Reawakening Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Interview With Author Father Thomas D. Williams

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By Kathleen Naab

ROME, APRIL 26, 2010 ( Christians need to get back to basics, and one of the best ways to do that is through devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, says Legionary of Christ Father Thomas D. Williams.

Father Williams is author of «A Heart Like His: Meditations on the Sacred Heart of Jesus», a book of 32 meditations on the virtues of the Heart of Christ.

«This is an amazingly contemporary, Scripturally based devotion,» Williams says, «far from the musty idea it may still conjure up for some.» Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he asserts, «means devotion to Jesus himself, to the Word made flesh, to the humanity of the Son of God, and, in a particular way, to the love of God in human form.»

In this interview, ZENIT asked Father Williams, a theology professor in Rome and Vatican analyst for CBS News, to explain the nature of this devotion and why it is so important for Christians today.

ZENIT: What moved you to write «A Heart Like His»?

Father Williams: In recent years I have become more and more convinced of the need for Catholics to get back to the core of our faith. We can easily get caught up in externals, in social questions, and even in partisanship. We need to keep Jesus in the center: to know him, love him, and imitate him in everything we do. After that, the rest falls into place.

On the other hand, people are always looking for practical tools to pray better and to grow in the spiritual life. This book is a series of short meditations, each one meant to highlight a key virtue of the Heart of Christ. I try to introduce people to the real Jesus, just as he is revealed in the Gospels.

ZENIT: But isn’t devotion to Sacred Heart outdated and «pre-Vatican»? We don’t hear much about it these days.

Father Williams: Actually I can’t think of any devotion that is more contemporary, and more in tune with the needs of today’s Christians. It was Benedict XVI who recently said that devotion to the Sacred Heart «has an irreplaceable importance for our faith and for our life in love.»

This devotion focuses on the love of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It seeks to know Jesus intimately, from the inside, and to allow his love for us to transform our lives. Only by personally experiencing his love can we hope to bear witness of it to the men and women of our times.

ZENIT: What is the goal of this devotion?

Father Williams: There are two chief goals. The first is getting to know Jesus, so as to fall more deeply in love with him, and to want to identify with him. This last point — imitation — is very important. We cannot «do what Jesus would do» until we get to know him. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing what he would do, and instead just impose our own criteria on him.

How do we imitate Jesus? Not by letting our hair grow long, or sporting a beard, or wearing a tunic or leather sandals. We imitate Jesus above all by having a heart like his.

The second goal is reparation. That is, we try to comfort the sorrowful Heart of Christ that is wounded above all by our indifference to his love. We accept his love, embrace it, thank him for it, and try to make as many people as possible aware of it. So many people live as if Jesus hadn’t died for them, and oblivious to the passionate love he has for them. For so many, this is still the best kept secret.

ZENIT: Why the «heart» of Christ?

Father Williams: In explaining this devotion, Pope John Paul II said that when we speak of the heart, we refer to «our whole being, all that is within each one of us.» The heart represents «all that forms us from within, in the depths of our being. All that makes up our entire humanity, our whole person in its spiritual and physical dimension.» Devotion to the Heart of Jesus is devotion to Jesus himself.

By concentrating on the heart, we pay special attention to Jesus’ love for the Father and for each one of us. We also look to his deepest motivations — what made him do the things he did. Knowing Christ involves much more than studying what he did, where he lived, and what he accomplished. It means, above all, getting to know his Heart.

ZENIT: So what are some of the virtues of the Heart of Christ that Catholics should try to imitate?

Father Williams: There are many, and in this book I offer 32 — one for each day of the month of June, plus two bonus meditations, for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

For example, I write about some typical virtues of Jesus’ Heart: «A meek and humble heart,» «a compassionate heart,» «a merciful heart,» but also some less common ones: «a courageous heart,» «a radical heart,» «a joyful heart.» 

Some holy cards and images of the Sacred Heart present a Jesus that doesn’t exactly inspire imitation, or even admiration. Some portray him as pasty white with an almost feline look; others give him a languid smile and liquid brown eyes that make him look more like a Latin American soap opera star than the Savior of the world. This doesn’t do justice to the real Jesus.

Jesus’ heart was compassionate and humble, to be sure, but it was also undivided, resolute, disciplined and magnanimous. One of the things I try to show in this book is how well-rounded Jesus was, and how he truly presents us with the most exciting and inspiring example of humanity ever known.

ZENIT: Did you learn anything writing this book?

Father Williams: I learned a lot. Writing this gave me the chance to reflect and pray about what is so attractive about Jesus, and why he has inspired men and women (and even children) to heroic lives of self-giving for the past 20 centuries. On a more personal note, it gave me the chance to reflect on who Jesus is to me, and why I follow him.

While I was writing the book I often reflected that if readers get just a fraction out of the book of what I did writing it, it was all worthwhile. There is always more to discover about Jesus, and just when we think we have him all «figured out,» he surprises us again.

At the end of each meditation I offer a section of personal prayer, in conversational form. I am convinced that we need not only to know about Jesus; we need to know him as a person, talk to him, bring him into each decision we make and every aspect of our daily lives. This has been helpful to me as well.

ZENIT: In an ecumenical age, wouldn’t it be better to focus on devotions that aren’t so distinctly Catholic?

Father Williams: Quite the contrary. This devotion is ecumenical to the core. In fact, I envisioned this book as a true bridge between Catholics and other Christians. Evangelicals in particular will identify with the Christ-centeredness that permeates the whole book.

Every meditation is drawn directly from God’s Word as expressed in the Gospels. There is such a treasure contained in sacred Scripture that one book alone isn’t nearly enough to even scratch the surface. Jesus’ personality is so rich, so multi-faceted, so deep, and so attractive, that it cannot help but draw all Christians toward a greater communion.

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On the Net:

«A Heart Like His: Meditations on the Sacred Heart of Jesus»:

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