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from issue no. 08 - 2006

Fifty years after the Haurietis aquas encyclical of Pope Pius XII. A meditation by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

On 15 May last Pope Benedict XVI sent the General of the Society of Jesus a letter on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the encyclical Haurietis aquas. Pius XII in his turn had written that encyclical to celebrate and remind everyone of the first centennial of the extension to the whole Church of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this way, taking advantage of the linking of the anniversaries, the Pope decided to pick up the unbroken thread of a devotion that has for centuries accompanied and comforted Christians on their path through life. For the occasion we asked Cardinal Martini for some thoughts, and he sent us the text that follows

by cardinal Carlo Maria Martini S.J.

The apparition of the Sacred Heart to Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque, 
mosaic by Carlo Muccioli, Basilica of Saint Peter, Vatican City

The apparition of the Sacred Heart to Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque, mosaic by Carlo Muccioli, Basilica of Saint Peter, Vatican City

I well remember the time when the encyclical Haurietis aquas in gaudio came out. I was then studying Holy Scripture and was a member of the Pontifical Biblical Institute community, where the professor was the brilliant biblical scholar Father Augustinus Bea, later made cardinal by Pope John XXIII. Father Bea was a close collaborator of Pope Pius XII, and they said in the community, for good reasons I think, that he had contributed to preparing the document. Certainly the biblical slant of the whole text was striking, starting with the title, a quotation from the Book of Isaiah (12, 3). Thus the encyclical (that bore the date of 15 May 1956) was read with great attention by the community of the Biblical Institute that particularly appreciated its basis in the Scriptural texts. In the past, instead, this devotion, that has a long history in the Church, had developed among people above all out of so-called “revelations” of a private sort, such as those to Saint Marguerite Marie in the 17th century. The perception of how the biblical message of the love of God was concretely synthesized in it was something that brought us close to this traditional devotion, that in the recent past had been much felt, above all in the Society of Jesus, in particular in its struggle against Jansenist rigidity.
The fact that Pope Benedict decided to write a letter to recall this encyclical precisely to the General Superior of the Society of Jesus is certainly also due to the fact that the Jesuits considered themselves particularly responsible for the spread of this devotion in the Church. That was also affirmed by Saint Marguerite Marie, according to whom this task had been decided by the Lord who revealed himself to her.
That was how the devotion to the Sacred Heart was presented me in the Jesuit novitiate, in the ’forties of the last century. That led me to reflect on the way in which it was possible to live this devotion and on the other hand let oneself be inspired in one’s own spiritual life by the wealth and marvelous variety of the word of God contained in Scripture.
Benedict XVI with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

Benedict XVI with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

And this question was set with all the more insistence in that my personal Christian journey had in some way been involved with this devotion from childhood. It had been implanted in me by my mother with the practice of the First Friday of the month. On that day mother would get us up early to go to mass in the parish church and take communion. There was the promise that those who had confessed and taken communion for nine first Fridays of the month in succession (skipping one was not allowed!) could be certain of obtaining the grace of deathbed perseverance. This promise was very important for my mother. I recall that for us kids there was also another reason for going to mass so early. In fact we had breakfast in a cafe with a good brioche.
Once one had taken communion for nine first Fridays in succession, it was a good thing to repeat the series, to be sure of obtaining the desired grace. Out of that then came the habit also of devoting that day to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a habit that then from monthly became weekly: every Friday of the year was devoted in some way to the Heart of Christ.
That is how the devotion of that time subsists in my memory. It had become focused above all on the honor and on reparation to the Heart of Jesus, seen a little in itself, almost separate from the rest of the body of the Lord. Some images in fact reproduced only the Heart of the Lord, crowned with thorns and pierced by the lance.
One of the merits of the Haurietis aquas encyclical was precisely that of helping set all these elements in their biblical context and above all of highlighting the deep meaning of this devotion, that is the love of God, who loves the world from all eternity and has given his Son for it (John 3, 16; cf. Rm 8, 32, etc.).
Thus the worship of the Heart of Jesus has grown in me with the passage of the time. Perhaps it has waned a little as regards its specific symbol, that is the Heart of Jesus. It has become, for me and for many others in the Church, a devotion to the inwardness of the person of Jesus, to his deep conscience, his choice of total dedication to us and to the Father. In this sense the heart is biblically considered as the center of the person and the locus of his/her decisions. It is thus that I see how this devotion helps us still today to contemplate what is essential in the Christian life, that is charity. I also understand better how it is in close relation with the Society of Jesus, which is generated spiritually from the Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. In fact the Exercises are an invitation to contemplate Jesus at length in the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection, so as to be able to know, love and follow him.
Some episodes of the life of Jesus from the Maestà by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera, 
Siena; above, the Last Supper, detail

