Second Conference on the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
Fr. Henry Brinkmeyer
In our last conference, we learned the meaning of devotion; we saw that devotion is truth in bloom, and that consequently it depends upon a clear understanding and a vivid realization of religious truth. Before concluding, we said that popular devotions are a special outpouring of divine grace, and are designed to meet some great evil or some special exigency of the times, and that there are in our age two such popular devotions, the devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and the devotion to the Sacred Heart; the first a preparative and a safeguard to the second. Now we will try to learn how these two devotions meet the wants of the times and thus answer the designs of God.
What are the wants of the times? Truth and Love! Because the evils of the times are what we call naturalism and concupiscence. Naturalism is the evil affecting the mind of the age, concupiscence is the evil affecting the heart; Christian faith is the remedy for the evil of the mind, Christian love the remedy for the evil of the heart; and just as naturalism engenders and strengthens concupiscence, so faith engenders and strengthens love. Now, devotion to the Immaculate Conception enlightens, animates, and strengthens faith; while devotion to the Sacred Heart inspires and fortifies love, and just as faith prepares the way for love, so the Immaculate Conception prepares the way for the Sacred Heart. Here you have a summary of what I wish to explain at present.
I say the radical evils of our age are naturalism and concupiscence, or if you prefer the word, sensuality. First, naturalism. By naturalism is meant a denial of the supernatural. Men nowadays believe only in the world around them; they believe only in what they can see and hear and feel, and perceive with their five senses, or what they can grasp with their intellect; they refuse to believe in a Divine Providence, in grace, in spiritual agencies, in prayer, or if they do theoretically assent to these truths, they permit them to have no practical influence upon their lives, and are more or less indifferentists in matters of religion. Again, they deny the supernatural end of man; or if they have a belief at all in a future world, they picture it to themselves a natural world like the present, only more perfect in degree. In one word, all that which is above and beyond visible nature, they deny, doubt or practically ignore.
What is the consequence of this naturalism, this evil in the minds of men? They give themselves over to nature, they enjoy this world, they live for it and become wholly sensual. I need scarcely enlarge on this statement. Who does not know that sensuality, or to speak more plainly, impurity, is already the social evil of our day, especially in our country?
The world is flooded with a literature imbued with its venom, and literature mirrors the spirit of the age. We may safely say that of every one hundred in mortal sin, ninety, if not ninety-nine, are in that state because of impurity. But leaving aside this gross kind of sensuality, was there ever during the Christian era such a love of bodily ease, of comfort? Was there ever a stronger, a more universal thirst for riches, for pleasure and honor? Is not a thing most valued only in as much as it can contribute to ease and pleasure, and serve as a means to acquire gold, or as a stepping-stone to a higher position in life? Do you often hear it asked, how, for instance, such and such a discovery or invention will facilitate the saving of souls, or advance the interests of religion? And is it not humiliating to have to confess that even in persons called religious there is frequently so much worldly calculation when there is question of saving souls, or in general of advancing the interests of God? These two then, naturalism and sensualism, are the radical evils of the age; the remedies for these two evils are found in the devotions to the Immaculate Conception and the Sacred Heart, and the first devotion leads to the second, as naturalism leads to sensuality. Let us try to see in what manner all this is done.
We cannot honor the Immaculate Conception without believing in it. What is meant by believing in the Immaculate Conception? We believe that Mary alone of all the children of Adam was conceived without sin; in other words, we believe that all the rest of mankind were born, or at least conceived deprived of that supernatural grace which Adam and Eve had at their creation, and that she alone was conceived with grace, and indeed, from the first moment of her existence, had all that fullness of grace which Adam and Eve possessed before they fell. By professing a belief in this doctrine, what do we affirm? We affirm at once the existence of the supernatural, we affirm that man was originally created for a supernatural end, and endowed with supernatural grace, we affirm man's fall and the necessity of man's redemption, we affirm a Divine Providence, a Redeemer, an Eternity; finally, we affirm that man must live a supernatural life in order to reach his supernatural end. All this, naturalism denies or ignores. Consequently, faith in the Immaculate Conception is diametrically opposed to the intellectual error of our age, and therefore, devotion to the Immaculate Conception is, from its very nature, apt to destroy or weaken this error, or at least to strengthen and shield men's minds against it.
Moreover, mark that we can scarcely think of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin without thinking at the same time of her divine maternity, for the one is the reason of the other; Mary was immaculately conceived because she was to be Mother of God. The Immaculate Conception, therefore, leads us to Jesus; devotion to it begets devotion to Him; in thanking Him for His bounty to her and to us, we cannot but think of His love, His Heart! Now it is precisely devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that is the remedy for sensualism, the second great evil of our day. This is evident almost at first thought.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart is in every sense a devotion of love. The object of the devotion is love, for the heart is the symbol of love, and we pay special honor and adoration to the Heart of Jesus because it recalls and symbolizes His divine and human love. The aim of the devotion is to repair the injuries done to His love and to repay love with love. The effect of the devotion is to enkindle love. The Pope himself in the decree of Blessed Margaret Mary's beatification, declares it in these words:
Jesus Christ wished that the veneration and worship of His Sacred Heart should be established and promoted in His Church, in order that He might the more enkindle the fire of Charity.
Our Lord Himself, in revealing His Sacred Heart to Blessed Margaret Mary, said:
The great desire I have to be perfectly loved by man, has made Me foresee the design of disclosing to them My Heart, and of giving them in these latter times this last effort of My love, by proposing to them an object and a means so calculated to engage them to love Me, and to love Me solidly.
But can divine love be associated with illicit love? Can the love of our Lord be in the heart side by side with the love of the world? Does not the love of God drive out the love of triple concupiscence? Is it not true that, when God takes possession of a heart, all that is not God's becomes worthless to it? Therefore, just as the devotion to the Immaculate Conception is a specific remedy for the first evil of our age, naturalism, so the sister devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a remedy for the second consequent evil, viz., sensualism.
Verily, we have reason to exclaim: digitus Dei est hic, "the finger of God is visible here!" Plainly it is the work of the Almighty God which wills the cultivation of these devotions, especially that of the Sacred Heart. For the heart is most of all affected and diseased; if the heart of man is good, his mind will soon be healthy too. We will endeavor to enter into the designs of God; we will cultivate, practice and promote devotion to His Heart. That we may do so the better, we will study It; we will study Its love that we may learn how to love; we will study Its patience that we may learn how to suffer; we will study Its meekness and humility that we may learn how to find peace for our souls.