Franciscan Devotion to the Eucharist and to the Sacred Heart

Author: Margaret A. Gregory


by Margaret A. Gregory The church was one of many small, neglected chapels that dot the environs of Assisi; one of the many in which Francis would spend hours upon his knees, weeping before the crucifix out of love for the Lord who had died for love of him. But this day Francis would not be alone in the chapel of San Damiano. This day a voice from the crucifix would tell him to "Rebuild my church, for it is nearly in ruins."1 On that day, the life of Francis Bernardone was changed; and on that day your lives were changed, my life was changed, all our lives were changed. For because of his response, we are no longer merely men and women, husbands, wives, mothers; we are Secular Franciscans, brothers and sisters in St. Francis. And that plea from Christ to St. Francis at San Damiano in 1206 is also a plea to us in Arlington, VA, in 1995. While Francis began by literally repairing those church structures which he found in ruin, we know that Our Lord didn't want St. Francis only to repair Church buildings, but rather He desired that Francis and Secular Franciscans rebuild His Mystical Body, the holy Catholic Church. It seems a great deal more complicated to repair a mystical structure. After all, where is the cracked sheetrock, the broken plumbing? What tools do we use to restore peace, to repair for sin, to increase grace, in effect, to change the world? Well, there are tools, and they were offered by a 16th century Franciscan priest, St. Peter Alcantara to a man who was lamenting the terrible state of the Church at that time. When the man asked St. Peter what he was going to do about the problems, Peter replied, "I must become holy." It is as simple as that: we are the tools. To rebuild the Church, we must become holy. For no matter what has caused the wounds in the Body of Christ today, they are spiritual wounds. And the means of healing them is spiritual as well. Become holy is a very simple answer, but the most difficult task possible to man, for Jesus alone is "holy", as we pray in the Gloria at Mass. In the words of Pope Pius XII, "Holiness begins from Christ; and Christ is its cause...(All) Grace and glory come from His inexhaustible fullness."2 Then our holiness is the result of our union with Christ in His Mystical Body. Jesus gives us His own holiness that we might use it to build up the Church! How do we tap into this holiness? I can't speak as one who has achieved that holiness. (Just ask my kids!) Like you, I am a Franciscan-in-formation, a sister in need of that daily "radical interior change which the gospel calls 'conversion'."3 However, we are fortunate to belong to an Order of saints beginning with St. Francis and St. Clare, whose examples inspire us, and whose merits and graces are shared with us. This same Franciscan Order also gives us the Holy Rule, and the practical means by which we can sanctify our lives, our families, the world, for Franciscan "theology is a practical science, and is summed up as the love of God. [We] seek to love Him with love, with passion, as St. Francis loved Him." 4 St. Francis was so wise for indeed love makes all things easy. Franciscans become holy by becoming lovers. We must 'fall in love with Jesus, our Beloved, and be on fire with that Love which is the Holy Spirit; that love with which Jesus desired to set the world on fire. Then it is love that will make us holy. For it is by loving God that Franciscans seek to acquire virtue, unlike other schools of spirituality which seek the acquisition of virtue in order to arrive at love. As an example from my own life, I have had the occasion to confess rather regularly to the same parish priest who knows me very well, and who is very Jesuitical. Often, after I had confessed my sins, Father would say, "Mrs. G., what sin are you working on?" or "What virtue are you trying to acquire?", which would leave me speechless, and feeling quite discouraged. But he has stopped asking. You see, I told him that my soul was like a garden full of weeds. When I try to pull out the weeds, I am so weak and the weeds so deep that by the time I finish pulling out one weed, several others have grown in its place. And by focusing on the weeds, which are myself, I lose sight of Jesus. So instead of pulling out weeds, I decided to plant Love, and to tend to it with all my energy until it chokes out the weeds and becomes the only plant in my garden. But how are we to plant love? How can we nurture it so that it is the only plant in our garden? The Secular Franciscan Constitution gives us practical means, and particular devotions, by which we can arrive at this burning charity for God and for His Church. It tells us that holiness, "The union with Christ, renewed and strengthened through participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Consequently, Tertiaries shall be on fire with love for the most sublime Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ".5 They are to "show deep reverence for God's Churches,....and make visits to them readily, whenever an opportunity occurs..6 Finally, it continues, "they shall take the greatest care to make life within the family pleasant and happy....The crucifix...shall occupy the principal place in the living rooms and bedrooms. Home life shall be sanctified each day by morning and evening prayers, and by grace before and after meals. The following practices are strongly recommended: the reading of the New Testament or the life of some saint; the recitation of the rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the Franciscan Crown; and the consecration of the family to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, annually renewed."7 While all of these devotions are important, I have decided to focus on Franciscan devotion to the Eucharist and the Sacred