The construction and the financial management of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome under the direct supervision of Don Bosco at the request of Pope Leo XIII is something familiar to all of us. In one the volumes of ‘Il Giovane Provveduto’ which came out towards the end of the earthly life of Don Bosco he explains the origin and the motives of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Here we read thus, “the Christian practices this devotion because among other things Jesus has presented his Heart as the seat of His affections, because this Heart symbolizes the immense and great love of Jesus, revealed in the first place through the wound with the lance, and inviting us to meditate on the sufferings of Christ acknowledging his love for us.”
During the civil war in Spain (1936-39) the enemies of the Church destroyed also the Church of the Sacred Heart built on a small hill top called Tibidabo. It was situated in such a way that the whole of Barcelona could see it. A sacrilege was committed against the statue as some irresponsible people mutilated it even though it was 8 meters tall and weighing six tons. The same statue was repaired and blessed and put back on top of the hill. The inauguration and blessing of the Church and the statue took place on the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Don Bosco in Spain. It happened on 12th March 1886. This visit had the purpose of visiting his sons in Spain and also to meet Dorotea de Chopitea who was a Salesian Cooperator. Besides this he also had the desire to gather help for the construction of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart that he was constructing in Rome at the request of Pope Leo XIII. In the mean time during the journey to Spain a mysterious voice was heard repeating to him: Tibidabo, Tibidabo. Don Bosco tried to make sense of this mysterious voice but did not succeed. He got an explanation for it the previous day he was to come away from Spain back to Turin.
Don Bosco was about to return to Turin after his visit and he was in Barcelona. There was a beautiful mountain called Tibidabo (I shall give to you; Mt. 4:9). The beautiful mountain top had come to the possession of some people who wanted to convert it into a business place. Hearing of such a thing some good men made an agreement to buy this place to prevent it from falling into the hands of irresponsible people. After buying it they were considering what might be the best use for it. In the mean time, they had built a temporary chapel there dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Don Bosco’s presence in Barcelona had given birth to the idea of donating the hill top to him. One of the owners raised objection to this saying that he did not know who Don Bosco was. But a certain Manuel Pascual spoke of him with eloquence and in detail and nobody had any objection. While Don Bosco was in the Church praying these gentlemen came over to him and read out a declaration by which they ceded their mountain property to him after which they handed over the deeds. The written documents were handed over to Don Bosco by the president of the St. Vincent De Paul Society with these words: “ To perpetuate the memory of your visit to this city, the gentlemen gathered here met in consultation and unanimously decided to cede to you their property on Mount Tibidabo, so that its summit, which was in danger of being converted into a spawning ground of Godlessness, may be consecrated with a shrine to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for the steadfast, undaunted support of the faith which you have preached to us with such zeal and shining example, and which is our noble heritage bequeathed us by our ancestors.”
Don Bosco was deeply touched at this and he replied, “I am overwhelmed by this fresh, unexpected proof you give me of your piety and faith. Thank you and you must realize that in this, you are the tools of Divine Providence. As I was leaving Turin to come to Spain, I was thinking to myself, now that the Church of the Sacred Heart in Rome is almost completed, I must look for some other way to honour the Sacred Heart and promote devotion to it. An interior voice bade me to be calm; assuring me that here I would be able to gratify this vow. That voice kept repeating to me, “Tibidabo, Tibidabo!” Yes gentlemen, you are the tools of Divine Providence. With your help, a shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus will soon rise upon this mount. Everyone will find there an opportunity to receive the Holy Sacraments, and your charity and faith- of which you have given me so many beautiful proofs- will be remembered forever.” Under the direction of the Salesians and thanks to the contributions of devout people a little chapel was built through which the Sacred Heart had already begun to take possession of the spot. This mount has been donated to Don Bosco and his successors religiously received this heritage and today the Basilica atop the mount is the base of a Salesian-run parish and retreat house.
Don Bosco was instrumental in the construction of two Churches as a sign of his love for the Sacred Heart. He inculcated the same in his sons. Fr. John Bonetti who was the rector of Mirabello for several years (1865-1877) was someone who was trained in the school of Don Bosco. It is said of him that he had a most ardent devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and this love and devotion to the Sacred Heart animated all his activities and rendered his familiar talks fruitful and his service and priestly ministry persuasive. Seemingly the Sacred Heart helped him also by special charisms as he went about his arduous mission.
