I have had the privilege of attending two events recently that had an impression on me that I wished to share with my readers. One was the annual Fall Gathering - an event held each year for the parishes in my diocese where people can come to hear a keynote speech and attend various workshops dealing with the variety of ministries in which people are involved in our parishes. The second was another annual gathering - that of deacons and their wives from all the dioceses in New England and the Diocese of Albany in New York (where I serve). The main thrust of both events was that of evangelization - the primary mission of our Church.
The Diocese of Albany is embarking on the second year of a three year program concerning evangelization known as "Amazing God." This second year is devoted to the heart of Christ. At the Fall Gathering we were honored with a wonderful presentation by Father Richard Fragomeni, a priest of our diocese who currently teaches at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He led us through the Litany of the Sacred Heart pausing to have us reflect on various aspects of that litany.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began with the revelations to a seventeenth century French nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In a sense of irony, perhaps, my own ministerial life has been surrounded by the image of the Sacred Heart. For twenty years I served as the organist and music director of Sacred Heart Church in Troy, New York. After my ordination to the diaconate, my first parish assignment was to the parish of St. Margaret Mary in Albany, New York. Recently I returned to Sacred Heart Church in Troy as temporary administrator. I have known in my own life the great love that is poured forth from the heart of Christ and my prayer is that everyone could experience this in their lives. While I cannot reconstruct the beautiful images presented to us by Father Fragomeni, I would just like to add a few reflections of my own to the invocations of the Litany of the Sacred Heart.
Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity. What a wonderful image! A furnace - that which burns to give us warmth. We all know what it is like to be near a roaring fire especially when the world around us is cold. Think of the furnace of charity that burns within the heart of Jesus for us. We live in a world today that is often cold: cold with discrimination toward others; cold with indifference to the value of human life; cold with regard to how we use the gifts God has given us to keep our earth a safe and habitable place. The heart of Christ burns with great love like a fiery furnace. We need to bask in that warmth and love and in turn give it to others.
Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy. The love which pours forth from the heart of Christ with the fire like a furnace is a love that is patient. It is a love which reaches out in compassion to all regardless of how much we have failed at times to earn that love. How many times in the Gospels did Jesus show his divine mercy to those who had fallen in some way. He did not strike out at them with the vengeance of the righteous but rather extended the hand of mercy and forgiveness (cf. John 8:1-11). We are called to do the same to those who have hurt us. We are challenged to forgive and be patient.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sin. We are all sinners and need the forgiveness of God and others. Jesus went to the cross as a victim for the sins we have committed. How grateful we should be that this great act of love on the part of Jesus has brought us redemption and the promise of heaven and eternal life. May the final prayer of this litany be ours: Almighty and everlasting God, graciously regard the heart of your well-beloved Son and the acts of praise and satisfaction which he renders you on behalf of us sinners; and through their merit, grant pardon to us who implore your mercy.
The second event I was privileged to attend recently was the annual assembly of deacons and wives from our region in the country. Our keynote speaker at this event was the Most Rev. Octvavio Cisneros, the auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, New York. He spoke about the deacon (and the deacon's wife) as evangelizer. The main point he made is that the evangelization carried out by the deacon is not done so much in what the deacon does as in what the deacon is. The deacon by his life must show what it is to be motivated by the heart of Christ. He must live his ministry and not just do it. In this way, he can be more effective in bringing others to Christ. As a deacon, I know how easy it is to be caught up in all the "things" we do as deacons: serving at liturgy, proclaiming the Word, and offering a ministry of charity through a variety of ways. We can become so busy with the actions that we might lose sight of why we are doing what we do. We need to step back and take stock and to ask ourselves if we are doing these things because "that's our job" or are we doing them with the fire, the compassion and the love shown by the heart of Christ.
All of us as baptized Christians, whether ordained or not, need to live our lives with the image of the heart of Christ being our model of life. May I offer this prayer from a collection of prayers written by my friend, the Servant of God Terence Cardinal Cooke:
Lord Jesus, I unite myself to your perpetual, unceasing, universal sacrifice. I offer myself to you every day of my life and every moment of every day, according to your most holy and adorable will. You have been the victim of my salvation; I wish to be the victim of your love. Accept my desire, take my offering, graciously hear my prayer. Let me live for love of you; let me die for love of you; let my last heartbeat be an act of perfect love. Amen.