Some episodes of the life of Jesus from the Maestà by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Museo dell’Opera, Siena; above, the Last Supper, detail

So a great merit of this devotion has been that of having brought attention to the centrality of the love of God as key to the history of salvation. But to grasp this it was necessary to learn to read Scripture, to interpret it in unitary fashion, as a revelation of the love of God to mankind. The Haurietis aquas encyclical marked a decisive moment in that process.
How was there and will there be again in the future a positive development of the seeds launched by the encyclical onto the soil of the Church? I think that a fundamental moment was that of Vatican Council II, in its constitution Dei Verbum. It exhorted the whole people of God to a prayerful familiarity with Scripture. From that also the different “devotions” are also deepened and gain solid nourishment.
We may see the point arrived at today in the Deus caritas est encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. He writes: «In the story of love that the Bible tells us, God comes to meet us, tries to win us – up to the Last Supper, up to the Heart pierced on the cross, up to the apparitions of the Risen One…»; and he concludes saying: «Then abandonment in God grows and God becomes our joy (cf. Psal 73 [72], 23-28)». It is a matter, therefore, of reading Holy Scripture with ever greater spiritual intelligence, keeping alert to what lies at the root of all the history of salvation, that is the love of God for mankind and the commandment to love one’s neighbor, synthesis of all the Law and the Prophets (cf. Mt 7,12).
In this way the objections through the centuries to the devotion to the Sacred Heart, that accused it of retreat into self or of fomenting a passive attitude at the expense of helping one’s neighbor, will be laid to rest even today. Pius XII recalled and confuted these difficulties, that have not disappeared even in our own times, since Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical: «The moment has come to reaffirm the importance of prayer given the activism and looming secularism of many Christians involved in charitable work» (n. 37).
Another merit of the Haurietis aquas encyclical lies in underlining the importance of the humanity of Jesus. In this it took up the reflections of the Fathers of the Church on the mystery of the Incarnation, insisting on the fact that the Heart of Jesus «must undoubtedly have throbbed with love and every other palpable affection» (cf. nos. 21-28). Hence the encyclical helps defend against a false mysticism that would tend to go beyond the humanity of Christ so as to approach the ineffable mystery of God in a somehow direct fashion. As not only the Fathers of the Church have claimed, but also such great saints as Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, the humanity of Jesus remains an uneliminable passage for understanding the mystery of God. It is not a matter, therefore, of venerating the Heart of Jesus only as concrete symbol of the love of God for us, but of contemplating the cosmic fullness of the figure of Christ: «He is before all things and all consist in him… because it pleased God to make every fullness dwell in him» (Col 1, 17.19).
Crucifixion, detail

Crucifixion, detail

The devotion to the Sacred Heart also reminds us that Jesus gave himself “with all his heart”, that is gladly and with enthusiasm. So we are told that good is to be done with joy, because «there is more joy in giving than in receiving» (Acts 20, 35) and «God loves a cheerful giver» (2Cor 9, 7). Nevertheless that does not derive from a simple human intention but is a grace that Christ himself gains for us, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that makes all things easy and sustains us on our daily path, in trials and difficulties also.
Finally I would like to mention what is called the Apostolate of Prayer that arose in the 19th century, through the work of Jesuits fathers, in close connection with the devotion to the Sacred Heart. I believe that it makes available to all the faithful, with the daily offering of the day in union with the eucharistic offering that Jesus makes of himself, a very simple tool for putting into practice what Saint Paul says at the start of the second part of the Epistle to the Romans, giving a practical synthesis of the Christian life: «I therefore exhort you, brothers, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual devotion» (Rm 12, 1).
Very many ordinary people can find a help in the apostolate of prayer for living Christianity in authentic manner. It also reminds us of the importance of the inner life and of prayer. In Jerusalem one feels in particular fashion that prayer, and in particular intercession, constitutes a priority. Not, of course, only the poor prayer of each individual, but a prayer united to the intercession of the whole Church, which in its turn is nothing less than a reflection of the intercession of Jesus for all mankind.
This intercession rises uninterruptedly from Jesus to the Father for peace among men and for the victory of love over hate and violence. We have so much need of this in our times, above all in the “city of prayer” and “city of suffering” that is Jerusalem.

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