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On the Sacred Heart as Antidote to Pride

Interview with Jesuit Cardinal Albert Vanhoye

ROME, JULY 18, 2006 (Zenit) - Devotion to the Heart of Jesus is a lesson in humility, complete renunciation to violence and generous love which speaks to the men of today, says Jesuit Cardinal Albert Vanhoye.

In this interview with the Apostleship of Prayer, the new cardinal, 82, professor and rector emeritus of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, explains why Benedict XVI has re-launched this "essential" devotion for Christians.

Q: You have placed in your cardinal's emblem the motto "Cordi tuo unitus" (United to your Heart). Is there a special reason?

Cardinal Vanhoye: There are two reasons: one personal and one apostolic. The personal goes back to my childhood. I was educated in a Sacred Heart institute from 4 to 11 years of age, and later in the minor seminary of the diocese of Lille, in northern France, where they did the daily offering of the Apostleship of Prayer. Precisely in this period began my devotion to the Heart of Jesus which later was reinforced with the vocation to be a Jesuit.

When I studied philosophy I was part of a small group that reflected on the different aspects of the same and at the end of the formation this orientation was further consolidated. Then there is an apostolic reason in the choice of motto: to suggest the same spiritual attitude to all who read it.

"United to your Heart" expresses at the same time an intention and a prayer. The intention to live united to the Heart of Jesus in thought, action, affection and word and at the same time a humble and confident invocation because we can't give ourselves this union, but it is a very desirable grace.

Q: After a great dissemination between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, devotion to the Sacred Heart has been considered by many to be surpassed. Does this objection have a biblical foundation?

Cardinal Vanhoye: The objections refer above all to a certain sentimental devoutness, but I don't think they are founded, especially if one speaks of true worship which is stimulation for the spiritual and apostolic life. However, in a certain sense it isn't mistaken to say that this devotion does not have sufficient biblical foundation, though deep down it is false. It is correct to affirm that the New Testament does not speak much of the Heart of Jesus. It is mentioned only once, in Matthew 11, when Jesus says: "learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart."

The phrase, however, is very important because it is the only moment in which Jesus describes the very qualities that we find in numerous episodes of his life, and because it is in relation with a verb of the Gospels, used only by Jesus, derived from the Greek word which means "core" and that we can translate as "my heart is troubled." It is an important allusion to human compassion and to Jesus' great sensitivity.

John the evangelist does not speak of the pierced heart but of the pierced side, though it is quite evident that through the side the heart is reached. On the other hand, if we take the whole of Sacred Scripture into consideration, the foundation of devotion to the Sacred Heart is very wide. The Old Testament highlights the importance of the heart for the relationship with God, that is, of the human person's interiority: memory, understanding, affectivity and will.

Q: Of what importance is this devotion at present?

Cardinal Vanhoye: Precisely in the union with the Heart of Jesus. It is not a surpassed devotion; on the contrary, it is timely and also essential if it is well done. Without this union we cannot live fully the love that comes from God or succeed in being humble. On the contrary, we run the risk of fuelling our pride and arrogance.

On the other hand, it is the Gospel itself that presents to us a religion of the heart, far from exteriority. It must be said that devotion to the Heart of Jesus has a popular form that does not always correspond to this orientation, but I think that much can be done to make it even more significant.

Q: Benedict XVI's message to Father Kolvenbach, general director of the Society of Jesus, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Pius XII's encyclical Haurietis Acquas on the Sacred Heart, has re-launched this subject.

Cardinal Vanhoye: The Pope wished to underline the anniversary forcefully precisely with a message because the Society of Jesus was always active in promoting this fundamental devotion, above all thanks to the Apostleship of Prayer and to its proposal of spirituality not at all sentimental but which involves the whole of human existence.

Now in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI speaks several times of the pierced side and of the Heart of Jesus, true source of love. It is clear also in the Pope's words that the devotion to the Sacred Heart cannot stay only with the humanity of Jesus, precisely because the latter is expression of the love of God for the world that can be experienced and therefore witnessed only by looking at that pierced side.

In this connection, in France, Jesuit Father Glotin has finished a profound and extensive study on devotion to the Heart of Jesus that will come out next year, to confirm the importance of calling people's attention to this spirituality.

One cannot do without a relationship with the Heart of Jesus.


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Vanhoye, Sacred Heart, Jesus, Love, Men, Humility

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