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Friday, June 19th, 2020

‘Fiduciam et accessum:’ a Homily for the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Such is his eternal purpose, centered in Christ Jesus our Lord, who gives us all our confidence, bids us come forward, emboldened by our faith in him (Ephesians 3, 12).

The Psalmist speaks for everybody. There is no human being on the face of the earth who has not, at one time or another and in one way or another, spoken the words of Psalm 37:

Beaten down, bowed to the earth, I go mourning all day long . . . so spent, so crushed, I groan aloud in the weariness of my heart. Thou, Lord, knowest all my longings, no complaint of mine escapes thee; restless my heart, gone my strength; the very light that shone in my eyes is mine no longer.[1]

And this is true of everyone who has lived and who will ever live.

Not without reason, then, that every pope from Leo XIII to Paul VI has written an encyclical letter or some other instruction about the Sacred Heart.

Now, every director of souls knows that, in order to cure the spiritual ills that afflict us, we have to cure by the contrary: that is, the remedy for any given vice is the opposing virtue. Therefore we ‘who walk in darkness and the shadow of death’[2] require a strong remedy, indeed—for these hearts of ours, so closed and empty, a Heart had to be given to us that was opened and filled. That is the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

We could not exhaust the riches of grace contained in the Sacred Heart, because it is substantially united to the Godhead, who is of infinite perfection. But this is just as well: because our Blessed Lord did not give us his Heart to confound us—but so that we would approach it. Yea, not only approach it, but enter it.

This can only be done, however, in confidence.

But this is more than simply a matter of wishful thinking; we have the very words of Holy Scripture to assure us. Witness today’s epistle: ‘Such is his eternal purpose, centered in Christ Jesus our Lord, who gives us all our confidence.’ [Q]uam fecit in Christo Iesu Domino nostro, in quo habemus fiduciam et accessum. Confidence comes from Christ himself.

But what is confidence? One spiritual author of the seventeenth century[3] suggests that confidence is a sort of being at ease with God. We ought to take the phrase as it is, understanding here that we certainly do not mean anything like presumption or irreverence or frivolity. By no means. To be at ease with God. Put like that, however, we can each of us immediately think of examples of times when we have not been at ease with God; when we have felt ourselves in opposition to him; when we have in one way or another, at one time or another, felt we needed to put him at arms’ length.

Or we can think of people we know who are by no means at ease with God. For such people there is always some underlying tension in their lives, if not outright disorder. Not all is well. And this because they are not at ease with God; they have no confidence in him.

And yet, it is precisely this want of confidence—this want of being at ease with God—that the Sacred Heart of Jesus desires to remedy. Desiderio desideravi.[4] Once again, when we speak of being at ease with God, it does not imply an attack on his majesty. Because,

It is false that the greatness of God, which far surpasses that of His creatures, should be a reason for forbidding us familiarity [i.e. confidence] with Him . . . for when a prince is raised to the highest degree of power, not only has he nothing to fear in condescending, but it will profit him certainly. Not being able to raise himself higher, he must descend. Nothing is more favorable to greatness than humility.[5]  

All that is contained in St Paul’s statement from today’s epistle about confidence in Christ. And to think of St Paul a moment, it is arguably the case that confidence is the dominant note in each and every one of his epistles. In such wise, then, his confidence makes him a doctor of the Sacred Heart.

A case in point: when we hear St Paul’s phrase to the Ephesians in quo habemus fiduciam, our minds ought to go to his Letter to the Hebrews: Adeamus cum fiducia ad thronum gratiæ, ut misericordiam consequamur.[6] ‘Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace so as to lay hold of mercy.’ Confidence once again. And yet furthermore, this text should be immediately familiar to us—because it is the introit for the feast of the Immaculate Heart. Thus, we are compassed on all sides by confidence. Completely surrounded, we cannot escape. Despite our world-weariness and posturing, we cannot escape.

Thus, on the day of judgement, there will be no excuse. Christ Jesus has spared no resource in order to prompt us to a loving ease with himself. And the feast of the Sacred Heart comes around each year to renew our confidence, and to inspire us to make reparation and intercession for those souls who are still yet far off. And nothing has marked the heart of every saint so much as his or her confidence. One thinks of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. And it was confidence that could allow the German Carthusian Lanspergius (1489-1539) to write what he did about the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus:

Jesus allowed His Heart to be opened in order to give us a proof of his infinite love, and to make us understand that the sole cause of his sufferings was the charity which filled His Divine Heart. . . . Jesus has moreover opened for us His Heart so as to afford us a refuge in temptation, solace in the midst of suffering, help in times of persecution, shelter in adversity, light in hours of anxiety, and joy to those who love him; in a word, to give happiness, salvation, and endless felicity to those who enter into this most beneficent Wound of His Sacred Heart.

This Wound of the Heart of my God is the gate of Paradise, the entrance to life, and the fountain of grace. The Heart of Jesus shall be my dwelling place, my bulwark, and my stronghold. In all temptations, let us not engage in open combat, but begin by going into the Heart of Jesus. From there we will fight. To remain far from this Wound, is to give up all hope of gaining the victory. It is gained by retiring into the citadel, which is so strong that no enemy can ever take it by storm.[7]

 


[1] Ps 37, 9-10; Knox translation.

[2] Lk 1, 79. A line prayed each day during the Benedictus at Lauds, and especially evocative of Ps 22, 4: ‘For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death.’

[3] Father Benedict Rogacci SJ (1646-1719), Holy Confidence: the Forgotten Path for Growing Closer to God, (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2017).

[4] Lk 22, 15.

[5] Holy Confidence, p 8.

[6] Hebrews 4, 16.

[7] Ancient Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Carthusian monks of the 14th to 17th centuries, (London: Burns, Oates, & Washbourne, 1926), pp 52-53.

{Art Credit: Detail, Pierre Édouard Frère (1819 – 1886), Evening Prayer (1857); Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.}

 

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