Defending Devotion to the Sacred Heart | Timothy T. O'Donnell, S.T.D. | Introduction to Heart of the Redeemer
I have attempted not so much to speak with authority of things that I know, as to seek to know them by speaking about them with reverence. -- St. Augustine, De Trinitate, I v. 8
In our inquiry into the devotion to the Sacred Heart and its perennial value, it is best to begin with a proper understanding of what is meant by devotion. St. Thomas Aquinas defines devotion as a willingness "to give oneself readily to what concerns the service of God" (Summa, II-II, q. 82 a. 1). Accordingly, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus appears essentially as a worship of and a response to the Person of Christ as viewed from the perspective of His divine and human love which is manifested through His sacred humanity and is symbolized by His wounded physical Heart. In his masterful encyclical, Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII gives the following definition of this devotion:
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by its very nature is a worship of the love with which God, through Jesus, loved us, and at the same time, an exercise of our love by which we are related to God and to other men.
From this definition it can be seen that authentic devotion to the Sacred Heart is not merely an optional set of pious practices (which may be very helpful) but an essential element of the Christian way of life. All Christians are called to the comprehension of certain truths concerning God and to a response in love to them. In living a life in imitation of Christ, as found in the Gospels and taught by the Church, the Christian should use all the spiritual aids offered to him by God. He should fill his life with an ever growing and deepening love for God and his fellow man. Every Christian will build his own unique spirituality upon this common foundation, which should include a response to the Heart of Christ that gives honor to the divine love and is offered for the sake of that love.
It would be accurate to say that by the middle of the twentieth century the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had universally triumphed throughout the Church. Everywhere in the world, churches, monasteries and congregations were to be found dedicated to the Sacred Heart. In virtually every Catholic church one would find a statue of our Lord revealing his Heart. Large numbers of the faithful gathered on every continent for First Friday devotions, the Holy Hour and other pious practices associated with the devotion. This triumphal procession, however, was not welcomed in all quarters and the devotion began to draw criticism from some Catholic theologians who began to question certain aspects of these devotional exercises. Some outside, and even within, the Church questioned the theological foundation of the devotion.
Pope Pius XII was well aware of the objections which some were making to the devotion. It is because of these objections that the Holy Father wrote his encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and in it he exhorted the faithful to "a more earnest consideration of those principles which take their origin from Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers and theologians," which form the solid foundation for the worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Pope went on to call for and stress the importance of "a profound study of the primary and loftier nature of the devotion with the aid of the light of the divinely revealed truth" so that we may "rightly and fully appreciate its incomparable excellence and the inexhaustible abundance of its heavenly favors." The Holy Father ended his appeal by requesting a "devout medita- tion and contemplation" upon the benefits of the devotion.
After the publication of Haurietis Aquas, many books were written on the devotion. These works varied tremendously in size and quality. They included pious or devotional works, popular pamphlets, and mystical writings which described extraordinary supernatural experiences.