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Encountering the Heart of Jesus, Now

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 21, 2017 | In Reviews

In her Liturgical Year commentary on Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Jennifer Gregory Miller identified Tim O’Donnell’s Heart of the Redeemer as “one of the best books” on the subject—as indeed it is. That’s why Trinity Communications published the book back in its early print-media days, and why Ignatius Press picked it up when we could not continue in book publishing, and why Ignatius has just brought out a new second edition, with forewords by both Gerhard Cardinal Müller (until recently Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and Rev. Wojciech Giertych (appointed Theologian of the Papal Household by Benedict XVI).

The new expanded edition includes a greater consideration of the contributions of Pope St. John Paul II to the development of the theology and devotion to the Sacred Heart, as well as the contributions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. At the time of our initial publication of the book in the late 1980s, I naturally read it very carefully and was deeply impressed by the range and depth of its contents. My estimate of the book’s worth has only increased over the years. It is the work of a profound theologian who very clearly does theology on his knees. It is a work for scholars, of course, but also for those who simply have—or want to have—a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Across the book’s seven substantial chapters, O’Donnell—who is President and Professor of Theology at Christendom College—thoroughly explores every aspect of the devotion: its dogmatic foundations; its history; the visions and mission of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque; the devotion as referenced in the Magisterium from Leo XIII to Pius XII; the contributions of the Second Vatican Council and Pope Blessed Paul VI; the contributions of Pope Saint John Paul II, the Catechism, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis; and its comprehensive relevance, in the final chapter.

Entitled “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: A Grace for the Modern Era and All Times,” this last chapter covers the obligation and validity of the devotion and shows its connections with the Trinity, Christ’s humanity, Christocentric spirituality, devotion to Mary, the Mystical Body, the Eucharist, the apostolate, the interior Life, universal brotherhood, and reparation for sin. An appendix entitled “Living the Heart of Christ” acquaints the reader with those organizations and associations which particularly practice and promote the devotion. Another appendix includes the original introductions by the two luminaries who prefaced the first edition, John Cardinal O’Connor and Fr. John Hardon, SJ. A great many Catholic spiritual leaders have admired this important work.

A bonus is the inclusion of selected pictures (in black and white) of a number of the most notable works of art depicting the Sacred Heart and devotion to it over the centuries. In addition, the full-color cover features what I believe is the finest representation of the Sacred Heart for devotional purposes. It is so compelling that, for a time in our early history, we sold copies of it. You can see it if you scroll down the page of Jennifer Gregory Miller’s article (linked in the first paragraph), and of course in the mini-image advertising the book below. An artist commissioned by the International Institute of the Heart of Jesus created this popular image by adding the Sacred Heart to a detail of the painting “Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler”, done by Johann M. F. Heinrich Hofmann in 1889. Hoffman’s original work hangs in Riverside Church in New York City.

It seems to me that this painting optimally conveys the character of both O’Donnell’s special book and the devotion itself. Here we have a strong, masculine yet highly sympathetic image of Our Lord, neither too stylized nor in the least saccharine, representing Someone we could certainly follow, and could certainly love—for the simple reason that He loves us with every beat of his Sacred Heart. But the text is truly better, deeper, and richer than the image, even if it must touch us in a different way. If you have not yet read Heart of the Redeemer, it is unlikely that you have penetrated the Sacred Heart as fully as you can. It is seriously worth considering whether God is calling you to go deeper through this simple review.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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