Today, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (24 June 2022) is an opportunity to take time out to contemplate who the Sacred Heart was for Nano Nagle, and how this legacy of Compassionate Love speaks to our lives today.
“Nano, we pray our hearts may bear the self-same fire and cast it on the earth”.
A well documented aspect of the spirituality of Nano Nagle is her devotion to the Heart of Jesus. While our understanding of this devotion in Nano’s time may be summarised as contemplation of Jesus in the mysteries of the incarnation, in his passion and death and in the Eucharist, and in a response of reparation for sin, the living out of this spirituality for Nano Nagle was concerned with something deeper – her habitual way of acting and reacting which flowered out of her devotion to the Heart of Jesus.
The root meaning of the word devotion means to ‘surrender totally’, and if one word could describe the nature of this surrender – that word would be compassion.
“Looking at the heart of Jesus, Nano learned the meaning of compassion as suffering with another; suffering with the weak and those oppressed and entering into their lives, taking responsibility for the sin of her world and acting to make reparation repairing the ravages of human lives”. (Raphael Consedine, PBVM ~ ‘Fire on the Earth’).
It is true to say that disturbed by the misery and suffering of those ‘kept poor’, Nano Nagle did more than merely pity their situation, she acted to redress it by entering into their helplessness and calling forth life and hope.
“In doing so [Nano] questioned long-unquestioned social and religious assumptions of her time: that poverty was inevitable in the social structure, that it was part of the divine plan for the human family, and that to educate the poor was to strike against the proper order”. (Raphael Consedine, PBVM).
Nano Nagle was not content to dispense immediate aid to the sick, the suffering, the old. Her determination was to assist people in finding spiritual meaning in their lives and to enable them to lift themselves out of material poverty.
Yes, at first she was indeed moved to pity, but she was led beyond this to the realisation of spiritual responsibility which took her to the convent in France, only to find that this was not enough.
The return of Nano Nagle to Ireland and all that followed, shows her willingness to carry her compassion further. She was willing to offer spiritual leadership despite being aware of her own frailty:
“The Almighty makes use of the weakest means to being about His works”. (L. VIII – Letters of Nano Nagle).
This acceptance of a pastoral responsibility involved her in suffering – the price, subordinating her own comfort to the needs of others. Laying down her life in compassionate service, Nano Nagle suffered injustice and rejection from those who considered her work unnecessary or as dangerous.
Nano truly knew the meaning of compassion as ‘suffering with’.
Sacred Heart of Jesus,
lead our hearts as close as possible to yours,
making us available to His mission,
a mission of compassion for the world that suffers.
Let us open our hearts to Him who loved the world so much.