The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Are we able to do in the twenty-first century what St. Margaret Mary Alacoque did in the 1670s regarding devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? That’s the question posed by Fr. Gerry O’Hanlon, an Irish Jesuit, in A Renewed Devotion to the Sacred Heart.

He writes of this traditional devotion in light of modern theology and looks at what a renewed devotion might mean for our times. He suggests that the symbol of the heart conveys very well that the focus of this devotion is the person of Jesus Christ, someone with whom we can identify.

Given that devotion to the person of Jesus is for all ages, can we create a form of devotion that meets the needs of people today? We have so many more communications tools than St. Margaret Mary possessed. As O’Hanlon asks, how can we be creative in the ways we spread this devotion?

The immediate roots of the devotion to the Sacred Heart lie in the revelations of the Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1670s. The Feast of the Sacred Heart began in Poland and spread to the universal Church by 1856. To speak of the heart of Jesus is to speak of the fundamental underpinning of Christianity, the Gospel’s message of love.

A scriptural basis for this devotion is found in the biblical use of heart and similar words, referring to the whole inner life of the human person. When we speak of the heart of Jesus, we use a variety of images and phrases. A popular one today among many Catholics is that of Divine Mercy.

In a posting on a blog a few years ago, fellow Canadian Jesuit Fr. John O’Brien, S.J. looks at the devotions to the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy and asks if they are different or the same.

Many older Catholics grew up in households that usually had on the wall at least one image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The devotion to the Sacred Heart emphasizes devotedness to the love of Christ as well as devotional practices centred on the love of Christ’s heart.

We are more likely today to use the expression spirituality of the Heart of Christ. This refers more to a way of life that is centred on the heart as a symbol of love and the interior life of the Person of Christ. In other words, devotional practices are not enough. There has to be a deeper and more personal aspect that has an influence on one’s whole life.

Here are two expressions of what that means. Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, former Superior General of the Jesuits, said that a devotion to the Sacred Heart is authentic only if it integrates concern for the poor, promotion of justice, love for the little ones, respect for life.

Writing in the Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart in June 1974, Jean Vanier, the now-disgraced founder of L’Arche, wrote, Sacred Heart of Jesus, you alone are the source of unity, communion, and harmony between our divided worlds. You alone can bring life to those in misery. You alone can bring peace where there is anguish and war, salvation where there is despair and death.

Let us pray to the Sacred Heart for unity and peace, justice and integrity, in our families and among nations!

This is also the World Day of Prayer for Priests. That day coincides with the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops reminds us that Catholics worldwide are urged to pray for Priests on this day.

Saint John Paul II began the day in 2002 with the objective of having all Catholic faithful join in prayer for the sanctification of Priests.


Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 07:30h, 19 June Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 07:33h, 19 June Reply

    Thank you Fr. Phil for this thought provoking article.

    When in love, we do what pleases our Lover. It never stops between the Lover and the beloved. The name of the feast is not important. May our priests radiate that steadfast love always to all people, visibly or invisibly lonely, poor or marginalized.

  • John Meehan SJ
    Posted at 09:30h, 19 June Reply

    Thank you, Philip, and happy feast of the Sacred Heart to all who are reading this.

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