“A God feels tenderness for man, takes delight in him, and is solicitous about him!”
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To mark the month of June, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, this is the second of three extracts from Fr John Croiset SJ’s 1691 book Devotion to the Sacred Heart. This translation is from the 1863 edition.
Fr Croiset wrote this book almost in collaboration with St Margaret Mary, and published it the year after her death. The saint asked him to write this book, and assured him that Christ would give him special assistance. When it was nearly complete, she said that it was in accord with what Our Lord wanted and that no changes at all would be necessary.
Nonetheless she promised him many trials – which are, of course, the gifts which Christ bestows on those whom he loves.
Why We Should Love the Sacred Heart – Fr John Croiset SJ
How just and reasonable is the devotion to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ
Part II: The Proofs of His Love
Of all marks of love, there is none that moves the heart of men so deeply as benefits. Either because there is nothing that marks more strongly the affection of the person who loves; or because nothing is so gratifying to our nature, ever inclined, as it is, to seek its own interest, as a love which is of service to us. Jesus Christ has used this means also, in order to oblige us to love Him. He has presented us, He has loaded us with a thousand blessings, the least consideration of which far exceeds all that we can merit, hope for, or desire. All are continually receiving His benefits. All agree in acknowledging the excess of His love, of which these benefits are themselves such striking proofs. And yet, how few are there who are gained by His benefits, or feel themselves touched by His love!
By dint of hearing the Creation, the Incarnation, and Redemption constantly spoken of, we become accustomed to these words, and to the things they signify: and yet, there is no one so unreasonable as not to be at once transported with love, for any one from whom he knew he had received the hundredth part of the least of these favours. As our soul depends much on the senses in its operations, we were naturally little moved by the thought of a purely spiritual being. Hence it is, that, before the Incarnation of the Word, notwithstanding the prodigies wrought by Almighty God in favour of His people, there was always a greater admixture of fear in their love.
But now, this God has rendered Himself, so to speak, more sensible to us, by becoming man. This Man-God has done more than all that we could possibly have conceived, to oblige all men to love Him. Had He never formed the design to redeem us, He would have been no less holy, powerful, or happy. He has, however, had our salvation so much at heart, that it might have been supposed, seeing all that He has done, and the manner in which He has done it, that all His happiness depended upon ours.
When he might have redeemed us at very little cost, He has chosen to merit for us the grace of salvation by His death, and by the most disgraceful and cruel death, the death of the Cross. When He might have applied His merits to us in a thousand ways, He has chosen the most wonderful abasement, which has astonished heaven and all nations, as the means of doing so.
All this has been done in order to move our hearts, which are naturally grateful for the least benefit, and the smallest mark of friendship. Birth under circumstances of the greatest poverty, a laborious and obscure life, a Passion loaded with insults, an infamous and painful death, are wonders that overpower us: and they are all the effects of the love which Jesus has for us.
Have we ever well conceived the greatness of the benefit of our Redemption? and if so, is it possible that we should be only ordinarily grateful for such a benefit? The sin of our first Parent has, indeed, drawn down upon us great evils, and has deprived us of great benefits. But can we look upon Jesus Christ in the manger, upon the Cross, or in the Blessed Eucharist, without acknowledging that our losses have been repaired with advantage? That the blessings which we have gained by our Redemption are at least equivalent to the privileges which man enjoyed in his state of innocence.
The character of universal Redeemer is no less powerful a motive to oblige us to love Him. All were dead, says the Apostle, by the sin of Adam, and Jesus Christ has died for all. No one has been able to preserve himself from the contagion of so great an evil. The whole world has felt the effect of so powerful a remedy.
Our loving Saviour has given all His blood, for the infidel who knows him not, and for the heretic who will not believe in Him, as well as for those who, whilst they believe in Him, yet refuse to love Him. How infinite is the value of His Blood! How great a Saviour; and how abundant a Redemption! Jesus Christ has not been satisfied with paying the debts we had contracted. He has prevented all those which we might have contracted in future. He has paid, so to speak, in advance, before they have been incurred. To this we must add those powerful helps, those great graces, those signal favours which He heaps on faithful souls, and by which He sweetens and renders palatable every thing that is bitter and painful in our existence.
My God! Didst Thou but grant us the grace to understand this excess of mercy, could it be possible that we should not be moved, and love Jesus Christ with our whole hearts? Our Blessed Saviour is, indeed, most worthy of our love, for having redeemed us by so difficult a means. But is He not still more amiable, for having done so, though compelled to it only by His immense charity, and by the desire He had to oblige us to love Him, by such striking proofs of His most ardent love?
