By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc
WE have shown, in the preceding chapter, how the kingdom of Jesus Christ is distinguished from that of the princes of the earth by its divine origin, its universality and its in finite duration. But there is a still more deep difference, which consists in the manner in which this most tender King displays His re gal power over mankind. Earthly kings exercise their power over the bodies of their subjects; our King, Jesus Christ, on the contrary, exercises it over the souls and hearts of men; wherefore is He properly called the King of our hearts.
We do not mean to say by this that Jesus Christ has no power over our bodies. He is King and head of the whole human society and of every member of it, and not only with regard to their souls but to their bodies as well, nor in the spiritual order only but also in the
temporal, because all men are subjected to Him with their whole person and all their faculties. But what constitutes the special character of the royal dignity of Jesus is the fact that it is exercised even over the hearts of men, nay, that these hearts are its proper field of action, while this tender King moves us with equal force and sweetness whithersoever He will.
This invisible and irresistible power is distinctive of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Therein lies a characteristic quite His own, and it is this attribute of our most loving Lord that we intend to recognize and honor in the practice of devotion to His most Sacred Heart. The Heart of Jesus, then, represents the royal power which He exercises over the hearts of men. It represents His dignity as King of our hearts.
It may now be useful to turn to the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as it was manifested to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and which, with the authority of the Church, is pro posed to the veneration of the faithful. Let us attentively consider the sacred emblem, the unique emblem which adorns this image. It explains and proclaims eloquently the proper nature of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In this image Jesus has no jeweled crown as have the kings of the earth. 1 He holds in His hand no scepter and wears no sword at His side. He only points to His Heart, either shown in relief on His breast or made visible through the opening in His side.
What does this mean, if not that Jesus Christ wishes us to understand that His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom and His power is exercised over our hearts by the virtue, sweet and strong, of His grace, which penetrates to the innermost recesses of our souls?
The enemies of Jesus Christ, in order to make Him an object of jesting and derision, decked Him out during His passion with mock symbols of royalty, and He consented to be thus treated in order to make us understand better that He is not a king like those of the earth, but a king of a higher order. The Governor's soldiers, when they had scourged Jesus, led Him to the atrium of the official residence and a whole band gathered round Him. After having despoiled Him of His garments, they clothed Him in a purple robe and plaiting a crown of thorns they set it on His head, they placed a reed in His royal hand and finally knelt in adoration before Him. (Matth. XXVII, 22-29; Mark XV, 18-19 j John XIX, 3.)
Now, to what end did Our Lord allow all these attributes of derisive royalty to be put on Him, if not to make us understand this solemn truth, that the nature of His royal dignity is other than that of earthly kings, and that His power is not evinced by force of arms, but by means of meekness and love. He need not have recourse to the attire of pomp and glory, nor to any attribute of authority and right, in order to reign over man's heart. The only ornament which He chooses is the emblem of His Sacred Heart displayed shining on His breast, a sign which truly signifies the spiritual nature of His kingdom.
In this way Jesus wished to show the world that He is King of our hearts and that He exercises His royal power not so much over our bodies and over our exterior actions, as do the kings of the earth, but over our souls and within our hearts. In these He penetrates by His grace, overcoming with admirable force and sweetness all our reluctance, and commanding all the affections and motions of our hearts. Yes, Christ reigns: but over our hearts; Christ conquers: but by the sweetness of His grace; Christ commands: but His command bends our wills to perfect obedience. "Christ reigns. Christ conquers. Christ commands: Christ frees His people from all evil." — "Christus regnat. Christus vincit. Christus imperat: Christus ab omni malo plebem suam liberate." (Inscription on the obelisk of Sixtus V in the piazza of St. Peter at Rome.)
See how much better is the kingdom of Jesus Christ than that of the kings of the earth. An earthly king can, with the material resources at his disposal, set in motion armies of soldiers, make them march like one man; he can with the force of his armies subdue his foes beneath his scepter, but he cannot change the hearts or the wills of his subjects, he cannot make any of his subjects do out of pure love what this man otherwise would not like to do.
It may happen, and it not infrequently does happen, that the minds of those whom an earthly king has subjected to his sway become, after being conquered, yet more estranged from him than they were at first; and that, in spite of all the means at the conqueror's disposal, the conquered keep and nourish in their hearts a mortal hatred against their new lord. But Jesus exercises His power in a far more sublime fashion. He penetrates with His grace into the most secret depths of the human heart. In response to His touch, the will that was at first ill-disposed and rebellious becomes humble and meek. The regal dignity and power of this King of our hearts is evinced by a mysterious weapon which is His own Heart and the Jove with which it burns. It subdues and wins over the hearts of men. "Cor Jesu, Rex et Centrum omnium cordium."
Oh, let us bend our wills to so mighty and benign a King; let us follow the impulse of His grace and submit entirely to His rule.
1 It is befitting here to record the declaration of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, that it is not suitable to set a crown upon the image of the Heart of Jesus. (Pius X, Ep. Me taedet, July 9, 1908. II Monitore ecclesiast., 2 a Serie, Vol. X, p. 315.)