How to conform to the love of Jesus

6 mins read
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a stained-glass window at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church in Southampton, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus produces, in the end, one ultimate, marvelous fruit: a heart like Jesus’ own. Indeed, near the end of the Litany of the Sacred Heart, we pray that “Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, touch our hearts and make them like your own.” Gentleness and humility shape and form the heart of the one who follows Jesus in penitence and adoration. The gift bestowed to those devoted to the Sacred Heart is not merely to receive something, but indeed, to become like the one you love.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is charity incarnate. It is divine charity made flesh, and through that flesh charity courses as the lifeblood of the world. To draw nearer to the Sacred Heart is to pass into the chambers of charity, to move with its flow, to become animated with its life. As St. John Eudes writes: “Devotion to the Sacred Heart, being the beautiful flower of charity, must produce the same fruits of virtue. It is not a devotion of feeling or words, but of actions; not only of prayers, but of conformity with the virtues of the divine Heart” (“The Love of the Sacred Heart,” Burns Oates & Washbourne​​, I.I).

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque taught her sisters similarly, leading them to adopt the habit of humility in yielding before the love of God, and the posture of meekness (or gentleness) to remain steadfast in their reliance on the love of Jesus’ heart. “If you wish to be a disciple and daughter of the Sacred Heart,” St. Margaret Mary instructs, “you must submit to Its holy teaching and become like It, meek and humble, meek in bearing little annoyances, the peculiarities and troublesome ways of your neighbor, without being vexed by the little contradictions you meet with from him, but instead, doing for him all the good services you can, for in that you will find the means of pleasing the Sacred Heart” (“The Love of the Sacred Heart,” I.III). In this way, the act of devotion itself leads to the devotee to share in the very love they adore. The guarantee of the fruit of this formation are the words of Christ himself, who revealed to St. Margaret Mary 12 promises for those who dedicate themselves to his Sacred Heart.

The Promises of the Sacred Heart

The 12 promises of the Sacred Heart are Jesus’ pledge to make the devotion and charity of those who adore his heart truly fruitful. To adore his heart is an act of faith, trusting, in part, that his promises are true. Those of us who begin to devote ourselves to his heart cannot taste this fruit beforehand; rather, it is only through the devotion itself that these fruits become available. Jesus asks for trust and dedication, and he rewards those who trust in him with a steady share in his own charity.

In contemplating these 12 promises, it is possible to discern at least four degrees of conformity to Christ’s own love as pledged to those who adore his heart. This progression reaches down to our own creaturely weakness — both in sin and in affliction — moves forward in steps of strengthening, grows toward sanctification, and ultimately arrives at the gift of abiding in union. The 12 promises are laid out below in four sets of three to highlight this progression:

The Gift of Healing

The three promises of healing that the Lord makes to St. Margaret Mary and to all who devote themselves to his Sacred Heart are, like all his promises, personal and direct:

• I will comfort them in all their afflictions.

• Sinners shall find in My Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.

• I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will to all those who shall receive communion on the First Friday in nine consecutive months the grace of final penance; they shall not die in My disgrace nor without receiving their sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

The comfort for afflictions is assurance for consolation through the trials of life, for the perils of finitude and even the cost of sacrifices. Following St. Paul, the one devoted to the Sacred Heart may come to proclaim that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 2:10, NIV). Moreover, whenever that weakness is due to sin, sinners may be assured of the healing love of Christ’s mercy, which gushes forth from the Sacred Heart to which we cling. Finally, that reliance on Christ’s mercy will not fail but, in return for adhering to the First Friday devotion, the Lord Jesus offers his own heart as safety and security for his friends in the hour of their death, upon the last temptation. The Sacred Heart thus heals afflictions, heals the breaches of sin and heals the final rupture of death.

The Gift of Strengthening

From his Sacred Heart, the Lord not only wishes to restore health to his friends but also desires to build them up in strength, making them capable of his service in this world. And so the Lord promises these three ways of healing to those devoted to his Sacred Heart:

• I will give them all of the graces necessary for their state of life.

• I will bestow a large blessing upon all their undertakings.

• I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.

In recognition of the diversity of gifts within his one body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-27), the Lord pledges to equip those he calls with everything needed for their missions, according to their state of life. The blessings he gives will be “large,” more than sufficient for the activities of charity to which they are called, so that those so blessed will become filled with his bounty for the discharge of their duties. In particular, priests, who are called in a special way to the devotion to the Sacred Heart, will find success in their ministry of preaching and healing, so that even those who are most opposed to the love of God will find, through the power coursing through these priests, the very love they most desperately need.

The Gift of Sanctifying

The fruits of the Sacred Heart do not end with what devotees become capable of doing, but indeed move on to what the devotees themselves become. The Lord thus promises the friends of his heart that we shall come to share more and more in the vibrancy and joy that he alone offers:

• I will be their strength during life and above all during death.

• Tepid souls shall grow fervent.

• Fervent souls shall quickly mount to higher perfection.

Those devoted to this Sacred Heart not only dispense strength, but become strong themselves. Drinking from the source of charity, devotees become sources of charity for others, in life and during death. The fervor of their charity is increased, welling up from the Sacred Heart and filling them with this life. Moreover, that fervor is not an end in itself, but becomes again the energy for greater and greater conformity to the one Lord, who is the source and summit of all charity.

The Gift of Abiding

The end of God’s act of creation by his Word, redemption through the Word made flesh, and sanctification through the Spirit poured out on all, is to rest in the love of God and to become a resting place for that love. In the language of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity. But even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity” (No. 260). From his Sacred Heart, Jesus promises nothing less than this ultimate fruit: the gift of abiding with God, in God, by the love of God. It begins even now:

• I will establish peace in their houses.

• I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honored.

• Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.

The first two promises seem so domestic, so mundane even. But the love that flows from the Sacred Heart makes even the places where we dwell now into antechambers of heaven. The homes where the Sacred Heart is adored become filled with the peace of Christ, the same peace that he gives his friends (“not as the world gives”), the peace that will fill all in the fullness of time (cf. Jn 14:27 and Rv 21:1-27). This peace stretches to every place where the image of the Sacred Heart is enthroned, marking these spaces as realms of the kingdom of the Prince of Peace. Finally, for those who make a dwelling place for the love of God here, the Lord will keep their names written in his own heart, giving them an everlasting dwelling place with him, who abides in the Father and with whom the Father abides (cf. Jn 17:21-24).

The heart that adores the Sacred Heart becomes what the Sacred Heart is: a dwelling place for divine love.

Leonard J. DeLorenzo

Leonard J. DeLorenzo, Ph.D., is Professor of the Practice in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, where he directs the Sullivan Family Saints Initiative and the Inklings Project, and hosts the podcast Church Life Today.