What are these Catholic Hearts all about?

by Desirae Sifuentes

Peering at the holy hearts for the first time, I knew they were beautiful, but I wasn’t sure what they meant. I immediately thought of Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” which used the Immaculate Heart of Mary (sans sword and blood) in its marketing, but clearly these were not merely pop culture decorations. As an art aficionado, I decided to reflect on them and see what they said to me: what were the holy hearts trying to communicate?

The Sacred Heart of Jesus was easy to pinpoint, with the cross emerging from the flames at the top of the heart. The flames spoke of a white-hot intensity: His love for His Father, and for us, an affection rooted in His very heart. His heart is wounded and bleeding for us, and the crown of thorns encasing it brings us full circle back to His Passion and his humility.

In like manner burning with love is the Immaculate Heart of Mary, denoting her deep love for us and her Son. Roses surround her heart, symbolizing her purity, immaculate conception, and perfect sinlessness. The mother's heart also bleeds and is pierced in sorrow at her Son’s suffering.

Uniformly, the Most Chaste Heart of St. Joseph burns with love for God. His heart is unpierced, as he was spared from being present at Calvary. White lilies illustrate his purity, with three blooms symbolizing the Holy Trinity.

Now with some understanding of these hearts and what they tell us, we can better absorb their purpose and understand their interconnectedness, and how they play into the catholic and secular themes in the month of June.

Catholics know June is known as the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus because the solemnity of the Sacred Heart is celebrated this month on the Friday after the Corpus Christi octave, or the Friday after the second Sunday after Pentecost. June was carefully selected for more than one reason, though.

Go back to 1673, when a French nun belonging to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in eastern France began receiving visions of Jesus. He appeared to Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque to reveal to her how He wanted Catholics to venerate His Sacred Heart. Jesus explained the incredible love He holds for humanity--a love that burns so strongly, His heart appears visible outside his chest, with the meaningful features of fire, blood, and His Passion.

Jesus revealed Sister Margaret Mary: “My Sacred Heart is so intense in its love for men, and for you in particular, that not being able to contain within it the flames of its ardent charity, they must be transmitted through all means.”

For a year and a half, Jesus continued to appear to Sister Margaret Mary, until June 16, 1675, when Jesus told Sister Margaret Mary to promote a feast honoring His Sacred Heart. He wanted people everywhere to engage in a devotion to His heart in reparation for the poor way mankind repays Him for His sacrifice. He said: “I ask of you that the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special feast to honor my heart, by communicating on that day and making reparation to it by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which it has received during the time it has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that my heart shall expand itself to shed in abundance the influence of its divine love upon those who shall thus honor it, and cause it to be honored.” By 1765, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus permeated France, and in 1856 it was expanded to the universal Church.

With this history, we can see why Jesus came forth with the Sacred Heart as He did. His love, passion, and woundedness are all highlighted in it, and those are the things He wants us to feel, remember, and repair. Similarly, Mary’s heart yields the wounds of our sins, which hurts her Son, and highlights her overwhelming love and fiat. Joseph’s heart, too, features His cooperation with God’s plan, and his willingness (though not sinless) to live in a manner pleasing to God, as we all can do.

Still, if Jesus died for our sins once and for all, and He saw every sin we would ever commit before doing so, why did He ask us to partake in this devotion? There are many good reasons. 

Devotions are a tangible practice for us. God doesn’t need them, per se, but they show our love and devotion for Him, and they are a means by which we can go deeper in our relationships with Him. These outward signs of inward faith are not only edifying for us, but for the souls that come to witness them, like our children, family, friends, coworkers, and so on. While Jesus died for our sins, He didn’t sanctify us in the process; He simply died so that we might have eternal life with Him in Heaven. Whether or not we get there is up to us. In our acts of reparation for the sins of others, we can right their wrongs, reuniting them with God once more. These reparative acts might benefit souls in purgatory, who are already working on their sins, or they might benefit souls still alive on earth who struggle with other sins, like pride.

In His goodness, we don’t perform these reparations to no avail for ourselves (although it would still be good if we did). Before ceasing His apparitions, Jesus gave 12 promises to those who venerate and promote this devotion. 

These are the promises the Sacred Heart of Jesus made to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
  2. I will give peace within their families.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
  5. I will abundantly bless all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners shall find in my heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall rise speedily to great perfection.
  9. I will bless those places wherein the image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and venerated.
  10. I will give priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
  11. Persons who propagate this devotion shall have their names eternally written in my heart.
  12. In the excess of the mercy of my heart, I promise you that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the first Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: They will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments, and my heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.