In 17th Century France, the religious climate was clouded by the negative influence of the Jansenists. Jansen, a morbid cleric, taught the doctrine of double-predestination, which holds that certain people, arbitrarily, are destined to heaven, while others are destined to hell. With the favor of the French aristocracy and even the King, himself, the Jansenists, from their headquarters in Port Royal, depicted God as angry with mankind – and Jesus, his Son, as a severe Judge who had an insatiable appetite to send people to hell. At this time, the Jansenists took a literary approach to Scripture, and cited the Book of Revelation in which the human author relates that only 144,000 would be among the elect who would enjoy beatitude in Heaven. Everybody else would go to hell – or, if God was so inclined, maybe purgatory. French piety, then, had a fear of God and an even greater fear of Jesus the Judge. Most people went to Confession often but very few felt worthy of receiving the Eucharist.
It was during this time that St. Margaret Mary, a Daughter of Charity, received her revelation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Unlike what she and her sisters had anticipated — this image was not one of judgment but of compassion. Jesus revealed himself not as an angry Judge but as the sympathetic Shepherd whose heart enveloped in thorns left a canvas wide open to a new image of Jesus as the God of Love and Mercy.
When the Pontiff received this image, as recalled by St. Margaret Mary,
and after the Jesuits, hitherto suppressed by pressure from the Jansenists, were reinstated, the Holy Father asked them to spread the Apostolate of the Sacred Heart of Jesus through all their missions, in Europe, in the New World, in Asia and Africa.
Meanwhile, back in France, the Jansenists fell out of favor with the French nobility, the preaching of St. John Eudes in the 17th century renews devotion not only in the Sacred Heart of Jesus but also the Immaculate Heart of his Blessed Mother. At last, the image of the Sacred Heart becomes the symbol of Jesus most venerated by French Catholics. This image hung in Churches, hospitals, orphanages and simple homes. It was what the French needed at the time in order to trust once more that the reason for the Incarna tion and the Redemptive Act of Christ was love – and that nobody, regard less of what was cited in the Book of Revelation, should become a prisoner of double predestination. All of us have been predestined to salvation. In John 3, we are told that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, not to condemn the world but to save it. These words against the image of the Sacred Heart speaks to us about a God who understands the human condition, with all its vicissitudes in this vale of tears. Jesus, who was like us in all things but sin, took on our human condition and — despite our propensity toward sin, something known as con- cupiscence, the message of the merciful and loving heart of Jesus reminds us that we are all redeemable;
all of us have reason to hope for salvation. We receive a foretaste of that salvation whenever we confess our sins and receive the sacramental forgiveness of our merciful God, through Jesus, at the hands of priests who, themselves, are sinners.
It is through this Apostolate of the Sacred Heart, which is still a primary mission of the Society of Jesus, that we can approach the Lord, not with trepidation but with hope and confidence because conversion, on this side of the grave, is never more than three words away: “Ego te absolvo.” On this magnificent solemnity, which the Church celebrated this year on June 8, let us thank St. Margaret Mary for sharing her revelation with the world. Let us thank St. John Eudes for his fervor in preaching devotion to the Sacred Heart. Let us thank Jesus for revealing himself to us as the refuge of sinners, as one who wants us to seek solace in his love, as the Savior who comes among us, even now, as “meek and humble of heart.” Father Comandini is managing editor of “The Catholic Spirit”
Let us thank Jesus for revealing himself to us as the refuge of sinners, as one who wants us to seek solace in his love…