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The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Sanctification of Priests

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Archbishop’s Column

Archbishop Leonard P. Blair

June is traditionally devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One of the earliest recollections I have of my Catholic faith from grade school is the practice of the “First Friday” devotion to the Sacred Heart. As children, we went to monthly confession before the First Friday Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart. The high school and college seminary I attended in Detroit were named “Sacred Heart.”

This devotion arose from the apparitions of Jesus in 17th-century France to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Jesus asked that the faithful receive him in the Eucharist frequently, especially on the First Friday of the month, and observe a Holy Hour, in reparation for human ingratitude and indifference in the face of all that he endured in his Passion for our salvation. Jesus also asked that a feast honoring his Sacred Heart be established in the Church calendar on the Friday after Corpus Christi. The feast made its way into the Church’s universal calendar, and it is now celebrated as a solemnity that this year falls on Friday, June 28.

Significantly, especially in light of today’s many wounds to the priesthood, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is also designated as a special “Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.”

I would like to share two brief reflections.

Devotional life does not replace what the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents as the four “pillars” of our faith, that is: the creed, the sacraments, a moral life “in Christ” and prayer. However, just as God has a human “heart for us” in the person of Jesus, we have to have “a heart for God” to respond to his divine love and to the sacrifice of his Sacred Heart for us on the cross.

This is connected with the concept of “reparation,” which can be defined as “making amends for a wrong done or for an offense, especially for sin, which is an offense against God.” Just as the sinless Jesus made reparation for our sins on the cross, we, too, in union with him, can make reparation for all the sin that is in the world.

Recently, we celebrated the beatification of Blessed Clelia Merloni, the foundress over a century ago of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a community of sisters we are blessed to have in our archdiocese. Mother Clelia’s chief desire was to “zealously work for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, spreading this devotion and trying to make reparation for the insults he receives from sinners, especially members of the Freemason sects and from apostate priests.”

Mother Clelia’s focus on “apostate priests” leads to a second reflection about the fact that since 2002 the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has been designated a “Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.” In recent months, I celebrated three Masses “in reparation” for the sins and crimes of clergy guilty of the sexual abuse of minors. This reparation is above all to God for the evil that was inflicted by the very people who were ordained to act sacramentally “in the person of Christ.” The enormity of reparation owed to the heart of Christ, and the healing of victims/survivors, can only be fulfilled by what he himself makes possible by his sacrificial death and pierced side on the cross, as we pray, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us, and help our priests to be truly holy and upright in all they do.”

I began with a recollection of my childhood introduction to the First Friday devotion. So many of us who are clergy and religious have perhaps forgotten, or else never really been formed by, personal devotions proper to our state in life that are meant to deepen our love for Christ and our intimacy with Mary and the saints, and to inspire in us a real zeal for virtue, self-sacrifice and pastoral charity.

There is nothing in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s that calls for the abandonment of traditional “devotions”like the one to the Sacred Heart. It is imperative in the midst of today’s many challenges to faith and its practice that we rediscover and rekindle Catholic devotional life in a way that is scripturally based and theologically sound. Faith must engage the heart and the mind. Nothing confirms this more clearly than the fact that so many young people today are drawn to eucharistic adoration and that an increase in adoration often produces an increase of applicants to the seminary and religious life. I trust that every parish is now doing what I called for by devoting at least one hour a week to eucharistic adoration.

On June 28, please offer a special prayer for our priests. Better yet, go to Mass with that intention that day if you can. Pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And think about making First Friday devotions a part of your own spiritual life.

God bless you.