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The Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Spirituality of St. Arnold Janssen

Author: Maria Inês de Aragão, SSpS
Subject: Sacred Heart of Jesus, Arnold Janssen
Language: English, Spanish

The spirituality of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is closely linked to our holy founder, Arnold Janssen, who was deeply influenced by this devotion himself and made it an essential part of the spirituality of  his missionary foundations. Taking as a starting point the book of Sr. Franziska Carolina Rehbein, “Captivated by the Mystery”, I will present here a synthesis of the relationship of Saint Arnold with the Heart of Jesus.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is very old and has always been linked to the contemplation of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Totally ignored in the first millennium, it appears clearly for the first time, with the Cistercian school and, later, in the Franciscan order. From the seventeenth century, through the visions of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, this devotion became popular, being one of the focuses of the French School of Spirituality, which deeply marked the Church in Western Europe.

The spirituality of the Sacred Heart is very simple and is accessible to everyone. It aims to help the faithful go into their own hearts and to the Heart of Jesus, as the most intimate nucleus of the person, where they meet their Lord. This devotion teaches “The heart of our heart is God himself, with his logic rooted in love. He brings us closer to the compassionate love of Christ for humanity. Through this devotion, we ask that we be clothed with the virtues and qualities of the Heart of the Son, setting our hearts on fire with the love that impelled him, becoming more and more like him and forming one body with him. We also contemplate the pierced heart of Jesus who, on the Cross gave himself for us with such an immense gratuitous and compassionate love.

In 1856, two hundred years after the apparitions of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted. This feast is celebrated in June each year. The movement that particularly spread this devotion during 19th century was the Apostleship of Prayer, approved by Pope Pius IX in 1849. Today the Apostolate is a pontifical work. The consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart took place on June 16, 1875, on the eve of the founding of the Congregation of the Divine Word. From 1800 until the Second Vatican Council, more than 400 institutes of religious life influenced by this spirituality were founded, most of them female.

As a son of his time, Arnold Janssen also imbued himself with this affective and concrete spirituality that responded to the needs of the simple Christian. At first he was greatly influenced in his family by the mysticism of the Lower Rhine,  a Christocentric and Trinitarian spirituality. His father spoke passionately to his children about the Incarnation of the Word and prayed the Prologue of Saint John with them every day. His mother, a quieter person, witnessed by her life of continuous prayer, fueled by daily attendance at Mass. It was also through his father that as a boy Arnold learned about the Yearbook of the Propagation of the Faith, which introduced him to a love for foreign missions.

As a young priest, a special devotion to the Sacred Heart occupied his prayers and reflections. At first, he decided to say Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart on Fridays, to honor his priesthood. He wanted to pay homage to the Trinity that dwells in this divine Heart. For Arnold, the Heart of Jesus was the human-divine Person of Jesus, the human face of God, his incomprehensible love for humanity.

Beginning in 1866, he began to devote special attention to the new Apostleship of Prayer in his diocese, in addition to the classes he was teaching. This apostolate, with its strong heartfelt spirituality, left its mark on Arnold’s prayer life. His deep motivation became his fundamental union with the dispositions of the Sacred Heart. The characteristic feature of his spirituality arose from this and he initially expressed it as: “Long live the Heart of Jesus in the hearts of all men!”

Arnold lived more and more penetrated by the Sacred Heart, and he assumed as his own its purposes and intentions. He ardently desired the glorification of the Triune God and the fulfillment of God’s saving will for all people. For Arnold, the love and goodness of Jesus, his sincere compassion, his human virtues, his sufferings and afflictions, his attitude of unconditional surrender, his emotions and intimate feelings, all emanated from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Thus, he wrote in the book for the admission of new members to the Apostleship of Prayer: “The best devotion to the Heart of Jesus is to conform our desires to the desires of the Heart of Jesus.”

Through his work in spreading the Apostleship of Prayer, Arnold also became aware of a variety of ecclesial situations, that opened his mind to the broader purposes of the Church. His missionary dynamism, rooted in the power of prayer, was revealed with the Apostolate. In 1866, he began with 26 groups in the Diocese of Münster. After seven years, his mission with the Apostolate had spread to several German dioceses, reaching a total of 600 parishes. Two years later, in 1875, in the midst of many struggles and rejections, Arnold was ready to start the first missionary formation house in the German Church.

Within his spirituality, more and more Arnold saw the Heart of Jesus as the Tabernacle of the Trinity: “The whole Trinity resides in the Heart of Jesus: the Omnipotence of the Father, the Wisdom and Beauty of the Eternal Word and the generous, eternal love of the Holy Spirit. However, the Heart of Jesus continues to be a created heart, a human heart “.

As time went on, Arnold began to explain the relationship between the Heart of Jesus and the Holy Spirit: “During his earthly life, the Heart of Jesus was already a fiery furnace filled with the love and grace of the Holy Spirit.” Arnold saw a double movement between the Heart of Jesus and the Holy Spirit: on the one hand, it was the Holy Spirit who formed the Heart of Jesus and made it his home; on the other hand, it is from the Heart of Jesus that all the graces that we receive from the Holy Spirit arise, since it is through the incarnation of his Son that God communicates  his unfathomable, unconditional love.

At the end of his life, Arnold wrote: “I will try to get as close as possible to the feelings of Jesus, to his interior life, to his teachings, achievements, pains and death. In the Eucharist, I will offer, together with Christ, to the Father and to the Holy Spirit all my sufferings and difficulties, everything that God sends me. ”

Arnold left us this legacy: to meet the Trinity in the Heart of Jesus and to allow ourselves to be transformed by this. “If someone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home” (John 14:23). And this dwelling is an open dwelling, which by the grace of the Holy Spirit converts us into a Church that reaches out.

Let us pray with Saint Arnold: “Long live the Heart of Jesus in the hearts of all people!”


Maria Inês de Aragão, SSpS

Maria Inês de Aragão, SSpS, has a degree in Economics, is the Director-Treasurer of Redes (Solidarity Network of the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit) and the Coordinator of the Madre María community in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

One Response

  1. Dear Editorial Team.
    Thank you for very nice article.
    I would like to use some facts from this article in my seminary, could you, please, tell me when it was written or published?
    Thank you very much.
    Peter Luong SVD.

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