To the Heart of the Matter

As you probably know, the Church dedicates the month of June to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Obviously, when we speak of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we necessarily - as devotees not only of the Sacred Heart, but also of the Divine Mercy - have to keep in mind the importance of not only loving Jesus, but also of loving one another. That entails engaging in works of mercy.

One of the spiritual works of mercy includes praying for the dead - and that's where we come in, we who are devoted to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. As Jesus calls us to love Him, He also calls us to love those people who have handed the faith on to us who are now, possibly, working out their final purification in Purgatory. They cannot help themselves. They need our assistance - our prayers. If we offer a plenary indulgence for them (see sidebar on back page), we will soon have a saint in Heaven standing ready to return the favor, so to speak, and to intercede for us. When we pray for the souls in Purgatory, when they get to Heaven, they will pray for us. What a great deal!

When I think specifically of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, my thoughts inevitably go to Rome and then to France.

First, Rome: the heart of Holy Mother Church. I think of Rome as the pulsating, living heart of Christ interpreted in stone - in churches and statuary - as a constant reminder of the call to prayer, of loving God, and loving neighbor. A particular Gothic church in Rome is among my favorites. And if you are ever in Rome, you must make it one of your must-see stops. You'll thank me later.

It's a short walk north from the Vatican along the Tiber River. The church, in English, is called the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Prati, or the Church of the Sacred Heart of the Suffrage. It is entrusted to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart.

I'm recommending this church because in one of the side rooms you'll discover a small, not-so-spectacular-seeming - but actually extraordinary - collection of artifacts that, together, comprise the Museum of the Poor Souls in Purgatory. The collection includes Bibles, tabletops, prayer books, and articles of clothing singed like a scorched-iron burn, some marks in the shape of hands. They are believed to be signs left behind by souls in Purgatory. In each instance, a soul visited a living person to ask for prayers for his or her release from Purgatory.

For instance, one can see the mark left on Margherite Demmerle's copy of The Imitation of Christ by her mother-in-law in 1815. The deceased relative was said to have appeared to Margherite and requested that two Masses be said for her for her release from Purgatory.

Then, there's an apron of note. As the story goes, on Oct. 13, 1696, the deceased Sr. Mary Clare Schoelers, a victim of the plague of 1637, appeared to Sr. Mary Herendorps and left the burn mark of her hand on her apron.

Quite a place, this little museum. Every time Holy Mother Church reminds us of the importance of loving God, she also gives us a reminder of the importance of loving our neighbors, and in this case, in this church, it couldn't be any clearer that our neighbors includes the souls in Purgatory.

Next, my mind turns to France. It's interesting that when we think of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we think about St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), the French nun and mystic to whom Jesus appeared and revealed His Heart burning with a love for humanity. Our Lord asked for the establishment of the annual liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart, as well as devotional practices such as the Holy Hour, the First Friday Communions, and the veneration of the image of His Sacred Heart. Through St. Margaret Mary, the Lord sought to reawaken the fire of love in the hearts of the faithful, in a world that was turning away from Him.

It should come as no surprise that St. Margaret Mary had a strong devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Like many great saints - including St. Maria Faustina Kowalska and St. Stanislaus Papczynski - she had visions of the souls in Purgatory who appeared before her in their suffering and penitence.

In an April 1683 letter to a fellow nun, she wrote, "Our Lord told me that He was giving me to them this year so that I might do for them all the good I could. They are often with me. I call them simply my suffering friends" (from The Letters of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque: Apostle of the Sacred Heart, TAN Books, page 22).

In this month dedicated to the Sacred Heart, let us endeavor to show our love for Jesus by loving the suffering souls and making them our dear friends. Specifically, recite the "Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus" (see sidebar below). Together, let's pray souls into Heaven.

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Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 8, a plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who publicly recite the following prayer in a church, religious community, or family (among the general conditions: Confession, Holy Communion, praying for the intentions of the Holy Father). Consider offering the indulgence for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

Most sweet Jesus, You have bestowed on men the benefits of Your charity, but their ingratitude only responds with forgetfulness, negligence and spite. Thus here we prostrate ourselves before Your altar, inspired by the desire to make reparation through a special homage for their culpable indifference and the outrages which, in all ways, they oppress Your most loving Heart.

Nevertheless, we remember that we ourselves have been guilty of unworthy conduct in the past, and filled with profound sorrow, we implore Your mercy for us first of all. By voluntary expiation, we are ready to atone for the faults we have committed, ready also to expiate for those who, led astray from the way of salvation and remaining obstinate in their infidelity, refuse to follow You, their Shepherd and chief, thus throwing off the yoke of Your law and trampling the promises of their Baptism.

We would like to expiate for too many lamentable faults, making reparation for each of the following: our disorderly conduct, indecent fashions, scandalous corruption of innocent souls, profanation of Sundays and feasts, detestable blasphemies against You and against Your Saints, insults to your Vicar and to Your priests, reckless violations and odious sacrileges to the divine Sacrament of Your love, and finally the public sins of nations who revolt against the rights and authority of Your Church.

If only we could erase so many offenses with our own blood! At the least we wish to make reparation to Your outraged honor. We present to You even the satisfaction that You have offered to Your Father on the Cross, and the offering You have renewed each day on the altar. We present that sacrifice to You, accompanied with all the acts of atonement made by the Most Holy Virgin Your Mother, the Saints, and by faithful Christians. We promise You with all of our hearts, with the help of Your grace, to use all our means to do penance for our past faults and those of our neighbor. By the fervor of our faith, the purity of our life, and by perfect docility to the precepts of the Gospel, we desire to atone for the indifference toward such a great love, to which belongs all charity. We also promise You to make every effort to spare You new offenses and to lead the most souls possible to follow You.

Agreed, we offer You in this matter, O most good Jesus, by the intercession of the gracious Virgin Mary, Reparatrix, this spontaneous homage of expiation. Guard us until death, keeping us unshakably faithful to our duty and to Your service. Accord to us this precious gift of perseverance, which leads us finally to our native land where, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, You reign, God, forever and ever. Amen.


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