“Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”–Matt. xi. 28.
Love is not loved! This was the constant, ever-recurring complaint of the seraphic St. Francis. Love is not loved! This is at all times the complaint of our Divine Redeemer in presence of the ingratitude of men–a complaint which the Psalmist already placed in His mouth: “I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: for one that would comfort me, and I found none” (Ps. lxviii. 21); a complaint uttered by our dying Saviour on the cross: “I thirst! (John xix. 28)” I thirst for loving souls. Love is not loved! This is apparent to any one who observes, however superficially, the ways and deeds of men; for their lack of grateful love is so manifest that it often seems as if they vied with one another in avoiding every appearance of gratitude. Love is not loved!
The truth of this sad complaint moved the infinite love of God to make a new effort to awaken a return of love in the hearts of men. The great desire to be perfectly loved by men caused our Saviour to disclose His heart to them, thus setting before them an object and a means most fitting to excite them to love Him, to win from them a fervent return of love. We have already on former Sundays spoken of this object and these means: the pierced Heart of our Saviour Jesus Christ; that Heart united to the Godhead, that Heart the well-beloved of the Heavenly Father, the temple of the Holy Ghost, the paradise of divine bliss; that Heart the treasury of all the riches of God, the burning source of divine love, the ardently desired and sweetest happiness of all the saints.
There is nothing alarming, nothing severe, nothing that suggests God’s avenging justice here; there is nothing but love, extravagant love, plaintive, appealing love that desires only a return of love. What answer shall we give when the voice of our God resounds so clearly in our ears? Our Divine Redeemer saw in His omniscience that even this new and signal revelation of His boundless love would not suffice to awaken a lasting and universal return of love in men, and therefore revealed at the same time with His Heart burning with love, the richest source of divine mercies. And this brings us today to a further point which demonstrates in the most palpable manner the divine nature of our devotion; divine, as we have already shown, in its origin, divine in its object, divine in its end, divine in its blessings. May the Divine Heart of our Redeemer grant us words to worthily speak of these blessings.
“Think of the Lord in goodness!” admonishes the Holy Ghost at the beginning of the Book of Wisdom. “Think of the Lord in goodness!” admonishes the whole creation issued from the hands of the Lord and preserved by the goodness of the Lord. “Think of the Lord in goodness!” admonishes the great work of the Redemption, the greatest proof of God’s boundless love: “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that, whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John iii. 1 6). “Think of the Lord in goodness!” admonishes the work of sanctification, through which we poor worms of the earth are made partakers of the divine nature, esteemed worthy to be the living temples of the Divinity, and to one day possess the Trinity itself in the eternal temple of the Godhead. “Think of the Lord in goodness!” admonishes the generous love of God, Who, though He needs not our love and service, rewards it as richly, as tenderly, yes, I might almost say as extravagantly as if it were a stringent necessity. Does not our Divine Saviour assure us that as the care of His Heavenly Father extends to all even to the least among us, so also in His fatherly goodness He rewards even a glass of cold water given for love of Him (Matt. x. 42)? “Think of the Lord in goodness,” earnestly and touchingly exhorts the Divine Heart of our Saviour; that Heart that was consumed with love for us, that Heart that burns with desire for our love, in order to reward our return of love with the richest blessings for body and soul, for time and eternity. Yes, I am not going too far, I am not speaking rashly, when I assert that our devotion is unqualifiedly to be numbered among the most richly blest of all devotions.
Upon what do I ground this assertion?
Upon the promises of our Divine Saviour, Who, deigning Himself to introduce this devotion in the world, commended it with the richest promises. At His first appearance to Blessed Margaret Mary He said: “My Divine Heart is so full of love for men, and for thee in particular, that, being unable to contain within Itself the flames of Its burning charity, It must needs spread them abroad through thee, and manifest Itself to men to enrich them with the treasures It contains. To all intelligent minds and clear-seeing eyes these words indicate something great, something extraordinary. Our Saviour is no longer satisfied to bestow ordinary graces; no, it is a new, rich, overflowing fountain of grace He wills to reveal, a source from which grace does not flow drop by drop, but is poured in rich streams into the Hearts of men. This is clearly the meaning of this first revelation, the interpretation which all my hearers will give with me, and which is still more evident in a later revelation. “I promise thee” said our Saviour on another occasion to Blessed Margaret Mary, “that my Heart shall be opened to shed the effects of Its divine love abundantly upon all who shall render It this honor, or who shall endeavor to have it rendered.”
Here our Saviour promises in His own words the richest effects of His love to all who will celebrate according to His will the feast of the Sacred Heart. And again our Saviour said: “It was the great desire I had to be loved by men that made Me form the design of disclosing My heart to them, and of giving them in these latter times this last effort of My love, by proposing to them an object and a means so calculated to engage them to love Me, and to love Me faithfully.” And later He assures His holy servant: “In giving My Heart to them I open to them all Its treasures of love, of mercy, of grace, of sanctification, and of salvation, in order that all who desire to love and honor It, or cause It to be loved and honored, may be abundantly enriched with the divine treasures of which It is the fruitful and inexhaustible source.” Nothing could be clearer than the words just quoted, and in them we find an invincible proof of the truth of our assertion that the devotion to the Sacred Heart is to be numbered among the most richly blest of all devotions.
