This Friday, June 11, is the annual liturgical celebration of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart.When Pope John Paul II was in Zakopane, Poland, two years ago on the feast of the Sacred Heart, he noted that Poland as a nation had made a great contribution to the introduction of this solemnity into the Church's liturgical calendar. He said that the solemnity was inserted in the calendar with “a deep desire that the extraordinary fruits produced by this devotion should be multiplied in the life of the faithful throughout the Church.”

“How should we thank God for all the graces which we experience through his Son's heart!” he exclaimed.

On the same occasion he beatified two Polish religious sisters whose lives had a special relationship to this devotion. Following are excerpts from the homily he gave in Zakopane:

“They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). These are the words which we have just heard. With this prophetic quotation St. John ends his description of Christ's passion and death on the cross. We know from it that on Good Friday, before the feast of the Passover, the Jews asked Pilate that the legs of those crucified might be broken and their bodies taken away (cf. John 19:31). The soldiers did this to the two criminals crucified with Jesus. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:33–34). It was the proof of death. The soldiers were able to assure their superior that Jesus of Nazareth had ceased to live. But St. John the Evangelist sees at this point the need for a special authentication. He writes thus: “He who saw it has borne witness — his witness is true.” And at the same time he affirms that in this piercing of Christ's side the Scripture had been fulfilled. For it says: “Not a bone of him shall be broken,” and elsewhere: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:35–37).

This Gospel passage is at the foundation of the whole tradition of devotion to the Divine Heart. It developed in a special way from the 17th century onward, in connection with the revelations to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Our own century testifies to an intense development of devotion to the Heart of Jesus, attested to by the magnificent Litany of the Sacred Heart and linked to it The Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart with the added Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart. All this has profoundly pervaded our Polish piety; it has become part of the life of many of the faithful who feel the need to make reparation to the Heart of Jesus for the sins of humanity and also of individual nations, families and people.

‘Do Not Be Ashamed’

“They shall look on him whom they have pierced” — these words guide our gaze toward the holy cross, toward the tree of the cross on which was hung the Savior of the world. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but for us it is the power of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18). … Dear Brothers and Sisters, do not be ashamed of this cross. Try every day to accept it and to return Christ's love. Defend the cross; do not offend God's name in your hearts, in family or social life. We thank Divine Providence that the crucifix has returned to the schools, public offices and hospitals. May it ever remain there! May it remind us of our Christian dignity and national identity, what we are and where we are going and where our roots are. May it remind us of God's love for humanity, which on the cross found its deepest expression.

Love is always associated with the heart. The Apostle Paul linked it precisely to that Heart which on Golgotha was pierced by the centurion's lance. In this gesture there was revealed the depth of the love with which the Father has loved the world. He has loved it so intensely “that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). In this pierced Heart that dimension of love which is greater than any created love whatever has found its external expression. In it, saving and redemptive love has manifested itself. The Father has given “his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And therefore Paul writes: “I bend my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14–15); I bend them to express the gratitude which I feel before the revelation which the Father has made of his love in his Son's redeeming death. At the same time I bend my knees, so that God “according to the riches of his glory may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). The heart is precisely “the inner man.” The Heart of God's Son becomes, for the Apostle, the source of strength for all human hearts. All this has been wonderfully rendered in many of the invocations of the Litany of the Sacred Heart.

‘Eternally to Give’

The heart of Jesus became the source of strength for the two women whom the Church is raising today to the glory of the altars. Thanks to this strength they reached the heights of holiness. Maria Bernardina Jablonska — spiritual daughter of St. Albert Chmielowski, his helper and the one who continued his work of mercy; living in poverty, she consecrated herself to the service of the poorest of the poor. The Church places this devout religious before us today as an example. Her motto of life were the words: “To give, eternally to give.” With her gaze fixed on Christ she followed him faithfully, imitating his love. She wanted to satisfy her neighbor's every request, to dry every tear, to console at least with a word every suffering soul. She always wanted to be good to everyone, but even better to those most tried by fate. She used to say: “My neighbor's suffering is my suffering.” Together with St. Albert she founded hospices for those who were sick and homeless as a result of war.

This great and heroic love matured in prayer, in the silence of the nearby hermitage of Kalatówki, where she stayed for some time. In life's most difficult moments — in keeping with the suggestions of the one who guided her soul — she entrusted herself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To him she offered everything she possessed, especially her inner sufferings and physical torments. All for the love of Christ! As superior general of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of the Poor of the Third Order of St. Francis — the Albertines — she ceaselessly gave her sisters the example of that love which flows from the union of the human heart with the Sacred Heart of the Savior. Jesus' heart was her solace in her service of the most needy.

A True Samaritan

At the same time, in the territories under Prussian occupation, another woman, Maria Karlowska,worked as a true Samaritan among women suffering great material and moral deprivation. Her holy zeal quickly attracted a group of disciples of Christ, with whom she founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd of Divine Providence. For herself and her Sisters she set the following goal: “We must proclaim the Heart of Jesus, that is, so to live from him, in him and for him, as to become like him and that in our lives he may be more visible than we ourselves.” Her devotion to the Savior's Sacred Heart bore fruit in a great love for people. She felt an insatiable hunger for love. A love of this kind, according to Blessed Maria Karlowska, will never say “enough,” will never stop midway. Precisely this happened to her, who was as it were transported by the current of love of the Divine Paraclete. Thanks to this love she restored to many souls the light of Christ and helped them to regain their lost dignity.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, both these heroic women religious, carrying forward their holy works in extremely difficult conditions, showed in all its fullness the dignity of woman and the greatness of her vocation. They showed that “feminine genius” which is revealed in deep sensitivity to human suffering, in tact, openness and readiness to help, and in other qualities proper to the feminine heart. Often this is shown without drawing attention to itself and therefore is sometimes undervalued. How much today's world, our generation, needs this! How badly needed is this feminine sensitivity in the things of God and man, that our families and all of society may be filled with heartfelt warmth, good will, peace and joy! How much this “feminine genius” is needed, that today's world may esteem the values of life, responsibility and faithfulness; that it may preserve respect for human dignity! For God, in his eternal plan, has established such a role for women, by creating the human being “man and woman” in his own “image and likeness.”

Plan for Salvation

In his Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul makes as it were a personal confession. He writes: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (3:8–9). In this way, through the Heart of Jesus crucified and risen, we read God's eternal plan for the salvation of the world. The Divine Heart becomes, in a sense, the center of this plan, which is mysterious and which gives life. In this Heart the plan is fulfilled. As the Apostle writes: “that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known. … This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:10–12).

All is contained here. Christ is the fulfillment of the divine plan of redemptive love. By virtue of this plan man has access to God, not only as a creature to its Creator, but as a son to his father. Christianity therefore means a new creation, a new life — life in Christ through which man can say to God: Abba — my Father, our Father. The solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is thus in a sense a magnificent completion of the Eucharist, and the Church, guided by a profound intuition of faith, therefore celebrates this feast of the Divine Heart on the day after the end of the octave of Corpus Christi.

We praise you, Christ our Savior, who from your Heart on fire with love pour out upon us fountains of grace. We thank you for these graces through which the hosts of the saints and beati have been able to bring to the world the witness of your love. We thank you for the Blessed Sisters — Maria Bernardina and Maria — who found the source of their holiness in your loving Heart.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!