Heart of a Priest

Not for nothing does the Jubilee Year of the Priest kick off on the feast of the Sacred Heart.

June is the month the Church dedicates to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on Friday, June 19. The day has extra significance this year because it begins what Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed as the Jubilee Year of the Priest.

The day is a perfect reminder to renew this devotion to Jesus, while also remembering the “special sons” of his Sacred Heart.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart, as now practiced, began when Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation sister in France, between December 1673 and June 1675. Our Lord showed her his pierced, bleeding heart, crowned with thorns and radiating flames. During the octave of Corpus Christi 1675, he explained to her why and how he wanted to be honored as the Sacred Heart and asked her to spread this devotion.

“Behold the heart that has so loved men … instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of mankind) only ingratitude,” Jesus said. He asked for a feast of reparation (which falls after Corpus Christi, 19 days after Pentecost). Reparation is one element; consecration is the other. In short, we consecrate ourselves to the Sacred Heart and determine to serve him and make reparation for mankind’s ungratefulness and indifference.

The devotion spread rapidly. By 1856 Pius IX extended this feast to the universal Church, and, on June 11, 1899, Leo XIII consecrated all mankind to the Sacred Heart.

The devotion reminds us of two things, explains Msgr. Stuart Swetland, who on July 1 assumes the Archbishop Flynn Chair in Christian Ethics at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.

First, Jesus reveals the mercy of the Father. “We see that in the tenderness and mercy embodied in Jesus’ heart,” says Msgr. Swetland. That leads to the second: “He also reveals to us how we can be and should be, especially how we are to be tender and merciful to others.”

Jesus makes our vocation clear. “We see both the divine and human aspects,” says Msgr. Swetland. “We see God’s mercy shining through and God’s call for us to be merciful.”

Revealing Love

The devotion to the Sacred Heart is rooted in Scripture. In a 2005 Angelus message, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “In biblical language, ‘heart’ indicates the center of the person, where his sentiments and intentions dwell. In the heart of the Redeemer, we adore God’s love for humanity, his will for universal salvation, his infinite mercy. Practicing devotion to the Sacred Heart of Christ, therefore, means adoring that heart …”

To Msgr. Swetland, the feast is an appropriate and significant day to launch the Year of the Priest. The priest acts “in persona Christi to reveal the merciful love of the Father through the sacrament of reconciliation, through the Eucharist,” he says. “In his pastoral zeal, he reveals God’s mercy.”

Bishop Robert Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., sees much in the connection. “Certainly, the feast of the Sacred Heart reminds all people, and especially priests,” he says, “of the compassionate love of Jesus that is the love of God incarnate in Jesus and that is manifest in the priesthood.”

“The priest embodies that love through the ordination ceremony,” he continues, adding that ordination is an automatic call for “translating the love of Christ into every aspect of his ministry. He must incarnate in his priesthood the love Jesus has for all humanity … and especially holiness of life.”

Holiness of life means “giving back to God 100% of one’s life in love for God and love for neighbor, impelled by the love that Christ has, represented by that symbolic portrayal of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” explains Bishop Baker. He makes clear this holiness is what the Holy Father has in mind for the Year of the Priest — and reiterated by Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of the Congregation for the Clergy, who noted that striving for spiritual perfection is what the effectiveness of priests’ ministry depends on.

Father Michael Grab, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Lancaster, Pa., sees a vital connection: The Sacred Heart is a role model for the priest to keep the balance between reflection and service. “Jesus was certainly selfless in everything he did, and he certainly had an interior life with the Father that strengthened him and nourished him,” says the priest. “The image of the Sacred Heart helps keep that balance for me.”

Sacred and Immaculate

What can we do to refresh and strengthen our devotion to the Sacred Heart?

Bishop Baker recommends starting every day with the Morning Offering, which offers all prayers, works, joys and sufferings, stating specifically for “all the intentions of your Most Sacred Heart” and includes “through the Immaculate Heart of Mary” and “in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

The priest needs to start by offering his day to the Lord Jesus, says Bishop Baker, and so do we.

Why? Because the call to holiness is for everybody, “so the entire day is centered on Our Lord and his Sacred Heart,” says the bishop.

Through the Morning Offering, we also join the Immaculate Heart with the Sacred Heart, which Pope Benedict also highlighted in his Angelus message: “The heart that resembles that of Christ more than any other is without a doubt the heart of Mary, his Immaculate Mother, and, for this very reason, the liturgy holds them up together for our veneration.” (Indeed, this year the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the very next day, June 20.)

We might also support diocesan projects tied to this feast and year. Bishop Baker finds many tie-ins, as the Sacred Heart translates into compassion for the clergy and their special needs. The Birmingham Diocese hopes to dedicate the St. John Vianney Residence for Priests.

Bishop Baker’s concern is that many diocesan priests die alone and unattended. “Our concern is for our priests in their struggles in their final moments in this world,” he says, “and their special needs when they’re elderly and infirm.” The home will provide this special care with the compassion of the heart of Jesus.

We can also recommit ourselves to Jesus’ call to consecration and expiation to his Sacred Heart with his 12 promises in the devotion he specifically called for: frequent Communion, Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays, observing a Eucharistic Holy Hour (weekly), and celebrating the feast. As the late Father John Hardon, Servant of God, reminded in his writings: “In holy Communion, we receive him with his heart into our own hearts.”

It’s the Year of the Priest. Have you commended to the Sacred Heart a priest close to your heart lately?

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is

based in Trumbull, Connecticut.

INFORMATION SacredHeartDevotion.com MarianCatechist.com