Reading – Be Not Afraid "grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world" John Paul II
by Jerome F. Coniker
1. Pope John Paul II has taught us how to enter into that era of peace promised by Our Lady of Fatima. While in New York in 1995, the Holy Father asked families to do two things: pray the Rosary and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He continues to tell us, “Take the Gospel to your neighbors!” By vigorously learning the Faith and teaching it to our children and our neighbors, we can truly renew family life and society.
If those of us who have been given the light of the Catholic faith do not make heroic sacrifices now to do what the Holy Father is telling us to do, our society will continue on its “free-fall” into the abyss of immorality, and we will see, before our very eyes, the fulfillment of the “conditional” prophecies of the approved apparitions of Our Lady in Fatima and Akita (Japan). I say “conditional” because that is what they are—conditional to the degree of how we sacrificially respond to Our Lady’s requests.
First, let’s reflect on what Pope John Paul II wrote in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, with reference to Fatima:
“Perhaps this is also why the Pope was called from a faraway country, perhaps this is why it was necessary for the assassination attempt to be made in St. Peter’s Square precisely on May 13, 1981, the anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima—so that all could become more transparent and comprehensible, so that the voice of God which speaks in human history through the ‘signs of the times’ could be more easily heard and understood.” (p.131)
The Holy Father went on to write:
“On this universal level, if victory comes it will be brought by Mary. Christ will conquer through her because he wants the Church’s victories now and in the future to be linked to her.…
“I held this conviction even though I did not yet know very much about Fatima. I could see, however, that there was a certain continuity among La Salette, Lourdes, and Fatima—and, in the distant past, our Polish Jasna Gora.” (p. 221)
When the Pope was shot
2. “And thus we come to May 13, 1981, when I was wounded by gunshots fired in St. Peter’s Square. At first, I did not pay attention to the fact that the assassination attempt had occurred on the exact anniversary of the day Mary appeared to the three children at Fatima in Portugal and spoke to them the words that now, at the end of this century, seem to be close to their fulfillment.
“With this event, didn’t Christ perhaps say, once again, ‘Be not afraid’? Did he repeat this Easter exhortation to the Pope, to the Church, and indirectly, to the entire human family?”
The Pope went on to say:
“At the end of the second millennium, we need, perhaps more than ever, the words of the Risen Christ: ‘Be not afraid!’ Man who, even after the fall of Communism, has not stopped being afraid and who truly has many reasons for feeling this way, needs to hear these words.
“Nations need to hear them, especially those nations that have been reborn after the fall of the Communist empire, as well as those that witnessed this event from the outside. Peoples and nations of the entire world need to hear these words.
“Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld (cf. Rev 1:18); Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Rev. 22:13)—be it the individual or collective history. And this Someone is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8,16)—Love that became man, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic Love. It is the infinite source of communion. He alone can give the ultimate assurance when He says ‘Be not afraid!’” (pp. 221-222)
3. When our family lived in Portugal from 1971–1973, we obtained a copy of a letter that Sister Lucia wrote
to the Bishop of the Diocese of Leiria (where Fatima
is located) about Our Lady’s apparition on July 13, 1917. Sister Lucia is the only living seer of Fatima since Jacinta (age 7 at the time of the apparition) and Francisco (age 9) died shortly after they told Our Lady that they would be willing to offer their lives up for the conversion of sinners—for your family and my family.
The vision of hell
4. Lucia’s words:
“Our Lady showed us a large sea of fire which seemed to be beneath the earth. Plunged in this fire were the demons and the souls, who were like embers, transparent and black or bronze-colored, with human forms which floated about in the conflagration, borne by the flames which issued from it with clouds of smoke, falling on all sides as sparks fall in great conflagrations, without weight or equilibrium, among shrieks and groans of sorrow and despair which horrified us and caused us to quake with fear.
“The demons were distinguished by horrible and loathsome forms of animals, frightful and unknown, but transparent and black. This vision vanished in a moment. Providentially, our good Heavenly Mother had promised us in the first apparition to take us to Heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fright and horror…” (Letter dated August 31, 1941 from Sr. Lucia to the Bishop of Leiria.)
The great Fatima prophecies
5. The following are Sister Lucia’s words, published by the Bishop of Leiria. I have organized them in an outline with an asterisk (*) to indicate the prophecies that have already been fulfilled:
“Shortly afterwards, we raised our eyes to Our Lady, who said with goodness and sadness: ‘You have seen hell, where the souls of poor sinners go.
• To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.* [However, more should be done.]
• If they do what I will tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. The war is going to end.* [World War I]
• But if they don’t stop offending God, another and worse one [World War II] will begin in the reign of Pius XI.*
• When you shall see a night illuminated by an unknown light [Jan 25-26, 1938]*, know that this is the great sign that God will give you, that He is going to punish the world by means of war, hunger and persecutions of the Church, and of the Holy Father.*
• To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart; and for the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays.*
• If they listen to my request, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace.
