During his 25 year reign as Pope, Leo XIII penned 85 encyclicals, but he issued what he thought the most important, Annum Sacrum, in May of 1899. In it, he proposed consecration to the Sacred Heart as perhaps the most effective means to stemming the tide of secularism that had engulfed much of the world. He thought that no one could stop this except “Him by whose strength alone they can be driven away. Who can He be but Jesus Christ the Only-begotten Son of God?”(Annum Sacrum (AS), 11). He compared modern times to those of the early Church when “immediately succeeding her institution, was oppressed beneath the yoke of the Caesars, a young Emperor saw in the heavens a cross, which became at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious victory that soon followed. And now, today, behold another blessed and heavenly token is offered to our sight-the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendor amidst flames of love. In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.” (AS, 12). Certainly the tide has risen that much higher since he wrote these words and his remedy for the most part has been left untried. Ultimately, whether we acknowledge it or not, there is a battle going on. It is not a battle between liberals and conservatives or Capitalists and Communists or any other groups of men but a battle between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of Satan. All of us must decide under which standard we will fight and who will be our King. Secularism says “we have no king but Caesar” while Christians must fight to restore the rightful King, Christ, to His throne. But what does the Sacred Heart have to do with this? Is it little more than a convenient symbol to place on the Standard of Christ like Constantine’s Cross?
One of the earliest secularist projects was undertaken by Benedict Spinoza in the 17th Century. He thought society was made up of “human pyramid” of sorts where the population is made up of three distinct classes. There were the intellectual elite (who happened to be materialists), followed by a larger group of experts who are scientifically minded but without the same intellectual capacity of the first group and then the masses of stupid and vulgar people devoid of reason and governed by superstition. He posited that throughout history the pyramid has been inverted because of the Church and if we can eliminate the Church then the pyramid will go right side up. But he was smart enough to realize that a “church” was still necessary for the vulgar masses because they will always be superstitious. He sought to build a secular church to fill this void. Elimination of the Bible was also impossible and so he attempted to insert experts to help read and interpret the Bible (this makes him the “patron saint” of modern biblical criticism). All of this leads to a State that does not define doctrine but only seeks to undermine the Church’s authority by promoting a single doctrine, namely that everyone has a right to believe whatever he wants. By maximizing the right to believe whatever you want this ultimately maximizes the power of the secular state because they will be needed to protect those rights (see Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise for more detail).
The point of bringing up Spinoza is that the secularist project has been directly responsible for distorting the true image of Christ. He is viewed as a soft, effeminate, political revolutionary who shunned all authority. How nicely this fits with the ideal citizen of the world. It is only through contemplation of the Sacred Heart that a true knowledge of Christ can be obtained. Otherwise we always risk making Christ into “my Jesus.”
This is why I have never personally liked the “What Would Jesus Do?”(WWJD) principle. It is entirely the wrong principle for us to guide our lives. Jesus could do so much more than I because He was no mere man. Even if it is a really long acronym and would probably require a necklace instead of a bracelet we should be governed by “With What Spirit Would Jesus Do It?” (WWSWJDI). It is this incarnated spirit that we are trying to have permeate all our actions. That simply does not happen as long as we project our own mediocrity and petty concerns onto Him. Coming to live within the Sacred Heart we break out of this self-imposed prison of mediocrity and allow ourselves to be elevated to His level.
But still, why the Sacred Heart and not just Jesus Himself? This has to do with our human nature and the manner in which we love. All too often we hear “you don’t need to feel love for love is an act of the will.” This is not entirely true. A love that is only an act of the will is not a complete love. In fact it can be cold. But a love that includes not just the will but affections too is a more complete love. This is why we speak of the heart as the seat of our love—it contains both the will and the affections. This, at least, is what Scripture means when it speaks of the heart.
The point is that we often project our suspicions about affections onto Christ and we think of His love as being somewhat cold towards us. But this is the exact opposite of how He loves. His heart (i.e. His will and His affectivity) is literally on fire with love for each one of us. It is through the revelation of the Sacred Heart that He is reminding us of this. When we love a person and long for a return of our love, it is really the heart of the other person that we want to call ours. This is what Christ is offering us in the Sacred Heart. Jesus is not just saying “I love you” but says “I give you my heart.” Which stirs your own heart more?
To give someone your heart is a deeply personal act and reflects the personal love Jesus has for each one of us more clearly. Read the story of the raising of Lazarus to catch a glimpse of the depth of Christ’s personal love. John, because he was the “disciple whom Jesus loved” says “Now Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus” (11:5) to show not that God loves everyone (how many times have we heard that and not been moved?) but that in Christ there is a deep personal love for me.
When he established the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Pius XI said that the reign of Christ would be accomplished through His Sacred Heart. It is the one who “has loved mankind so much” that desires to reign over us. More accurately, it is the One Who has given us His Heart that desires us to reign with Him. No wonder evil forces are at work trying to rob us of our rightful inheritance.
Consecration then is our response. By consecrating ourselves to the Sacred Heart we pledge that even if we were our own and under His reign then we would still give ourselves to Him. It is an exchange of hearts. As Leo XIII puts it, “For by consecrating ourselves to Him we not only declare our open and free acknowledgment and acceptance of His authority over us, but we also testify that if what we offer as a gift were really our own, we would still offer it with our whole heart. We also beg of Him that He would vouchsafe to receive it from us, though clearly His own.” (AS, 7).
What does this consecration consist in? There are a number of ways this can be expressed, but the most efficacious is through the Enthronement (i.e. put Christ on His rightful throne) of the image of the Sacred Heart. This practice flows from the appearance of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1673-75) when He revealed the Sacred Heart as a sign of His infinite love for us mankind.
He specifically asked that homes be consecrated to His Sacred Heart as a sign of His reigning through the Church, from His throne in the Tabernacle. This link between the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist is vitally important to capturing the true spirit of devotion. The Eucharist is viewed as the fruit of the Sacred Heart itself because it flowed out from Christ’s side when His Heart was pierced on the Cross. Because of this link between the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist, the whole purpose of the devotion is to extend the grace of the Eucharist into the Christian home and from the Christian home into the rest of the society.
Practically, this Enthronement includes an act of consecration whereby all members of the household place themselves totally within the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and ask that His Heart be the source of healing and strength for their poor and wounded hearts. By placing the image of the Sacred Heart in a prominent place in the home it is both an acknowledgement of Christ as rightful King and a sign of the family’s consecration. By the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart, we link the tabernacle to our home, inviting our Lord to be our constant and most intimate companion. The Enthronement becomes a way of life. It means that Christ is also King of our hearts, and His presence as Prince of Peace in our homes changes family life. Cardinal Burke wrote an excellent reflection that encourages Enthronement and provides instruction and I would encourage anyone who is interested in pursuing it further to access them here. You can also contact me if you need information on where to get an Enthronement kit.
O, Sacred Heart of Jesus filled with infinite love and broken by our ingratitude and crushed by our sins, accept the consecration we make to thee of all that we are and all that we have.