By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc
JESUS CHRIST, our King and most tender Sovereign, reigns and triumphs over the hearts of men even when these are unfaithful and rebellious, and He Himself seems helpless and unarmed. It will be well to recall here the conversion of St. Peter after his three fold denial and that of St. Paul when still seeking to slay the followers of the Nazarene. Let us pause to consider Peter in the house of Caiphas. Jesus, as though He were the most guilty man in the world, had been for hours subjected to a shameful inquisition. He had been buffeted and insulted as though He were the vilest of criminals; and sentence of death had finally been passed upon Him. Now Peter, the chief of Jesus' disciples, loaded by Him with kindnesses and honors, denies his Master before a crowd of people out of fear of a mere servant. He denies Him not once only, but three times over, and confirms his cowardly denial with cursing and swearing.
What does Jesus do? How does He exercise His sovereignty while in so abject a condition? Indeed, never have His gentle power and His sweet clemency been so manifest as in this tragic moment. He has no need of weapons, no need of soldiers, to reclaim and reconquer the heart of His faithless disciple. A look is enough. "And the Lord turning looked on Peter. And Peter remembered the, word of the Lord, as he had said: Before the cock crow thou shalt deny Me thrice. And Peter, going out, wept bitterly." (Luke XXII, 61, 62; Matth. XXVI, 75; Mark XIV, 72.) This loving look from Jesus pierces to the depths of the Apostle's heart, conquers him, subdues him, and renders him so passionately attached to his dear Master as later to make him worthy of sharing in the same manner of death as Jesus Himself had suffered, the death of the cross.
From the example of St. Peter let us pass on to that of St. Paul. This future Apostle of Christ appears at first to have been possessed with a fiendish fury against the early Christians. He went about laying waste the Church, entering the houses and violently ill-treating those who believed in Jesus, dragging away men and women and getting them cruelly cast into prison. (Acts VIII, 3.) Thus, his fury grew with what it fed on, that is, his hatred of the Christian name, until one day breathing forth threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he approached the high priest and asked of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogues, in order that he might bring bound to Jerusalem as many men and women as he could find of the Christian faith. (Acts IX, 1-2.)
No doubt an earthly king would have been able, with soldiers and weapons, to arrest, over throw and enchain a foe of this sort, and get rid of him by throwing him into prison or hanging him on a gallows. But no monarch, be he ever so powerful, could have succeeded in suddenly changing the man's heart so as to render him a docile subject, a faithful servant, an approved friend, ready to lay down his life, a thousand Iives if he had them, for Him whom he had formerly hated to the death. But what earthly kings could not do, this the Sacred Heart of Our Lord did.
Paul was already drawing near the town of Damascus, when suddenly a bright light shone about him and he fell trembling to the ground. At the same time a voice was heard to say in his ear: "Saul f Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (Acts IX, 4.) And he answered: "Who art thou Lord!" And Our Lord said to him: " l am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee, to kick against the goad!" And Paul, trembling and astonished, said to the Lord: "Lord what will thou have me to do?" (Acts IX, 5-6.)
See what marvelous power the King of our hearts possesses. But a moment before, Paul thought of nothing, sought for nothing, but the oppression of the disciples of Jesus and the destruction of His name. Now his heart is softened and he abandons himself in all and through all, to the will of Jesus. How could so sudden and deep-rooted a change take place in his soul, if not because the Heart of Jesus, the great King of all hearts, had touched him with His most powerful grace, and from a ravenous wolf had made him a lamb of His flock, the chosen Apostle of His name?
See how splendid are the victories won by the Heart of Jesus over those two Apostles whom He had destined to be the main pillars of His Church. It is not to be wondered at if these, on their part, knew nothing more dear than to preach the royal dignity of this sweet est and most loving of hearts to all the world. So, St. Peter, in one of his first sermons preached at Jerusalem, after the day of Pentecost, speaking to the Jewish Sanhedrin which had forbidden him to utter the name of Jesus, answered: "We ought to obey God rather than men. . . . Him (i.e., Jesus), hath God exalted with his right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins" (Acts V, 29, 31.) As though to say that Jesus Christ is indeed King and Prince, but King and Prince of love; who is to reign over the hearts of men purified by penance through the remission of their sins, as the result of His death on the Cross.
So, too, the Apostle St. Paul, mindful of the vast benefits he had received from Jesus Christ Himself, who by the irresistible force of His love had subjected him to His sweet service, never ceased extolling His reign of peace and happiness. f< Giving thanks to God the Father who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the, Saints in light. Who hath delivered us- from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." (Col. I, 12, 13.)
But the glorious conquests of the Heart of Jesus are not limited to these two Apostles. The annals of the Church are full of such glorious happenings. There is no age, no nation, no class of people, among whom we have not to note some such stupendous conversion due to the magic power of this dear King of our hearts, from the first centuries of the Church to our own day. To cite but a few, who has not wondered at hearing the fashion in which this glorious Monarch has taken loving possession of hearts so rebellious at first as those of St. Augustine, St. Peregrine Laziosi, of St. Ignatius Loyola? But it would be too long to rehearse the entire list of conquests achieved by this divine Heart, as patient as it is strong and victorious. They live in every one's memory, the names of all those illustrious people who in times nearer our own are, as it were, glorious trophies of the grace of this most tender Heart.
O Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, do take possession of my poor heart also, lead it whither Thou wiliest; make it Thy slave, and cause it to beat only for Thee, without any affection that is not in accordance with Thy will and with Thy most holy desires.