The Two Hearts and the Rosary

sacredheartThis past Friday and Saturday we celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  These feasts go together: the fruit of the Heart of Jesus is the Heart of Mary, the source of Mary’s heart is Jesus’.

But before we speak of these two hearts, we should speak of Jesus’ own two hearts.  The Sacred Heart itself is a celebration of the union of God’s heart with man’s.  The Sacred Heart is God’s heart beating in man’s, or man’s heart beating in God’s.  

This is the mystery of grace: the love of God poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5).  St. Thomas makes a kind of analogy of grace.  He speaks of the Incarnation as “the grace of union,” distinct from but analogous with sanctifying grace.  Sanctifying grace enters our hearts to unite us to God.  The grace of union is the deepest reality of Jesus.  

They are different, as the difference of being Son of God by nature and son by adoption.  In the case of Jesus, it is inseparable from who he is; in our case, a change must come about, and it can be undone.  

But they are similar, for in each case it is the union of God and man.  What happens in the heart of Jesus is what Jesus desires for us.  What happens in the heart of Jesus is what happens in the heart of Mary: God’s love poured into our hearts, total union of God and man.


The rosary is a kind of meditation on this union of the two hearts.  It is a meditation, first, on the life of Jesus, of God’s love in the human life of Jesus — and most deeply, in his human heart.  But it is a meditation, second, on Mary’s participation in these mysteries.  What happens in the heart of Jesus is what happens in the heart of Mary.

In the Eastern Church, they constantly rediscover the icon of the face of Christ, even tracing its outline with their fingers.  In the rosary, we retrace the face of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, rediscovering over and over again his mystery, which is the mystery that he recreates in us.


The Hail Mary is a meditation on the mystery of the two hearts.  It has three acts, tracing three directions in the relation between these two hearts.

The first act commemorates the action of Jesus’s divine heart on Mary: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”  What does it mean to say Mary is full of grace?  It means that the Lord is with her.  Praying this prayer alongside the mysteries of the rosary, we see the heart of the Lord who is with her.  The Lord – the Lord whose heart is on the cross, or in agony in the garden, or rising to heaven, or making wine at Cana, etc. – that Lord, is with Mary.  

The fruit of his presence is that his heart is impressed on hers.  That is what “full of grace” means: he is with her, and acts on her.  And what he brings about is a re-creation of his heart in hers.


immaculateheartThe second act commemorates the similarity of the two hearts: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”  His blessing is her blessing.  And she is truly blessed.  She has all the riches that humanity can receive, the riches that set her above all her kind.  And that is the blessing of the one who, as fruit of her womb, shares in her nature.  He too, her child, has all the riches of humanity.  The two hearts are alike.

(Again and again, as we trace the faces of Jesus and Mary, we turn to their hearts, their innermost depths: that is where they are truly similar.)


Finally, the third act commemorates Mary asking Jesus to share this favor with us:  “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the heart of our death.”  She prays for us, asks God’s blessing on us.  

But what blessings does she ask for?  Well, she is holy – conformed to Jesus.  Because her heart is like his, she asks for the blessings that he considers blessings, the blessings of the heart of Jesus.  

That is why we, who are sinners, so close to death, ask her to pray – because as sinners, we tend to ask for the wrong blessings, so forgetful of the hour of our death and focused on things that do not endure.  She who is holy asks for the blessings of the heart of Jesus.  

And as his mother, mother of God, she has, not power over him, but influence – the influence he chose to give her, in uniting his divine heart to a human heart, becoming her child.

In the mysteries of the rosary, we trace over and over the face of Jesus, the heart of Jesus – the heart he gives to Mary, giving her true likeness to his heart, so that she can beg the same blessing for us.

What do the two hearts mean to you?

Second Sunday of Easter: The Mediation of Mercy and the Sacred Heart of Jesus


ACTS 5:12-16; PS 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; REV 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; JN 20:19-31

The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, a new feast created by St. John Paul II, in response to a call by St. Faustina Kowalska. It is a wonderful feast – but it takes some unpacking.

It should be said, first, that feasts do not come from one visionary alone. Take the Sacred Heart. People associate devotion to the Sacred Heart with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a nun in France in the seventeenth century. She did indeed call for such a feast.

But she didn’t make it up. Devotion to the Sacred Heart was already important in the Middle Ages. And the Church didn’t accept it merely because Margaret Mary said so. It was providing insight into the needs of the time – more on that in a minute. This doesn’t mean Margaret Mary is bad or unimportant – in fact, it points out that Margaret Mary had both a great grasp of the Tradition and an inspired eye for the needs of her time. She is a great saint – but she is a great saint because she was not suggesting wild ideas.

Similarly, St. Faustina has important insights that we should hear. But those insights are important not because she made them up, but because she didn’t. And the Church’s articulation of those insights take them beyond St. Faustina, into the teaching of the Church. Divine Mercy is the Church’s feast, not just St. Faustina’s. That’s why St. Faustina is a saint: because she preaches the Catholic truth.


