Faith and Life,  Spiritual Devotions

To Know and Love Him

I remember about two hundred years ago when I was at primary school, we were taught the Catechism. After establishing that we are made by God, the next question was this one – “Why did God make you?”. The answer we all gave was simple and clear – “to know Him and love Him in this world, and to be with Him forever in the next”. And since those early days it has always seemed to me that, regardless of how much we try to complicate things, our Faith comes down to this one essential fact. God desires that we know Him and love Him, so that we can be with Him forever.

This same God reveals Himself to us most perfectly and most fully in the Person of Jesus Christ, His Son. The Scriptures tell us His story and form the basis of what we believe about this God and about His Son. And those Scriptures are fairly simple, too – Jesus tells us it all comes down to one essential point; love of God and love of neighbour. If we fulfil this perfectly, we won’t go too far wrong.

Sometimes, we do complicate things and in the process, we can make that essential message seem just too good to be true- can this God really love me? Me? A sinner? I’m the worst possible sinner – surely I am beyond that love? How can He love ME?

Down through the winding corridors of human history, this Son of God has intervened at various intervals and has given us ways to both see and to respond to His divine love for us all – because He desires very greatly indeed that we do respond to Him; it is in this way that we come to know Him and so find ourselves loving Him.

One of the most famous of these spiritual interventions is the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The particular devotion was given to a French nun in 1673 and 1674 in a series of apparitions; in these, Jesus revealed His Sacred Heart, pierced and crowned with thorns, and with flames issuing from It. He told the nun, Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque, that this Heart has “so loved mankind, sparing nothing” and desired to be loved by mankind in return.

Jesus then outlined the specific ways in which He wished this to be done – among them, a weekly Holy Hour in honour of this Sacred Heart and, above all, a series of Masses and Holy Communions to be offered to Him as reparation, on the first Friday of nine consecutive months. We now refer to this aspect of the devotion as ‘the Nine First Fridays’. Today, in fact, is such a first Friday. In essence, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is comprised of three elements – the infinite love of this Heart for all mankind; His desire to be loved by us in return; and His sorrow that we do not do so, returning His love only with coldness and – worse – indifference.

He also gave this nun a series of twelve promises as an encouragement to souls to participate in this devotion, and these outlined the spiritual benefits He would grant to such souls. Now to be very clear, the promises are not to be seen as a spiritual vending machine – “I do this, Jesus does that”. Rather, it is like one who loves another and who does little kindnesses in return for the love freely offered to them. The promises are an encouragement to us – they are like flowers blossoming in the garden of this devotion, but they are not the garden itself. The garden is that place – the human heart – where the love of the Sacred Heart fills it and where the garden is imbued with the fragrance of our loving response to this desire of the Lord. In other words, the goal of the devotion is to love the Sacred Heart and to make reparation on behalf of those who do not – the goal is not merely to gain the benefits of the promises. That would be rather like loving someone only because of what we can gain from them – and that is not love at all.

We worship the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the same way we worship the entirety of His sacred Humanity, because He is the Son of God. The Heart here has a particular resonance – humans identify the heart as the seat of love, the place (as it were) where human love resides and from which it pours out. Immediately, this thought suggests an echo of the Gospel account of the Crucifixion, where the Lord’s Heart was pierced by the lance “and immediately there came forth Blood and Water”. The Sacred Heart is the seat of this human divine love, and the fountain from which that Love pours forth. The Heart itself, then, is very much the particular object of the devotion.

The Sacred Heart devotion is straightforward and very simple. It all comes down to that love which the Gospel demands of us – love of God and of neighbour. It is not a magical practice which, by virtue of undertaking the acts comprising it we are somehow transformed into different people. No. It is a way of responding to the love of God and of Jesus Christ which, if done from the motive of love, does the same as any experience of love does to us – it brings out the very best in us and makes us forgetful of self, wishing only to love. And that is, of course, the greatest and most noble capacity of the human person. How much more so, then, when the object of our love is God Himself.

We cannot love God unless we get to know Him. We get to know Him through the Scriptures and through the sacramental life of the Church, and we get to know Him through our dealings with our neighbour – whose love for us reflects something of the love of God, and to whom our own love echoes the love of the Divine, because God is present in our neighbour. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a very simple way in which the Lord encourages us to draw close to Him and so get to know Him, rather like the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel who rests his head upon the breast of the Lord – and by doing so, was able not only to hear but also to feel the very heartbeat of the Son of God. This devotion makes it possible for us to do something similar. When we feel that divine love, it is impossible for us not to respond with our own love.

And remember that Catechism question with which we began – it is by knowing God and loving Him in this world, that we are far more likely to enjoy an eternity with Him in the next world.



Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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