John Paul II on the Sacred Heart

“There can be no doubt that Pope John Paul II, among his many achievements, merits the title ‘Pope of the Sacred Heart’,” so claims Father Carl J. Moell, SJ in his remarkable book, Pope John Paul II: Holy Father, Sacred Heart (Herder & Herder, 2004). Father Moell has performed a tremendous service in collecting the many remarks by John Paul II on the topic of the Sacred Heart. He has organized, summarized  and explained the many remarks.

The span of time and venues, the variety of occasions, and the depth of his understanding make it impossible to provide anything by way of summary in this post. I shall offer a few remarks on some salient points.

Yet to be translated is the pastoral letter written in 1965 by Cardinal Wojtyla to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the feast of the Sacred Heart, first celebrated in Poland. Fr. Moell reports that he quotes his favorites invocation from the Litany of the Sacred Heart, “Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness.” Fr. Moell suggests that this invocation provides the best summary of John Paul II’s understanding of the significance of the Sacred Heart, and he points out that he will use that phrase “fountain of life and of holiness” to describe the Eucharist.

The importance of the Sacred Heart for John Paul II’s writing is indicated in his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis. In one of he key sections he writes: “The redemption of the world-this tremendous mystery of love in which creation is renewed is, at its deepest root, the fullness of justice in a human Heart-the Heart of the First-born Son-in order that it may become justice in the hearts of many human beings, predestined from eternity in the Firstborn Son to be children of God and called to grace, called to love.” Later he will speak of drawing from the treasury of wisdom and knowledge which  dwell in the Divine heart of the Redeemer. (1991) What do we learn from the Sacred Heart? “It is in the heart of Christ that the human heart learns to know the true and unique meaning of its life and destiny . .  receives the capacity of love.” (June 22 1990) For Divine mercy Sunday he said “The Sacred Heart has given us everything — redemption, salvation, sanctification.”

While in Poland in 1999 he commemorated the act of consecration by Leo XIII and he ed the Heart of Christ to the fountain of living water mentioned in the story of the woman at the well (read it here). Note the same staggering scope of the claim in this consecration — “Everything that God wanted to tell us about himself and about his love he placed in the Heart of Jesus, and by means of that Heart he has told us everything. We find ourselves before an inscrutable mystery. In Jesus’ Heart we read the eternal divine plan of the world’s salvation. It is a plan of love.”

He then advises his audience to meditate on the woman at the well to get a better understanding of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (cf. Jn 4:1-14) — “Jesus is the source; it is from him that divine life in man finds its beginning. To have this life, we need only approach him and remain in him. And what is this life if not the beginning of human holiness, the holiness which is in God and which man can reach with the help of grace? All of us wish to drink from the divine Heart, which is the source of life and holiness.”

There is summary line proposed by Fr Moell as the key to his understanding of the Sacred Heart. John Paul continues his homily with a discussion of righteousness and the ten commandments. He then concludes as follows:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is the source of life, since by means of it victory over death was achieved. It is also the source of holiness, since in it sin — the enemy of man’s spiritual development — is defeated. The Heart of the Lord Jesus is the starting-point of the holiness of each one of us. From the Heart of the Lord Jesus let us learn the love of God and understanding of the mystery of sin — mysterium iniquitatis.Let us make acts of reparation to the Divine Heart for the sins committed by us and by our fellow men. Let us make reparation for rejecting God’s goodness and love. Let us draw close each day to this fount from which flow springs of living water. Let us cry out with the Samaritan woman “Give us this water”, for it wells up to eternal life.

In the exhortation of penance and reconciliation he also speaks of the mystery of sin, ignored or denied by so many in contemporary society.

Also in June 1999, during his trip to Poland, he wrote a letter officially commemorating the encyclical of Leo XIII on the consecration to the Sacred Heart. (Read it here) He reconfirms the significance of the act and the importance placed upon it by Paul VI and other pontiffs. He connets the Sacred Heart to divine mercy and to the work of Vatican II. And he points to its significance for the new millenium and the new evangelization: “from the Heart of Christ crucified is born the new humanity redeemed from sin. The man of the year 2000 needs Christ’s Heart to know God and to know himself; he needs it to build the civilization of love.”And “In facing the challenge of the new evangelization, the Christian who looks upon the Heart of Christ and consecrates himself as well as his brothers and sisters to him, the Lord of time and history, rediscovers that he is the bearer of his light.”

Fr. Moell correctly states that this letter on Leo XIII is a great summary of the devotion and spirituality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus..

1 Comment
  1. On Divine Mercy Sunday I heard a wonderfully enlightening sermon about apparitions and their historical timing. The priest began with the apparition of the Sacred Heart by St. Margaret Mary. This is a very brief condensation of his idea ( and it extended to St. Faustina and Divine Mercy) which was the increasing medieval emphasis on punishment rather than Mercy and the later emphasis on the depravity of man (as in Jansensim). It is so obvious once viewed that way, but I never had done so. Our Precious Lord wants us to be God fearing, but He wants our love and He wants us to know how much He loves us. This gives a whole new outlook on apparitions as they occur in historical time. Thanks so much for bringing the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the front and center of our prayer life.

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