• If not:
Russia will scatter her errors throughout the world,*
She will provoke wars and persecutions of the Church,*
The good will be martyred* [Note: there have been more martyrs in this century than in the entire 2000 year history of the Church],
The Holy Father will have much to suffer,*
And various nations will be annihilated. [This has not happened and does not have to happen if we consecrate ourselves in the dual dimension of Pope John Paul II’s consecration.]
• In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.
The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me,* [Pope John Paul II did this on May 13, 1982, in Fatima and on March 25, 1984, in Rome]
And she will be converted,
And a certain period of peace will be granted to the world.’”
The miracle of the sun
6. Our Lady’s final apparition at Fatima took place on October 13, 1917. This was the great “Miracle of the Sun.” Cardinal Joseph Carberry once told me that never before in the history of the world has a public miracle, such as this, ever occurred, one that was prophesied in advance to occur on a specific day, at a specific place, and which was witnessed by over 70,000 people. It was also documented as an historic fact by an atheistic press that was controlled by an atheistic government.
When we lived near Fatima for two years, I had the privilege to study the Fatima message under the instruction of Father Gabriel Pausback, O’Carm., who was the assistant general of the Carmelite Order and author of Saints of Carmel. He introduced me to the Marto’s (Jacinta’s and Francisco’s family) and others who had witnessed the miracle of the Sun.
The “Miracle of the Sun” was not like many other reported apparitions, where some could see the phenomenon and others could not. On October 13, 1917, everyone within a 20 mile radius saw the entire plateau of Fatima bathed in light-shafts of blue, red, yellow and green. Then they saw the sun spinning in the sky, and they ran for their lives when they saw it plummet towards the earth. The fire ball that appeared to be the sun stopped at the tree tops, hovered there for a few minutes and slowly went back into the heavens, leaving everyone present completely dry, when before the event they had been drenched from the rainfall.
Cardinal Carberry also told me that since there has never been a miracle such as this before, the message — which the miracle confirmed — must be of the greatest significance!
Approved Apparitions of Akita
7. Now let’s consider the prophecies of the approved apparitions of Our Lady in Akita, Japan. Let me first give some background on these apparitions.
They started in 1975 and were approved, on April 22, 1984, by Bishop John Shojiro Ito, who at the time was Bishop of Niigata.
The current Ordinary of the Niigata diocese, Bishop Francis Sato, has also approved the apparitions. This approval was documented when our chaplain, Father Kevin Barrett, interviewed Bishop Sato on videotape in March of 1995 at his residence in Japan.
Fr. Kevin Barrett, Family Apostolate Chaplain,
interviewing Bishop Francis Sato of Akita.
The seer, Sister Agnes Sasagawa, like Sr. Lucia of Fatima, submitted in total obedience to the bishop of the diocese where the apparitions occurred. It is important to note that this is the way of the Church, that we are protected from deception by humbly submitting to Church authority.
In the letter of approval issued by Bishop Ito, he quoted Our Blessed Mother as saying:
“As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never have been seenbefore. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by my Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the Bishops and the priests…
“…In order that the world might know His anger, the Heavenly Father is preparing to inflict a great chastisement on all mankind. With my Son, I have intervened so many times to appease the wrath of the Father. I have prevented the coming of calamities by offering Him the sufferings of the Son on the Cross, His Precious Blood, and beloved souls who console Him and form a cohort of victim souls. Prayer, penance, and courageous sacrifices can soften the Father’s anger…” (taken from the letter of approval by Bishop John Shojiro Ito of April 22, 1984).
St. Kolbe on Obedience
8. What is meant by the “penance” and “courageous sacrifices” which are necessary to prevent chastisement? I believe that the penance and courageous sacrifices that God is asking of us is obedience to the Holy Father, the Pope. The most difficult thing for man to do is to bend his will to lawful authority. This is the greatest reparation for sin we can offer.
The great Polish Marian saint and martyr of Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe, who started the Knights of the Immaculata movement shortly after he had a vision of Our Lady of Fatima standing over Moscow, said:
“Not in mortification, not in great prayer, not in labor, not in rest, but inobedience is the essence and merit of holiness” (Aim Higher, p. 84).
Obedience is the key. Doing penance and making sacrifices does not just mean praying and fasting. Although there are norms established by the Church for prayer and fasting, they are not the only thing we are supposed to do. Obedience to lawful authority represents the most pleasing penance and constitutes the most heroic sacrifices in order to repair for sin.
As Catholics, we need to humble ourselves and bend our wills to the Holy Father if we want to be holy and receive an outpouring of God’s mercy. Obedience is the key to drawing down God’s mercy upon the families of the world.
Our Lord said in Matthew 7:21:
“It is not those who say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ that will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of My Father.”
