Cardinal Collins: Rediscover the 'treasure' of the Sacred Heart devotion this month

Sacred Heart of Jesus Lawrence OP via Flickr

The Archbishop of Toronto released a pastoral letter earlier this year offering meditations on and insights into the significance of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to which the month of June is dedicated.

“Especially in these tempestuous times we have a mission, received in Baptism and Confirmation, to move outward with compassionate love, in the imitation of Christ, to share his healing love,” Thomas Cardinal Collins of Toronto wrote in Heart Speaks to Heart, an April 28 pastoral letter.

“Devotion to the Sacred Heart leads us to ponder the sacred humanity of Jesus, God with us. Using the universally accepted symbol of the heart as the sign of the center of who we are, this devotion focuses on Jesus as the man for others, who showed humans how, in a human way, to love as God loves, and to act as God wants us to act.”

At the end of May, Cardinal Collins drew attention to his pastoral letter and noted that “each year the Church celebrates the whole month of June as the Month of the Sacred Heart. I am inviting everyone in the archdiocese to devote that month to meditating on the Sacred Heart and to deepening our commitment to imitate the compassionate love of Jesus, a love that reaches out to the lonely, to the isolated, to the sick and to all those who are rejected. Along with the cross, the symbol of the Sacred Heart is the Catholic Christian sign of that love.”

He urged that the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is observed on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi and this year falls on June 11, be celebrated “with renewed appreciation.”

The cardinal said in his pastoral letter that a world weary from over a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, battered by challenges to the faith, as well as a world that highly prizes autonomy, is greatly in need of a devotion like the Sacred Heart, which urges people to look outward and show love to others.

Beyond being an important visual sign of the love of Christ, the heart, both in Scripture and in literature throughout human history, “represents the innermost sanctuary of our human self.”

“For a Christian the love signified by the Sacred Heart is not a passing emotion, but the steady, reliable, faithful, life-giving love which we experience in Jesus as we encounter him in the Gospels, in the Sacraments, and in our life of faith. We are called to imitate that faithful love.”

In his letter Cardinal Collins spoke about the symbolism associated with the Sacred Heart image. The Sacred Heart is often portrayed along with the symbol of the cross, which signifies love for others; flames represent the glory of Christ’s love; Christ’s outstretched arms, often a feature of Sacred Heart images, welcome everybody. 

The Sacred Heart is, too, almost always portrayed encircled by a crown of thorns. 

“All of this reminds us that the love of Jesus for us was not some theoretical love. He actually suffered with us and for us, in the midst of brutality and injustice greater than anything you or I will ever experience. That love is not superficial, but involves the readiness to enter into suffering, to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Such is the love of Christ symbolized by the Sacred Heart. Such is the love expected of a disciple of Christ.”

The Sacred Heart, Cardinal Collins wrote, is what is known as a “doctrinal devotion.” 

Doctrinal devotions, such as devotions to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and devotions to Mary, are “intimate experiences of personal prayer” founded on “the objective doctrinal fact of who God is and how God acts among us.”

Despite being so rooted in intellectual truth, the love of Christ’s Sacred Heart should also move us to practical action, he said. 

“Christian social justice needs a foundation in the spiritual wisdom of the Sacred Heart devotion, for a shadow side of the passion for justice can be an abstract and generalized concern for justice for humanity, forgetting the individual. The Sacred Heart devotion is a corrective to that: we are called to serve the cause of justice for all by recognizing the dignity of each individual, each person loved as Jesus loves, fully, warmly, and one at a time.”

“Intellect and action without relational love are fruitless, and can be destructive, but in devotion to the Sacred Heart intellect, affectivity, and will are harmoniously joined: head, heart, and hands. The Sacred Heart symbolizes the personal love of Jesus for each of us, and we respond with an intense personal love for Jesus, and a commitment to show to others by our actions the love Jesus shows to us.”

The Christ we encounter in devotion and meditation on the Sacred Heart is the “real” Christ, Cardinal Collins said. 

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“Accept no substitutes, no false ‘Jesus’ of my imagination, who is a nice person who never challenges me but who smiles in approval of whatever I want to do. Especially in the midst of our struggles, we need to meet Jesus himself, our Lord and our God, who calls us to repentance, and challenges us to embrace the life of holiness shown in the Sermon on the Mount, but who also calls us to be not only servants but friends.”

“People have come to reject the idea that we do not own our own lives, but that we are entrusted with life by God,” Cardinal Collins said, referencing a pervasive “proud autonomy” that interferes with many people’s capacity for self-giving love. 

“Although the exaltation of autonomy is the root of many if not most of the evils we face in these days, its very sterility provides an occasion for divine grace and an impetus to conversion….to seek another way of life that is more fruitful, represented by the love for others symbolized by the Sacred Heart.”

The Sacred Heart is not representative of a “sentimental” love, Cardinal Collins warned, because it represents a love founded on objective truth, and on true repentance. 

“Sentimental Christianity, which consists of a warm pleasant emotion detached from a concern for the objective truth of the Gospel call to repentance and holiness, can cause people to replace the life-changing challenge of our faith with a cult of niceness. Such sentimentality is an illusion, and there is no future in that.”

Cardinal Collins noted that the Sacred Heart is celebrated in a special way during the month of June, and also every Friday of the year. 

In order to foster devotion to the Sacred Heart, Cardinal Collins recommended taking time daily for a holy hour; reading part of the Gospels daily; participating in Mass whenever possible; and placing an image of the Sacred Heart in one’s home, and if possible in one’s parish church.

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