Heart, that is, those devotions which most easily help us become lovers of Our Lord. According to our Holy Rule, prayer and contemplation are the soul of all we are and do,8 and there is no better, no more perfect prayer that we can offer than to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, daily, if possible.9 At Holy Mass, we place ourselves, all our works, sufferings, our heart, our will, all our loved ones, and even more, all our sins, on the altar where they are exchanged for the merits of Jesus Christ. We give Him our sins, our weakness and poverty, and He gives us the richness of His mercy and the merits of His sacrifice. What a wondrous and totally disproportionate exchange! What an incredible gift to us which allows us to become holy with God's own holiness. In the words of St. John Damascene, "we approach it (the Eucharist) with burning desire that the fire of our desire, having been enkindled from the coals, burn away our sins, and enlighten our hearts, and in the communication of the divine fire we be equally set on fire and deified".10 The benefits and action of the Mass are not limited to that time while we are in the Church. We are to make the Mass extend throughout our entire day by continually placing our prayers, works, joys, sufferings, all our falls and failures on the altar, uniting them with the action of the Mass which goes on uninterruptedly through time. But we Franciscan lovers of Jesus Christ are called to do even more than that, for in each Mass, we also make our nuptials with our Beloved. We offer ourselves, symbolized by the bread and wine, to Jesus during the Offertory. And during the consecration we exchange our vows, so to speak, when Jesus takes us, the bread and wine, and says "Take and eat. This is My Body..... Take and drink. This is My Blood." We and Jesus become one: we become His Body and Blood, the perfect offering to the Father. Our nuptial exchange is consummated when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. And throughout our day we should remain aware of our union with Jesus by consciously uniting ourselves to the Mass and by making Spiritual Communions. That is the way in which our whole day is sanctified and becomes a Mass, because then all that we say or do is for love of Jesus. When we fold clothes, they belong to Jesus; when we cook it is His meal; whatever work we do and whomever we may serve, it is always for Jesus, always with Jesus, always in love with Jesus. We are reminded that this same Jesus, Whom we love and receive in Holy Communion, remains in the tabernacle by Paul VI who tells us that "Day and night He is in our midst, He dwells with us, full of grace and truth. He restores morality, nourishes virtues, consoles the afflicted and strengthens the weak."11"...everything depends upon rightly adoring and making amends to Christ Jesus especially in the most sacred mystery of the Eucharist."12 St. Francis prayed: Let the whole of mankind tremble, the whole world shake and the heavens exult, when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest. O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the forms of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him. Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.13 Therefore, Franciscans should visit our Lord often in the Blessed Sacrament where He waits for us to console Him and love Him. Let us give ourselves totally to Him, and whether our hearts are full of joy or full of sorrow, pour them out before Him. Even when our hearts are desolate and our prayer dry, let us stay with Him and, like St. John, lay our heads upon His Heart, consoling Him Who suffered in desolation upon the cross for us. Remembering that all grace comes from Him, we will rebuild the Church in the measure that we surrender ourselves to prayer, allowing Jesus to change the world through us. That is how we will adhere to the counsel of St. Francis and "become announcers of the gospel of peace and conversion." That is how we will "be patient in trouble and give a humble answer to all who insult us; bless those who persecute us and thank those who slander and do us wrong."14 It is Jesus alone who gives us the grace to accomplish these things and it is before the Tabernacle that we will receive those graces. I can assure you from personal experience that there is no better way to grow in an intimate relationship with Our Lord than by daily visiting Him in the Tabernacle; and a daily holy hour is less costly than a psychiatrist's couch, more comforting and helpful than a support group. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi recommended to busy people in the world to take time out each day for praying before the Holy Eucharist. "A friend," she wrote, "will visit a friend in the morning to wish him a good day, in the evening, a good night, taking also an opportunity to converse with him during the day. In like manner, make visits to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, if your duties permit it. It is especially at the foot of the altar that one prays well. In all your visits to our Savior, frequently offer His precious Blood to the Eternal Father. You will find these visits very conducive to increase in you divine love."15 I have saved the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for my last topic because it has been my favorite since I was a child attending a boarding school run by Religious of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart devotion contains, according to Pope Pius XII, "a summary of all our religion and....a guide to a more perfect life"16 For while we might find it difficult to burn with love for Jesus hidden in the Eucharist, none of us has difficulty loving the Human Heart of Jesus Christ pierced with a lance so that His grace might pour out over us. And there is an intimate link between the human Heart of our Savior and the Blessed Sacrament, for "fervent devotional practice towards the Heart of Jesus" says Pius XII, " will foster and advance devotion to the Holy Cross.... and love for the Most Holy Sacrament." 