The Key to Hope and Mercy
9. Obedience to the Pope and reparation for sin gives us hope.
The messages of both Fatima and Akita have underscored the fact that reparation for sin is the formula for drawing down God’s mercy upon our world. At the Apostolate’s Catholic Familyland, we are seeking to teach families about reparation: what it means and how it should be effected in our daily lives. We have summarized what we call the Marian Multiplier “formula” for bringing down God’s mercy.
The Marian Multiplier
10. First Point: Sin is the cause of all unhappiness. Every sin affects not only the sinner, but the entire world.
Second Point: Grace is more powerful than sin; the Redemption is greater than the Fall. Jesus has conquered satan. We have nothing to fear from the devil if we follow Christ (which also means following His Vicar on earth, the Pope, and the Teaching Magisterium of the Church), love God and neighbor and strive to grow in the grace Jesus won for us on Calvary.
Third Point: Personal holiness is essential for salvation. But our personal holiness alone is not enough to offset the effects of the sins of mankind and bring about a healing of families and world peace.
Fourth Point: Consecration to Jesus through Mary. When enough of us give the little holiness we have to Jesus through Mary, she will be able to purify and multiply it by her incalculable merits to most effectively repair for sins in our age and obtain grace from her Son to convert poor sinners and bring peace and healing into families and the world.
Every sin affects society
11. Reflecting on the First Point, let’s look at what Pope John Paul II said in Section 16 of his document On Reconciliation and Penance:
“In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one that exclusively concerns the person committing it.
“With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and on the whole human family.”
In Section 2 of the Apostolic Constitution on indulgences (Indulgentiarum doctrina), dated January 1, 1967, Pope Paul VI states:
“In fact, every sin upsets the universal order God, in His indescribable wisdom and limitless love, has established. Further, every sin does immense harm to the sinner himself and to the community of men.”
This means that when someone sins, it not only hurts the sinner but the entire Mystical Body of Christ. It gives the devil more power to tempt us and to draw us away from God’s will into venial sin, and eventually into mortal sin.
When we think about this, it can be very discouraging. We look around and see sin everywhere, and it seems that so few people are trying to do God’s will. But there is hope.
Reparation—Repairing for Sin
12. If sin is the “bad news” then the Second Point (grace) is truly the heart of the “Good News” of the Gospel. Jesus, by his redemptive sacrifice, has won for us the grace to overcome and to repair for the sin in our lives and in our world.
I believe that the best definition of reparation for sin is from Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution on indulgences. Providentially, former President Ronald Reagan quoted this definition in his welcoming address to Pope John Paul II when His Holiness visited the United States in 1987. In Section 4, Pope Paul VI says:
“By the hidden and kindly mystery of God’s will, a supernatural solidarity reigns among men. A consequence of this is that the sin of one person harms other people just as one person’s holiness helps others.”
In this same document, Pope Paul VI presents a more detailed explanation on reparation and what we must do to repair for sin. His Holiness states:
“The truth has been divinely revealed that sins are followed by punishments. God’s holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated…
“The full taking away and, as it is called, reparation of sin requires two things:
“Firstly, friendship with God must be restored. Amends must be made for offending His wisdom and goodness. This is done by a sincere conversion of mind [repentance and formation].
“Secondly, all the personal and social values as well as those that are universal, which sin has lessened or destroyed, must be fully made good…[evangelization and catechesis]” (Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina, sections 2–3).
Like the current of a river
13. You can compare the concept of reparation to a river in which people are swimming upstream, against the current, in order to get to Heaven. The more sin there is in the world, the stronger the current becomes (temptation), making it harder for everyone to reach Heaven.
However, when people grow in grace, they are repairing for their own sins and the sins of the whole world. They are helping to make the current run more slowly so that everyone in the family and in the world is able to swim more easily upstream (actual graces) and reach their heavenly goal if they truly will it.
Like a magnetic field
14. Another analogy can be made. Reparation may be compared with magnetic fields. God seeks to attract our free wills by His love and truth (actual grace). The devil seeks to seduce us by his lies and the empty pleasures of evil (temptation). By choosing to sin, man repels God and allows himself to be seduced by the devil. When many people sin, all society feels less attraction to God, and more and more people succumb to the corrupting seduction of the devil (temptation).
However, as more people renounce sin and allow themselves to be drawn to God, gaining grace and merit for their souls and the whole Mystical Body of Christ through
their prayers and good works, they help to increase the attraction (actual grace) felt by all to God and His goodness.
In order for us to grow in grace (Second Point) and offset the effects of sin, we have to develop a prayer life, receive the sacraments and practice the virtues (Third Point). Naturally, the fervor and the love we have for God determines the amount of grace that we receive and therefore, determines the amount of reparation that is made for our own sins and for the sins of the world.
