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A guide to loving the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Timothy O’Donnell
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If yesterday's feast left you feeling left out, or if you want to grow in love, this is the tool for you.

“Coldness and hatred can be melted and overcome only by the fire of love,” Timothy O’Donnell writes in Heart of the Redeemer: An Apologia for the Contemporary and Perennial Value of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart. “Certainly, in an age characterized by an increasing hostile secularization, a spirituality that centers on love and aims at setting the world on fire is precisely what is needed …”

O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, talks a little about the book – a treasure trove of information about the Sacred Heart of Jesus – and the Sacred Heart. 

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What is the Sacred Heart exactly? Why would we focus on an organ when talking about God?

Timothy O’Donnell: The Sacred Heart is the Heart of the God-Man. We look at the pierced wounded Heart of the God-Man as the most fitting and moving symbol of Jesus’ love for His Heavenly Father and for mankind. “There is in the Sacred Heart the symbol and express image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love in return,” as Pope Leo XIII put it.

Lopez: Why would anyone ever be comfortable with a devotion to a heart?

O’Donnell: The heart symbolizes the entire interior life of a person and so devotion to the Heart of Jesus takes us into the very core of Jesus’ person, which as St. John tells us, is love.

As Pope Pius XII taught, the Heart of Jesus is the most fitting symbol of his threefold love for mankind.

As Pope Pius XII taught, the Heart of Jesus is the most fitting symbol of his threefold love for mankind. First, the infinite love which is proper to Him as the Word of God, second person of Blessed Trinity; secondly, the Divine Love, which is infused into His human soul as charity, (the same supernatural grace which fills our souls); thirdly, His human sensible love.

How consoling that God, as our Creator, knows we need to be loved in a human way with warmth, feeling, and tenderness. 

Devotion to the Heart of Jesus is deeply grounded in the Church’s Christological doctrine, and veneration of His Heart ensures Christological orthodoxy as the Heart we venerate is the very Heart of God who became man in Jesus.

Lopez: What’s the most important thing to know about the Sacred Heart?

O’Donnell: He is manifesting His merciful love, a love which takes us into the very core of the Divine Person including His intellect, will, and emotional life and leads us also into the mystery of Triune love. His Heart takes us into the bosom of the Father and is the source of the living water which is the Holy Spirit. (Jn 7:37).

Lopez: What’s most practical about devotion to the Sacred Heart?

O’Donnell: There are many ways in which the devotion may be lived but it allows us to focus on the central mystery of our faith, the Incarnation. That Christ truly was God but became truly man, and as the Second Vatican Council taught in Gaudium et Spes, “He loved us with a human heart.”

Lopez: Can anyone really know the Heart of the Redeemer?

O’Donnell: Jesus invites us to contemplate the mystery of His Heart in Matthew’s Gospel where He cries out, “learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart” – through His Heart, Jesus invites us to contemplate His Divine person, now made accessible to us in the mystery of the Incarnation.

Lopez: What drew you to want to write a book about the Sacred Heart – history, theology, practice, love, and all?

O’Donnell: I wrote the book about the Sacred Heart because, although I had an attraction to this devotion as a boy, while I was studying at the Angelicum in Rome there was a course offered on devotion to the Heart of Jesus. Numerous encyclicals and papal letters were referred to which I had never heard of before and I resolved to read them all during that semester. I was overwhelmed at the importance the papal magisterium gave to this devotion, referring to it as a “summary of our entire Christian religion.” The popes urged it be practiced by all of the faithful as a great gift from the Lord Jesus Himself.

Pius XII in his encyclical on the Sacred Heart urged theologians to make a study of the primary and lofty nature of this devotion — “a summary of the whole mystery of Redemption.” I had discovered many devotional books but very few which actually probed the theological riches in scripture, patristics, the history of spirituality, and the riches of the Church’s Magisterium.

Lopez: There’s a lot of theology in your book. Why should a newcomer to devotion to the Sacred Heart not be intimidated?

O’Donnell: There is a great deal of theology in my book but if someone were to read it slowly and prayerfully, my hope is that by approaching Jesus through the mystery of His Heart, symbolizing the mystery of His love, it would deepen his relationship with our Lord. It is not just a set of pious practices which may be helpful but one of incredible theological richness.

Lopez: “The Church’s Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has always been extremely popular with the faithful and is without a doubt one of the most beautiful.” Can this still be said? Why “most beautiful”?

O’Donnell: The Litany of the Sacred Heart certainly is one of the most beautiful because it guides us into the mystery of Jesus’ divinity and His sacred humanity, united in one divine person, and beautifully presents the sentiments of His Heart – that is, the core of His divine person.

Lopez: Why is the Sacred Heart so important to family life? How can it be renewing today?

Lopez: Why is the Sacred Heart so important to family life? How can it be renewing today?

O’Donnell: The Sacred Heart is important to family life particularly in the home enthronement movement. The placing of the image of the Sacred Heart in a Catholic home and the consecration of a family to the love of Jesus in the ritual involves both father and mother and all the children of the family and emphasizes the parental role to lead the way in the religious education of their children. 

Christ is seen as King and Lord over the home and the father is called upon to reflect Christ’s priestly role in the home as the mother is called to reflect the beauty and warmth of Holy Mother Church. This together with prayers, (such as the Morning Offering, First Friday devotion, frequent consecration renewal) help develop the family as a sanctuary of prayer and love…a true domestic church.

Lopez: Why do you focus on so many popes’ writings on the Sacred Heart?

O’Donnell: Because so many have spoken passionately and eloquently, including of course St. John Paul II, Benedict and Francis concerning the importance of this devotion and the need for the Church in our day to proclaim Christ’s love and His triumphant mercy.

Lopez: Who is St. Margaret Mary and why is she so important?

O’Donnell: St. Margaret Mary was a nun in the convent of the Visitation in 17th-century France who received a series of special revelations in which Jesus pointed to His wounded Heart as the sign of His love which would overcome the coldness and indifference of our modern age.

The Church has approved her writing and incorporated into her life the devotional aspects which St. Margaret Mary encouraged.

Our heart is the most precious thing we own and since it is so intimate it is the last thing we give. It was His last gift that He gave on the Cross when He allowed His side and His Heart to be opened and pierced to reveal the depths of His love even in death.

As St. Margaret Mary put it: “Our Lord Jesus Christ desires that we should, for sanctifying ourselves, glorify his all-loving Heart; for it was His Heart that suffered the most in His sacred humanity.” 

Lopez: Is your book above all a love story?

O’Donnell: It most definitely is a love story and is meant to take us into the very depths of the one Heart which loves absolutely and unconditionally and asks for our love in return. 

Lopez: What is it that gives you such confidence about the power of the Sacred Heart? 

O’Donnell: Christ himself has promised to bless those who humbly and fervently approach the mystery of His Heart. As St. Thomas Aquinas says so beautifully in his hymn: “Truth himself, speaks Truly … Or there is nothing true.” And it’s important to take to heart what Mother Teresa said: “Do not let the past disturb you – just leave everything to the Sacred Heart and begin again with joy.”

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