(The Church celebrates the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus today, June 19.)
by Plinio Correa de Oliveira
If there is an age whose sole hope lies in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is our own. The evils committed by mankind today can scarcely be exaggerated. To mention just a few, these include blasphemy, the destruction of the family through abortion, divorce, euthanasia, widespread pornography, immoral fashions and lifestyles, homosexuality and so on.
As Pope Pius XI once said, the contemporary world is so morally depraved that at any moment it could be plunged into a deeper spiritual misery than that reigning in the world when Our Blessed Redeemer was born. In consideration of so many crimes, the idea of divine vengeance naturally comes to mind.
When we view this sinful world, groaning beneath the weight of a thousand crises and a thousand afflictions but nevertheless unrepentant; when we consider the alarming progress of neo-paganism, which is on the verge of conquering humanity; and when, on the other hand, we consider the lack of resolve, foresight, and unity among the so-called remnant, we are understandably terrified at the grim prospects of catastrophes that this generation may be calling upon itself.
There is something liberal or Lutheran in imagining that so many crimes do not deserve punishment, that such a widespread apostasy of humanity is merely the fruit of some intellectual error without moral guilt. The reality is otherwise, for God does not abandon His creatures. Rather, He continuously assists and supports them with sufficient grace to aid them in choosing the right path. If they choose to follow a way other than His, the responsibility is theirs.
Behold the grim picture of the contemporary world: on one hand, an iniquitous and sinful civilization and, on the other, the Creator holding high the divine scourge. Is there nothing left for mankind but fire and brimstone? As we face the dawn of the new millennium, can we hope for a future other than the scourge foretold by Sacred Scriptures for the final impenitence of the last days?
Were God to act solely according to His justice, there is no doubt what we should expect. Indeed, could we even have made it as far as this twentieth century? Nevertheless, since God is not only just but also merciful, the gates of salvation have not yet been shut against us. A people unrelenting in its impiety has every reason to expect God’s rigor. However, He Who is infinitely merciful, does not want the death of this sinful generation but that it “be converted...and live” (Ezech.18:23). His grace thus insistently pursues all men, inviting them to abandon their evil ways and return to the fold of the Good Shepherd.
If an impenitent humanity has every reason to fear every catastrophe, a repentant humanity has every reason to expect every mercy. Indeed, for God’s mercy to be poured on the contrite sinner, his repentance need not have run its full course.
Even while still in the depths of the pit, if the sinner but sincerely and earnestly turn to God with a budding repentance in his heart, he will immediately find help, for God never disregards him. The Holy Ghost says in Sacred Scripture: “Can a woman forget her infant…. And if she should forget, yet will not I forget thee” (Isa. 49:15).
That is, even in such extreme cases where even a mother gives up, God does not. God’s mercy benefits the sinner even while divine justice cuts him down on the way of iniquity. Modern man cannot lose sight of these two basic concepts of divine justice and divine mercy—justice lest we dare presume that we can save ourselves without merits; mercy, so that we do not despair of our salvation as long as we repent and start anew.
God is charity, so the simple mention of the Most Holy Name of Jesus evokes love. It is the infinite, limitless love that drove the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity to become man. It is the love expressed in the utter humiliation of a God Who comes to us as a poor infant, born in a cave. It is the love shown in those thirty years of hidden life spent in the humility of the strictest poverty, in the three grueling years of evangelization, when the Son of Man traveled highways and country roads, climbed mountains, crossed valleys, rivers and lakes, visited cities and villages, walked through deserts and hamlets, spoke to rich and poor, dispensing love and, for the most part, reaping ingratitude. It is the love manifested in that supreme moment of the Last Supper when, after generously washing the feet of His apostles, He instituted the Holy Eucharist. It is the love of that last kiss bestowed on Judas, of that poignant look at Peter, of those insults received and born patiently and meekly, of those sufferings endured until the last drop of blood was shed. It is the love in that last pardon to the dying thief that enabled him to steal heaven.
Finally, it is the love manifested in the supreme gift of a heavenly mother for a wretched humanity! Each of these episodes has been painstakingly studied by the learned, wondrously reproduced by artists, devoutly contemplated by saints, and, above all, incomparably celebrated in the Divine Liturgy.
In venerating the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Church specially praises the infinite love demonstrated by Our Lord Jesus Christ to men. Since His heart is the symbol of love, by venerating His Heart, the Church celebrates Love.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
Many and beautiful are the invocations used by Holy Mother Church in reference to Our Blessed Lady. Yet, every single one of these clearly underscores her relationship to God’s love. Each celebrates either a gift of God to her, to which she was perfectly faithful, or some special power or influence she has with her Divine Son. Now, what are God’s gifts but a special manifestation of His love?
And what is Our Lady’s power of intercession with God in our favor but a sublime aspect of God’s special love for us? Thus, it is perfectly appropriate to call her Speculum Justitiae, “mirror of justice” on one hand and “omnipotent intercessor” on the other.
She is the mirror of justice because God so loved her that He concentrated in her all perfections possible to a human creature. In no other creature is He so well reflected as in her. Thus, she mirrors His justice perfectly. She is the omnipotent intercessor because no grace is obtained without Our Lady and there is no grace she cannot obtain for us. Thus, on invoking Mary as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, we make a beautiful synthesis of all the other invocations; we recall the purest reflection of the Divine Maternity; we simultaneously strike all the chords of love in beautiful harmony, the same chords we strike when we recite her litany or sing the Salve Regina.
Yet, there is one other invocation of Our Lady that I especially wish to recall. It is “Advocate of Sinners.” Our Lord Jesus Christ is our judge, and as great as is His mercy, He nevertheless remains our supreme judge and cannot fail to exercise His judicial duty.
But Our Lady is our advocate and does solely what an advocate is supposed to do—defends the accused. Do we not have in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the Advocate of Sinners, an all-powerful advocate before the bar of divine justice whose pleas for mercy will not be refused?
To say then, that Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is our advocate is equivalent to saying that we have an omnipotent advocate in heaven who holds the golden key to an infinite store of mercy. So, what better solution for a sinful humanity, a humanity that falls deeper into sin if justice is not mentioned but despairs of salvation if it is mentioned? By all means, let justice be mentioned; it is a duty; its omission has produced only sorry fruits. But right alongside justice, which targets the sinner, let us never forget mercy, which helps the seriously repentant sinner to abandon sin and thus be saved as He desires with all His Heart—the Sacred Heart of Jesus.