Today's feast is celebrated worldwide, but do you know the martyr of the Americas who died for this devotion?
Every year, exactly 19 days after Pentecost, the Catholic Church celebrates the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The feast is always on a Friday and this year it is June 3.
Though devotion to the Sacred Heart is worldwide, many Catholics around the world have never heard about a man from Mexico whose name was Jose Maria Robles Hurtado.
Jose Robles Hurtado was 25 years old when he was ordained to the priesthood. The year was 1913. He loved his priestly calling and, being a gifted writer, immediately began writing essays and lessons to teach and propagate the faith. He consecrated himself to the Sacred Eucharistic Heart of Jesus and had such love for Christ in the Eucharist that within two years of his ordination, he founded an order of religious called the Congregation of the Victims of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. His impassioned devotion became well-known and he was even referred to as the “Madman of the Sacred Heart.”
But his love for his Lord was also being noticed by the authorities. Father Hurtado was already going against the new laws being enacted in Mexico. This was during the intense anti-religious era of Catholic/Christian persecution and the new Constitution of Mexico prohibited public professions of faith, public processions and most devotional practices “outside” of church buildings. Father Hurtado promptly proposed a project where a huge cross would be placed somewhere in the center of Mexico to honor Christ as the true King of Mexico.
He was now in direct violation of the law.
The plans for the project began to come together as Father Hurtado led the movement to erect the giant cross. Signs were distributed throughout the countryside declaring Christ as the King of Mexico. These signs also proclaimed the nation’s devotion to the Sacred Heart. A public ceremony was scheduled for the laying of the project’s cornerstone. Government leaders were furious.
In 1923, more than 40,000 Catholics headed to a spot in central Mexico called La Loma (“the hill”). The groundbreaking took place and the government decided it was time to intensify the “law”. Persecution of Catholics immediately escalated and Father Robles Hurtado was singled out for intense scrutiny to make sure he stopped his “anti-government” practices.
Father Hurtado, despite demands by the government that he leave the country, continued his ministry, offering Mass, hearing confessions for hours at a time, visiting the poor and the sick, performing baptisms, anointing the dying and teaching children the faith. Then came 1924 and a new president. His name was Plutarco Elias Calles and he had a fierce hatred of Catholics.
Presidente Calles was determined to stop all religious practice in Mexico. He ordered the Constitution of 1917 to be strictly enforced and the result was one of the bloodiest episodes in Mexican history. From 1927 through 1929 the Cristero War ravaged Mexico. Father Jose Robles Hurtado was to be one of its victims.
As history has proven, power can become an evil aphrodisiac. Hiding behind “laws” enacted to help them attain their goals of domination, people can kill with a reckless, oftentimes vicious, abandon. The evil at work in Mexico was not about to ignore the young priest.
On June 25, 1927, Father Hurtado was leading a family in prayer at their home. Soldiers broke into the house and arrested the priest for “violating the law.” He was immediately found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.
The next morning, before dawn, Father Jose Hurtado, age 39, was led out to a nearby oak tree. The priest, while facing his impending death, offered understanding and compassion to his executioners. He forgave them and insisted that he be allowed to place the noose around his own neck so that none of the men there would have the guilt of being his executioner. He was handed the noose, kissed it, and slid it over his head. As he left to meet his beloved Sacred Heart, several of the executioners openly wept.
Father Jose Robles Hurtado, the “Madman of the Sacred Heart,” was canonized a saint by Pope St. John Paul II on May 21, 2000.