We are utterly unworthy of being redeemed at so high a price. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ Himself has so valued us, that He has spontaneously offered this excessive Redemption for us. And after all this, shall we not love Him?
But we must remember that, however great and ineffable is all that our Lord has done for our salvation, the love which has led Him to do it is still greater than all, because it is infinite — and as if this love could not be satisfied, so long as there remained a miracle it had not wrought, He institutes the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, the sum of all His wonders. He truly lives with us until the end of the world. He gives Himself to us, under the appearances of bread and wine. He makes His flesh and blood the nourishment of our souls, in order to unite Himself more closely to us, or rather to unite us more closely to Him.
Can we then be possessed of reason, and not be deeply moved at the mere recital of this marvel? Can we still retain any feeling of humanity, and not be all inflamed with love for Jesus Christ, at the sight of such a benefit? A God feels tenderness for man, takes delight in him, and is solicitous about him! A God desires to unite Himself to us, and desires it to such an extent as to annihilate and immolate Himself daily, and to wish that we should feed upon Him every day, without being in the least changed, either by the indifference, the disgust, or the contempt of those who never receive Him, or by the coldness and the faults of those who receive Him often! Finally, He remains upon our Altars, shut up within the Tabernacle, and this every day, and at all hours of the day. Are not these manifest proofs of the love which Jesus Christ has for us? Are they not motives powerful enough to oblige us to love Him? Ungrateful as we are, since it is for us alone that all these wonders have been wrought, what are we to think? Does not Jesus Christ, dwelling on our Altars, deserve to be honoured by us? Does He not shew us love sufficient to merit a return of love? Woe and anathema to him, who, after all this, does not love Jesus Christ.
To say the truth, said a great servant of God, could anything shake my faith in the Blessed Eucharist, I should not doubt of the infinite power which Almighty God displays therein, but rather of the excessive love which God shows towards us. How what was bread, becomes flesh, without ceasing to appear bread: how the Body of Jesus Christ is at the same time in several places: how He can be contained in an almost indivisible space: to all these wonders I have nothing to answer, but that God can do all things. But if I am asked, how can it be, that God can love a creature so weak and miserable as man; and that He can love him ardently and to such an excess: that He can love him as He has loved him: I confess that I have no other answer to give, but that this is a truth which is above my comprehension: that the love which Jesus Christ bears us, is an excessive love, an ineffable love, an incomprehensible love, a love which ought to cause admiration and surprise in every reasonable man.
I do not know what power these reflections may have in moving the faithful at the present day. But they have so deeply moved even the most savage and barbarous nations, that they have been heard to cry out, at the mere recital of some of these wonders: What a good God is the God of the Christians! He is a great benefactor, and He is worthy of love! Who can help loving a God, who loves us so passionately? These reflections, and the desire of making some return to a Saviour, who loves us with so much tenderness, and of shewing Him some gratitude, have filled cloisters with religious, and deserts with vast numbers of holy solitaries who dedicated and consecrated themselves to the praise and love of Jesus Christ.
However reasonable such a mark of gratitude may be, it is not required of all. They are exhorted, not entirely to forget Jesus Christ, who has wrought the greatest of miracles, only to satisfy His excessive desire of remaining with them; to have a little more feeling for the outrages which the excessive love of Jesus Christ, for them, causes Him to endure; in fine, to be at least as grateful to Jesus Christ, who loves them so constantly, and who has done for them more wonders than they can comprehend; to be as grateful to Him as they are towards men, who are ready to sacrifice their best friends to the least of their own interests.
Now a devotion which tends only to inspire this gratitude to Jesus Christ, and is in itself, properly speaking, only a continual exercise of a perfectly grateful love, is it not a reasonable devotion? Is it not just to seek to gain some love for Jesus Christ, especially at a time when He is so little loved? There is little love for Him in the world, which has little sense of His benefits, in which His counsels are so little followed, and His maxims so greatly disparaged. There is little love for Him at a time, in which there is nothing but indifference for His Person, and all the gratitude and respect which are shown Him, may be generally reduced to a few prayers and ceremonies, which degenerate through custom into mere affectation, at a time when His Divine presence causes weariness, and His precious Body, disgust.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – Have Mercy on us!
Why We Should Love the Sacred Heart – Fr John Croiset SJ
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