When people who recall the 1970s hear the words “love story,” they might conjure “Love Story” – the book by Erich Segal, the movie starring Ali McGraw, Ryan O’Neal, and the Francis Lai instrumental played at countless marriage ceremonies during that era.

KubickiFr. James KubickiIn “A Heart on Fire: Rediscovering Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus” (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Ind.), Jesuit Fr. James Kubicki has written what he termed “a love story,” drawing upon the association people make to those words and heart symbols in depicting love. 

“That’s why I bring in contemporary music and allusions to the heart symbol that we see all over and to say, if we’re so familiar with the symbol of the heart in our contemporary culture, why can’t it also be part of our spirituality?” the Milwaukee native said. “Why can’t that symbol speak to people today?”

National director of the Milwaukee-based Apostleship of Prayer since 2003, Fr. Kubicki hopes “A Heart on Fire” will attract those who are familiar with the devotion that dates to the 17th century, and those that are discovering it.

“Rediscover can be thought of as people who grew up with the devotion but who have let it slide or the church rediscovering, and so that would include people who never knew it. There’s a whole group, a couple of generations of people, to whom this would be completely new,” he said.

Personal relationship with Jesus

For those unfamiliar with devotion to the Sacred Heart, the priest said the book shows them “the benefits of this kind of spirituality.”

“It fits in very well with people going to college or in high school and meeting fervent evangelical Christians who will ask them, ‘Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?’” Fr. Kubicki said. “And this would be the Catholic version of a very deep, personal relationship with Jesus. And so the answer flowing from acquiring this devotion is, ‘Yes, I do.’”

Book signing
Jesuit Fr. James Kubicki will sign
copies of “A Heart on Fire,”
Saturday, June 16, 10 a.m.,
Marian Center, 3712 N. 92nd St., Milwaukee. Call (414) 464-7288.

After the Second Vatican Council, Sacred Heart devotions, like other devotions in the church, e.g., Mother of Perpetual Help, nearly disappeared from parishes. The priest said the council’s emphasis on the Eucharist might have left Catholics with the impression that there was a de-emphasis on personal devotion.

“The two need to go together, because if we don’t have a kind of personal relationship with Jesus, then, when we come to the celebration of the Mass, we’re asking to be entertained rather than to enter into the great mystery of the Eucharist,” Fr. Kubicki said. “If we don’t bring our hearts and heads to the celebration of the Mass, but approach it as a passive audience, then we’re not really celebrating the Eucharist.”

‘God’s devotion to us’

“A Heart on Fire,” according to the priest, is not necessarily something people will read cover to cover. Rather, he sees it as a resource, a reference book.

“If they wanted Scriptural references for the Litany (of the Sacred Heart), if they wanted suggestions for how to spend an hour in adoration, if they wanted a family consecration formation format, it’s got all of those things,” he said.

Fr. Kubicki noted that Catholics should understand who is devoted to whom.

“One of the most important points of the book, and I try to make this clear: It’s not our devotion; it’s God’s devotion to us, to which we respond,” he said. “So, depending on how aware we are of God’s devotion to us, our devotion will be small, or large; it will be consuming our whole life or it will be, ‘I’ll give you his little bit of time.’”

The priest illustrated his point with a nuptial image:

“There are two spouses, and one of them says, ‘What’s the minimal requirement for me to keep you happy?’ That marriage isn’t going to last. Or, ‘How far can I go before you’re going to be upset with me?’ That won’t last,” Fr. Kubicki said. “Love always asks, ‘What more can I do to show you my love?’ God says that to us: ‘How far do I need to go to prove my love to you? I’ve opened my arms and my heart on the cross. How do you respond?’ Our response should be, ‘Lord, what more can I do to return your love?’”

Words, action

The priest differentiated between “saying prayers” and “praying.”

“Some of the expressions of this devotion led to, ‘OK, I’m going to say these prayers, I’m going to pay my dues by going to nine first Friday Masses, I’m going to pray the litany, I’m going to consecrate my family, and then they’ll be safe,’” he said. “They’re very external. My hope with this was to say the very nature of the devotion is to go deeper in our own affective lives and to enter into the heart of Jesus through the word and sacrament.”

The priest said “A Heart on Fire,” which has sold more than 5,000 copies in its first month of publication, could help people grow in faith.

“Whatever helps you grow in this personal, heart-centered, deeply intimate relationship with Jesus will help you celebrate the Mass better, and participate better – not just with sitting and standing and kneeling and responding – but with your whole mind and heart engaged,” he said.

While devotions are often seen as individual practices, Fr. Kubicki referenced the 1965 song “What the World Needs Now is Love” in noting the communal nature of Sacred Heart devotions.

“My hope is that people would recover or find this devotion to the heart of Jesus, and through it have a deeper experience of the Eucharist so that they encounter the heart of Jesus when they hear the Word proclaimed at Mass, and that they are aware of receiving a new heart in Holy Communion,” he said. “And then that they go out and live lives that have been transformed by this encounter and communion with the Lord.”