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  • Father David M. Knight

Immersed in Christ: Friday 6/23/17

Feast of The Sacred Heart of Jesus (Year A)

Rejoice in the Gifts of Love

Questions to Ask Yourself

What is your basic feeling about God? Is it fear? Gratitude? Trust? Love? Do you relate easily to the words Jesus spoke to St. Margaret Mary: “I am going to make my home in your heart, where we can talk and

enjoy each other’s company”?[1]

Ideas to Consider

The Opening Prayer puts the message of this feast in a nutshell: “We rejoice in the gifts of love....” On December 27, 1673, Jesus appeared to Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun of the Visitation Convent in Paray-le-Monial, France, showed her his heart, and gave her the message that people should focus on his love. At the time, the teaching of the devout but destructive bishop of Ypres in Holland, Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), had injected into the Church “a pessimistic view of the human condition and a reverential awe of the ‘Holy,’ resulting in a very serious and morally rigorous interpretation of Christian life.”[2] Traces of Jansenism have survived to modern times — or perhaps there is just a common tendency among humans to base religious practice on fear of divine severity and to nurture it by teaching and preaching focused on sin and its punishment. But the phenomenal spread of devotion to the Sacred Heart, sustained by the popularity of the image shown to Saint Margaret Mary, has worked powerfully against that infection.

In the pastoral-theological contest of love against fear, a key piece on the board was the reception of Holy Communion. It is hard for us today to imagine how Catholics used to feel about Communion. We need to know that “In the middle ages, and later under the influence of Jansenism, Communion was a rare occurrence for the ordinary Catholic. Daily or very frequent Communion was looked down upon as extraordinary and even improper.”[3] Jesus used the skills of his bargaining heritage to change this by making a “come-on” promise through Margaret Mary, rewarding all who would receive Communion “on the first Friday of nine consecutive months.” He knew that afterwards many would just continue — and then gradually begin to say, “If I can do it on the first Friday, why not every Friday?” And then, with a little prompting of grace, say, “Why just Friday? Why not every day?” And so the custom grew into daily Communion, and like all new things aroused opposition from the more rigorously-minded. “The Jesuits encouraged Catholics, including those struggling with sin, to receive Holy Communion frequently, arguing that Christ instituted it as a means to holiness for sinners, and stating that the only requirement for receiving Communion (apart from baptism) was that the communicant be free of mortal sin at the time of reception. The Jansenists, in line with their deeply pessimistic theology, discouraged frequent Communion, arguing that a high degree of perfection, including purification from attachment to venial sin, was necessary before approaching the Sacrament.”[4]

God used the opposition, as he frequently does, not only to increase clarity through debate, but eventually to arouse intervention from Church authority. In this way the wave started by devotion to the Sacred Heart in 1673 grew until it crested in St. Pius X’s Eucharistic decree, December 20, 1905, officially approving and encouraging daily Communion for everyone: “Frequent and daily Communion, which is strongly desired by Christ and the Church, is open to all the faithful of Christ. No one who is in the state of grace and comes to the table of the Lord with a good attitude and devotion can be prohibited from receiving.” Yea Jesuits!

To the more rigorously-minded of our day, the Feast of the Sacred Heart is a reminding celebration of the love by which God defined himself to us, and of the proof of love that he asked all of us, through Peter, to give him: “If you love me, feed my sheep.” Eucharist is a good place to begin. [5]

“A Tale of Two...”

Deuteronomy 7:6-11 reminds us that the whole story of God’s dealing with the human race is a “tale of two cities.” The first is the city (society, culture) God wants us to build on earth according to his specifications — the “Kingdom of God,” which in heaven will be the “New Jerusalem.” The second is the city we keep trying to build according to our own specifications. The building materials are attitudes, values, assumptions, beliefs, patterns of behavior. The parts of the city are the family, the Church, business, politics, social life. Each part is being built at any given moment out of both God’s materials and ours, according to both his plan and ours. And we are the ones making the selection.

This reading is about two perspectives:

You are a people sacred to the Lord your God; He has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

That is the perspective of God’s love, a free gift which does not depend on how good people are. That is the perspective St. Pius brought to Communion.

Deuteronomy seems to include the perspective of the “bad guys,” the Jansenists, who focused on the harsh God who “repays with destruction those who reject him.” But that is because we read the words from their perspective. The Scripture does not mean that God “repays” the unfaithful with destruction; it means that to reject God is the very definition of destruction. In his love, God warns us against it. The Responsorial (Psalm 103) unifies both views: “The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.” To understand, think of “fear” stripped of all feelings of fright. A loving awe.

“Come to me....”

In Matthew 11:25-30 Jesus says that from a human perspective no one can know God as he really is: “No one knows the Father but the Son.” Then he adds: “and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” In Christ, sharing in his divine life by grace, and in his divine act of knowing by faith, we see God from the divine perspective of Jesus himself. And so he says, “Come to me!” You who “are weary and find life burdensome.... Your souls will find rest. For my yoke is easy, my burden light.”

