In the 1600’s, a heresy named Jansenism became prevalent in Western Europe. What made Jansenism difficult to root out was that many clergy and bishops were swayed by its teaching. What was Jansenism? It was the belief in a strict moralism claimed to be based in the teaching of St. Augustine. In addition, Jansenism believed in the Protestant Calvinist teaching of predestination meaning that a set number of people are predestined to go to heaven and nothing can change that, disregarding the reality of free will. This led to the interesting byproduct of Jansenism; a hyper-moralism that resulted in widespread scrupulosity among the faithful. Rather than relying on the mercy of God, it was human action that was the main means to bring about salvation. Certainly, we remember in the Letter of St. James that “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) However, Jansenists started to lean more on the works rather than faith. Concretely, this could be seen in the Confessional books that Jansenists priests possessed. These books would give a prescribed penance for each sin as if it were a cure for the sin committed. This is not exactly the way we should look at penance after Confession. Rather, we should rely on God’s mercy, trust in his forgiveness and do the penance the priest gives us as a sign of our sorrow and dedication to God that we want to make restitution.
Why do I mention the Jansenist heresy now? Because it was in this historical context that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation Nun in France, as the Sacred Heart. The central message of these apparitions can be summarized by St. Margaret Mary’s words she said on her deathbed, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.” In a time when the Church was struggling with scrupulosity, Jesus came and showed them the compassion and mercy of his Sacred Heart. In my own personal prayer, I love to focus on the human heart of Jesus as I repeat to myself, “Jesus loved us with a human heart.” This has grounded me in the incarnational reality and love of God that He has become one of us. Jesus’ apparitions reminded the faithful that God’s mercy is enough and that while our human actions are not worthless, even our ability to love comes from God as a gift in the first place.
Jesus told St. Margaret Mary the way He wished His Sacred Heart to be honored by devotion. He desired that the First Friday of the month be dedicated to Him and that the faithful receive the Eucharist on that day, that a Feast of the Sacred Heart be established and that Holy Hours be observed by the faithful. This year the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is on Friday, June 16th. In addition, the Catholic Church celebrates the entire month of June as one dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the physical symbol of love in our world. Towards the end of her life, St. Margaret Mary was given the privilege in an apparition to rest her head on the heart of Jesus just like St. John did at the Last Supper. Next time you pray you may want to try this form of imaginative prayer where you also rest near Jesus’ heart and also say, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”