Third Conference on the Most Sacred Heart
Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer
In our last conference, we learned that there are in our age two popular devotions, and we tried to understand the reason of their present existence in the Church. We resolved especially to practice the devotion to the Sacred Heart, it being the more important of the two. Moreover, we determined to study it in order that we might the better practice, cultivate and propagate it, and thus enter into the designs of God. In accordance with this resolution, we shall now endeavor to obtain a clear and full understanding of the object of this devotion.
St. Thomas, the great doctor and patron of theological schools, distinguishes two objects in every devotion; first, that which in a devotion is honored, adored and loved. And secondly, that on account of which said object is honored, adored and loved. The first is called the immediate material object, and the second, the formal, incentive or causative object. Thus, in a devotion to some saint, the saint himself is the material object, it is he that is honored and loved - while his virtues and sanctity are the incentive object, that is, the reason why such devotion is paid him. Now, in the devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Heart itself is the material object; it is that which is adored, honored and loved; while that which It symbolizes, namely, the love of Jesus, is the formal incentive object of the devotion, in other words, is the reason why such special homage is paid to It. We shall, then, in this conference first speak of the material object of the devotion and show what it is; in the second place, of the causative object, and explain what the Heart symbolizes.
What is the material object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart? I have just named it; it is literally the Heart of Jesus, the living, human, created, fleshly Heart of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Heart that is beating this moment in the bosom of our Lord in Heaven: that Heart is what we adore, honor and invoke in this devotion. But we ask ourselves: how can we adore that Heart? That Heart as a material organ is human, It was made, It is a creature; how then can we adore It? Is not God alone to be adored? Again, honor, says St. Thomas, is offered to a person: honor cannot, strictly speaking, be received by things, it can be properly received only by persons In like manner, prayer is offered to a person, not to a mere thing; only a person can hear our prayers, not a mere thing. The Heart of Jesus as such is not a person. It is inseparably united to Him, but It is not His adorable Person. How, then, can we honor and adore and pray to It? This difficulty deserves an explanation, for it is just because of this difficulty, I fancy, that some well-meaning and pious Catholics complain of not being able to acquire a devotion to the Sacred Heart.
It is true that, properly speaking, honor is directly given to a person, for only a person is capable of accepting it. Still, we may and do frequently honor a thing on account of a person. Thus when Mary Magdalen approached the table of the Pharisee, and kneeling behind our Lord, washed His feet with her tears, anointed them with precious ointment, and dried them with her beautiful hair, it was to Him, to His person, that she was giving all these marks of contrition and love. In honoring the Heart of Jesus, we, in a similar manner, honor Him, His Person, and every outward mark of respect and love that we render It, we render to Himself, to His ever-adorable Person. The heart, detached from His person and with out any relation to Him, would be but a mere lump of flesh, a bundle of muscles and nerves, and therefore, deserving of no religious respect; but It can never be separated from Him, even in the tomb. It is hypostatically united to Him. It is, then, because the Heart is His Heart that It is entitled to honor.
Moreover, it is true that adoration is due to God alone. We can honor a human person, but we can adore none but a divine person. Still, what I have said of honor can also be said to a certain degree of adoration. I observed that, although honor can be directly given only to a person, it can also be rendered to a thing on account of a person. Similarly, although we can adore only what is divine, we can also adore a created thing united to a divine person. For just as honor, when offered to a thing, is referred to the person, so adoration, when offered to a created thing, is referred to the divine person to whom that created thing is personally united. Now, Jesus is not a human person, nor are there in Him two persons. He has but one personality, and that is divine, for He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, that is, of God. His body and soul are the body and soul of God, His hands and feet are the hands and feet of God, His Heart is the Heart of God. In honoring and worshipping His flesh and blood, we honor and worship the Person, namely, God; in adoring the hands and feet, we adore God; in adoring, loving and venerating the Heart, we adore, venerate and love the Person, namely, God. The divinity of Jesus Christ is the reason we adore His humanity. In praying to It, we are praying to Him, to His Person. You clearly see, I hope, how philosophically exact and reasonable all this is, and how well it harmonizes with Faith.
But we may ask ourselves again: Why honor in a special manner the Heart of Jesus? His sacred head crowned with thorns, His hands and feet pierced with nails, are as divine as the Heart which palpitates in His divine bosom. This is true; since Jesus is a divine person, everything which He has inseparably united to His divine person merits the most absolute adoration! His whole body and His soul are adorable, because they are the body and soul of God. Still, the Heart merits a special devotion, because, if not the organ of human love, it is, nevertheless, the symbol of all love. This, the second point of our instruction, merits a brief explanation.
In all languages, both human and divine, the heart is a symbol of love. Throughout the world when men speak of the heart, they use it as a figure of love. The reason of this seems to be that the heart is, as it were, the centre of feeling. Every emotional feeling makes an impression upon it. The heart leaps with sudden joy, it trembles with fear, it contracts with sadness, it dilates with happiness, it sends the blood thrilling along the veins in moments of satisfied ambition, it almost stops beating in terror. The brain transmits its sensations to the heart, and these sensations are as manifold as are our thoughts, for the soul, as long as united to the body, cannot think without using the brain as an organ. Some old philosophers went even so far as to say that, in the present life, the soul cannot love without using the heart as its organ. Hence, the Heart of Jesus was and is, if not the organ, at least the symbol - nay, more, the receptacle - of His human love, of that love with which He loved us on earth, died for us on the cross, and is loving us still here in the humble tabernacle of the altar.
Moreover, it was the heart which was first formed by the Holy Ghost from the pure flesh of the Virgin Mary; it was the heart which first lived in the Infant Jesus, and sent forth into His tiny veins that Precious Blood which was afterwards poured out for us on the heights of Calvary; it was the heart that suffered most from the insults, irreverences and outrages of ungrateful men during the thirty-three years of His life; it was the heart that was sorrowful unto death during those long hours of the Passion when Jesus sweated blood from agony, when He was betrayed by Judas, when He was mocked and derided, when He was denied by Peter, when He met His Mother, when He gave John to Mary and Mary to John, when He cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," when He exclaimed in His distress, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" It was His heart that died last, and when It died, the ransom of our Redemption was paid.
The Heart of Jesus, therefore, deserves special veneration as having taken such a large share in the work of our Redemption, and as being the seat and centre of our Lord's human love and feelings. It is a fit symbol also of His eternal and divine love. The Heart of Jesus means, then, the divine and human love of Jesus. A look at the Heart of Jesus recalls His love and all that His love has done, and is doing for us; It brings to mind the blessings we have received from Him in having been created, redeemed, made a member of His mystical body, the Church, in being nourished with His flesh and blood, in being allowed to speak to Him heart to heart in the Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist; It gives us a fuller knowledge of His science, for the love of His Heart is a wise and knowing love; It also reveals to us His humility, purity, meekness, compassion, goodness, mercy and patience, for all these moral qualities manifested themselves, thrilled, so to speak, in His human Heart.
To review briefly what we have learned - first, the material object of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, namely, that which we honor, adore and love, is the living, fleshly, human Heart of Jesus; second, the causative or formal object of the devotion, namely, the reason why we pay It a special honor, adoration and love, is the love of Jesus, of which the Heart is the seat and symbol. It may be that all this has been a little dry and abstract, perhaps too deep. But I hope it will not prove altogether useless. Our piety should be solid and able to resist our ever-varying moods and fancies, and to effect this, we must build behind it a wall of substantial doctrine, as a strong support when sensible devotion deserts us, and temptation, perhaps, in the form of doubt assails us.