The Church has always nourished its life on the personal revelations given by the Spirit to chosen souls. The first we encounter was Saint Stephen the protomartyr; he saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. A witness to Stephen’s stoning was later to have his own private revelation on the road to Damascus. Later he wrote to the converts in Corinth that he had several times been taken up to the third heaven and heard revelations he was not allowed to speak of. The exile on the island of Patmos wrote a whole book on his revelation of the heavenly Jerusalem which awaits all the faithful. These are all found in the Sacred Scriptures.
Down the centuries of the Church’s existence, men and women have continued to claim personal revelations given to them from God. More so in these latter centuries than in the early Church. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1600’s revealed that the Lord had appeared and spoken to her, to the dismay and persecution of her fellow religious in the Visitation convent where she lived. She reported that Jesus himself manifested to her his pierced and flaming heart, wrapped in a circle of thorns. He called upon this most unlikely spokesperson to promote in his Church the devotion to his Sacred Heart wounded by the sins and burning with divine love for sinners. Our Lord made special promises to Saint Margaret Mary which she was commanded to repeat, for all who received Holy Communion on the First Friday of each month for nine months in succession. Those of us who grew up in the years before the Second Vatican Council are most familiar with the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the nine First Fridays
This is not the only private revelation made to an individual recognized by the Church. Sifting out the myriads of false claims to a personal revelation from God, the Church has confirmed over the centuries that the Lord Jesus and his most Blessed Mother Mary have appeared to chosen souls, in order to rekindle in the Church the devotion of the faithful.. Just as there are myriads of false claims to receiving a personal revelation, in contrast to those which the Church has pronounced authentic, so too there are myriads more of unknown personal revelations made individually to devout believers, experiences which have never come to public notice but remain secret to the one who receives it. A grace intended for the individual alone.
Pope Pius XII was near death in 1954, four years before he eventually died in 1958, when he reported how our Lord had appeared by his bedside and healed him to continue on his ministry to the Church for a while longer. As Jesus did in the Gospel when he healed the mother-in-law of St. Peter, so once again in 1954. We should not think there is something all that rare about God’s visits to his people, some given for themselves alone and others intended for the whole Church in times of great need. Behold I am with you all days, until the end of the world.
I mentioned Saint Stephen and Saint Paul. What about Saint Bernard and Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Francis of Assisi? In more modern times, Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, Saint Lucy of Fatima, Saint Faustina in Poland. The Church has proclaimed on the Second Sunday of Easter, the Octave Day of the Resurrection, as Divine Mercy Sunday. In every time and place the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed anew, in ways to capture the imagination and devotion of the faithful.
These are all private revelations, as opposed to the revelation of the Sacred Scriptures. They are offered as a source of grace to the faithful. While we celebrate those events that the Church had judged authentic, they have been given for a particular time in the Church’s life. The mysteries of salvation revealed by the incarnate Son of God and the sacraments which he handed down to us are the primary sources of holiness in our lives. If we feel drawn to one or other of the personal revelations made at particular times, that is a blessing. But they always must be found in union with the Holy Scriptures which remain the primary means of God speaking to our hearts through the Holy Spirit abiding within us.
Today we honor the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As Pope Benedict wrote: “The essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed in the Heart of Jesus. In Christ the whole of the Gospel was revealed and given to us. His divine Heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human certainties to trust in him, and following his example, to make of ourselves a gift of love without reserve.” May these words of our former Holy Father bless our celebration today of this feast of the Scared Heart of Jesus, whose heart was pierced for us, and move us to follow his example of love.