Devotion to the Heart of Jesus is at the center of our spirituality. Unfortunately, due to the prejudices of enlightened societies, devotion as a source of spirituality has ceased to be a cornerstone and has disappeared from our theological reflections.
I would like to share today, with my dehonian brothers and all those who in some way feel connected to the congregation or to its spirituality, some aspects of our devotion to the Heart of Jesus. I do not expound my ideas, but rather focus on the Sacred Heart of Jesus Retreat written by Dehon.
What I share is not a summary of the retreat, but a single aspect, a single chapter in which Fr. Dehon links the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus with mercy. I prefer to focus on just one aspect and focus on its richness, rather than ramble on about common shared concepts, without developing the particularity in which those concepts are read.
The Sacred Heart is mercy
The Sacred Heart is, for Fr. Dehon, one of the ways of saying mercy in his work a Retreat of the Sacred Heart: “I have now shown how much my Heart is merciful to the sudden sinner”; Contemplate and watch the phases and progress of this conversion, you will learn to know better my mercy and the goodness of my Heart”: “Mais ce que j’ai voulu mettre en relief dans cette parabole, c’est l’accueil miséricordieux que mon Cœur fait au pécher repentant”.
In this work, our founder unites mercy to contemplation and devotion to the Sacred Heart. A rather curious fact is that the terms Heart and Love are the most frequent in the whole text, followed by reparation, self-giving and mercy. Dehon reflects directly on mercy in six meditations: meditations 5, 19, 21, 22, 23 and 24. Of these six, the last four associate mercy with conversion, meditation 19 links mercy and a return of love to the Lord, while meditation 5 inaugurates the theme that will be treated in different meditations.
Talking about love, feeling love to exercise love
In order to better understand what I am presenting here, I will briefly point out some aspects of the structure of the retreat. The Sacred Heart Retreat consists of 40 meditations in which the first and the last two form a kind of inclusion: He who is charity and created us out of love is the One who will reign in souls and in societies through the Heart of his Son. Everything is born of love and everything tends to love.
The object of the retreat: to speak of love, feeling love in order to exercise love. The text is written in a devotional style. It is not surprising, then, that Fr. Dehon puts words of supplication, compassion, closeness and pain in the mouth of Jesus. The devotional style in which the retreat is presented is not intended to lead the retreatant to end up in occasional pious practices.
The devotion that the Founder seeks is the overcoming of what he calls “lukewarmness” that distances man from love: “Ils se font illusion sur l’état de leur âme, sur le mal qu’ils Font et sur le bien qu’ils croient faire. Ils se croient riches en grâce, quand ils sont misérables et pauvres” . Contrary to the logic of domination, the retreat introduces us to a logic of self-giving (oblation) for love of the Heart of Jesus and for love of our brothers and sisters. The retreat is far from being a manual of pious exercises. This manualistic danger can only be avoided when it is read with devotion in the logic of oblative love.
God the Father, source of mercy
The biblical texts that accompany the meditations are the axis around which the meditation revolves. In the fifth meditation, which deals precisely with mercy, the starting point is Lk 1:68,77;79, in which the expression of verse 78 stands out: “per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri, in quibus vistavit nos Oriens ex alto“.
To understand what is proposed here, it is necessary to engage with the fourth meditation, which highlights the centrality that the paternity of God must have in a disciple of the Heart of Jesus. In fact, by filiation we have the right to be part of the paternal house and to the tenderness, attention and inheritance of the Father. This tenderness is such that the image, described in Luke’s Gospel, of the sentiments that the father shows to the prodigal son, are a faint representation of what the heavenly father really feels for sinners.
Dehon places in the mouth of the savior the conviction that “(le) Père est la source même de la miséricorde” (the Father is the very source of misery). Dehon is convinced that the soul that abandons God is never abandoned by the Father; on the contrary, the Father patiently endures his indifference and waits with longing for the return of the Son: “Miserator et misericors Dominus, patiens et multum misericors” (Ps 144:8).
Before speaking of sin and its consequences, the retreat puts us in tune with mercy: “not only does God in his goodness not punish the offending sinners, but he also commends them with all kinds of good” (Ps 144:8). This text is central at the time of reading the meditations that are intended to deal with sin, these must be read in the light of that otherwise one runs the danger of presenting God as a God who is only of Judgment, when He is essentially mercy.
Mercy restores the dignity of being a Son
An atomized reading of the retreat can disfigure the merciful image of the Father and can accentuate an image that is far from reflecting his tenderness. For a disciple of the Heart of Jesus, Mercy does not leave him indifferent to the sinner trapped in sin.
Mercy rescues and restores: “La miséricorde divine à l’égard des pécheurs se révèle encore par les incessantes sollitations qu’elle leur leur adresse pour les convertir“. The mercy of the Heart of Jesus is above all a permanent closeness, even when man decides to move away to live his own life. This mercy is not a clean slate, leaving the sinner as a debtor who, when forgiven for not being able to pay, ends up as a victim of a debt of gratitude greater than the one he had before.
Mercy restores the dignity of being a Son. God restores dignity, without imposing it, he simply appeals, calls, arouses and never obliges. “Cette miséricordieuse bonté de mon Père se révèle dans le Prophètes dont il emprunte la voix pour appeler les pécheurs à la pénitence et leur promette le pardon“. In devotion to the Heart of Jesus one senses a permanent dialectic between kindness, grace, tenderness and conversion.
The Father is no less kind when he calls to conversion than when he embraces with tenderness. Every moment is a witness of the loving fatherly goodness manifested in the heart of his Son. Like the disciple, we too must say: “I adore in particular this misericorde in the Heart of Jesus where mercy is incarnated to visit us and save us”. The Heart of Jesus is, for Fr. Dehon, the visible place of mercy.