June has traditionally been associated with devotion to the Heart of Christ, because the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, on the 19th day after Pentecost, falls within the first few weeks of the month — this year on June 11.
It could be argued that, out of all God’s creatures, children are best disposed to understand and embrace the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Children, after all, understand what the heart means. It is a visual symbol that captures their imagination and conveys so much of what they want to say. Every child, no matter his cultural background or language, who presents his mother with a birthday card decorated in hand-drawn hearts means to say the same thing, even if he is too young to write it in words: “This heart means that I love you.”
And for all the pious acts associated with this earliest devotion to Christ’s Heart, the pages and pages of papal documents written on it, and the sometimes vastly different artistic representations of the concept, the devotion itself is very simple, said Fr. Jim Schroeder, SCJ:
It’s all about love.
“Returning love for love — that’s the devotion to the Sacred Heart, returning love to Jesus by loving others, especially those most needing love,” said Fr. Schroeder, a member of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, whose U.S. Province is headquartered in Hales Corners. Fr. Schroeder has studied for years the history and theology of the Sacred Heart devotion.
“Anytime we love and show love and return love in some way, we are practicing Sacred Heart devotion,” he said.
Therefore, it follows that devotion to the Heart of Jesus — which Pope Pius XII called “the most effective school of the love of God” in his 1956 encyclical Haurietis Aquas — is a wellspring of actual grace in family life, wherein members daily “lay down their lives” for one another in large and small ways alike. From a parent’s long hours at work earning income for the household, to the littlest child’s charitable action of cleaning up her toys, whatever is done out of love is done in imitation of Christ, whose pierced heart shows that he gave everything for love of us.
Reflecting on a statue or image of Jesus with the Sacred Heart exposed is a great conversation starter for parents and their children about how the love of God animates our own actions, said Fr. Schroeder.
“God has a real heart because Jesus is like us in everything but sin. It’s a big heart, and it shows how much he loves us,” he said. “He was willing to give us everything — his life and his very last drop of blood. He laid down his life for us and called us his friends.”
Expressing devotion to the Sacred Heart as a family is very simple, said Fr. Schroeder. There are many existing prayers and traditions for consecrations of families and homes to the Sacred Heart, but all that is really required is the willingness of the family members to dedicate themselves to the Heart of God.
“There’s no magic to this — these are acts of devotion, so there’s no set format,” said Fr. Schroeder. “And I think it’s best when it comes from your heart and from the children’s hearts.”
He suggests displaying an image or statue of the Sacred Heart in a central location of the home where the family will see it often. One of the adults can make a formal prayer, and explain to the children that “we are dedicating our family to God, and we’re going to tell him how much we love him every day and we’re going to try to love the way he wants us to love.”
“It’s a special new beginning when we’re going to have Jesus and his picture in our house, and we’re going to pray to him often and talk to him,” said Fr. Schroeder.
More tips for incorporating Sacred Heart devotion into family life:
— Renew the family’s commitment to the Sacred Heart as often as you wish. Parents and children can gather daily to express their love for Jesus and their desire to follow in his example, with each member considering how he returned love for love on this particular day.
— The family could consider distinguishing Fridays for special devotional practices, marking the day of the week that Christ sacrificed himself for our sake — perhaps even displaying the image or statue at family dinner.
— Make heart-shaped cookies or a heart-shaped cake to mark the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, depicting the Crown of Thorns and the mark where Christ’s Heart was pierced by the lance.
— As a family, do something for those most unloved: the poor, deprived or hated.