The Sacred Heart of Jesus leads us from misery to mercy

Our world needs to hear the message of mercy perhaps as no other age before. A culture of violence, death, destruction and despair can be healed only by mercy.

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Andrew Church in Sag Harbor, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Editor’s note: The following homily was preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (June 28, 2019) at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is so central to a healthy biblical spirituality that we don’t acknowledge this divine love only once a year; thanks to the apparitions of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century, we commemorate and celebrate the love of Christ for us unto death on the First Friday of every month.

Indeed, one of my fondest memories of grammar school is that of Masses on the First Friday of the month for the entire student body. Since an important part of preparation for receiving Holy Communion in those days called for a three-hour fast from solid foods, that meant that most of us came to school actually fasting from the night before. Right after Mass, we proceeded to the school cafeteria where our pastor treated us to crumb buns and hot chocolate. Thus, our celebration spilled over into a common meal.

Years later, I would relish the lyrics of the lovely hymn, “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Teather,” with the verse that prays, “May all our meals be sacraments of Thee!”

I share that recollection because of another experience I had many years later. I was seated on a plane, hoping that the seat next to me would go unoccupied. Just minutes before the plane door was shut, a man rushed in and, yes, took the empty seat next to me. While we were still taxiing on the runway, he turned toward me and asked, “Are you a Catholic priest?” “Yes, I am.” “I used to be Catholic.” “What are you now?” “I’m saved, I’m a Christian.” “You weren’t saved as a Catholic?” “No, it was just a lot of rituals. I never heard about the love and mercy of God.” “Did you go to Catholic school?” “Yeah, for a few years.”

“Were you,” I asked, “brought to Mass on the First Fridays?” “Yeah, I think so.” “Well, what were you told about that devotion?” “Oh, something about going nine times and going to Heaven.” “You mean you weren’t told about the love and mercy of Christ, so great that He died for you and that that love is experienced every time we make a good confession and receive Holy Communion worthily?” “I guess I wasn’t listening too well.” I hope everyone here this evening has listened better than that poor fellow.

The heart is a symbol with a rich biblical lineage. In Hebrew, both the heart and the bowels represent the very depths of a person – where the cognitive and the affective meet in unity and harmony. Hence, we find passages in the Bible which speak thus: “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred” (Hos 11:8). Far more than an organ of the body, then, the heart suggests the source of compassion, tenderness, kindness – in short, what we call “mercy.”

An interesting piece of biblical trivia: A quick survey of a biblical concordance reveals that the word “mercy” is used more than 200 times in the Sacred Scriptures, while the word “heart” appears over 600 times! No surprise, then, that St. Augustine, playing with the origins of the Latin word for mercy (misericordia), tells us that God’s grace moves us “a miseria ad misericordiam” (from misery to mercy). “Misericordia,” you see, comes from two words which combine to mean “having a heart for the miserable.”

Shakespeare rhapsodized on the beauty and glory of mercy when he had Portia exclaim:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: It is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God Himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation: We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

As beautiful as that soliloquy is, as one commentator has observed, “before Shakespeare wrote it, God was it!”

Normally, tomorrow we would honor Our Lady under the title of her Immaculate Heart; that is not possible this year since June 29 is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (I’m sure Our Lady will be joining us joyfully in honoring the foundation stones of the Church of Rome!). However, it is still good to reflect on the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Why? Because the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are not placed in the liturgical calendar by coincidence but by the careful plan of the Church. Because the heart of Jesus began beating beneath the heart of His Blessed Mother. Because her heart, in turn, took form from the creative Word and Power of the Heart of God. Two hearts beating as one. Because God became Mercy Incarnate within the spotless womb of the Virgin Mary.

And Mary (the first and best disciple) understood it all so well that she broke forth into her canticle of praise, the Magnificat: “Et misericordia eius a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.” (And His mercy is from age to age on those who fear Him). Our Lady was not teaching theology from a textbook but from the lived experience of her life. God had touched her so profoundly by His mercy that she became what the Church’s lovely night prayer to her rightly calls her – “Mater misericordiae” (“Mother of Mercy”): God the Father sought the young maiden’s cooperation with His eternal plan of mercy; God the Holy Spirit overshadowed her with His merciful wings; she became the very seat of Mercy, the Mother of the One who is “dives in misericordia” (rich in mercy), as the title of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical reminds us.