17 I could read pages of quotes from recent popes encouraging devotion to the Sacred Heart, but that would be boring, and the last thing that I want to do is make you think that the Sacred Heart of Jesus could ever be boring. I will leave you a page of some of those quotes to read at a later time, but right now, I would like to tell you how to make use of this special devotion, so Franciscan, which is the "most effective school of the love of God".18 For the Sacred Heart devotion is a crusade to restore the rights of Christ the King of Love over all mankind; a crusade to establish the Social Reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. All Franciscans should enthrone a picture or statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a prominent place in the home and pray the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart. We should daily renew that consecration, and honor Jesus by showing greater fidelity to our duty; by more frequent and more fervent attendance at Holy Mass and reception of Holy Communion; and finally, by having a loving trust in His adorable Heart in the midst of trouble. By this enthronement, we recognize Christ's rule over our families, and we give our hearts to Him, in exchange for His Heart. In 1972, my family enthroned the Sacred Heart in our home, and we daily renew our consecration after praying our family Rosary. Since the time of that consecration, my family has carried some very heavy crosses. I will not tell you that we haven't suffered, or that there were never times of stress; but Jesus is the King and Head of our family, and He keeps His promises to families who honor His Sacred Heart. So, in times of tribulation, I place myself in His Heart as in a safe refuge. In times of peace, I place myself there in order to be inflamed and consumed in that divine furnace of Charity. When I fall and sin, I plunge myself even more quickly into His Heart, rightly called an abyss of mercy. And in times of temptation or desolation, I simply pray "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in Thee" as many times as is necessary, until I am at peace. The Heart of Jesus is indeed the source of all love and consolation and He has never left me disappointed. I would like each of you to have a copy of this Enthronement booklet, so that you might enthrone the Sacred Heart in your home. The devotion, its history and practices are explained in the booklet more clearly than I could explain them, but I'd like to read over with you the promises of Our Lord which are on Page 2: 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 bless every house in which the picture of My Heart shall be exposed and honored. 4. I will console them in all their difficulties. 5. I will be their refuge during life and especially at the hour of death. 6. I will shed abundant blessing upon all their undertakings. 7. Sinners shall find in My Heart a fountain and boundless ocean of mercy. 8. Tepid souls shall become fervent. 9. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection. 10. I will give to priests the power of touching the hardest hearts. 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 his last moment. I have heard many stories of conversions attributed to the Sacred Heart devotion and I believe that they are true, simply because I have witnessed at least one of them myself. My mother's brother made the nine first Fridays as a devout young altar boy, but through the years he fell away from the Sacraments, and in fact became a very evil man. He was an alcholic, a wife and child abuser and an athiest who eventually could not even step into a Catholic Church. But my mother, who had great devotion to the Sacred Heart, prayed unceasingly for him, making many sacrifices, and offering her daily Mass and Communion for him. She reminded Our Lord often of His promise to provide the sacraments to those who make the nine first Fridays. In his seventieth year, and on his death bed, Uncle Billy gratefully received those sacraments in my mother's tearful presence. The Sacred Heart of Jesus proved Himself to be my uncle's safe refuge in his last moments. I encourage each of you to enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your homes and in your hearts so that you might "love Him more ardently and imitate Him more perfectly."19 For it is our heart, our love which is the measure of our holiness. When we meet Jesus at our judgment, it is not our merits which we will present to Him, for "what have we that we have not been given?" The question He will ask is "Do you love Me? Does your heart belong only to Me?" May the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the burning furnace of love, enkindle our hearts with its fire, so that we Secular Franciscans of St. Thomas More Fraternity may be passionate lovers of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Pax et bonum! 1 St. Francis of Assisi, Johann Jorgensen, P. 42 2 Mystici Corporis, Pius XII, #51 3 From Gospel to Life, The Rule of SFO, #7 4 Franciscan Mysticism, Brother Boniface Maes, OFM, P. 3 5 General Constitution, Art. 56 6 Ibid., Art. 58 7 General Constitution, Art. 72 8 From Gospel to Life, The Rule of SFO, #8 9 Ibid. 10 De fide Orthod. 4, 13; P.G. 94, 1150 11 Mysterium Fidei, Pope Paul VI 12 Investigabiles Divitias Christi, P. 53, par 4 13 Francis and Clare, P. 58 14 St. Francis of Assisi, Johann Jorgensen, P. 66 15 The History of Eucharistic Adoration, John A. Hardon, SJ, P. 29 16 Haurietis Aquas, Pius XII, #2 17 Ibid. #122 18 Haurietis Aquas, Pius XII #123 19 Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII, #122 Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN