This past week, we entered the month of June. Traditionally, this month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And after such a tough year, humanity once again needs the tender image and message of the Lord’s Sacred Heart.

Although there were various forms of prayer and images of the Sacred Heart throughout Church history, the devotion of the Sacred Heart grew in popularity in the seventeenth century. This growth in the devotion happened in large part because of the reported apparitions of Jesus Christ to St. Margaret Mary Alocoque.

As the Sacred Heart is proposed to the minds and hearts of the human family this month, it’s worth knowing more about the context of the apparitions and how they can encourage and help us today.

It’s reported that the Sacred Heart of Jesus first appeared to St. Margaret Mary in 1673. The nun was known to be of modest intellect and clumsy in her duties. Nevertheless, Jesus came and spoke to her. He showed her his heart and gave her a message over a span of eighteen months.

The message of the Sacred Heart was one that emphasized the immensity of God’s love and compassion for all people. It echoed the biblical call of Jesus for fallen humanity to turn to him for mercy, healing, and restoration.

The messages of the apparition were an echo of the Lord’s teachings during his public ministry: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In its own historical context, the message of the Sacred Heart could not have been more timely. It came at a time when the Church was neck deep with Jansenism, which taught a radical pessimism about human nature and salvation. Jansenism insisted on rigorous ascetical practices and an observance of disciplines to the absence of mercy and compassion.

In contrast, the Sacred Heart message reminded humanity of its dignity and of God’s burning love for each soul. The threat of hell fire by the Jansenists was overshadowed by the Lord’s heart afire with love and mercy.

Pope Saint John Paul II taught us: “A furnace burns. In burning, it sears away all that is material: brush or any other easily combustible material. The Heart of Jesus, the human Heart of Jesus, burns with the love that permeates it. And this love is love for the Eternal Father and love for men, for the adopted daughters and sons. A furnace, in burning, little by little goes out. The Heart of Jesus, instead, is an inextinguishable furnace.”

While there is not a widespread threat of Jansenism in our own day, we can observe a heaviness and morose demeanor covering the heart of humanity. For over a year, people have been afraid, isolated, and anxious about the pandemic and the plethora of family, fiscal, and social ills that have accompanied it.

It has been a hades of a year and there are sorrowful consequences. Humanity is struggling to preserve its spiritual health. Hope is endangered in many hearts and peace seems impossible to many souls.

In the midst of such throes, the Church points the world to the Sacred Heart and to a message of trust and love, peace and hope. In drawing close to the fires of divine love, humanity can find its strength again and begin to reclaim the portions of its life that have been overtaken by fear and anxiety.

The Sacred Heart reminds us that we have been made by God and for God. We were created to share in his glory. And so, paranoia and despair can be dispelled. Other fallen spirits that seek to exaggerate and cause restlessness and uneasiness within the human soul can be exorcised. In the Sacred Heart, we are offered continued healing and liberation.

As the pandemic wanes, humanity has a choice. We can dwell as if we are still under immediate threat, or we can realize the new horizon before us and – with the help and encouragement of the Sacred Heart of the God who loves us, we can choose to cast our fear and start living our lives again.

Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby