In collaboration with the “Heritage and Spirituality” group
Waldemar Bettio Brazil – IRSCM
“I ask God to fill you with his graces; I beg the Blessed Virgin to take you under her protection.”
(Jean Gailhac, in: Letters to the RSHM, GS/8/IX/86/A. Vol. II).
25 June 2022: the Christian-Catholic world celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, one day after the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Hearts united in the liturgical calendar, as they were in life. For the Institute of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a reason for rejoicing, reflection and commitment.
When, in 1849, Father Jean Gailhac linked the nascent congregation to the Sacred Heart of Mary, he did not do so by chance. According to Sr. Rosa do Carmo Sampaio, in “A JOURNEY IN FAITH AND TIME – History of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary”, this choice was linked to the spiritual environment of France at that time. Since the beginning of the 19th century, a Marian theology had developed in the country according to the conception of Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle, founder of the Oratorians and principal representative of the French school of spirituality. For him, Mary was to be understood in intimate connection with Jesus and as the most accessible means of reaching him. This theological development is particularly present in the devotion to the Immaculate Conception and the Heart of Mary. Sampaio states:
“…the name of the Institute of the Sacred Heart of Mary is a reflection of the times, insofar as it reflects the spiritual atmosphere of the Church at that time.
It is natural and understandable that in spite of Gailhac’s having given the Institute a Christ-centered spirituality, he also saw in Mary the best model for women religious to follow and imitate Jesus Christ.
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”. As a human person, Mary is the most perfect image of Jesus. In imitating her, the sisters imitate Jesus. She is the surest, the most transparent, the most radiant way to acquire the spirit of Jesus Christ. Mary is, therefore, a model perfectly identified with the theological currents of the time and with the human and feminine reality of the religious.”. (CFT, Vol. I, p. 168).
Further on, Sampaio continues:
“The work of God is one – the work of redemption – which is also the Jesus’ only work. It is the sisters’ duty to continue this work of Jesus Christ, that is, to cooperate in the work of redemption. The works that the sisters work do are not an end in themselves, are not the final goal of the Institute; rather, they are only a means through which to collaborate in the work of salvation. What is essential is to participate in the redemption of humanity. The works, the tasks, the expressions may vary according to the times, the local needs and talents of the sisters; what is unchangeable is to be a gift to God and to others in the perspective of the liberation of the human person.
This broad, dynamic mission, sensitive to the essential, was what Gailhac wished to translate into the name he gave to the Institute. Mary is 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 the place where the word is received and kept and where signs and events are read. Her heart is a symbol of fidelity, of a total ‘yes’ to God.” (CFT, Vol. I, p. 169).
This total and unconditional surrender of the woman of Nazareth to God is reflected in the symbolism of the image of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Her heart, symbol of life, interiority and affection, is outside her chest, burning with fire and surrounded by thorns. He loves so much that he cannot bear to be kept; he needs to free himself and give himself to all those who have recourse to him. He burns with zeal, with care for his sons and daughters. He does not deny or remain indifferent to the pain and suffering of humanity, but takes it on with empathy and compassion, takes it on as his own, questions it and fights it in an active and non-violent way, standing firmly and faithfully by the side of the oppressed, as he did when he stood by the side of his Son, murdered on the cross.
The essence of this open, compassionate, supportive and maternal heart is also revealed in the immediate “Yes” to the announcement of the angel Gabriel; in the eagerness with which she goes to serve her elderly cousin Elizabeth; in the critical and prophetic awareness of the “Magnificat”; in the humility of the manger, when, rejected by the centre, she receives the warmth of the periphery and of the Common House, represented by the field, the manger, the animals, the straw and the shepherds. She is also revealed in the insecurity of displacement through the desert and the life of a refugee in Egypt; in the anonymity and invisibility of Nazareth, which identifies with the millions of people who are like that today; in the anguish and internal maturation of the events in the Temple, when the adolescent Jesus gets lost and finds himself in conversation with the doctors of the law; in the sensitivity of solidarity at the wedding in Cana, when Mary shows herself attentive to the needs of the bride and groom, mediating with Jesus and guaranteeing the healthy celebration. Finally, she is laid bare in the discreet and strengthening presence at the side of the Son in his public life; in the pain, courage and resistance revealed at the foot of the cross; in the joy of the Resurrection; in the historical information transmitted to the evangelists and in the witness of faith transmitted to the first Christian communities. In other words, it was in life, in the field of history, in the various circumstances that Mary revealed who she was: a worthy Mother of Jesus and of us, a cooperator par excellence in the Work of Redemption and, therefore, worthy of serving as a model for the Religious of the SHM and for anyone who sets out to defend and promote life in its fullness for each and every person.
Father Gailhac was fully aware of all this and, conscious of his responsibility as Founder to transmit to the Sisters “the spirit of the Institute”, which is “the spirit of Jesus Christ”, he looked to Mary, an exemplary disciple of Jesus, for the characteristics that would most help the Sisters to become “One with Jesus Christ”. And what did you discover in the “heart of Mary”? “Humility, obedience and dedication to Jesus Christ” (GS/25/IX/72/C); “the most beautiful reflection of Jesus… a heart full of charity” (GS/17/VII/74/A); “admirable patience and perseverance that never gets discouraged” (GS/29/IX/81/A); “God in her and she in God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit… an interior life” (GS/25/X/81/A); “humble… all love… poor… dedicated to the glory of God… renunciations and sacrifices” (GS/09/IX/82/A).
Imitating such a model was not an easy task; and Jean Gailhac knew it well. However, he wanted “his daughters” to be holy, exemplary, “other Jesus Christ”. That is why he insisted and encouraged:
“You are entering the family of the Sacred Heart of Mary. And for what purpose? To become saints, co-operators in the great work of Jesus Christ, the work of Redemption. (GS/04/IX/82/A)
“You are daughters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, of that Heart which has cooperated so much in the redemption of the world. The mere mention of this name indicates to you what dedication and zeal you must have to cooperate in the sanctification of all in order to give glory to God. Let everything in your lives speak of holiness and draw people to God. (GS/10/VI/84/A).
“Consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Mary, live in such a way as to become one heart with that heart. How beautiful is this vocation” (GS/09/IX/82/A).
Yes, beautiful and difficult is the task of those who, with Mary as their model, want to become “one with Jesus Christ” and to collaborate with Him in the great and permanent Work of Redemption, helping human beings to be ever more fully human, as God has created them and as He would have them be, by free choice. Such a mission requires self-control, partnership and fraternity/sorority with others, care and respect for the common House, and an interior life that fosters constant discernment of the will of God. May the meditative capacity of Mary’s heart and her spirit of faith and zeal enlighten us on this path!
Area of Brazil