Heritage and Spirituality Group
Kathleeen Connel RSHM
The month of June has, at its center, two important feasts—on Friday, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, on the very next day, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Two hearts, side by side, over- flowing with love. Two days to celebrate Jesus the Son and Mary his mother, our mother as Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, and mother of us all.
In her book, That They May Have Life, Mary Milligan, RSHM writes of the central importance of the Heart of Jesus in Gailhac’s Christological vision. In our founder’s writings, the Heart of Jesus is a loving heart, the source of grace, a place of presence, of meeting, and the Sisters are to dwell in His heart and unite their hearts to His and be united as one.
What is missing from Gailhac’s writings on the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the emphasis on reparation(to console the heart of Jesus) and any reference to His “Universal Dominion,” both devotions so prominent in the 19th century. Instead, Mary Milligan explains, “Gailhac centers his attention almost exclusively on the Heart of Jesus as a symbol, source and locus of the interior life of Jesus. This centering reflects the central role which identification with the Person of Christ holds in Gailhac’s faith vision.” (See Milligan, 102-103)
It is very clear that Gailhac gave to the RSHM a Christ-centered spirituality focused on transformation into Christ. “Let us put on Jesus Christ. Let us be so united to Jesus Christ that we can say in all truth: ‘I live, no, it is not I who live; it is Jesus Christ who lives in me.’ ”(GS/23/VIII/84/A). Gailhac writes: “To form Jesus Christ fully in you, to live by Jesus Christ, to share the same life as Jesus Christ, to be other Christs, that is the goal of your journey.” (GS/1/III/81/A)
Why then does Gailhac give the name Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary to his new congregation? Rosa do Carmo Sampaio, RSHM asks this question in her reflection “What’s in a Name.” Was it because between 1830 and 1860, the title Heart of Mary was often used by congregations in France? Did Gailhac choose the title “because Mary is a model perfectly identified with the theological currents of the times and with the human, feminine reality of religious?” Possibly, but Rosa do Carmo suggests a deeper motive: “For Gailhac, the life of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary should be a following of Jesus, imitating Mary because ‘the spirit of Mary is precisely the spirit of Jesus Christ’. Mary was the one who participated fully in the saving mission of Jesus. She was the one who cooperated most perfectly in the work of redemption. It was in her own heart that her availability to God was born. It was there that she learned to love others and to give her life to her son, Jesus . . . The heart of Mary is, for Gailhac, a symbol of fidelity, of a total ‘yes’ to God.” (See Sampaio, A Journey in Faith and Time, Vol. I, 168-169)
Gailhac often reminded the Sisters: “You are the daughters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, of that heart that so cooperated in the redemption of the world. This name alone tells you what your devotion should be, with what zeal you should cooperate in the sanctification of persons to give glory to God for all eternity.” (GS/10/VI/84/A).
Father Maymard, a priest who lived in the Good Shepherd community with Gailhac, affirmed that Gailhac’s devotion to the Heart of Jesus was inseparable from that to the Heart of Mary. How can one think of the mother without remembering her Son? How love the Son without loving His mother?
I will close this reflection with an encouraging letter written by Gailhac to “My dearly beloved daughters in Jesus Christ.” It is a short time before his death and for Gailhac, Jesus and Mary seem inseparable. The two hearts have become one. The letter reads in part:
“What should your life be? It must be like that of Jesus and Mary. In imitating the life of Mary, you will imitate the life of Jesus because he is the divine Sun of holiness and Mary is his admirable reflection . . . What, in fact, is your mission? You already know it. You should represent Jesus by your resemblance to Mary . . . Be a sister of the Sacred Heart of Mary as she is the image of Jesus. . . Daughters of Mary, walk in the footsteps of your spouse and of your mother. How exalted and consoling your vocation is! You have only to follow Jesus and Mary.” (GS/17/II/87/A)
Kathleen Connell, RSHM