Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart Share a Common Message

COMMENTARY: We are reminded by the two devotions of the Lord’s Heart and Mercy that we were made for greater things than sin and darkness.

Divine Mercy image next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as shown on a prayer card.
Divine Mercy image next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as shown on a prayer card. (photo: Shutterstock/Wikimedia Commons)

This weekend, we celebrate a First Friday in honor of the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy Sunday. While the two devotions have about 300 years between them, they share a common message and a similar expression of God’s love for humanity.

The two images of the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy even share a remarkable resemblance, with both images showing rays of grace and mercy flowing from the heart of the Lord Jesus.

The endearing devotion of the Sacred Heart was given to the Church and formalized through the apparitions of Jesus Christ to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque. Given during the 17th century, the simple Visitation nun in Paray-le-Monial, France, became an apostle of divine love.

Jesus Christ appearing to St. Margaret Mary, Church of San Michele, Cortemilia, Italy
An image of Jesus Christ appearing to St. Margaret Mary Church of San Michele, Cortemilia, Italy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

It is reported that the Sacred Heart of Jesus first appeared to Visitation Sister Margaret Mary in 1673. The nun was known to be of modest intellect and clumsy in her duties. In spite of these idiosyncrasies, Jesus spoke to her during prayer and showed her his heart, burning with love and inflamed with kindness toward all.

The Lord gave St. Margaret Mary a consistent message, which spanned over four apparitions in 18 months. Each apparition was given within the context of Eucharistic Adoration and contained immense expressions of love and affection for the human family.

In particular, the message of the Sacred Heart emphasized the harm caused by sin, the gravity of offenses against the Blessed Sacrament, and the evil of receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy manner. Such exhortations, however, were placed within a broader declaration of God’s love, mercy, and compassion for all people.

The Lord called on all people to come to him without hesitation or hindrance. He bemoaned that many have ignored him, telling St. Margaret Mary:

Behold this Heart which has so loved men that It spared nothing, even going so far as to exhaust and consume Itself, to prove to them Its love. And in return, I receive from the greater part of men nothing but ingratitude, by the contempt, irreverence, sacrileges and coldness with which they treat Me in this Sacrament of Love.

The message of the Sacred Heart echoed the same call that was given by Our Lord during his public ministry. It is the same plea for sinful and hurt humanity to turn to him for mercy, healing, and restoration, as he said:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

The message of the Sacred Heart could not have been more timely, because it came at a time when the Church was in deep battle with the false teaching of Jansenism. The Jansenist heresy held many spiritually dangerous beliefs, among them was a radical pessimism about human nature, a belief that most people would be damned and only a few rare souls might be saved, and a rigorous observance of rules which made no room for the development of virtue and involved a severe limitation of mercy and kindness.

Jansenism ran the risk of stripping the soul of the Church of her hope and joy in God.

Given to a simple nun, the Sacred Heart message dismantled Jansenism and reminded us of our dignity and our inheritance as the children of God. The Sacred Heart message of God’s burning heart of love eclipsed and replaced the false Jansenistic image of God’s fiery wrath and vengeance.

The devotion of the Sacred Heart waned in the late-19th century. The message of the Lord became blurred and was being forgotten.

In response, the Lord Jesus chose another simple nun, to whom he revealed his love and mercy. The Lord chose Faustina, who was a meek Polish Sister of Our Lady of Divine Mercy, and revealed to her the vast treasures of his mercy and loving kindness.

The historical context of the Divine Mercy message was observed by Pope St. John Paul II. In his homily at Faustina’s Canonization Mass in the year 2000, the saintly Pontiff preached:

“By divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the 20th century … it was between the First and Second World Wars that Christ entrusted his message of mercy to her.”

“Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people,” John Paul said, “know well how necessary was the message of mercy.”

In the midst of the human drama that involved two massive wars of worldwide proportions, the rays of God’s mercy and grace overshadowed humanity’s rays of anger and vengeance. God was showing humanity another way, a higher way. He was once again revealing to us his most excellent way of love, as St. Paul taught us:

But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3).

In the 20th century and into the 21st century, humanity may no longer be struggling with formal Jansenism, but it continues nonetheless to entertain a spiritual Jansenism marked by pessimism, exclusionism, and rigorism. It believes the lies that humanity is nothing but the sum total of its sin.

Humanity once again chooses dark convictions that diminish its spiritual health, which makes hope, openness, mercy, and tenderness appear abstract and impossible to address and resolve “real problems” in our world.

Pope St. John Paul II purposely waited to canonize Faustina so that she would be the first saint of the 21st century. He said:

“Sister Faustina’s canonization has a particular eloquence: By this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium.”

It is this love which must inspire humanity today, if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity.”

Having the historical context of the devotions of the Sacred Heart and of the Divine Mercy and seeing the shared image and message of the two devotions, we can clearly see the Lord Jesus’ enduring effort to show us his love and convince us of his mercy.

The Lord Jesus is seeking to give us his love and mercy and then strength and convict us to give love and mercy to one another, especially those who have offended us or who have been ostracized because of their sins.

The Lord shows us by his own love that alongside our fallenness and sinfulness is the reality of fraternal compassion, mercy, reconciliation, and new beginnings with God and with one another.

We are reminded by the two devotions of the Lord’s Heart and Mercy that we were made for greater things than sin and darkness. We are the well-beloved children of God, richly blessed and always wanting to be embraced by the God who cherishes us and believes in us.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024.

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The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”