Dear Friends of the Sacred Heart,
Since this is Divine Mercy Sunday, I’d like to begin by recounting our community’s first visit to the shrine in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It happened over twenty-five years ago when we were in search of property to build on. We had made a momentous decision to move away from our home of 125 years in Wilmington, Delaware and had searched for our“dream land” over many months (actually two years), taking us to numerous properties along the northeastern section of the United States. Our foray into the Berkshire area offered fresh hope and we were excited to see what was available in this lovely part of the country. So as we arrived at the Divine Mercy shrine in Stockbridge we were at once pleased to see the panoramic view of the surrounding Berkshire hills and the various assortment of buildings that indicated a developing spiritual center. Our first stop was the main church and we piled out of our van with eager expectation. Entering the chapel was like penetrating another world. The flavor of the ‘old world’ interior with its semi-dark lighting, wood carved accents and multiple sacred images left us mesmerized. We prayed at our places and immediately got up to get a better look around. Some of us wandered into the side niche-like areas and we were thrilled to find the exquisite stained-glass window of the Sacred Heart appearing to Saint Margaret Mary with the inscription: “The love of the Sacred Heart rejoices.” We stood before it in silent awe. It seemed like an unmistakable sign from the hand of Providence, letting us know that we had made a vital connection. In our old Wilmington monastery innumerable sayings were stenciled on its interior walls from Scripture, our Founders and other holy sources. As we walked down the long narrow hallway toward the entrance to our part of the chapel, our eyes caught the printed words above our heads: “Love of the Sacred Heart gladdens.” Finding the almost exact wording now at the Stockbridge Marian shrine was amazing and immensely comforting… like a welcome home… but in another place. Also, having seen so many different depictions of our sister Saint Margaret Mary, we were enthralled to see how accurately she was portrayed; every detail was ‘right on’ to our discerning eyes, even to the crossed arms, which is how one of the earliest and most authentic poses of her is represented. That day was like a confirmation from heaven and it left us with much assurance that our spiritual journey would somehow be mysteriously entwined with the message of Divine Mercy.
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque brought the world’s attention to the Heart of our Redeemer, the pierced heart that is so full of love for creation that it yearns for a return of this love, loving heart to loving heart as it were. Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, on the other hand, brought the world’s attention to the Heart of our Redeemer, but as an overflowing fountain of mercy that embraces the sinful heart, wishing to heal it and to restore it to its full measure of purity. These two great saints both loved the Sacred Heart of our Lord and both saw the immense spiritual potential of His pierced side that exposed His feelings of love and mercy toward humankind. As one writer described it: “Our Lord wished His side to be opened. First, so that people see the dispositions of His Heart; His thoughts of love and His heartfelt mercy toward us, His well-beloved children and creatures, made in His image and likeness… Second, so that we might come to Him in all confidence, retreat into His side and hide in His Heart; in order to rest there, seeing that with incomparable kindness and love He has opened it to receive us, if we give ourselves to Him and abandon ourselves entirely and without qualification to His kindness and providence” (Faith in Christ and the Worship of Christ, p. 104, Ignatius Press, 1986).
These are two unbelievable overtures of divine generosity offered to the human soul… and yet they are so often ignored, even scorned by most of us who are so preoccupied with other less worthy pursuits. It is indeed remarkable that in the Greek translation of the Bible (called the Septuagint) the word for “pierced” means “to dance in mockery and spite, gloating over a person’s misfortune, treading on him with scorn;” for this most splendid gift of love and mercy from the pierced heart of Christ was brought at the price of tremendous suffering, a suffering that willingly embraced much human bitterness and struggle. Thus we hear the confession of Jesus on the lips of the psalmist: “Insults have broken my Heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none” [Psalm 69: 20-22].
