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Month of the Sacred Heart

Saint Francis de Sales used the image of the heart very often in his homilies and writings. Why did he choose this image and why is it so powerful?

He chose it because the image of the heart spoke to all sorts of people and was capable of representing and clarifying his deepest thoughts. The heart is such an image – so strongly connected to human experiences in all ages that it helps Saint Francis de Sales to communicate across the centuries, to each of us as well.

How did Francis use the image of the heart? In a lot of ways – he used it often, and in many different contexts. He speaks of the heart of God, the heart of Christ and the heart of the person, and he spoke of a dynamic movement of love between the three. In this text from the third book of the Treatise, he describes a ladder between heaven and earth, from heart to heart:

“We descend from the first to the last, that is, from the fruit, which is glory, to the root of this fair tree, which is the redemption wrought by our Saviour. God’s bounty gives glory in succession to merit, merit in succession to charity, charity in succession to penitence, penitence in succession to obedience, obedience in succession to vocation, vocation in succession to our Saviours redemption. On this last is based that whole mystical ladder…, both at its end in heaven, since it rests upon the loving bosom of the eternal Father…, and at its end on earth, since it is planted in the bosom and the pierced side of our Saviour, who for this cause died upon Mount Calvary.”(Treatise on the Love of God, Book III).

To Saint Francis de Sales, the heart of Christ is what makes our ascent to the heart of the Father possible. On earth, the ladder is planted in the pierced side of Christ, in his Sacred Heart. His wounded heart is where we start climbing.

Hence he asks us to graft (unite) our heart with that of Jesus. He writes:

“We must set our hearts fully in God and never withdraw them, because God alone is our peace, our consolation and our glory! What can we expect if we do not unite ourselves to our dear Saviour? We are indeed fortunate to be able to graft our hearts onto that of the Saviour. He is united to the divinity, the sacred root of the tree of which we are the branches. ‘Yes, dear Jesus, do with my heart according to Your own pleasure! I do not want to have any further rights over it. I donate, consecrate and sacrifice it forever’.” (Letters 1492)

The wounded heart of Jesus is also a wonderful healing-medicine for our own deep-rooted wounds.

Jane de Chantal for instance was a wounded woman when Francis de Sales came to know her. She had experienced a lot of sorrow and pain – Her husband had died in a terrible accident when they were still quite young, and she was left with four children. Then she had to cope with her father in law, who was very mean to her and many other problems she had from people who surrounded her life.

In order to heal her wounds, Francis de Sales wrote to her and told her to imagine that she was kissing the wound in the side of Christ. In the wounded side of Christ lies his Sacred Heart. This is where Francis sends her to find comfort.

In your imagination, see the crucified Jesus Christ in your arms and on your chest, and say a hundred times while kissing the wound in his side: “Here is my hope, here is the living wellspring of my happiness, here is the heart of my soul, here is the soul of my heart. Nothing shall separate me from his love. I hold him, and I will not let him go until he has brought me to safety.” (Letters)

What the letter says, between the lines, is this: “Jesus knows how you feel. His heart, too, was pierced by fear, then by the lance. When all seemed to be lost, when he was dead, and his dead body was desecrated by the soldiers, the story had only just begun. This was the start of the resurrection, the victory of love.”