Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Mt 11: 28-30
The four elements all religions have in common are belief, morality, ritual, and devotion. Each of the four are meant to be experiential and each applies to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:
We believe in the promise that we will never lose our capacity to love no matter what happens to us or how we are treated.
We act with moral rectitude, generous love, virtue, and conviction. Morality includes universal compassion and work for world justice not just personally ethical behavior.
We engage in rituals/sacraments that enact Christ consciousness and grant us access to special graces. Faith is belief in a transcendent reality. Rituals make it possible for us to feel this reality. This is how rituals help us build our faith.
Devotion is personal devotedness, experiencing a loving relationship with God. Devotion makes mystical experience available to everyone. Devotion is how we come to know God in a personal way, how God becomes personal.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart in medieval times was found mostly among mystics. Thanks to the revelations to St. Margaret Mary and the zeal of her French Jesuit helpers, the devotion became universal in the church. In our own parochial school experience, we may recall the accent on receiving communion on nine first Fridays to assure that we would not someday die without the last anointing. It seemed a sure thing since it placed a hold on God. Karl Rahner remarks that promises from the Sacred Heart, based on the visions of St. Margaret Mary, are not to be construed as “a recipe for gaining a hold over God.” Note, in any case, that “the promises” were assembled and based on her visions but not specifically vocalized by Jesus to her. As we grow in spiritual consciousness, we move away from superstitions that seem to assure a stranglehold on God. Perhaps our disappointment when our prayers are not answered happens because we are angry that we cannot control God. The only promise of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is that we have not yet lost nor will we ever lose our capacity to love. This is because of the good news that the core of us is the cor (heart) of God.
The accent on the promises also reflected the belief, more in evidence in the past, that salvation is focused on how each individual can be rewarded with heaven. I recall being taught in our Catholic high school that Jesus promised to anyone who received Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays that he or she would not die without the opportunity to receive the last rites. My thought was: “Oh, I have to be sure to do that so I can be preserved from hell.” It occurred to me only in recent years that true devotion does not mean comfort in the fact that “I am all set” but in having a heart as big as that of the God who made the promise. Then my response would have been: “I offer all my devotion and merit so that everyone can be saved, not just me.” That is the Sacred Heart in all its glory, agape love.
Now, since Vatican II, we have a much wider perspective. We see that we are here as a community, each with individual gifts and paths, but all members of one mystical body, one earth. We are here to care about one another and contribute to the evolution of all of us toward spiritual consciousness. We are members of a church community called to build a kingdom of peace and justice on this planet and to confront the powers of exploitation, violence, and corporate, personal, or political greed that subvert that possibility. With this new sense of mission, our devotional life changes. The accent is no longer on formulated prayers and devotional practices to gain merit for ourselves. Though these have a place, they are secondary to our major purpose as Christians. That purpose is to join the purposes of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His purposes are: to bring loving-kindness into human relationships, and to establish a kingdom of justice, peace, and love here on earth for every person and for all the world. Devotion, like salvation, is personal and communally conscious. Huston Smith says: “We are embodied souls; we have to act on our faith.”