“Have you ever had those weary days when the daily tasks seem meaningless? And those seasons of the heart when life itself seems meaningless? What goes wrong? What often goes wrong is that we neglect the serious issues of life and death, heaven or hell. We cram life with trivia and even with sin until our hearts become trampled gardens where there is no room for love to grow.”
This is one of many bright insights Jesuit Father Herbert F. Smith delivers in this worthwhile collection of homilies. Throughout, he speaks to the heart with great intuition and understanding. His tone is upbeat, hopeful.
All the homilies are based on the complementary themes of devotion to the Sacred Heart and perseverance in prayer. The subtitle reveals the aim behind the book: The Apostleship of Prayer for the World's Salvation. It's an ambitious aim, but Father Smith carries it off; his desire to see all souls saved leaps from the page and sets the reader's heart on fire without warning.
Since the Second Vatican Council we have witnessed a notable decline in popular devotions in the Church and the plummeting of attendance at Mass. Far from growing out of the council, both phenomena contradict it. Father Smith demonstrates this ably, highlighting the centrality of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ throughout the Church's history.
The 19th-century founder of the Apostleship of Prayer, Jesuit Father Francis Xavier Gautrelet, realized that his seminarians needed a new direction.
Their dreams of following Xavier to distant missions were blocking their studies. “Be apostles now,” Gautrelet cried, “apostles of prayer!
Offer everything you are doing every day in union with the Heart of our Lord for what he wishes, the spread of his Kingdom for the salvation of souls.” On the day he convinced the seminarians to follow through with this initiative, the League of the Apostolate of Prayer was born.
Father Smith notes that Christ himself gave the first call to friendship and to mission: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” And, as Father Smith documents, in today's Church Christ repeats the call through his apostles.
Pope Paul VI wrote in 1968: “The Church was born from the pierced Heart of the Redeemer and is nourished there … thus it is absolutely necessary that the faithful venerate and honor this Heart.”
Pope John Paul II, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the League in 1994, pointed out: “The Apostleship of Prayer has always been especially close to the Roman Pontiffs. … The new evangelization will also be effective insofar as it strengthens the bonds of ecclesial communion with the grace that flows from the Heart of Christ.”
Is a book of homilies exclusively for priests? On the contrary, this book has a message for us all. We need to move from devotions to devotion.
Devotions are informal, personal practices of prayer evolving throughout the Church's history and drawing us closer to the Lord. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ originated on Calvary. It leads us to devotion, which is, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “the readiness to do God's will in all things.”
Our lives are too precious to be mere trampled gardens. The challenge of this book is to become apostles through a life of prayer.
Dominican Sister Mary Thomas Noble writes from Buffalo, New York.