Now, there is reason to be hesitant about the Divine Mercy devotion, if not rightly understood.

The key problem is abstraction. Divine Mercy has in many ways supplanted devotion to the Sacred Heart. But the Sacred Heart focused on the person of Jesus, particularly the union between his divinity and humanity. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is not abstract, it is personal and it is intensely incarnational.

Divine Mercy, by itself, runs the risk of becoming an abstraction. To be specific, the danger is that “mercy,” apart from Christ, can lead us to think that our conversion doesn’t matter. People tend to think that mercy means God overlooks our sins. To the contrary, God’s mercy is in healing us and converting us.

The Sacred Heart, being so intensely human, reminds us that God’s mercy restores our humanity. It reminds us of the need to love. It reminds us of the humanity of Jesus, and of his virtues. We pray, “make our hearts like unto thine” – which is the right understanding of mercy, the opposite of God just overlooking our sin.

It is important that our devotion to Divine Mercy maintain this incarnational, human element.


St. Faustina, of course, helps us. Her image of Divine Mercy (above) shows that Divine Mercy is a commentary on the Sacred Heart, and on the sacraments – not a replacement for them. In the image, Jesus does not overlook us, he looks intently on us – and the sacraments pour forth from his Sacred Heart to heal our sins and unite us to his glory.

St. Faustina also gives us the Divine Mercy chaplet, which reminds us of “his sorrowful passion,” the pouring out of his Heart on the Cross, and of the Eucharist, “the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son.”

And underlining it all are the words, “Jesus I trust in you.” St. Faustina does not let us turn Divine Mercy into an abstraction. It is another insight into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.


So too the Mass that the Church gives us. The Feast is placed on the octave of Easter Sunday. As Pope Francis has said, it is thereby “dedicated to the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.” Like the image, it points us not into abstraction but into Easter.

The reading from Acts tells us of grace mediated by the apostles, as Peter’s shadow brings healing to the humanity of the sick. The second reading, from Revelation, has us falling before the feet of him who “was dead, but now [is] alive forever and ever” – embracing the feet of the Risen Lord. And the Gospel has Doubting Thomas probing the wounds of the Risen Christ and the Apostles given the ministry of Confession: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” “Peace be with you.”

The Divine Mercy comes to us through the sacraments of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mercy is no abstraction, it is union with Christ, crucified and alive.

What does the Heart of Christ teach you about Divine Mercy?

The Sacred Heart and the Filioque

Holy Trinity, Rublev

Holy Trinity, Rublev

As we considered Pentecost and the Feast of the Holy Trinity, we thought a little about the Filioque.  In the original, Greek version of the Creed, they said the Holy Spirit, “proceeds from the Father; with the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.”  But in the Latin Church we add Filioque, and the Son: “proceed from the Father and from the Son.”

Today we can consider how this Latin-Church insight goes together with the Sacred Heart.

The simple point is this: the Holy Spirit pours out to us from the Heart of Jesus.


Consider some really simple line-drawings of the Trinity.  Sometimes people seem to think the Trinity is kind of like this:


/          \

Son     Holy Spirit

Sometimes people seem to think that the Holy Spirit is an alternate way to God.  Then we sort of end up with a “conservative” Son-religion and a “liberal” Spirit-religion, in tension with one another.  There are those who think you need the Son, and all the dogmatic baggage he brings with him – and those who think you just need the Holy Spirit, who frees us from the Son.

This can cut various ways.  For some people, the Son-religion seems to be the religion of judgment and rules, and the Spirit-religion is the religion of no rules.  But an interesting reverse side of this is that sometimes the Son-religion seems like the religion of mercy, and the Spirit-religion leaves you to do it yourself.


Well, neither of these are right.  (And I don’t think the Eastern Orthodox who deny Rome’s right to add the Filioque to the Creed would be happy with these alternatives, either.)

First, the Holy Trinity is inseparable.  That’s kind of the central point of the Trinity: not three gods but one.  You cannot have the Son without the Spirit, or the Spirit without the Son, or the Father without both.  Thinking through the details of this is tricky, but basic simple orthodoxy has to realize that Father-Son-Holy Spirit is a package deal.

Second, the Son and the Spirit are inseparable.  In fact, we don’t follow the Son-religion or the Spirit-religion, we follow the Christian religion.  But in the early Church (especially the Greek-speaking Church: “Christos” is a Greek word) it was clear that the “Christ” is the “anointed one” (in Hebrew, Messiah), and what he is anointed with is the Holy Spirit.  This is one of the main points of John Paul II’s encyclical on the Holy Spirit Dominum et Vivificantem.  To call him Christ is to see the Holy Spirit as the one who dwells on the Incarnate Son, and the Incarnate Son as the one on whom the Holy Spirit dwells.


So our picture could instead be something like:

Father -> Son -> Holy Spirit

This still isn’t exactly right, but it’s a lot better.  (And again, it’s something the Eastern Orthodox would be perfectly happy with.)