Consecration to Jesus through Mary
15. Now, if the devil is always actively trying to seduce souls away from God by his perverse influence, the Mother of Jesus, the woman of Genesis (cf. 3:15) and of Revelation (chapter 12), is ever more so attracting her children to God. She is the chosen vessel through whom God wishes to crush the head of satan.
The late Cardinal Luigi Ciappi, who served the last five popes as personal theologian and was the primary theological advisor for The Apostolate, explained to us how, in the Fourth Point, our Blessed Mother’s singular holiness helps us to more effectively repair for sin, especially through the power of consecration. In his letter of August 24, 1989, he said:
“How true it is when we give all of our merits to Mary, she multiplies them by her incalculable merits. This puts into motion positive spiritual forces to repair the damage due to sin and significantly change the course of history, if enough make this commitment.
“Mary’s merits can multiply the effects of one person’s holiness and help countless souls. Only heaven knows the depth of holiness a soul must achieve to tip the scales for world peace.”
Mary never ceases to dispense the precious graces of Jesus, her Son, upon her children. And when we entrust to her our prayers, merits, and good works, through consecration, she purifies and multiplies their power to repair for sin and presents them to Jesus on our behalf.
Restoring Order through Reparation
16. When we live a life of reparation for sin, we are growing in union with God. Soon after founding the Apostolate for Family Consecration in 1975, I wrote the following explanation about the effects of “planting seeds” of prayer, charity, and sacrifice, accompanied by the “water and sunshine” of our devout reception of the sacraments in our lives:
“Our meritorious actions help to bring back the spiritual balance in the universe by lessening the control of the forces of evil over our lives and those of our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, our parishes, our dioceses, and indeed, the entire world.
“Every supernaturally good act performed in the state of grace gives us a reward or merit, increasing our capacity for peace and our capacity to know, love and serve God for all eternity. In addition to, and through total consecration to Jesus through Mary, our merits are purified, multiplied and preserved for us throughout our entire pilgrimage on earth.
“Through consecration, we give to our Blessed Mother the privilege of directing our prayers. We more humbly acknowledge the reality that we are God’s children,
confident that Our Heavenly Mother knows better than we what we need in order to more perfectly accomplish God’s will.
“Finally, because of the Church’s intercessory power, many of our meritorious acts can be enriched by the Church through indulgences. Thus we have the power to help release a soul from Purgatory everyday through our plenary (full) indulgences, and relieve the suffering of the Holy Souls through our partial indulgences.”
We need to better understand that indulgences are an added satisfactory effect given to our prayers and good works by the Church as part of the power of the “keys” entrusted to her by Christ in the person of the Apostle Peter (cf. Matt 16:19 and Jn. 20:34). If we are in the state of grace and fulfill one of the norms laid down by the Church, we can continually earn plenary (no more than one a day) and partial indulgences for ourselves and for the souls in Purgatory. Please read #45a for a summary of the norms for indulgences.
The Dual Dimensions of
Pope John Paul II’s Consecration
17. The Third and Fourth Points are incorporated into the dual dimensions of Pope John Paul II’s consecration, which can bring the light of the truth into our dark world so that our families can live in the greatest era of peace and religion the world has ever known.
The dual dimensions of Pope John Paul II’s consecration is Totus Tuus and Consecrate them in Truth.
The first dimension
18. Totus Tuus (Latin for ‘Totally yours’) refers to giving everything to Jesus through Mary, according to the formula of St. Louis de Montfort which the Holy Father wrote about in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (p. 213).
If we follow this formula of consecration, which Pope John Paul proclaims and lives, we give the few merits that we have to our Blessed Mother who then takes them and multiplies them by her incalculable merits and presents them to Jesus on our behalf.
St. Louis de Montfort’s formula
19. In his treatise, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, St. Louis wrote:
“For by it (this devotion) we show love for our neighbor in an outstanding way, since we give Him through Mary’s hands all that we prize most highly—that is, the satisfactory and prayer value of all our good works, down to the least good thought and the least little suffering. We give our consent that all we have already acquired or will acquire until death should be used in accordance with our Lady’s will for the conversion of sinners or the deliverance of souls from Purgatory” (section 171).
“It must be noted that our good works, passing through Mary’s hands, are progressively purified. Consequently, their merit and their satisfactory and prayer value is also increased. That is why they become much more effective in relieving the souls in Purgatory and in converting sinners than if they did not pass through the virginal and liberal hands of Mary.
“Stripped of self-will and clothed with disinterested love, the little that we give to the Blessed Virgin is truly powerful enough to appease the anger of God and draw down His mercy. It may well be that at the hour of death a person who has been faithful to this devotion will find that he has freed many souls from Purgatory and converted many
sinners, even though he performed only the ordinary actions of his state of life. Great will be his joy at the judgment. Great will be his glory throughout eternity” (section 172).