If we find the laws of the Church burdensome, we do not understand them. We are interpreting them and applying them to real life according to a human perspective — like the Jansenists and the bishop who inspired them — not according to the mind and intention of God. We can apply to this the principle of St. John of the Cross: “Where you don’t find love, put love and you will find it.” Look at every law as an expression of God’s love. That is the first rule of interpretation. Imagine Jesus speaking the words of the law while showing you his heart as in the vision to St. Margaret Mary If that is unimaginable, at least you know what the law does not mean!

“My yoke is easy” does not exclude demands for heroic love. The heart Jesus revealed is enflamed with passionate love and surmounted by a cross. Crucifixion can be the crown of love. It is still easier than tepidity.

1John 4:7-16 takes the perspective of divine knowledge found in us and revealed in action:

Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

That is clear. A teacher who does not love cannot teach us about God — except by repeating the words of someone who does, and even then there is risk of distortion. If we do not love, we do not know God and we must not dare to teach as ministers in the body of Christ. Members of the body cut off from the heart are dead and deadening.

If a minister seems to lack love, we must not judge. But we must not listen gullibly. The Jansenists were sincere. And devout. As was Bishop Cornelius Jansen himself. But St. Pius X calls them a “pestilence” and a “virus” in the Church Their perspective was, and is today, that of the Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” That is not the perspective of love. Not the perspective of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who made this promise to “priests” through St. Margaret Mary: “I will give them the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.” That promises “posterity” to all who minister from love and in love.[6]


Contemplate Christ’s heart. Let love take you from there.

Same day June 23, 2017: Friday, Week Eleven

The Responsorial (Psalm 34) gives us a needed assurance: “From all their distress God rescues the just.”

2Corinthians 11: 18-30 gives an appalling list of what Paul’s ministry cost him: labors, imprisonments, beatings, shipwrecks, hunger and dangers. Paul concludes, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” Why? because the true effectiveness of ministry comes, not from learning, eloquence, energy or technique, but from union of heart, mind and will with Jesus Christ. Enduring hardship and persecution brought on by our ministry — and enduring them with love — is a sign of where our heart is. It is evidence of union with Christ.

To be a “priest in the Priest” through identification with Christ is also to be a “victim in the Victim.” All ministry is a way of “dying to self” to give life to others. Jesus saved the world by offering his body on the cross. We continue his saving work by offering our bodies with his in ministry. At every Mass, when the body and blood of Christ are lifted up, we should say to the whole world in union with Jesus on the cross: “This is my body, offered for you.” To communicate divine life to others by physically expressing our faith, hope and love is to give “our flesh for the life of the world.”

Ministry can be crucifying at times. When it is, the test of our authenticity is our response: if we endure evil with love we are one with Christ on the cross. When we fail to “love back” (and who doesn’t at times?), even then we can draw consolation from ”the things that show our weakness,” because they also remind us that Christ is the only strength we rely on. And he will lift us up again: “From all their distress God rescues the just.”

To minister is to let Jesus minister in and through us. Then we realize with St. Paul, “I live, no longer I but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). But for this to be evident, we have to “die” to ourselves and to everything on this earth in order to live solely for Christ and his work.

In Matthew 6: 19-23 Jesus teaches one concrete way to do this: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” The principle behind this is, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” But the only proof we have that we have set our hearts on treasure in heaven is the visible evidence that we are not seeking treasure on earth — unless it is clear that we pursue it as a means to some goal that transcends this earth. The only way we can really know what the “lamp of our soul” is leading us to is to see what the “lamp of our body” is focused on. By the same principle we can discern what motivates our ministry.


Be a priest. Focus with Jesus on giving life to others.

[1] Quoted by Sister Pat McCarthy, C.N.D., in her column for the Rhode Island Providence Visitor, June, 2010.

[2]See “Jansenism,” New Dictionary of Spirituality, Liturgical Press, 1993.

[3] See St. Piux X in Butler’s Lives of the Saints

[4] “Jansenism,” Wikipedia.

[5] On the Vatican web site,, follow: Resource Library - Official Acts of the Holy See - Actae Sanctae Sedis for Vatican decrees dating back to 1865. After deploring the “cooling of devotion” and “the pestilence of Jansenism,” the decree continues: “The virus of Jansenism, which infected the souls even of good people, refused to disappear.... Even some well-regarded theologians thought daily Communion could be allowed to laypersons only rarely and subject to several conditions.” There are “well-regarded theologians” today who still think Communion should be denied to some people, even though there is good reason to believe they are “in the state of grace” and coming to the table of the Lord “with a good attitude and devotion.”

[6]Matthew 23:4; John 15:16. The twelve “promises’ of the Sacred Heart are taken from the writings of St. Margaret Mary examined by the Sacred Roman Congregation of Rites previous to her beatification.

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