In June last year, Archbishop Porteous celebrated the 125th Anniversary of the establishment of Sacred Heart School Ulverstone, in Tasmania. The school was established by St Mary Mackillop’s order, the Sisters of St Joseph.
In his homily, Bishop Porteous linked the feast of the Sacred Heart with the spirit which inspired the Brown Josephites.
Last Friday the Catholic world celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The name of the school and of the parish is in honour of the Sacred Heart. It is worth recalling the significance of this name as we celebrate this anniversary.
It is worth noting that the full name of the Sisters who began this school is Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. This clearly reflects the spirituality of St Mary MacKillop.
Both St Mary Mackillop and Fr Julian Tennison Woods grew up in a time when devotion to the Sacred Heart was one of the hallmarks of Catholic spirituality.
The strength of this devotion generally in the Church is reflected in the fact that churches built in that era had two side altars – one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and one side altar dedicated to the Sacred Heart.
What was it in this spirituality that inspired St Mary Mackillop to have this devotion as central to that of the Sisters that she founded?
Devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Church at that time was particularly inspired by a series of apparitions of the Lord to a French nun, St Margaret Mary Alacoque, in the town of Paray-le-monial in France, which began in 1673.
During the octave of Corpus Christi in 1675 she had a vision which became known as the “great apparition” In this vision the Lord said to her, “Behold the Heart that has so loved men so much ... instead of gratitude I receive from the greater part (of mankind) only ingratitude ...”, and the Lord asked Margaret Mary for a feast of reparation on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi – which was last Friday.
This appeal of the Lord to St Margaret Mary struck the hearts of many men and women of faith in the centuries that followed – Mary Mackillop and Julian Tennison Woods among them. The Lord was declaring the depth – indeed the fire – of his love for humanity and yet saying that he received so little love in return.
This appeal of the Lord stirred the heart of Mary Mackillop.
She explained her own response to these words saying, “And with this burning appeal of the Sacred Heart came such a rush of longing desire on my part to be Its lover and Its true child that, at a glance, the falseness of the world appeared before me; the beauty, the pity and the generosity of the Sacred Heart in this loving appeal could not be resisted”.
Her own response to this message shaped her faith and the spiritual vision of her life.
Mary Mackillop heard a call from the heart of Christ and she responded with her own wholehearted desire to give all to Christ. This was the spirit of our first saint. This is why the Sisters have the title of Sacred Heart linked to their name.
Today as we celebrate this anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters to staff a school here let us recall the religious spirit that animated their consecrated lives and the spirit of the faith that they imparted to their students. Let us desire to capture afresh something of this spirit of faith that inspired them.
In the heart of Jesus is a love for humanity that is beyond imagining. The image of the Sacred Heart has a flame above it – the fire of the love.
The image of the Sacred Heart has a crown of thorns around it – the suffering this heart of willing to endure.
The image of the Sacred Heart is pierced – from the heart flowed blood and water which the ancient Fathers saw as reflecting the sacramental life of the Church.
When we contemplate the image of the heart of Jesus which was revealed to St Margaret Mary we are drawn to realise that this heart not only loved but was prepared to suffer. The heart of Jesus is finally revealed at Calvary.
Mary Mackillop knew this. As she contemplated the heart of Jesus she was drawn to see the world around as shallow and false. She saw a love that attracted her and inspired her.
She experienced a love that led her to give over all to Christ.
Thus, because of this love of the Heart of Jesus which Mary Mackillop herself came to know, Sacred Heart School at Ulverstone was born.
When we hear the name, Sacred Heart, let us not pass by its profound meaning. Let us desire to enter into the depth of love that lies in the heart of Jesus.