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Let’s Celebrate:

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Not the SCARED Heart of Jesus!


Sister Aloysius was the third grade teacher, responsible for 52 kids in the class. She wore a white habit and a long black veil, and the rosary hanging from her belt looked heavy, and she was not afraid to swing it at her students, if she had to. It was impossible to guess her age, but it was somewhere between the Last Supper and death.

On this particular day, she came into class carrying a bag and inside was a picture frame. Sr. Aloysius explained she had something very important to show us, but first we had to all sit still and pay attention.

Then she pulled out the picture, which showed Jesus with an enormous heart outside of his body, and it was as though the entire class could hear and feel the heartbeat as she moved the frame forward and back. With that motion, the painting practically came to life. Dennis, a boy in the second row, fell out of his seat. Fear will do that to you. His eyes were large. “He looks like his heart has fallen out of his body!”

No one questioned why Jesus was holding onto a giant heart. Whose heart is that? Don’t you need a heart to live? How is this possible? These are the sorts of questions a bunch of third graders ask.

It was June, one of the last days of the school year, and Sister wanted to be sure we went home with an image that would stay with us all summer. And we did! The image of Jesus showing us his heart, which meant he was showing us his love, Sister said. Dennis wondered out loud if he could live with his own heart in his hands. Sister told him to be quiet.

June is the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the more popular Catholic devotions. You’ve undoubtedly seen this image, Jesus showing the world his sacred heart, which is the symbol of his love for us.

What you may not know is that it was a nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, who helped popularize this special devotion to the Sacred Heart, and made it possible for a feast day to be instituted, in 1856, by Pope Pius IX.

The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is celebrated on the eighth day of the Feast of Corpus Christi, nineteen days after Pentecost Sunday. You’ll have to look that up.

The Roots of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Devotion to the Sacred Heart goes back all the way to the Apostles. St. John the Evangelist is the apostle most associated with the Sacred Heart because we’re told Jesus loved John the most. John was called the “Apostle of Love,” which should not be confused with James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul.” But it would take centuries for that devotion to really catch hold.

The Nun with a Vision

For two years between 1673 and 1675, a Visitation nun by the name of Margaret Mary Alacoque had multiple visions. In one of those visions, she said Jesus gave her 12 promises to those who venerated the Sacred Heart.

They include the promise to give them graces they would need in life, bring peace to their families, comfort them in their trials, give them a secure refuge during life and in death, bless their undertakings, bring mercy to sinners, make lukewarm souls more fervent, allow fervent souls to grow in holiness and perfection, bless every place where the image of Sacred Heart is shown, and give priests the gift of influencing hardened hearts, honor in the Sacred Heart those who honor it, and provide eternal happiness.

Not everybody believed her, and Margaret Mary endured a lot of skepticism, which is somewhat understandable. Some of the other nuns were hostile to her, theologians who came to visit suggested she was delusional, but she stuck to her guns and eventually they came around.

Born in France in 1647, she served as novice mistress and assistant superior, until her death in 1690, at the age of 43. While being anointed, she said: “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

She was canonized in 1920.

The Most Famous Painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

While there are many images of the Sacred Heart, the most famous one was painted by the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787). A leading portrait painter of 18th- century Rome, he was born in Lucca, the son of a goldsmith. Batoni said he was inspired to paint the image from the stories he had always heard about the apparition of Jesus to Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Batoni painted Christ dressed in a red tunic (the color of blood) and a blue mantle (the color of heaven), actually holding his heart, which is completely out of his body, wrapped in thorns with a cross on top. What an image!

In 1760, his painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was placed in Church of the Gesù in Rome, and became the official image for the popular devotion.

Sr. Aloysius must have purchased a copy of that image, because she brought it into class that day and show it to everybody. And poor, confused, Dennis went home and probably didn’t sleep very well that night, wondering about what he saw that day in school. Who knows? Perhaps he went into medicine. You never know where a calling comes from.



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