But our Lord did not stop at these general promises; He was not satisfied to make them only to His servant; He wished that this revelation of love should be a source of universal blessing, individually tasted and experienced by all who, according to His will, honor and love His Sacred Heart. “Publish and cause it to be published throughout the world,” He says, “that there shall be no limit or bounds to My love in the bestowal of favors upon those who seek graces from My Heart.”
And now let us pass over the promises made to religious and to priests laboring for the salvation to souls, to point out only those made to people of the world. Listen to them, beloved brethren, engrave them deeply in your hearts, and may they stimulate you more powerfully, and guide you more confidently to devotion to the Divine Heart of Jesus. “Persons living in the world will find in this devotion all the assistance necessary for their state in life: peace in their families, relief in their toils, the blessing of Heaven upon all their undertakings, and consolation in all their troubles. In this adorable Heart they will find a secure place of refuge during life, and more especially at the hour of death.”
Need we be astonished, after such promises, that Blessed Margaret Mary so solemnly asserts: “I do not know that there is any practice of devotion in the spiritual life more calculated to raise a soul in a short time to the highest perfection, and to make it relish the true sweetness which is to be found in the service of Jesus Christ.”
Need we wonder that she affirms: “There is no one who would not experience every kind of help from Heaven if he had such a grateful love for Jesus Christ as is contained in devotion to His Sacred Heart.” Need we, finally, be astonished that she exclaims: “I say with confidence that if we only knew how pleasing this devotion is to Jesus Christ, there is not a Christian, however poor His love for our dear Lord who would not at once adopt its practice.” After such promises we can understand the holy servant’s fervent lament: “Why can I not recount all that I know concerning this admirable devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and reveal to the whole world the treasures of grace which Jesus Christ has stored in His adorable Heart, and which He designs to bestow in abundance upon all who will honor It?”
Let us pause for a moment to grasp more clearly the meaning of these magnificent promises. By whom are they given? By Jesus Christ Himself, the Founder of this devotion, by the Author of all truth, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, this bounteous Creator of all things, whose happiness is to bestow blessings, Who rejoices that we offer Him an opportunity to bless us; finally, it is the King of the universe, Whose royal word is repeatedly and solemnly pledged.
This is guaranteed by the authority of the Church, who, after the strictest examination of the writings of Blessed Margaret Mary, raised no objection, but, on the contrary, has promoted, and continues earnestly to promote, the devotion revealed through her of the Church who has raised this first disciple of the Sacred Heart to the honors of the altar, thus setting her before the faithful as a model for the practice of this devotion. As a further guaranty, let us bring again to your minds the earnest and oft-repeated commendations bestowed by the Holy See upon this devotion. Witness the words of the beatification brief of Blessed Margaret Mary: “Where, then, is the heart so hard and insensible as not to feel moved to make a return of love to this adorable Heart which was wounded and pierced with a lance to open to our souls a place of rest, and secure refuge to which we may retire and find protection against the attacks and snares of the enemy.” Witness the glowing words with which our bishops portray this Heart as the treasury of all divine mercies. Witness the testimony from all parts of the Catholic world, from the first disciples of the Sacred Heart, Blessed Margaret Mary and the fervent Father de la Columbiere, down to our present pontiff, Leo XIII., gloriously reigning.
And this brings us to the best of evidence, the evidence of facts which, in the language of philosophy, there is no disputing. Contrafactum nullum argumentum. And what are these facts? Of what nature are they? They are public and private facts, my beloved hearers, universal and special facts, facts which manifest the Heart of Jesus as the overflowing source of all graces and favors.
To begin with some of the earliest. In 1720 the inhabitants of Marseilles consecrated the city during a devastating pestilence to the Sacred Heart, and their confidence was richly rewarded; in 1796 the states of Tyrol and the entire country were consecrated with solemn vows to the loving Heart of Jesus, and the Tyrol remains the faithful, Catholic, unconquered Tyrol. “Tyrol,” writes the Bishop of Trent, “continues steadfast and fervent in the faith in virtue of the power which she derives from the source of all strength, the Divine Heart of Jesus as her powerful Ally.” If you would have particular instances, I am not at a loss to furnish them, but rather more at a loss what to choose from the mass of testimony before me.
Glance over a “Messenger of the Sacred Heart,” now in its twenty-second year; run over number by number the “Favors received from the Sacred Heart,” and you will find the best proof that could be offered of the truth of the divine promises. Thus I read in one of the last numbers, among the various thanksgivings recorded: for the reception of Holy Orders despite great obstacles; for admission into a boy’s seminary; for wonderful assistance in religious struggles and perplexities; for the re-establishment of a feast of the Church after an interruption of almost two hundred years; for the suppression of scandalous revels in inns and hotels; for the conversion of a drunkard, and of several aged sinners on their death-beds; for the recovery of persons seriously ill; for deliverance from a deeply-rooted and grievous habit of sin; for reconciliation of a quarrel of many years standing; for the preventing of several mixed marriages; for the favorable settlement of very troublesome business; for the averting of a great loss through the discovery of very important papers; for the obtaining of an honorable vindication; for the adjustment of differences, and the wise course adopted by the state committee; for better health; for the healing of severe wounds and dangerous ulcers; for obtaining a good situation and good wages; for recovery from a long and severe illness, etc., etc.