Our world, my dear people, needs to hear the message of mercy perhaps as no other age before. A culture of violence, death, destruction and despair can be healed only by mercy. It is no accident, I suspect, that in the last century – the century of blood and violence and alienation from God – that Almighty God would raise up a Polish nun to develop the theology of the Sacred Heart devotion. Interestingly, St. Faustina was the first saint canonized in the new millennium, expressing the hope of St. John Paul that this new millennium and new century would be more receptive to the love of God than the last. Thus, like St. Faustina, you and I must count ourselves among the apostles of mercy.

First, however, we must be convinced that mercy has been granted us; otherwise, our words will ring hollow. The result of knowing mercy (which comes from the very core or heart of the Being of God) means being grabbed at the very core or heart of our own being – and that gives birth to the emotion – both divine and human – of joy. Once more, Our Lady leads the way as she sings out: “Exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo Salvatore meo” (My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior). Where mercy spawns joy, melancholy, fear and death are definitively banished.

In the beautiful litany in honor of the Sacred Heart, we laud Christ as “the King and Center of all hearts.” May that be true in the lives of each one of us. With Our Lady as our model and guide, we pray: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.”


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 121 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

17 Comments

  1. My first encounter with the His Sacred Heart

    Scullery shout hot tea poured out.
    Porridge blob of jam, egg running yoke, finger of toast
    Cold embrace flannel to face.
    White shirt, clean sock to polished shoe, tying laces, adjusting braces,
    Jumper overhead, pulled ears, tears.
    Brushed hair, now stepping down from chair,
    Navy raincoat, then my mother spoke
    Grandma is taking you to Church today
    It’s a place where you go, to learn how to pray.
    ‘Grandma never goes to church’, but must make a show
    If her daughter, to Lourdes is to go.
    Warm embrace, wet lips all over my face.
    Take my hand, we must be early, we don’t want to stand.
    Long walk a gentle little talk
    ‘Gods Son’ he loves everyone.
    We make a blessing at the door.
    Large fount tiptoe in my hand did go,
    Cold dip water drip, to nose and lip.
    Full hall, feeling quite small
    “We will have to stand” but then came alternative command.
    “Follow me” there is a seat, in front of Gods Son
    He was showing His heart, to everyone.
    Kneeling, standing funny words, then the Priest’ voice in English was heard.
    Sin and redemption pay attention.
    Large wooden dish was passed along,
    Clinking a gentle song.
    Silver and copper, is what we have to offer.
    Filled to the brim, atonement for every sin,
    Small hand, such weight did not understand.
    Somersaulting dish made its own trip,
    Rolling coins everywhere, the whole church in despair
    All fours, like playing tore’s (marbles).
    Priest with bent knee, his face I could not see
    Taller now than everyone
    Looking round, only ‘one face’ to be found,
    Finger pointing to heart, looking down, but He did not frown.
    My Grans face looked very grey, but no word did she say
    I hope my aunt Mable to Lourdes will go, after such a dreadful show
    Leeds City Station aunt Edna aunt Mable sat in wheel chair
    Myself and Brideen set the scene
    The Bishop was there to say farewell
    He wanted to see me as well
    He did not speak, he place the back of his hand against my cheek
    Flashing light in The Evening Post that very night
    An aid whispered in my ear but I could not hear
    I did not understand the ring upon the hand
    Steaming train, dragon mouth, whistle shout
    They are on their way we all did pray.

    A rolling on, of 68 years, but still in arrears, with tears, joys and fears, down through the years, a damaged soul sits alone, but His finger, to His heart is still shown, directing me/us home.

    Sweet heart of Jesus, fount of love and mercy,
    today we come, thy blessing to implore;
    O touch our hearts, so cold and so ungrateful,
    and make them, Lord, thine own for evermore.
    Chorus
    Sweet heart of Jesus, we implore,
    O make us love thee more and more.

    2. Sweet heart of Jesus, make us know and love thee,
    unfold to us the treasures of thy grace;
    that so our hearts, from things of earth uplifted,
    may long alone to gaze upon thy face.

    3. Sweet heart of Jesus, make us pure and gentle,
    and teach us how to do thy blessed will;
    to follow close the print of thy dear footsteps,
    and when we fall – sweet heart, oh, love us still.

    4. Sweet heart of Jesus, bless all hearts that love thee,
    and may thine own heart ever blessed be,
    bless us, dear Lord, and bless the friends we cherish,
    and keep us true to Mary and to thee.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • What a beautiful read. A Gift to write so captivatingly
      I understand its irrelevant to your encounter with His Sacred Heart,but interested to know the outcome of your Aunt Mable’s experience at Lourdes
      A sister in Christ

      • Thank you Iindsey from your generous comment. Unfortunately I cannot tell you anything about her experience, as it was never discussed with me. My Aunty Mable contacted Scarlet fever as a child in the 1940’s and later developed rheumatic heart disease (infective heart valves). Over the years she had several operations, her last one was in the 1970s, unfortunately she died a few months later.

        She played a very large part in my life when I was a toddler. Sometime after she returned from Lourdes I was given a music box via a relative, which played ‘Ave Maria’
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

    • Beautiful! Wishing more Catholics would read this. Now at 83, I see an hear so much I missed before. But holding tight now than before. God bless you all.

      • Maria you say
        “I see and hear so much, I missed before.
        I think this applies to the majority of us, as we travel on our convoluted journey home, to our Father’s House in Heaven, while in hopeful pray, praying that all may arrive there safely.

        May God bless you also
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  2. I share father’s memory of Catholic school and first Fridays, unfortunately Catholic school today is not what it used to be, just like the holy mass isn’t what it used to be. Our ignorance and indifference certainly requires much mercy from Almighty God.

  3. What are the credentials of Fr Dtravinskas other than
    As a writer? Please include in his short bio, instead of
    Enumerating his other theoretical pieces.
    How has he served in the community- as a physical
    instrument of God? How many people (esp the poor) has he physically been in Contact with and interacted with?
    As they say, talk is cheap!

    • … and casting aspersions online is cheaper! (… so you win that contest).

      I would imagine that tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have received the Eucharist directly from Father’s hands. Most of us don’t have direct contact with anywhere near that many people in our lives, and if we do, it certainly isn’t to provide anything nearly so important (… so Father wins that contest).

    • Research, Sir, research! Fr Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D is the editor of the Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia and MANY more scholarly works! In addition, he has experienced and felt the cries of the poor! How about you?

      • Thank you for pointing out that he is a PhD and STD- it was not included in his bio.
        Sorry but I am a random reader and would like to separate wolves from shepherds and like many readers, want transparency. Simply adding his degrees would have solved the problem- and as a preist, also adding what parish or diocese he is part of (to make sure he is still incardinated) would also help,

  4. May I share my humble composition for the Glory of God and our Holy Mother…
    Hail Mary full of Grace and Mercy, the Merciful Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou amongst women. And Most Blessed, Merciful and Divine is the Fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Sorrowful Mother of God, pray for
    us sinners and for all sinners till the end of time…Now and at the hour of our death…Amen

  5. The Most Blessed Mother leads us to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. We must tell our separated brethrens that they are are absolutely right when they say Jesus is the only Way. And the Way that Jesus came to us is through Our Beloved and Immaculate Mother Mary. She is Immaculate and Powerful because not for a single moment was She under the power of Satan…as the Almighty God said to the Evil Serpent…I will put enmity between thee and the Woman…She shall crush your head.. More humiliating is the crushing of Satan’s head because he was crushed by a mere Human Being, the Holy Mother of God, the Queen of all Angels and Saints and Providentially our Holy Mother too. AMDG

  6. I can attest to the many who have been affected by Fr. Peter’s wonderful homilies and theologically sound writings over the years. He has impacted the Faith of so many throughout our country and the world by his words of truth and love. He has written and spoken well of Jesus and Mary!

  7. We need the protection and advocacy of all the saints as we face extraordinary attacks on the Faith from within and without. Pray the rosary, call upon your patron saint and Guardian Angel.

  8. This is my first experience of Fr. Peter homily and i feel more encouraged and kept abreast with my faith.Sacred heart of Jesus have mercy on us afflicted with much suffering.

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