The Holy Spirit is our gift from the Son – poured out from the pierced Heart of Jesus – and what the Holy Spirit does is to draw us into union with the Son.  And this is the only path to the Father: we know the Father precisely and only by receiving the Spirit from the Son, and receiving union with the Son through union with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the outpouring of the heart of Christ.  He is the Spirit of Christ.  We could even in a sense say the Holy Spirit is the heart of Christ.


The Incarnation, particularly the Sacred Heart of Jesus, shows us the glory of the Spirit.  Without the Sacred Heart, Spirit-religion can be a bit vague.  But the glory of the Spirit is precisely that he can make us as deeply human as the Son.  The heart of Jesus is the pattern that the Holy Spirit works in us, the image of our own “spiritual” transformation.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t just make us vaguely “spiritual”; he makes our hearts like unto Jesus’s.

And the Holy Spirit shows us the glory of the Sacred Heart.  Jesus is not just a guy who loves a lot.  Without the Holy Spirit, or at least, without a clear sense divinity resting on Jesus, we can fall into the mirror heresies of Arianism and Pelagianism.  Arianism means Jesus isn’t really God – orthodox people know that’s not right.

But Pelagianism is the sneaking suspicion that we’re supposed to make ourselves righteous (with its own converse, that Jesus is somehow an excuse that we don’t have to be righteous); I think orthodox people are much more susceptible to this heresy.  Thinking of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Heart of Jesus, reminds us that it is only God who makes us holy.  It is always a gift of God.

At least for us, the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son, Filioque.  To perfect our understanding of this, we need only to add that so it was in the beginning, and ever shall be.

Do you ever find yourself thinking of Jesus without the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit without Jesus?




“Friday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost”: The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Resting-on-Heart-of-Christ Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The dating of the feast, “the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost,” is a bit obscure. But following the logic of last week’s meditation on the feast of Corpus Christi, we can see how profound this liturgical celebration is.

All of life radiates out from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. Through the Easter season we celebrate the joy of Christ’s victory. Beginning at Ascension, the fortieth day, we enter into the novena of the Holy Spirit. Christ has gone to heaven only to radiate his presence, his Spirit, into his Church. The pair Ascension-Pentecost celebrates this fulfillment: he ascends precisely to make the Church itself his body, enlivened by his Spirit.

The octave of Pentecost, the pair Pentecost-Holy Trinity, leads us into the heart of our divinization. The Spirit we are given at Pentecost is the Spirit of the Trinity, the Spirit who is one with the Father and the Son, who is himself the oneness of the Father and the Son.

Holy Trinity is important as the completion of Pentecost, because the doctrine of the Trinity is precisely the teaching that the Christ who saves us and the Spirit he gives us are nothing less than one with the Father. The Father gives us nothing less than unity with himself.

Holy Trinity means the Spirit is one with Christ: nothing less than his own Spirit. And Holy Trinity means Christ and the Spirit are one with the Father – and so too our redemption is nothing less than being brought into full union with the Father. Anything less than this is less than the true Gospel: he gives us nothing less.


But we are still celebrating the Paschal mystery of his Cross and Resurrection. We are celebrating its radiating out, celebrating our being drawn into the Cross at Pentecost.

Immediately after the octave of Pentecost, we begin our celebration of Corpus Christi. As we said last week, Corpus Christi is the very first Thursday after we finish that celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit. As soon as we are able, we return to Holy Thursday, and we recall that the night before he died, Jesus gave us precisely the gift of union with himself, and particularly union with him on the Cross. This celebration continues the celebration of the radiance of Christ. He gives himself to us so that we can be united to him.

Corpus Christi, too, gets its octave, its full week – and then the very next opportunity we get, the Friday after that week-long meditation on Christ giving us union with himself through the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, immediately we celebrate the next aspect: the Friday of the Sacred Heart. The timing, “Friday after the second Sunday,” etc., is not so obscure after all. Except that we might call it, “the very first Friday after Corpus Christi, which is the very first Thursday after the octave of Pentecost.”


This Friday is the “next step” in two ways. First of all, we are walking again through Holy Week – though this time focusing on its most central results for us, instead of on Jesus’s own experience of it. Now that we have completed the celebration of Easter-Pentecost, we spend a week on Holy Thursday – and the very next day, we enter into Good Friday.

Just as Corpus Christi is on a Thursday to draw us into the unity between the Eucharist and the Last Supper, the Sacred Heart is on a Friday to show that this is all about Good Friday: Christ on the Cross. We enter into the wound in Christ’s side, the wound in his heart.

St.-Gertrude-the-Great-3-231x300The Sacred Heart took off as a liturgical feast after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century. But it rests on earlier medieval devotions. In the wondrous thirteenth century, St. Gertrude envisioned laying her head near the wounded heart of Jesus, as St. John had laid his head on the breast of Jesus the night before he died, and entering into the passion of his love.


In a second sense, this Friday is another step, not through Holy Week, but into our ordinary time. From the Eucharist, we enter into the love of Jesus. This is the culmination. This is what it’s all about: Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Eucharist. It all culminates in becoming one with his loving heart.

How could we spend some time near the heart of our loving Savior?