“Mary amassed such a multitude of merits and graces during her sojourn on earth that it would be easier to count the stars in heaven, the drops of water in the ocean or the sands of the seashore than count her merits and graces. She thus gave more glory to God than all the angels and saints have given or will ever give Him. Mary, wonder of God, when souls abandon themselves to you, you cannot but work wonders in them (section 222)!
“Our Blessed Lady, in her immense love for us, is eager to receive into her virginal hands the gift of our actions, imparting to them a marvelous beauty and splendor, presenting them herself to Jesus most willingly” (section 223).
Apostolate’s celibate Catholic Corps member, Jomelia, renewing her
commitment to the
(see pages 622–626)
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s prophecy for modern times
20. “Modern times are dominated by satan and will be more so in the future. The conflict with hell cannot be engaged by men, even the most clever. The Immaculata alone has from God the promise of victory over satan. However, assumed into Heaven, the Mother of God now requires our cooperation. She seeks souls who will consecrate themselves entirely to her, who will become in her hands effective instruments for the defeat of satan and the spreading of God’s kingdom upon earth.”
The second dimension
21. Let’s now consider the second dimension of Pope John Paul II’s consecration, Consecrate Them in Truth or evangelization and catechesis, which represents his highest priority. Our Lord, in effect, defined “consecration” in John 17 when he said:
Verse 3: “Eternal life is this—to know You.” [catechesis]
Verse 4: “I have glorified You on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do.” [evangelization]
Verse 15: “Protect them from the evil one.”
Verse 17: “Consecrate them in truth. Your word is truth.”
Verse 19: “I consecrate Myself so that they too may be consecrated in the truth.
Verse 21: “That they may be one as We are one.”
When we steep ourselves in the truth, as put forth in Sacred Scripture, the Second Vatican Council documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal documents, etc., we are better disposed to pray, to receive the sacraments and practice virtue—in short, to be holy, gaining ever more grace and merit. Then we can give Our Blessed Mother many more of our graces and merits to multiply by her incalculable merits, putting into motion a tremendous spiritual power that can defeat satan and bring about the era of peace which she promised at Fatima.
The Holy Father referred to this era in the last page of his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, when he wrote:
“André Malraux was certainly right when he said that the twenty-first century would be the century of religion or it would not be at all.”
I believe that our Holy Father is telling us that if we do God’s will and repair for sin, we will see a century of great religion and evangelization for our children and grandchildren to grow up in. But if we don’t enter into a life of vigorous evangelization, catechesis and prayer, we will see, because of the evil use of modern technology, the darkest age of purification that the world has ever experienced.
Let’s walk with His Holiness over the threshold of hope into the greatest period of light, evangelization, and peace that the world has ever known—that era of peace that Our Lady promised at Fatima.
A Summary —
Cardinal Mario Luigi Ciappi, O.P.
22. The following article from the Pope’s newspaper about the late papal theologian, Mario Luigi Cardinal Ciappi, gives you an idea of His Eminence’s relationship with the papacy and his competency at reading the signs of the times.
Cardinal Ciappi was the master of the papal palace and papal theologian for the last five popes and was our primary theological advisor from 1979 until his death on April 22, 1996. Please read the following with great care.
St. Dominic was the first papal theologian;
St. Thomas Aquinas was the fourth; and Cardinal Luigi Ciappi was the eighty-fourth Dominican theologian
of the Papal household. His Eminence was also the
primary theological advisor of the Apostolate
for Family Consecration.
Excerpts from Pope John Paul II’s homily at Cardinal Ciappi’s funeral, April 25, 1996
23. “Dear brothers and sisters, today in St. Peter’s Basilica we are celebrating the funeral of beloved Cardinal Mario Luigi Ciappi, whom God called to himself last Monday evening after a long life spent in service to the Church and, in particular, to the Holy See. I have felt a personal bond with him since my studies, and I am pleased to honor his memory at this moment, so full of emotion, by my testimony of sincere esteem and deep gratitude.
“His brilliant and keen capacity for theological investigation grew and was quickly noticed.
“With a profound knowledge of the theological thought, he was himself a capable theologian who was able to serve the Church generously, first by teaching dogmatic theology and Thomistic aesthetics. The results he achieved in this task brought him to the attention of Pope Pius XII, who in 1955 wanted him at his side as Master of the Sacred Palace. He was confirmed in this office by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, who spelled out his duties in the Motu Proprio Pontificalis Domus, and appointed him Theologian of the Papal Household.
“His clear thinking, the soundness of his teaching and his undisputed fidelity to the Apostolic See, as well as his ability to interpret the signs of the times according to God, were qualities that made him a valued collaborator during the intense period of the Second Vatican Council to which he made a significant and balanced contribution.
“His careful scholarly work was always accompanied by an intense spiritual life and prayer, the first and fundamental nourishment of his whole life.”