Later the successors of Don Bosco too promoted the same; in a special way Blessed Michele Rua and Fr. Paul Albera. During one of the spiritual retreats Don Rua told the confreres, “We celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We need to contemplate on the image of the Sacred Heart. Each one of us looking at the Sacred Heart sees it in this form: a Heart that sends out rays of light, surrounded by a crown of thorns, at the top there is a cross, with a crude wound on the Heart caused by the lance.” He told them that it was not an invention by the artists but something that was revealed by Jesus himself on 27 December at Paray-le-Monial to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in her visitation convent as she was in adoration in front of the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar. From this Don Rua tried to arrive at certain conclusions: imitating the love of the Heart of Jesus we need to make ourselves lovable. The flames
emanating from the Heart represent this part of affection. The thorns around the Heart are caused by the infidels and the heretics and all the more specially by those who are Christians only in name, with their acts of disobedience, by their passions and moments of uncontrolled anger, their evil thoughts, their attachment to riches and honour, their grumbling and dissatisfied ways of life, their fraud behaviour, their acts of theft and missing the Friday abstinence. He also spoke of two special thorns reminded of by our Blessed Mother to the children during Her apparition at La Salette: blasphemy and profaning the days of obligation. The two beams of the cross symbolize indifference and sacrilegious communions. Scandalous lives cause wound on the Heart of Jesus. The extraordinary rays on the Heart of Jesus are the sings of his mercy and His immense generosity. Acknowledging the love of the Sacred Heart for everyone Don Rua concludes, “dear brothers we shall make every effort not to cause pain to this Sacred Heart in any way whatsoever, we shall place all out trust in him, and we shall make up for the scandals through a life of genuine zeal and good example.
Years later in the teaching of Don Albera he insists on the same devotion with equal zeal and conviction. He too has very insightful teaching on the devotion to the Sacred Heart. “We shall try our level best to inculcate in our youngsters the true devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to our Good Mother, Mary Help of Christians,” said Paul Albera in one of his circular letters. “The wound caused by the lance from where gushed out blood and water, is the symbol of the mortal sins committed by human beings. Besides the large wound we see also a crown of thorns around the Heart. What do they represent? According to the message given by our Bl. Lord to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque the thorns besides being the crown around the Heart symbolize those souls, which, whatever type of consecrated life they are called to live in His holy service, do not show that urgency and interest to correct oneself of their defects and fall back on to the same defects with so much of ease.”
The Act of Entrustment of the Congregation to the Sacred Heart
On 31 December 1900 or on 1st January 1901 the Salesian congregation was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The intention of Don Rua was to entrust all Salesian works to the loving Heart of Jesus. In short the devotion to the Sacred Heart insisted on the salvific fire of love emanating from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and a painful symbol of the attacks made by people who inflicted pain in the Heart of Jesus through their sinful ways. It is true that the simple hearted ones accepted these teachings and they doubted neither the supernatural authenticity of these teachings nor the interpretations that were presented to them. But some wanted a more substantial explanation to the whole devotion. Don Rua tried to do it and on the previous day to the entrustment of the congregation to the Sacred Heart while inviting each rector in all the houses of the congregation while announcing the decision he presented a short theological study on this devotion titled, ‘Instruction on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Don Rua’s desire was that the consecration of the whole congregation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus would bring forth abundant spiritual fruits to it.This instruction made efforts to explain the following aspects: devotion to the Sacred Heart, it had been existing right from the beginning of Christianity, it constituted in a more sublime manner the different devotions andit was useful for all the Christians, above all for the religious. He concluded with certain recommendations that were given those years in honour of the Sacred Heart: the nine first Fridays to be observed with devotion, the Guard of honour to the Sacred Heart, the Holy Hour, the enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the apostolate of prayer. Don Rua tried to show the sublime nature of this devotion keeping in mind its objective, its purpose and its motives. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus pushes the faithful to exchange love for love. The love of the devotee to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is at the same time both paying homage to Jesus, and bringing consolation to Jesus with the good works that are done in His honour and imitation of the love of Jesus. This same love radiating from the Heart of Jesus, the desire of Jesus to teach about it and to recommend it, the favours and the graces that are obtained through this devotion, and finally its purpose and timeliness at a time when there is coldness and indifference with regard to one’s religion could not but encourage the Christian to practice this devotion. This was the teaching of the instruction of 1900 by Don Rua.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart in the present times
This devotion which was a simple means to grow closer to Jesus need not be seen as something complicated. It is not a devotional practice meant for a particular time and thus irrelevant for the contemporary men. But this devotion can be a challenging experience to a culture that lives by the spirit of individualism, a blind search for oneself, a culture that looks for ‘the feel good factors’, and spending one’s time and energy for things that were not always useful or productive.
