June 2018 Allocutio
By Fr. Bede McGregor O.P. Spiritual Director to the Concilium
Devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Life of Frank Duff
Shortly after I was appointed vice-postulator for the Cause of Frank Duff, I made a long visit to the house where Frank lived for most of his life and where he died. In his bedroom on the wall directly opposite his bed was a large picture of the Sacred Heart. So it would be the last thing he looked at before going to sleep and the first thing he looked at when he awoke in the morning and it was most probably the last thing he looked at before he died. As I stood there in the bedroom I began to wonder what role devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus played in his inner life and outward apostolate.
I was familiar at the time, from knowledge of the Handbook, of his deep conviction concerning the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in homes. He wrote: ‘It will be found that the propagation of the devotion of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in the home provides an especially favourable introduction and avenue to friendship of families. … It is sufficiently stressed that no home should be passed over and that in each home loving and persevering effort is to be directed towards the inducing of each person, young and old without exception, to ascend at least one step in the spiritual life.’ He loved to quote his friend and the first spiritual director of Concilium: ‘Get the Sacred Heart enthroned in the home and you have already won the day.’ As an aside, may I suggest that in our times when marriage and the family are often under severe attack in many countries especially ones that were once deeply Catholic that the Legion may take a serious look on this particularly precious suggested apostolate of the Legion.
As I continued to look at the picture of the Sacred Heart in Frank’s bedroom, I remembered of course that in 1914 at the age of 25 Frank became a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart. He had a loathing for wearing any kind of badges and this delayed his becoming a member but he told his close friend Fr. Bradshaw that one day he came across the words of Christ in the Gospel: ‘If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.’ (Matt. 10:32-33) ‘Well, if it was like that, then there would be no two ways about it. He wasn’t going to be accused of timidity or moral cowardice on Judgement Day. He went along to enrol at the Pioneer Centre.’ For Frank being a Pioneer was simply a way of expressing his deep personal love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a way of making reparation and doing penance out of love for Him.
However, as the years have gone by since that long visit to the home of Frank Duff I have come to realise that the role of the Sacred Heart in the inner life of our founder was much deeper and richer than particular devotional practices or special apostolates. It is absolutely central to his spirituality and one cannot understand the life of Frank Duff or the Legion without getting some grip of it. There are also many passages of the Handbook which I think cannot be really appreciated without some adequate understanding of the role of the Sacred Heart in the inner life of Frank Duff.
Above all the Sacred Heart points to the central truth of Revelation, namely, the shortest, deepest, and only definition of God given to us in the New Testament: ‘God is Love’. Love not only defines the inner life of God and gives us the clue that God is not an infinite solitude but a Trinity of Persons eternally celebrating as a community of Love but that Love also defines the relationship of God to the whole created order and most especially His relationship to humankind, individually and collectively. God’s love governs his relationship to me and you down to the very last detail, he offers us nothing else but love, whether we accept it or not. He never withdraws that love from us. It is absolute and unconditional. That is essentially the Good News.
We see this love in the fact of creation. God cannot benefit from creation, it cannot add or subtract from his infinite happiness. The only one to benefit from creation is the creature. God’s love for us is infinitely selfless. However, much greater than creation is the manifestation of his love in the Incarnation when he becomes one of us and what’s more it is a redemptive Incarnation which reaches its sublime climax in the crucifixion when he dies, as St. Paul puts it, for the ungodly, for sinners, his enemies. It is precisely, this redemptive love of the Sacred Heart that captivated the very soul of Frank Duff and he desired more than anything else to respond to this love and to share in its outpouring on the world. His life was one of utter thanksgiving for the absolutely staggering love of the Sacred Heart for every human person especially the hardened sinner. If you think I may be exaggerating the centrality of the Sacred Heart in the inner life of Frank Duff I would beg you read that section of the Handbook: ‘Infinite patience and sweetness must be lavished on a priceless soul.’ There you have the essence of what Frank Duff and the Legion is all about.
Let us conclude with a quotation from the writings of Pope Benedict:
“In the pierced Heart of the Crucified, God’s own heart is opened up; here we see who God is and what he is like. Heaven is no longer locked up. God has stepped out of his hiddenness. That is why St. John sums up the meaning of the Cross and the nature of the new worship of God in the mysterious promise made through the prophet Zechariah (12:10), ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced.’ (John 19:37)”