(Used by permission of L’Osservatore Romano)
Greatest miracle in the history of the world
24. Luigi Cardinal Ciappi’s letter of October 9, 1994, on the next page, is a good summary of this entire treatise. His Eminence talks about the greatest miracle in the history of the world as he addressed our annual Totus Tuus Conference.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Theology of Benedict XVI
Father Mark D. Kirby, O.Cist.
‘We see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer’
“In the pierced heart of the Crucified, God’s own heart is opened up; here we see who God is and what he is like. Heaven is no longer locked up. God has stepped out of his hiddenness. That is why St John sums up both the meaning of the Cross and the nature of the new worship of God in the mysterious promise made through the prophet Zechariah (cf. 12:10). ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced’ (Jn 19.37)”.1
Pope Benedict XVI: Theologian of the Heart of Christ
In July of 1985, 1 was standing in the bookstore of the Abbey of Sainte-Cécile of Solesmes in France when, by a wonderful providence of God, I met the Benedictine scholar, Mother Elisabeth de Solms. The encounter remains unforgettable. I had long studied and used her admirable translation of the Life and Rule of Saint Benedict, as well as her Christian Bible,2 a series of volumes setting the commentaries of the Church Fathers line by line alongside the Scriptures.
The simplicity of so great a woman was a marvel. She engaged me in conversation, asking if I had read the works of Cardinal Ratzinger. I admitted that I was familiar with certain writings of his, surely not with everything published. “Read him”, she said. “You will see. God will make of him a great gift to his Church”. That was 20 years ago.
I began reading Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I devoured, in particular, his writings on the sacred liturgy in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. I discovered, among other things in the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger, elements of a theology of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
In Pope Benedict XVI God has given the Church a shepherd who has contemplated the pierced Heart of the Crucified and already written of it, notably in Behold The Pierced One3 and, more recently, in The Spirit of the Liturgy.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings on the Sacred Heart are warm and luminous. Fire and light are characteristic of a theology forged in experience.
Theologians who do not persevere in a humble prayer of amazement and adoration fall inevitably into one of two syndromes. Either they generate heat without shedding any light, or they shine a cold light, one that fails to warm the heart. The true theologian at once warms the heart and illumines the mind.
Recall the words of Jesus concerning John the Baptist: “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (Jn 5:35). In our new Holy Father, God has given the Church “a burning and shining lamp” (Jn 5:35). Those already familiar with his writings and liturgical preaching know what I mean.
Theology itself is a difficult word. Theology of the Sacred Heart thrusts us into deep waters. The Song of Songs assures us that “many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (8:7).
Theology is more than a mere flood of words. All words oblige us, in some way, to wrestle with meaning. Words are the vehicle of meaning. Words wait to be unlocked. The words we use in talking about God, or in talking to God, can be unlocked only in prayer.
Before we can reflect on a theology of the Sacred Heart, we have to ask ourselves this question: “What do we mean by theology?”.
The Greek etymology of the word discloses both God (theós) and word (lógos). Lógos, in turn, has a huge richness: it can mean word, but it also signifies meaning, message, poem and even hymn.
When we speak of theology we mean not one thing but at least three: word from God; word to God; and word about God. All theology, and therefore a theology of the Sacred Heart, is more adequately understood in terms of: God’s self-revealing word addressed to us; the doxological word of Christ and of the Church addressed to God; and the healing word of the Church addressed to the world.
Sacred Heart: God’s Word addressed to us
Theology is, first of all, God’s word addressed to us. Apply this immediately to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pierced Heart of the Crucified is God speaking a word to us, a word carved out in the flesh of Jesus’ side by the soldier’s lance. It is the love of God laid bare for all to see: “God stepping out of his hiddenness”.4
When we speak of a theology of the Sacred Heart, we mean this first of all: not our discourse about love, but the love of God revealed first to us, the poem of love that issues forth from the Heart of God. This is exactly what St John, whom the Eastern tradition calls, “The Theologian”, says in his First Letter: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (I Jn 4:10).
The difficulty here is that, in order to receive this word inscribed in the flesh of the Word (cf. Jn 1:14), we have first to stop in front of it, to linger there and to look long at the wound made by love. “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37). To contemplate is to look, not with a passing glance, but with the gaze of one utterlyconquered by love. Jeremiah says, “You have seduced me, O Lord, and I was seduced; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed” (20:7).
The call to be an adorer and an apostle of the Sacred Heart is addressed to every Christian. The apostle is, in essence, the bearer of a word, one sent forth and entrusted with a message. The message that the apostle carries into the world is the one he has learned by looking long with the eyes of adoration at the pierced Heart of the Crucified.
The word of Crucified Love is hard to pronounce — not with our lips but with our lives. Adoration is the school wherein one learns how to say the Sacred Heart. It is in adoration that the apostle receives the word of the pierced Heart that, in turn, becomes his life’s message.
