02 June 2016
The ever-multiplying Divine Mercy painting does little to inspire me
Because the people of the ancient world could feel their heart beat, and see it move, and they knew that when it stopped people died, then they believed that the heart rather than the brain controlled the body. Understandably in this pre-scientific world, the heart was given mystical properties.
Even today we talk about people who have “big, good or full hearts”, are “warm or broken hearted” or are “heartless”. These metaphorical uses of the word point to a presence or an absence of love. The best continuing example of this tradition is St Valentine’s Day, an obscure Roman martyr whose feast day took over a pagan festival of love.
There is another celebration associated with a heart this week: Friday is the feast day known formally as the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. St Margaret Mary Alacoque is credited with popularising the Sacred Heart, but the devotion certainly pre-dates her. It is described as early as the eleventh century and recorded in the visions and writings of many holy men and women thereafter, including Gertrude, Mechtilde, Francis de Sales, Francis Borgia and John Eudes.
Almost always, large-scale public devotions in our Church rise to counter a theological position. When St Margaret Mary had her religious experiences, France was in the grip of the Jansenist heresy. Among many other things, Jansenism placed great emphasis on individual responsibility for sin, and the difficulty of obtaining Christ’s mercy, whose true humanity was played down.
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