Importance of Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Interview With Director of the Apostleship of Prayer in Italy

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ROME, JUNE 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- This Friday's feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's encyclical "Haurietis Aquas," on this devotion.



Benedict XVI has written a letter for this occasion to Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, superior general of the Jesuits.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Massimo Taggi, national director of the Apostleship of Prayer in Italy, talks about devotion to the Sacred Heart as an effective means to counteract secularization.

Q: What is the meaning and importance today of devotion to the Sacred Heart?

Father Taggi: In a world that, on one hand, is characterized by marvelous positive aspects, both at the scientific as well as the technical, cultural and social level, with a strong desire for justice, peace and solidarity, but which, on the other hand, seems terribly ambiguous and confused, in a crisis of values, essentially materialistic, devotion to the Sacred Heart offers a fundamental indication to capture the true image of God and the profound meaning of life.

If what a French thinker says, wonderfully, that "the quality of life depends on the quality of sentiments," a return to the heart -- understood in the biblical sense, as a person's center, where thoughts, decisions and sentiments find their existential point of synthesis -- and specifically to the Heart of Jesus, Word incarnate, is the royal road to "draw with joy the waters from the sources of salvation."

As the Holy Father Benedict XVI says in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est": "Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow. Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God."

Q: Why has this devotion been lost over the past 30 years?

Father Taggi: It hasn't really been lost altogether. Even in the post-conciliar period, devotion to the Sacred Heart continued to exist, especially at the level of popular religiosity and in very widespread devotional practices, such as the daily offering prayer, promoted by the Apostleship of Prayer, hours of adoration on the first Friday of the month, etc.

At the same time, it is true that it has been questioned and marginalized by the quite well founded criticism of falling prey to "devotionism," or with the assumption, much less founded, that after the Second Vatican Council there was no room for such things.

The real reason for the crisis is that it was not understood that it is not a question of an optional, minor devotion, but of a spirituality, a devotion whose foundation, as the Holy Father Benedict XVI has written in his message to Father Kolvenbach on May 15, is as old as Christianity itself.

Q: Why and in what way will the 50th anniversary of Pius XII's encyclical "Haurietis Aquas" be observed?

Father Taggi: We have decided to hold a national congress of the Apostleship of Prayer, for the 50th anniversary of "Haurietis Aquas" for two reasons: because that encyclical was an important document, which addressed in a complete and profound way the subject of devotion to the Heart of Jesus, taking into consideration the objections that were already arising and giving them an authoritative answer; and because we are convinced that today's world is in great need of discovering that God is love, that affectivity and not sentimentalism, is an essential component of an authentic relationship with God in Jesus Christ; that an attitude of mercy, accepted and given, is the foundation of authentic peace at all levels, from the family to interethnic and international relations, as clearly seen in the teachings of John Paul II and now of Benedict XVI.

The Apostleship of Prayer was born in Vals, near Le Puy, in France, on December 3, 1844, at the initiative of Jesuit Father Xavier Gautrelet.

The activity began as a proposal of spiritual life for a group of seminarians of the Society of Jesus, and it spread immediately, like an oil stain, to the different strata of the Church.

This development was given great impetus by another Jesuit, Father Henry Ramiere, so much so that at the end of the 19th century there were, both in and outside of Europe, 35,000 local centers -- parishes and religious institutes -- with over 13 million registered devotees worldwide.

It was very soon introduced in Italy by the Barnabites. In Naples, specifically, it was widespread through the work of Blessed Caterina Volpicelli.

The charism of the Apostleship of Prayer may be defined as living "baptism consciously and actively, especially the common priesthood which is proper to all the baptized."

It is lived through the daily offering of all one's personal experience, in union with the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus and for the special intentions that the Pope indicates every month at the universal level; the spirit of reparation, which is translated also in concrete actions at the social level; and with acts of consecration -- personal, of the family, etc. -- to the Heart of Jesus, as a specific expression of baptismal consecration.

In regard to followers, recent and reliable estimates indicate at least 50 million people in all the continents follow the Apostleship of Prayer.