Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day! And while most good Irish (and there are only good Irish) will be focused on St Patrick himself, I wanted to think of old Ireland for a moment. The one thing you can’t miss in any Irish home of an older generation is a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, enthroned on the living room wall.
The Sacred Heart is devotion to Jesus’ heart and His perfect love, human and divine, for us all. Ireland has a long history of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Her bishops consecrated the nation to Him on Passion Sunday in 1873, one of the very first countries to do so.
The practice of consecrating the family to the Sacred Heart was widespread in Ireland until the 1960s. Families placed a picture of the Sacred Heart in some prominent place in the home, before which a lamp was kept constantly burning. This was the centre of the family’s spiritual life. To this day, the Sacred Heart picture with the eternal lamp and the Papal Marriage blessing evoke the mood of 1950s and 1960s Ireland.
– Dr. Louise Fuller, Devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Irish Experience
I suppose the Sacred Heart appeals to the Irish. For a great deal of her recent history, she was oppressed, poor and suffering; and I think the Sacred Heart speaks to all people who are hurting. I know I turn to the divine Heart of my Lord when my own feels battered and overwhelmed. Then there’s that famed Irish melancholy which can always appreciate a good bleeding heart.
Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.
– William Butler Yeats
Last year, I wrote about my discovery of the Sacred Heart and the Treasury of prayers that my Irish grandmother gave me. It belonged to her father from the 1950s. In it is a beautiful prayer for Ireland and it definitely takes you back to those times.
O Most Sacred and Most Loving Heart of Jesus, to which the Irish nation is most solemnly dedicated, preserve our nation in faith, in purity, and in charity. Through all its trials, its sorrows, its persecutions in the past it has remained faithful to the teaching of its great Apostle, St Patrick.
May the former glory of its apostolic faith again appear. May it become again the seat of learning and religion. May the rising generation see its rights restored. May the zeal of its priesthood increase. May the purity of its daughters preserve its stainless character. May the honour of its sons remained unsullied.
May the evil of intemperance cease. May the spirit of infidelity and rationalism never reach its shores. May its attachment to the See of Peter and its obedience to ecclesiastical superiors never suffer diminution. May sanctity be its atmosphere.
And may it daily render greater glory and honour to thee, Most Sacred Heart, to which every true Irish heart is, and will ever be, most devotedly attached. Amen.
God save Ireland, and bless her Bishops, priests, and religious; her leaders, her friends, and her people everywhere.
For we postmodern Catholics living in an increasingly antagonistic secular culture, the 1950s can seem like a haven of orderly devotions and lace doilies. Reality is always more complicated and the dramatic loss of faith in the second half of the 20th Century was due in part to such traditional Catholic cultures where clericalism and its twin, ritualism, abounded and prelates acted more like than pastors.
But I think that’s the strength of Christianity. However much it is culturally wedded to power, its DNA is inherently subversive. It’s heart is the pierced and holy Heart of the One who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
It’s why we can always find enormous comfort in the Sacred Heart, and why I’m still entrusting the whole country of Ireland, and everyone with even a smidgen of Irish spirit, to the Most Sacred and Most Loving Heart of Jesus.
Love is never defeated, and I could add, the history of Ireland proves it.
– Pope John Paul II in Galway, September 1979.