It may be also a fact that the congregation too went through a time when according to certain historians, even the centenary of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome was seen only as a sign of the love of Don Bosco for the Pope and not also seen as the expression of the love for the Sacred Heart. Today what we need is a different approach. From the wounded and crowned Heart of Jesus we need to grow into in to a different and deeper understanding of the meaning and significance of the Sacred Heart.We see the image of the Sacred Heart as pierced with the lance. This is to become the source of the nourishment of our faith. The devotion to the Sacred Heart without negating the experience of Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque in the course of time must become more genuinely evangelical all for its own advantage. We are called to contemplate the double mystery of water and blood flowing from the pierced
side of Jesus.
The encyclical of the Pope Pius XII Haurietis Aquas in Gaudio (15, May, 1950) wisely proposes the theology of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Holy Father says, “I write this having considered in depth the essence and the sublime nature of this devotion in the splendour of the divine revelation. The Heart of Jesus is the seat of his love and it remains for us a more eloquent image of His love. To understand this with all the saints, the length, height and the depth of the love of the word incarnate towards the Father and towards human beings contaminated by the stain of their sins it is good to remember that this love is not only spiritual but also a love in action. The Heart of Jesus participated in the first place in the salvific mission of the redeemer that finds its fulfilment on the cross when Jesus says ‘it is accomplished.’ The ultimate
image of His salvific love symbolized by the Heart with the open wound on his side made by the lance of the soldier remains for us the source of our faith and the motive for all our actions as disciples. The words of prophet Zachariah are applied by the evangelist John to Jesus crucified. “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zac 12:10, Jn 19:37). These words are dedicated to the Christians of all times. They respond to him with a sincere love towards human beings, their brothers and sisters.”
In 1986 Pope John Paul II who was deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus invited all the faithful to persevere in piety in their devotion to the Sacred Heart
of Jesus but adapting it to the times. He said that to profit from this devotion one needs to satiate oneself from the richness of this devotion and thus respond to God’s will in various situations with joy, loving God and one’s fellow human beings thus finding peace entering in to a path of reconciliation living with the hope of being with God in the company of all the saints. We need to fix our gaze on to him responding to the common call to holiness and to discern their specific mission in the Church and in the world. The Holy Father continues in the encyclical, “The divine love, the precious gift of the Heart of Christ and His spirit communicates to men that in their turn they may be witnesses of the love of God.” Finally the all consuming fire of the Heart of
Jesus is a fire that gives birth to apostles who would serve the people of God in
As we are going through a special time of grace let us entrust ourselves in a special way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As our province is dedicated to the Sacred Heart we shall take special care to solemnize the Feast of the Sacred Heart in a in a due manner. We shall remake our entrustment to the Sacred Heart as a province that we may live the spirit of this devotion not only by imitation but through participation especially in the salvation of the young we are called to serve. We could make sure that we all have a worthy picture of the Sacred Heart in all our houses and have special prayerful moments around the Eucharistic Lord. We shall try to rediscover the practice of praying the litany of the Sacred Heart and make sure of our first Friday devotions. Our Formation houses are dedicated to the Heart of Jesus. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus so that as we go through a life of responding to God’s fidelity we may be open
to the flow of grace in us and let Christ be formed in us which will make us credible witnesses. This is not a multiplication of the practices of piety but a source of nourishment of our faith and something that ensures genuine fruitfulness in our apostolic endeavours. The Lord tells us, “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest”(Mt. 11:28).