or at all. “What I feel the most keenly,” Jesus lamented, “is that it is hearts that are consecrated to me that treat me in this way.”
The ancient aphorism, “The corruption of the best is worst of all,” is applicable with regard to what most wounds Jesus’ heart. To whom more is given, more is to be expected, and when priests, religious, deacons, and consecrated men and women take Jesus’ gift of himself in the Eucharist for grant for granted, it’s all the more painful.
The response of the majority who treat Jesus in the Eucharist with little enthusiasm, love and reverence can be likened to the sorrow Jesus experienced in Capernaum, when after Jesus described for the first time in depth the mystery of the Eucharist, many of his “disciples” — those who had followed him for up to two years — abandoned him, saying that the teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood was too hard to endure. When those who have received special consecrated vocations treat the Lord in this way, however, it’s much more like the betrayal of Judas.
In response to all of these breaches of faith, Jesus asked for reparation, not to placate his wounded heart, but to change our hearts and the hearts of others with regard to how we should be responding to this greatest gift of all. It’s no surprise that the reparation he requested has a particularly Eucharistic form. He asked for the establishment of a Feast of his Sacred Heart within the Octave of Corpus Christi. He called for us to receive him frequently in Holy Communion, particularly on first Fridays, and to adore him, especially on Thursdays in memory of his agony and the desertion of the disciples.
Jesus wasn’t just asking for intellectual recognition of his Eucharistic love. He was asking for devotion, which means letting that truth descend from our heads to our hearts, to our knees, to our folded hands and to our missionary feet. The word “devotion” comes from the Latin expression de voto, which means we’ve made a vow, a total commitment of ourselves. Jesus is asking from us a covenant of love, in response to his toward us.
He’s doing so not because he’s some type of egomaniac desirous of attention, but because he knows that the only way we’ll obtain happiness, holiness and heaven, is through a life in which we take advantage of, rather than take for granted, the gift of him in the sacrament of love.
So today on this great solemnity of the Sacred Heart, each of us needs to ponder how we truly treat Jesus in the Eucharist.
Jesus said that “most” treat him with indifference. We can clearly see that apathy in the three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. who don’t attend Mass each week or in the others who miss without compunction whenever something “more important” comes up, like work, or kids’ sporting events, or family outings. We also see it in priests, for example, who don’t celebrate or even attend Mass on their days off. This wounds Jesus’ heart. In contrast, he wants us to treat him in the Mass as the greatest difference-maker in our life, as our true priority, as the “source and summit” of our life, the fulcrum of our week and day.
He declared that most treat him with irreverence. We see this in the way many approach the Mass, without a sense that they’re in the presence of God. It’s shown when people attend Mass in a rush, when they dress in a way they’d never dress for an important engagement, when they receive Holy Communion lackadaisically or with dirty hands. It’s shown in the way people make poor or half-hearted genuflections or none at all. It’s shown in the way priests sometimes celebrate Mass with little or no devotion. All of this pains Jesus. In contrast, for our sake, he wants us to treat him with deep piety. One of the best ways to grow in Eucharistic reverence is through adoration: if we learn how to adore Christ outside of Mass, we can then much more easily adore him in Mass.
Jesus then said most treat him with coldness. We see this in the way many come to Mass without enthusiasm, as bored and distracted spectators rather than ardent participants. Christ wants us more passionate about him at the Mass than the most fanatical Bruins are during a successful playoff run. He wants us singing, sincerely meaning the prayers we say, treating others at Mass with us with warmth and love. When we don’t, he’s wounded.
He added that most treat him with scorn. It’s shown in the way some speak disdainfully about Jesus in the Eucharist, calling Eucharistic adoration “cookie worship” or the tabernacle “the bread box.” It’s shown in the way some priests and extraordinary ministers mishandle the Eucharistic particles or pour extra precious blood down the sink into the sewer system. Jesus, in contrast, want us to treat him with grateful appreciation.
Jesus finally talked about sacrilege, seen most commonly by people’s receiving him without being in the state of grace. Most of us would never invite a guest over for dinner to a filthy house, but many receive Jesus with souls in need of thorough purification through the sacrament of his mercy. We likewise see it when priests celebrate Mass while living double-lives or when ministers of Holy Communion knowingly give Holy Communion to those who are obstinately persistent in manifest grave sin. Jesus wants, rather, for us to receive and share him in a sacred, not a sacrilegious way.
The feast of the Sacred Heart is meant to transform us, to educate our hearts to love Jesus and to love like Jesus. The best way we train to do so is by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist with precedence, piety, passion, praise and purity — in short, by treating him as he deserves.