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On June 7, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and all of June is considered a month in his honor.

Let us take the sixth month of the year as a favorable juncture to reflect on the affinity between the Ignatian spirit and the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

To understand the origin of all this, we must go back to Calvary. Something happened there that St. John the Evangelist emphatically reports:

"One soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may (come to) believe" (Jn 19:33-35). Such a statement so impressed the early Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church that they soon began to lay the foundations for the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

For those who wish to learn in detail about the development of this devotion, we recommend the excellent book by Fr. Guillermo Arias, S.J., Un Corazón Para Siempre (A Heart Forever).

In the 16th century, we meet a fervent layman who began to write a book in the Catalan town of Manresa in 1522; he did not finish it until 1541, when he was already a priest. The author, Ignatius of Loyola. The book, Spiritual Exercises.

This prayer manual has proven to be a very effective instrument for sanctification. Its effectiveness comes from the fact that it is based almost entirely on the Four Gospels, inspired texts that reveal the Heart of Jesus. St. Thomas Aquinas had already said: "The phrase Heart of Christ can refer to Sacred Scripture." Centuries later, in 1956, Pope Pius XII published the Encyclical Haurietis Aquas, where he teaches that this devotion is based on the Bible and not on private revelations, however credible they may be.

Since in a metaphorical sense, the word "heart" refers to the inner self of the person, we must emphasize that whoever makes the Ignatian retreat, tirelessly asks for "inner knowledge of the Lord who for my sake has become man" (SE, 104). From the inner self of Jesus, His Heart, flows all His higher or spiritual life, that is, the world of His thoughts, feelings, emotions and projects. Only one burning passion beats in His Heart: love for the Father who sent him and love for those he came to redeem.

Reparation is a feature of this devotion, and it is present in the Exercises. The retreatant feels challenged to reciprocate so much love. In a discussion, he asks himself, "What I ought to do for Christ" (SE, 53). In the third stage of the retreat, the retreatant goes a step further and asks himself, "What I ought to do and suffer for Him" (SE, 197).

There are two Jesuit contemporaries of St. Ignatius who made explicit references to the Heart of Jesus, namely, St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church, and St. Francis Borgia, third General of the Society of Jesus.

This devotion reached its zenith in the 17th century, even in the iconographic sense. Saints such as St. John Eudes (+1680) and the French Jesuit St. Claude La Colombiere (+1682) were influential. The latter, as spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, gave her the go-ahead to reveal her mystical experiences and the promises of the Sacred Heart. It was also revealed to her that the Jesuits were to become apostles of the Heart of Jesus.

If we jump a century, in 1773, Pope Clement XIV, under pressure from the Bourbon courts, suppressed the Society of Jesus, much to his regret. But another Pope, Pius VII, restored it in 1814. The Jesuit Institute rose from the ashes with great impetus. And they enthusiastically took up again the legacy of St. Claude and St. Margaret Mary.

The fruits were not long in coming. In 1844, the spiritual director of a group of Jesuits in formation founded with them the Apostleship of Prayer, a current of spirituality that emphasized the devotion to the Heart of Jesus. The old Marian Congregations, later known as Christian Life Communities, also gained momentum.

Later in the 19th century, the 23rd General Congregation of the Jesuits (1883) assumed with new impetus the duty of announcing the riches of the Heart of Jesus under the poignant expression munus suavissimum (most pleasing duty). From that moment on, the Jesuits experienced an unprecedented increase in vocations, reaching 35,000 members among priests, scholastics, and brothers in 1965.

This month of June invites us to face the challenge of a technological society, secularized and embattled by the ideologies of relativism, materialism, and hedonism. New pedagogies are needed to continue to disseminate "the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" (cf. Eph 3:18-19).

Comments from readers

Donna H - 06/03/2024 09:35 PM
Many of us struggle today to live in a secular world and follow Jesus daily.
Santiago Arturo Cardenas - 06/03/2024 04:38 PM

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