Adoration and apostleship together model a spirituality accessible to all Christians: the word received in adoration is communicated in the dynamism of one sent forth with something to say.
Sacred Heart: Our word addressed to God
Theology is, in the second place, our word addressed to God. Applying this also to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we see that all we could possibly want to say to God has already been uttered and is being said eternally through the “mouth” of Christ’s glorious pierced Heart in heaven. It is through the Sacred Heart that the Blood of Christ speaks “more graciously than the blood of Abel” (Heb 12:24).
The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Christ is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he lives for ever to make intercession for them” (7:25). Christ exercises his priesthood of intercession in “the inner sanctuary behind the veil” (Heb 6:19) by presenting to the Father the glorious wounds in his hands, his feet and his side. The wound in the side of Christ, “great high priest over the house of God” (Heb 10:21), speaks to the Father on our behalf. It is our word addressed to God.
At the core of devotion to the Sacred Heart is a passing-over into the prayer of Christ to the Father, a long apprenticeship to silence by which we begin to let the Heart of Christ speak in us and for us to the Father.
The mystics of the Sacred Heart, in particular St Gertrude and St Mechthilde, speak of offering the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the Father. This means allowing the Sacred Heart to speak for us, to pray in us, to pray through us, taking comfort in what Scripture says, “that we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
This suggests a simple way of praying, one accessible to all: “Lord Jesus, I come to be silent in your presence, trusting that your Heart will speak for me, knowing that all I could ever want to say, that all I would ever need to say, is spoken eternally to the Father by your Sacred Heart”.
In this way, everything that prayer can or should express — adoration, praise, thanksgiving, supplication and reparation — finds its most perfect expression.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart, thus understood, is a manifestation in the Church of the Holy Spirit, “helping us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26).5 The Sacred Heart is, in the life of the Church, the organ by which “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:27).
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “We see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer. The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him”.6
This is the prayer of the Sacred Heart, the prayer that filled the days and nights of Jesus’ earthly life, the prayer that suffused his sufferings and ascended from the Cross at the hour of his death, the prayer that with him descended into the depths of the earth, the prayer that continues uninterrupted in the glory of his risen and ascended life, the prayer that is ceaseless in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that “by entering into Jesus’ solitude”, and “only by participating in what is most personal to him, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity”.7 The SacredHeart represents and invites us into what is most personal to Jesus: his communication with the Father.
In words that today sound almost prophetic, Cardinal Ratzinger concluded that “the person who has beheld Jesus’ intimacy with his Father and has come to understand him from within is called to be a ‘rock’ of the Church. The Church arises out of participation in the prayerof Jesus (cf. Lk 9:18-20; Mt 16:13-20)”.8
Prayer of the Sacred Heart in the New Testament
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us exactly what was the prayer of the Heart of Christ at the moment he took flesh in the Virgin’s womb: “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure’. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God’, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book'” (Heb 10:5-7). This is the first prayer of the Heart of Jesus, “substantially united to the Word of God”.9
The prayer of the Heart of Christ revealed in the Letter to the Hebrews resonates throughout the Fourth Gospel. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “We could say that the Fourth Gospel draws us into that intimacy which Jesus reserved for those who were his friends” (ibid., 22). The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple belongs, in a special sense, to the friends of the Heart of Jesus.
The liturgy gives us the Gospel of St John on every Sunday and weekday during Paschaltide. Holy Thursday’s Gospel of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 13:1-5) becomes Good Friday’s Gospel of the Heart from which flowed blood and water: “They shall look on him whore they have pierced” (cf. Jn 19:34-37).
By continuing to read the Fourth Gospel on Easter Sunday (Jn 20:1-9) and for the 50 days following, the liturgy guides us into the prayer of the Heart of Christ.
The Second Sunday of Easter, that of Divine Mercy, invites us in a particular way to the contemplation of the Sacred Heart. In the Gospel (Jn 20:19-31), the Risen Christ stands before Thomas, inviting him to touch his wounded side. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “All of us are Thomas, unbelieving; but like him, all of us can touch the exposed Heart of Jesus and… behold the Logos himself. So, with our hands and eyes fixed upon this Heart, we can attain to the confession of faith: ‘My Lord and my God!'”.10
The liturgical lectionary’s repartition of the Fourth Gospel is integral to the mystical pedagogy of the Church. When the liturgical Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus arrives on the Friday following the Second Sunday after Pentecost, it finds us already prepared, ready and full of desire to pass fully into the prayer of the Sacred Heart.
