Friday, October 12, 2007


In the past, the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that has a long history in the Church, had developed among people above all out of so-called "revelations" of a private sort, such as those to Saint Marguerite Marie in the 17th century.

The perception of how the Biblical message of the love of God was concretely synthesized in it was something that brought us close to this traditional Devotion, that in the recent past had been much felt, above all, in the Society of Jesus, in particular in its struggle against Jansenist rigidity.

The fact that Pope Benedict decided to write a letter to recall this encyclical precisely to the General Superior of the Society of Jesus is certainly also due to the fact that the Jesuits considered themselves particularly responsible for the spread of this Devotion in the Church. That was also affirmed by Saint Marguerite Marie, according to whom this task had been decided by the Lord who revealed Himself to her.

That was how the Devotion to the Sacred Heart was presented to me in the Jesuit novitiate, in the forties of the last century. That led me to reflect on the way in which it was possible to love this Devotion, and on the other hand, let oneself be inspired in one's own spiritual life by the wealth and marvelous variety of the Word of God contained in the Scriptures.


And this question was set with all the more insistence in that my personal Christian journey had in some way been involved with this Devotion from childhood. It had been implanted in me by my mother with the First Friday Devotion.

There was the promise that those who had confessed and taken communion for nine First Fridays of the month in succession (skipping one was not allowed!) could be certain of obtaining the grace of deathbed perseverance. This promise was very important for my mother. I recall that for us kids there was also another reason for going to Mass so early. In fact, we had breakfast in a cafe with a good brioche.

Once one had taken Communion for Nine Consecutive First Fridays in succession, it was a good thing to repeat the series, to be sure of obtaining the desired grace. Out of that then came the habit also of devoting that day to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a habit that then from monthly became weekly: every Friday of the year was devoted in some way to the Heart of Jesus.

That is how the Devotion of that time subsists in my memory. It had become focused above all on the honor and on reparation to the Heart of Jesus, seen a little in itself, almost separate from the rest of the Body of the Lord. Some images in fact reproduced only the Heart of the Lord, crowned with thorns and pierced by the lance.


One of the merits of the Haurieties Aquas encyclical was procisely that of helping set all these elements in their Biblical context, and above all, of highlighting the deep meaning of this Devotion, that is the Love of God, who loves the world from all eternity and has given His Son for it (John 3:16)

Thus, the worship of the Heart of Jesus has grown in me with the passage of time. Perhaps it has waned a little as regards its specific symbol, the Heart of Jesus. It has become, for me and for many others in the Church, an intimate Devotion to the humanity and inwardness of the person of Jesus, to His deep Conscience, His choice of total dedication to us and to the Father.

In this sense, the heart is Biblically considered as the center of the person and the focus of his/her decisions. It is thus that I see how this Sacred Devotion helps us still today to contemplate what is essential in the Christian life: Charity.

I also understand better how it is in close relation with the Society of Jesus, which is generated spiritually from the Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. In fact, the Exercises are an invitation to contemplate Jesus at length in the Mysteries of His Life, Death and Resurrection, so as to be able to know, love, and follow Him.

So a great merit of this Devotion has been that of having brought attention to the centrality of the Love of God as key to the history of Salvation. But to grasp this it was necessary to learn to read Scripture, to interpret in unitary fashion, as a revelation of the Love of God to mankind. The Haurietis Aquas encuclical marked a decisive moment in that process.


Another merit of the Haurietis Aquas encyclical lies in underlining the importance of the humanity of Jesus. In this it took up the reflections of the Fathers of the Church on the mystery of the Incarnation, insisting on the fact that the Heart of Jesus "must undoubtedly have throbbed with love and every other palpable affection." (CF. Nos. 21-28).

Hence, the encyclical helps defend against a false mysticism that would tend to go beyond the humanity of Christ so as to approach the ineffable mystery of God in a somehow direct fashion.

As not only the Fathers of the Church have claimed, but also such great saints as Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, the humbling humanity of Jesus remains an uneliminable passage for understanding the mystery of God.

It is not a matter, therefore, of venerating the Heart of Jesus only as concrete symbol of the Love of God for us, but of contemplating the cosmic fullness of the figure of Christ. "He is before all things and all consist in Him ... because it pleased God to make every fullness dwell in Him" (Col. 1:17-19).

The Devotion to the Sacred Heart also reminds us that Jesus gave Himself "with all His Heart," that is: gladly and with enthusiasm. So we are told that good is to be done with joy, because there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35) and "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).

Nevertheless that does not derive from a simple human intention but is a grace that Christ Himself gains for us; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that makes all things easy and sustains us on our daily path, in trials and difficulties also.


Finally, I would like to mention what is called the "Apostleship of Prayer" that arose in the 19th Century, through the work of Jesuit Fathers, in close connection with the Devotion to the Sacred Heart.

I believe that it makes available to all the faithful, with the daily offering of the day in union with the Eucharistic offering that Jesus makes of Himself, a very simple tool for putting into practice what Saint Paul says at the start of the second part of the Epistle to the Romans, giving a practical synthesis of the Christian Life: "I therefore exhort you, my brothers, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual devotion" (Rom. 12:1).

Very many ordinary people can find relevant help in the Apostleship of Prayer for living Christianity in an authentic manner. It also reminds us of the importance of the inner life and of prayer.

Not only the poor prayer of each individual, but a prayer united to the intercession of the whole Church, which, in its turn, is nothing less than a reflection of the intercession of Jesus for all mankind.

This intercession rises uninterruptedly from Jesus to the Father for peace among men and for the victory of love over hate and violence. We have so much need of this in our times, above all in the "City of Prayer" and "City of Suffering" that is Jerusalem.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini S.J. was born of 15 February 1927 in Turin. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1944 and was ordained a priest on 13 July 1952. He earned a Doctorate in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and a Doctorate in Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, always finishing summa cum laude.

In 1978, he was appointed Chancellor of the Pontifical Gregorian University. Pope John Paul II elected him Archbishop of Milan on 29 December 1979. Since his resignation as Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Martini has resided primarily in Jerusalem dedicating himself to Biblical studies.