Thus the praise and glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus resounds throughout the world, resounds in spontaneous thanksgiving for benefits received, resounds earnestly inviting all to “taste and see that the Lord is sweet” (Ps. xxxiii. 9). It is evident, from the testimony of those who have experienced it, that there is no evil from which we may not obtain deliverance through the Sacred Heart; there is no petition, no prayer which is not sure of being heard by the Heart of Jesus. Yes, the Divine Heart has proved an over flowing stream of heavenly graces. It has preserved, and still preserves, the promises made by our Saviour to His holy servant: “I shall bestow unlimited, boundless graces upon all who shall have recourse to My Heart.”
The truth of the divine promise is proclaimed by thousands upon thousands of witnesses, and loudly published throughout the Catholic world. I have still one of the most glorious blessings of the Heart of Jesus to set before you. We have spoken in the first sermon of the solemn consecration of all their flock to the Divine Heart of Jesus made in 1874 by the Prussian bishops. What was the result? We read it in the pastoral to the clergy and faithful issued by the same bishops in 1874, and which ran as follows: “Beloved fellow-laborers! dear Catholic Christians! You have remained faithful to your Saviour and your Church; this testimony your divinely appointed pastors bear you before the entire Christian world, a testimony which will stand as a monument of honor to you as long as the world lasts.” To whom do the bishops ascribe this result? Hear their words: “To the Saviour of the world, the Divine Pastor of our souls, the High Priest who never ceases to make intercession for us at the throne of His Heavenly Father, who never ceases to implore for us and for you the riches of heavenly grace. Never does this prayer of the Heart of Jesus remain unheard.” To the prayer of the Heart of Jesus, therefore, are they indebted for these great and signal graces. Through this prayer has our Heavenly Father so wonderfully strengthened them; witness the further testimony borne them by their bishops: “You have steadfastly rejected all the allurements calculated to turn you from the path of duty; you have courageously and patiently borne the heavy and bitter trials which God permitted you to meet. A spectacle to men, to angels, and to the world are ye; a spectacle to men, to angels, and to the world is the Church in Germany. Then let us remain firmly united; the faithful united in obedience and love to their lawful pastor; the clergy in word and deed united in unwavering unity, and all united with the supreme pastor to whom Jesus Christ has confided His flock.” Thus do the bishops loudly and solemnly proclaim the triumph of the Divine Heart of Jesus, and publish anew “that the Heart of Jesus is an impregnable fortress, an ever-open refuge in all our needs.”
Am I right, then, when I affirm that this devotion is truly divine in its effects? Am I right when I number it among the most richly blest of all devotions? when I entreat you to zealously endeavor to make every effort to promote it? With deepest conviction, beloved brethren, do I bid you “Taste and see that the Lord is sweet!” “Taste and see that the Lord is sweet!” I would like to engrave, deeply engrave this in the hearts of all my hearers.
Our Divine Redeemer in His goodness goes still further to convince us of His desire to win a return of love from men, and solemnly assures us through His holy servant that “He takes singular pleasure in being honored under this Heart of flesh, and that wherever a picture of His Sacred Heart is exposed and honored it will bring every kind of blessing.” Hence Blessed Margaret Mary’s anxiety to have a picture of the Sacred Heart executed as early as possible; hence her joyful Te Deum when she knelt with her novices for the first time before a picture of this Divine Heart. Hence the anxiety manifested by her and all disciples of the Sacred Heart to spread these pictures as widely as possible.
Again I ask, am I right to set the price I do on devotion to the Sacred Heart; to affirm that it is without doubt the most richly blessed of all devotions? Yes, from this Divine Heart, as the Bishop of Trent has truly said, there flows an inexhaustible stream of grace, and he who drinks thereof shall never thirst more. “This,” the holy bishop continues, “is not only the experience of individual Christians, but of families, parishes, and countries. Happy the heart that is devoted to the service of the Heart of Jesus; happy the families whose refuge is this adorable Heart; happy the nations who heed It: touching invitation: Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.
Beloved brethren, we all have our personal needs and requests; we are all interested in public questions and needs. Then let us faithfully follow the exhortations addressed us in the past, and bring all our cares to the Heart of Jesus; and if our petitions are not granted at once, let us not cease to pray; if we are not heard in our own way, we shall certainly be answered with the consolations, help, and strength which the Heart of Jesus reserves for us. “Taste and see that the Lord is sweet!” The more bitter our suffering, the sweeter the consolation we shall find in the Heart of Jesus; the more hopeless our position, the more manifest the assistance that awaits us. The Heart of Jesus will triumph over all enemies. Amen.