By Father Thomas Dailey, OSFS
This article originally appeared in The Dialog and is reproduced with permission.
The United States Bishops have invited Catholics to pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the feast day (June 16). This year’s call to prayer responds, in particular, to the outrageous decision twice made by the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team to honor a group known for their vulgar, indeed blasphemous, mockery of Catholic faith and of the women religious who live it so devotedly.
Some think it’s just a gimmick. But L.A. Catholics gets the motivation right, reminding us that “The hurt on our hearts can only be healed by the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Likewise, we can be set on fire by his love to witness to the sacred truth, goodness, and beauty of our faith with conviction and courage.”
Devotion to the Sacred Heart figures prominently in the tradition of Salesian spirituality. For St. Francis de Sales, the predominant metaphor for our human sojourn pictures a world of interconnected hearts – human and divine – to express the harmonious state of life and love to which human beings are eternally destined. But, as is clear from human history, we have not yet arrived there; in fact, as the news from L.A. shows, we have a long way to go.
Still, our journey to eternal life has begun and has been set on the right course thanks to God’s visitation of this world in the person of His Son, Jesus. In His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we discover all we need for eternal salvation. Especially on Mount Calvary, where His Sacred Heart was pierced open to pour out the full graces of redemption, we find what St. Francis de Sales describes as a “school of love” for the revival of Christian life.
In that school, the Master teaches us personally. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).
Through prayer we tap into this sacred truth by listening to what Jesus wishes to reveal to His own “little children.” For those who desire happiness, “Come to me,” He says – not to the self-proclaimed and self-serving seers of secular culture, whose politically correct perspectives are limited to this world. For those who seek meaning in life, “learn from me,” He insists – rather than trusting in partial human knowledge or in being guided by the cause du jour. He can claim, “I am gentle,” for His deeds show love and mercy shared with all the world, despite our indifference toward Him and our sins against Him. And He rightly identifies Himself as “lowly in heart,” for He has need of nothing for Himself, but wants only for us to know how much we are loved and for us to return love for love by how we treat one another.
That love, which alone gives rest for our souls, comes from Him who revealed His heart to St. Margaret Mary (1647-1690), a nun in the religious order of the Visitation of Holy Mary founded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. From her mystical experiences, she describes the Sacred Heart of Jesus in terms of “Its treasures of love, mercy, grace, sanctification, and salvation.” These treasures, in stark contrast to today’s vulgar mockery, are revealed to her, and through her to us, “in order that those who were willing to do all in their power to render and procure for Him honor, love, and glory might be enriched abundantly, even profusely, with these divine treasures of the Heart of God, which is their source.”
In the school of sacred truth, we can comprehend the love of Christ by looking to His Sacred Heart. But each time we gaze prayerfully upon that icon of divine love, something else happens. Not only do we look upon it, but it looks back at us. If we allow it, this contemplative gaze will excite our mind, arouse our affection, and stir our will to live a truly devout life.
Gazing upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus draws us into a personal encounter with Him, and with the divine mercy that remains always greater than the trials and tribulations we experience in this life. Seeing that Heart of Christ, and being seen by it, helps us realize that the best hope for coming together as a society lies not in the egregious publicity stunts of a major league baseball team, but in the steadfast grace and power of the divine heart.
Oblate Father Thomas Dailey holds the John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This commentary draws from his book, Behold This Heart: St. Francis de Sales and Devotion to the Sacred Heart (Sophia Institute, 2021).
Photo: Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, May 16, 2023. OSV News Photo/Gary A. Vasquez-USA Today Sports via Reuters.