Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Upon the Altars: a Sermon for the Festival of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

{At a monastery of Visitandines.}

My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. . . . For I am God and not a man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you (Hosea 11).

St Claude la Colombière wrote of himself that, ‘God wishes to use my weakness for the fulfillment of his plans.’[1] Very well, then. That explains my appearing before you this evening, dear sisters.

At very least, what we can never forget about the festival of the Most Sacred Heart is that it relates entirely to the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.—We offer this Mass today, because the octave day of Corpus Christi was yesterday. And that is significant. Thus it is striking to note that St Claude could write this in a letter of 1679:

I recommend you to go to Communion on the day after the octave of Corpus Christi in reparation for all the irreverence shown to Jesus Christ while he has been exposed on all the altars of the Catholic world during this octave.[2]

‘On all the altars of the Catholic world.’ We are talking about the indifference of those who ought to know better.[3]

In this connection, I cannot help but mention another seventeenth century figure, in whom we find joined together the mystery of the Sacred Heart & Eucharistic reparation. Catherine de Bar, who would become Mother Mechtilde of the Most Blessed Sacrament, lived from 1614 to 1698. She began her life as an Augustinian canoness, but later became a Benedictine. For now, it is enough to say that she was the foundress of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration; & we see by the dates of her life that she encompassed the lives of both St Claude (1641-1682) & St Margaret Mary (1647-1690).       

Now there is a great union of spirit between the Benedictines & the Visitandines; for St Francis de Sales had something of St Benedict’s discretion & humanity, to be sure. And so it is not by accident that these saints of these Orders, formed in a similar spirit, should be apt to receive the grace of renewed devotion to the Sacred Heart in the seventeenth century.

St Claude knew what indifference can do first hand. Corrupt morals & sensationalized, irrational anti-Catholic hatred is what he found in London of the seventeenth century. Mother Mechtilde found much the same in France, added to a profound ignorance of the Faith &, therefore, a shocking neglect of the Most Blessed Sacrament.—Which brings us squarely back to St Margaret Mary & the graces she received from our Blessed Lord.

Putting ourselves in the seventeenth century, our minds ought to marvel: for nearly one thousand seven hundred years Europe had received the Gospel and the Sacraments, and this was the result?—Religious wars, oceans of unrepentant sin, numb indifference. But by revealing his Sacred Heart to us, Our Lord shows us how truly strange his ways are. Contrary to what we in our foolishness might expect, it is as if the worse the world becomes, the more accessible Our Lord makes himself.

But in very truth, that explains the mystery of the Incarnation itself: Jesus Christ our God not only has hands to bless and heal with, a mouth to teach with, but a Heart to burn & pity & love with. Thus the prophet Hosea tells us that God would not give us over to the flames of destruction and loss: ‘My heart is overwhelmed . . . I will not give vent to my blazing anger.’ 

No, it seemed another sort of conflagration has awaited us. Mother Mechtilde tells us:

I saw the adorable Heart of Our Lord like a burning furnace capable of consuming the whole earth. I was shocked to see the infinite love this Heart has for creatures. Always ready to receive us, He does not even wait till we go to Him. He goes before us with His great mercies. One author said that a speck of cotton thrown into a furnace is not consumed any more quickly than our sins are in Jesus Christ . . . . [4]  

Cor Iesu, fornax ardens caritatis: miserere nobis!

All of this has been to say that we ought to feel a great closeness to these saints of the seventeenth century who first began to breathe a renewed devotion to the Sacred Heart. Today, we want to stand in their company, begging their intercession, so that, in our time, we might have some portion of their love and generosity.


[1] The Spiritual Direction of Saint Claude de la Colombiére, trans & ed Mother M Philip IBVM, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2018; p 42

[2] Ibid, pp 43-44.

[3] The act of making reparation for indifference is not some sort of exaggerated and lachrymose form of self-satisfaction exhibited by pious souls; there is scriptural warrant for it: ‘Being what thou art, lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, thou wilt make me vomit thee out of my mouth’ (Apocalypse iii, 15). And when it comes to expressing themes of divine displeasure, this example certainly ranks among the most vivid of the New Testament.     

[4] Audi Filia: Readings for Every Day of the Year from the Writings of Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament, compiled by the Benedictines of Crâon, 1998; translated & arranged by a Benedictine Oblate, 2018; p 77.

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