Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, Catholic Exchange <i>, and <i>Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Father Jeffrey Kirby, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina — and a speaker and author of several books and videos — recently found himself in the same boat as many people. The boat wasn’t getting swamped by the rough waters of the Sea of Galilee, but instead by the turbulent climate of our times.
“With all that was going on in the Church, with the abuse crisis and the cover-ups and bad bishops, I was at a loss,” Father Kirby said during our conversation. “What was happening with most members in the Church with spiritual desolation, asking — What’s happened? Where is this going? — was also happening in me.” The churning waves of questions were swirling around him. And, again, not only in him, but in many others, as he was “getting emails from other people” who knew him and were feeling this same confusion. And, his parishioners too, as he struggled to find “what answers to give.”
This First Friday Mass Was Our Lord’s Way
“In the midst of the whirlwind, the parish celebrated its usual First Friday Mass and Adoration,” he continued. While he was celebrating the First Friday Mass of the Sacred Heart, he said, “I was struck by the Lord’s revelation of his love to humanity and I realized that the Sacred Heart was once again the answer to all the darkness. The response to the evil in our world, and in the Church, is the love Jesus has for us in his Sacred Heart. He’s the one who always shows us goodness, selfless love and compassion.”
What was Father Kirby’s immediate reaction to this instant ray of light? “This filled me with great hope,” he says. “All the evil that was going on in the Church was discouraging. The lack of fortitude and the moral compromise of leadership was distressing. In such situations, when heaviness fills the heart, it’s easy to get caught up in the brokenness. At the First Friday Mass, I was reminded that the love of God shines through every darkness. It can heal our brokenness today and rebuild our Church in spite of her wounds.”
Such a reminder became like Jesus standing up in the boat, giving the order, and saving it from sinking. It also brought to clearer light the importance and enduring significance of the apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque at her convent in Paray-le-Monial in France from December 1673 to June 1675. He revealed to her his infinite love for us shown by his Sacred Heart.
“The apparitions were given in a time when the Church was also heavy laden with a lot of dark and distracting things,” Father Kirby reminds us. During that time “the Lord revealed his heart to the Church and humanity. In a similar way we have all this darkness and heaviness, and to every believer the Lord is revealing his heart to each of us and desires to give us the hope that comes with that love.”
The point is so important for us too — and perfectly timed because June is also traditionally celebrated in the Church as the Month of the Sacred Heart — which Father Kirby re-emphasizes, “When the Lord revealed himself as the Sacred Heart, that message was profoundly needed. Today, the Lord wants to show us his Sacred Heart again because that love and compassion is so much needed. This message, spiritually renewed in our time, spoke to me in my mission as a Christian and as a priest.”
And it should speak to all of us, naturally.
The Next Step
Knowing this, we have to ask ourselves, “What are we doing? What am I doing to make the difference?” Father Kirby asked. “This veiled darkness doesn’t have the last word. Love will triumph and, by God’s grace, we will be that difference.”
Then, what are some practical things we can do? Right away Father Kirby lists several things for us to begin. Or continue with renewed fervor.
- Daily prayers to the Sacred Heart are very important.
- First Friday Masses and Adoration.
- Enthronement of the Christian home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
- Imitating the virtues of the Sacred Heart in our everyday lives.
Since June’s First Friday has already gone by, we can start the other First Fridays and remember that the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Friday following the Second Sunday after Pentecost. This year it falls on June 28.
It’s well to remember that when Jesus revealed his Sacred Heart he asked for consecration of our hearts to His Sacred Heart, observance of the First Friday Mass and Communion of Reparation, a Holy Hour on the Thursday night before First Friday, and the solemn feast in honor of the Sacred Heart.
He showed Saint Margaret Mary his heart pierced, bleeding, and crowned with thorns. Flames were radiating from it. On the feast of Corpus Christi, he also told St. Margaret Mary: "Behold this Heart which has so loved men that It spared nothing, even going so far as to exhaust and consume Itself, to prove to them Its love. And in return I receive from the greater part of men nothing but ingratitude, by the contempt, irreverence, sacrileges and coldness with which they treat Me in this Sacrament of Love."
Jesus made 12 promises to her and also to us. More on these 12 promises shortly.
What the Church Says
Let’s take a look at a couple of highlights from the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety about the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
- “Understood in the light of the Scriptures, the term ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus’ denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being…Jesus, who is one with the Father (John 10:30) invites his disciples to live in close communion with him, to model their lives on him and on his teaching. He, in turn, reveals himself as ‘meek and humble of heart’ (Matthew 11:29).”
- The Gospel of St. John recounts Jesus’ “invitation to Thomas to put his hand into his side (John 20:27). This event has also had a notable influence on the origin and development of the Church's devotion to the Sacred Heart.”
- “Augustine writes: ‘Access is possible: Christ is the door. From the side of Christ as he hung dying upon the Cross there flowed out blood and water, when it was pierced by a lance. Your purification is in that water, your redemption is in that blood.’”
- When devotion to the Sacred Heart was particularly strong during the middle ages, the saints “perceived in the Sacred Heart a ‘refuge’ in which to recover, the seat of mercy, the encounter with him who is the source of the Lord's infinite love, the fount from which flows the Holy Spirit, the promised land, and true paradise.”
Then came the further development of the devotion. Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus “explicitly approved and frequently recommended” by the Holy See include ones mentioned above by Father Kirby:
- A “personal consecration, described by Pius XI as ‘undoubtedly the principal devotional practice used in relation to the Sacred Heart’; family consecration to the Sacred Heart, in which the family… is dedicated to Christ so that he might reign in the hearts of all its members; indulgenced Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; practice of the first Fridays of the month.”
- “Devotion to the Sacred Heart… calls for a fundamental attitude of conversion and reparation, of love and gratitude, apostolic commitment and dedication to Christ and his saving work,” notes the Directory.
Bringing It to Today
Father Kirby sees the necessity of turning with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the great calmer of the storm and the great healer.
“The Sacred Heart desires to be a great healer,” Father Kirby emphasizes. Because of the consequences of “the sins of many and especially certain priests and others, the Church again needs that healing. The Sacred Heart is offering that to us.
During “scandal after scandal before in the Church, the Sacred Heart came to our rescue. Once again something is here to give us hope and show us that love triumphs.”
TWELVE PROMISES OF THE SACRED HEART
1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will comfort them in all their difficulties.
4. I will be their refuge during life and especially at the hour of death.
5. I will shed abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in My Heart a fountain and boundless ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
9. I will give to priests the power of touching the hardest hearts.
10. I will bless those places where the image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart never to be blotted out.
12. I promise thee, in the excessive mercy of My Heart, that My all-powerful love will grant to all who communicate on the first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months, the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in My displeasure nor without their sacraments: My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.