I saw Him in my house. Among all the everyday things He appeared unexpectedly and became utterly united and merged with me, and leaped over to me without anything in between, as fire to iron, as light to glass. And He made me like fire and like light. And I became that which I saw before and beheld from afar. I do not know how to relate this miracle to you. I am man by nature, and God by grace.
–Saint Simeon the Younger
Devotion to the Sacred Heart has always included the sense of a promise that we will find grace, protection, and guidance on our path. St. Margaret Mary shares this stupendous revelation: “He showed me that it was his great desire to be loved by us and to save us from the path of ruin … so he formed the design of manifesting his heart to us, with all the treasures of love, of mercy, of grace, of sanctification and salvation which it contains, in order that those who desire to render him and procure for him all the honor and love possible, might themselves be abundantly enriched with those divine treasures of which this heart is the source.”
Knowing we are loved boosts our immune system because it gives us a sense of being accompanied rather than isolated. This aligns with a universal religious belief in the abiding presence of God. We are freed from fear by trusting a reliable and unending relationship between ourselves and God as a higher power than our ego. We can see how a personal devotion fosters this sense of trust: “Each one shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.” Micah 4:4
In Psalm 23, King David, addressing God as the Good Shepherd, says “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” This means that it is a given that we will indeed walk through dark valleys but that we do not do so alone. We are accompanied through the dark shadows. We are not exempted from the dark journey but we are assured that God joins us in our suffering. Indeed, suffering has always been one of the ways humans have been led to religion. This has been true from Buddhism through Christianity to Islam to any religious cults. When we see that God is suffering too, we realize that spirituality does not offer an end to suffering but a companion in it.
A spiritual life does not guarantee that we will have no fear nor does it fully eliminate fear. It is not about reduction. It is about feeling the sum of all our human feelings. Then spiritual consciousness adds the dimension of accompaniment. We find ways to live with fear but we are no longer stopped or driven by it. We find solace in our belief in a God who journeys with us or a shepherd or angel who guides and guards us on the path. Devotion is our way of showing gratitude.
Rom 8:26 shows that prayer is openness to the Holy Spirit praying in us: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Our prayer can develop and advance as we trust the presence of God in our lives. “Give me what I want.” becomes “Let me open myself to receive what is already and always being given to me.” There is a direct connection between true prayer and grace. Once we see that all that happens is a grace we no longer have to ask for what we need. We trust all is happening just as it needs to and our prayer is one of thanks. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” Matt 6:8
In the depths of ourselves we know that the ego and its arrogance are not all there is to us. A hidden life of vast dimension and possibility is in us. The inner life of Christ in us is a mirror of and a call to our true destiny. Now we see that openness to grace is how the ego is transcended. By grace, we move out of our local citadel of I-Me-Mine to a limitless kingdom of cosmos. Like revelation, grace is intrinsic not extrinsic, that is, not from outside forces but from deep within the spiritual Self, God within us and everywhere around us.
Grace is ever-available since God is always creating us and always sustaining us. Grace does not replace freedom but fulfills it by releasing our greatest potential. Grace divinizes human existence. Grace in our lives means that nothing is only what it appears to be but infinite in its core/heart. Grace motivates and assists us but then it is up to us to join in by our efforts and spiritual practices. Grace shows us that our destiny is not of the ego’s making and shows us too, that wholeness is not due to effort. All our work, both psychological and spiritual, is ultimately spiritual since we are a unity and our whole being is affected by growth in either area. In fact, theologian Karl Rahner said that grace is indistinguishable from the tendency in the human spirit to transcend ego desire, self-absorption, or fear— our psychological work.
Grace is the light that keeps getting through. We do not have to make it come through, only let it through. I still believe, even after all the dark events of recent times, that we humans can really trust that, deep-down, we are a most pure light of consciousness and bliss. We do not have to search for this light only open ourselves to the Sacred Heart of the world and it will beam through. Then we can direct it with indefatigable compassion to our fellow pilgrims.