Often in the revelations to His holy ones we find Jesus lamenting the laziness of those who need to be generously devoted to Him, but who instead meagerly offer only crumbs of attentive love. He wishes for the extravagance of a ‘Mary Magdalene’ who was not afraid to spill her precious perfume over His feet, and receives for the most part only the cool and superficial ministrations of the indifferent passersby. Even in the earliest accounts of our Salesian spiritual tradition, we are exhorted by our foundress, St. Jane de Chantal, to develop within ourselves a ‘large-heartedness’ that does not fail to exercise a generosity that goes the extra mile and gives with a cheerful and generous spirit. This is the kind of love response that is inherent in the devotions of Divine Mercy and Sacred Heart spirituality, where our Redeemer is lavishly pouring forth from His Heart incomprehensible gifts upon us.
If we look at the Litany of the Sacred Heart, we see an especially relevant invocation that is prayed: “Heart of Jesus, generous to all who turn to you.” Here we are mindful that the Heart of Love and Mercy is at our disposal when we turn to Him. Our humble and confident gaze upon the person of Jesus releases a flood of goodness upon our souls, purifying them, enlightening them, fortifying them to carry us forth in the pathways of grace. If only we would but turn His way! Saint Faustina writes in her diary, echoing the Lord himself. “Oh, if souls would only want to listen to My voice when I am speaking in the depths of their hearts, they would reach the peak of holiness in a short time” [Diary584]. The urgency which Jesus voices in these messages is truly cogent. He is almost imploring humanity on bended knee not to pass up this golden opportunity to experience His closeness and His outreach, for nothing can compare to the riches of His divine presence in our hearts. But His divine suggestions can and do fall on deaf ears. So distracted is humankind with its own agendas and advancements that oftentimes something drastic needs to happen before the Lord is recognized and heeded. Perhaps that is why the Lord makes use of our personal and world-wide traumas as a means of propelling us into the loving and merciful arms of Jesus!
Despite our best efforts to fix our world, there seems always to remain the terrible human dilemma of misunderstanding and hardness of heart that holds sway over the relationships of families, nations, individuals. We are ever caught in a never-ending web of being hurt, wronged, transgressed in one way or another, using our every waking moments in untangling the complex situations of our lives. The perpetual disease of our modern day society, depression, lies heavy upon us, because the foundation of our confidence lies falsely upon ourselves and what we believe we can do. The messages of the Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart bring us back to the truths found in our faith, that we are but the recipients of the marvelous graces of another, whom we name Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the suffering lives of Jesus, Saint Margaret Mary, and Saint Maria Faustina we find a common thread of immense trust in God’s plan being effected in human history. Because they surrendered themselves into the provident hands of the Father, the final course of their lives were filled with God’s unique and mysterious presence.
Both Saint Margaret Mary and St. Faustina saw images of the heart of Jesus and if we study their descriptions we will see how remarkably similar their words are… there is a great longing on the part of the Lord to pour Himself out into human hearts, especially humble hearts. The yearning, burning heart of the Lord gives itself totally, looking for a return of loving trust from souls. The word ‘inexhaustible’ is used frequently, like the inexhaustible fountain of living water found in John’s gospel: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink… rivers of living water will flow from within Him” [Jn 7: 37-38]. Primary to both saints is God’s unlimited concern for sinners, showing them His exquisite mercy, especially when they respond with sentiments of contrition and repentance. However, there is also help for those who have embarked on the path to perfection. They will be aided along their journey; and for those who are well on the way, all will be graced in their pursuit to attain union with Christ.
Throughout salvation history, God has constantly demonstrated His divine generosity to His people and in our own times the Divine Mercy is but another magnificent showing of how big the heart of God really is. Coupled with the messages of the Sacred Heart, which amplify the importance of this devotion based on divine love, we are again invited to partake of God’s infinite goodness, always at work in our universe. In our own little corner of the world, God has brought together the likes of these two great devotions which have the capacity to transform cold hearts into living flames of love. It is no wonder we are bidden through the images of the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy to cast off our hesitant dispositions of mind and heart and enter as fully as we can into God’s realm of love and mercy where true happiness awaits us.†