Meet the saints devoted to the Sacred Heart

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Eucharist saints
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Saints are sinners remade in the image of Jesus. His love not only redeems them but also transforms them into channels of his love for others. Hearts, once callous and turned inward, are softened and opened up, making Christ’s saints into the flesh-and-blood proof of the power of God’s mercy.

Every saint is devoted to Christ, in whom the saints have found and received life, but some saints focus a particular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in which they have found the source of all healing and grace. Those devoted to his Sacred Heart have allowed their own hearts to become like his in gentleness, humility and suffering for love. The list of such saints is long, but gazing even at some of them allows us to both marvel at the wonders of the love of God in Christ and draw inspiration for developing our own devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

As we already observed in the first article in this series, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began to grow into a public devotion for the Church upon the revelations of the Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. As the mother of the modern increase in this devotion, her prayers are the first lessons in the great humility, longing, healing, and desire that the devotion nurtures. In the following prayer, for example, we hear how St. Margaret’s plea for her own redemption opens into a desire for the salvation of those entrusted to her prayers, including the souls in purgatory:

“O Heart all good, my only hope is in Thee. Save me, I implore Thee, by all that is most capable of moving Thee to grant this favor to me and to all those who are in the same peril of their salvation. Oh! do not allow me to perish in the deluge of my iniquities; provided that I love Thee eternally. For the rest, do what Thou willest with me and in me. Remember that Thou art all-powerful, do not permit me to be disappointed in my hopes, but grant me the request which I now make to Thee in favor of those persons afflicted with sickness or other evils. Incline Thyself, O Heart of love, to my humble prayer by which I ask thee for the salvation of my own soul and of the souls of my parents and friends; I ask also for relief of the souls in Purgatory, especially of those most abandoned.”

Saint Mechtilde and Gertrude

St. Mechtilde of Helfta and St. Gertrude the Great of Helfta

Four hundred years before the revelations to St. Margaret Mary and the subsequent promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart throughout the universal Church, two Benedictine nuns of Helfta, Mechtilde and Gertrude, received visions of the Sacred Heart. Both of them perceived the blood of Jesus in the Eucharist to be like a mother’s nourishing milk for her children, which flows directly from Jesus’ Sacred Heart which is, in this image, like a mother’s breast. As a mother considers and offers what is good for her child from her very body, so does Jesus allow his lifeblood to fill and nourish the souls of his beloved, as Mechtilde contemplated in one of her visions:

“One day I saw the Son of God holding in His Hand His own Heart, which appeared more brilliant than the sun and which was casting rays of light on every side; then, this amiable Savior gave me to understand that all the graces which God unceasingly pours forth on men, according to the capacity of each, come from the plenitude of the Divine Heart.”

Louis de Montfort

St. Louis de Montfort

In the decades immediately following the revelations to St. Margaret Mary, the devotion to the Sacred Heart began to blossom in the hearts of many of the great saints of Europe, through whom the devotion spread further and further. Known as one the great apostles of Marian devotion, St. Louis de Montfort was also a devotee of the Sacred Heart and helped propagate the growing devotion. In the congregation he founded, the Missionaries of Mary, St. Louis spread the devotion to the Sacred Heart, especially through the use of art. A passionate preacher and writer, Louis dedicated over 900 lines of his hymns to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In these hymns, his devotion to Mary is united to the devotion to the Sacred Heart as we hear in these lines:

“Heart of my God, Glorious Heart, / It is only You whom I adore, / But in adoring You, I honor / The heart of the Queen of Heaven

“From the blood of Mary’s Heart, all aflame, / The Heart of Jesus had been formed; / They have only one heart…” (Hymn No. 40:44, 46)

Alphonsus Liguori

St. Alphonsus Liguori

In the century following the revelations to St. Margaret Mary, the founder of the Redemptorist order of priests, St. Alphonsus Liguori, not only fostered a profound devotion to the Sacred Heart but even wrote a Novena to the Sacred Heart. In 1758, he sent a copy of this novena to the pope as part of a petition to establish the liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart, which was itself one of the desires the Lord expressed to St. Margaret Mary in her third vision. This petition was ultimately successful. As part of the novena, St. Alphonsus prayed:

“O Adorable heart of my Jesus, heart created expressly for the love of men! Until now I have shown towards Thee only ingratitude. Pardon me, O my Jesus. … Ah, Jesus, do Thou wound my heart with a great contrition for my sins, and a lively love for Thee.”

John Bosco

St. John Bosco

In the 19th century, the devotion to the Sacred Heart received a home in Rome when St. John Bosco fulfilled the request of Pope Leo XIII to build the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Though the founder of the Salesian Order is more typically known for his devotion to Mary Help of Christians, St. John counseled the young people he cherished to also devote themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, leading them to offer prayers like this:

“O most humble Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I adore your profound humility in this Blessed Sacrament, hiding your divinity for us under the species of bread and wine. Grant, I beseech you, my Jesus, that such a beautiful virtue be in my heart, too.”

Padre Pio

St. Padre Pio

The beloved Italian Capuchin friar who lived well into the 20th century, St. Padre Pio fostered a strong devotion to the Sacred Heart. Every day, he recited the Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for all who asked for his prayers and were in need of help. In humility and confidence, he would pray:

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of You, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender mother and ours.”

Saint Faustina

St. Faustina Kowalska

The great Polish nun and mystic whom St. John Paul II proclaimed as “the great apostle of Divine Mercy in our time,” was deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, through which and from which all mercy flows. “O Blood and Water,” she prayed, “which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.” The devotion to Divine Mercy that emerged from the Lord’s revelations to St. Faustina and her subsequent diary is strongly tied to the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Mercy flows from his Heart for the renewal of the hearts of poor sinners, as Faustina prayed:

“O Eternal Love, You command Your Sacred Image to be painted / And reveal to us the inconceivable fount of mercy, / You bless whoever approaches Your rays, / And a soul all black will turn into snow.

“O sweet Jesus, it is here You established the throne of Your mercy / To bring joy and hope to sinful man. / From Your open Heart, as from a pure fount, / Flows comfort to a repentant heart and soul.

“May praise and glory for this Image / Never cease to stream from man’s soul. / May praise of God’s mercy pour from every heart / Now, and at every hour, and forever and ever.”

(Diary, No. 1)

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.