For Cardinal Ratzinger, “the entire Gospel testimony is unanimous that Jesus’ words and deeds flowed from his most intimate communion with the Father; that he continually went ‘into the hills’ to pray in solitude after the burden of the day (cf., Mk 1:35; 6:46; 14:35, 39)”.11 He notes that “Luke, of all the Evangelists, lays stress on this feature. He shows that the essential events of Jesus’ activity proceeded from the core of his personality and that this core was his dialogue with the Father”.12
Prayer of the Sacred Heart in the Psalms
The psalms also express and communicate the prayer of the Heart of Christ. The Psalter is for the Church a “sacrament” of the prayer of the Heart of Christ to the Father, revealing that prayer and making it present in her.
Jesus intoned two psalms from the Cross, leaving it to his Church to continue them: Psalm 21 in Matthew 21:46, and Psalm 30 in Luke 23:46.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”‘ (Mt 27:46). The Church, imaged in the Mother of Jesus, the beloved disciple and the other holy women at the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn 19:25), prays the psalm through to the end to discover in its triumphant final verses (cf. Ps 21:22-31) the promise of a banquet for the afflicted and the hope of the resurrection: “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; and those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live for ever” (Ps 21:26).
Psalm 30 gives the verse, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Ps 30:5). Praying it from the Cross at the hour of his death, Jesus adds a single word, a word that rises out of the depths of his Heart and utterly transforms the psalmist’s prayer into one by which the Son entrusts everything to the Father. “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’. And having said this he breathed his last” (Lk 23:46).
“Jesus died praying…. Although the Evangelists’ accounts of the last words of Jesus differ in details, they agree on the fundamental fact that Jesus died praying. He fashioned his death into an act of prayer, an act of worship…. The last words of Jesus were an expression of his devotion to the Father…. His cry was not uttered to anyone, anywhere, but to Him, since it was of his innermost essence to be in a dialogue relationship with the Father”.13
Prayer of the Sacred Heart in the Liturgy
The prayer of the Heart of Christ at the hour of his sacrifice passes entirely into the heart of the Church, where it is prolonged and actualized “from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Mal 1:11) in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the mystery of the Eucharist.
Cardinal Ratzinger asks if, after the once-for-all Pasch of Jesus, anything more is needed. “After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the ‘image’, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified”.14
It is through the liturgy, first and above all, that we pass over into the prayer of the Sacred Heart, the word to the Father forever inscribed in his pierced side.
Sacred Heart: the Church’s Word to the World
Theology is, finally, a word about God addressed to the world, a word about God addressed to anyone who will listen. The Sacred Heart, pierced in death, becomes a word of life for the world.
“Death, which by its very nature is the end, the destruction of every communication, is changed by Jesus into an act of self-communication; and this is man’s redemption, for it signifies the triumph of love over death. We can put the same thing another way: death, which puts an end to words and to meaning, itself becomes a word, becomes the place where meaning communicates itself”.15
This means that after the mouth of Jesus fell silent in death, there remained the open side and the pierced Heart that speaks of nothing but love, the ultimate and everlasting word about God.
In the final analysis, one “impelled by the charity of Christ” (cf. II Cor 5:14) will have but one message, that of the pierced Heart revealing the love of the Father and “drawing all to himself” (cf. Jn 12:32).
One who has contemplated the message carved in the flesh of Jesus’ side by the soldier’s lance and learned to read it in adoration has but one language in which to speak to the world: the language of the heart.
It is learned not in conferences or classrooms or books, but in silence and in the contemplation of the Pierced One. It is learned especially in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
The language of the heart encompasses a thousand local dialects, a million accents. Devotion to the Sacred Heart impels the Christian to an inventive charity, a charity ready to explore every dark and treacherous place in search of the lost sheep.
“Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame” (Lk 14:21). “The great gesture of embrace emanating from the Crucified has not yet reached its goal; it has only just begun.”16
Word from God, Word to God, Word for the World
Word of God addressed to us, word addressed to God, word of the Church addressed to the world: herein lies one approach to a theology of the Sacred Heart. The liturgy remains its primary articulation. Together with the Liturgy of the Hours for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, the 12 biblical texts provided for the Mass — a First Reading; Psalm, Second Reading and Gospel for each of the three years A, B and C — become a fundamental resource, an inexhaustible treasure waiting to be mined for every one called to hear, to pray and to offer the healing word that is the pierced Heart.
The Sacred Heart is the Heart of God laid bare for man: word from God. It is a human Heart lifted high on the Cross: word to God. It is the Heart of the Church open to all who seek, to all who thirst, to every lost sheep waiting to be found and carried home: word for the world.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the full and irrevocable message of the Father to us. It is everything we ever could or should need to say to the Father. It is all we have to say to one another and to the world.
Pope Benedict XVI, writing in 1981 as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, challenges us to nothing less: “In the Heart of Jesus, the center of Christianity is set before us. It expresses everything, all that is genuinely new and revolutionary in the New Covenant. This Heart calls to our heart. It invites us to step forth out of the futile attempt of self-preservation and, by joining in the task of love, by handing ourselves over to him and with him, to discover the fullness of love which alone is eternity and which alone sustains the world”.17