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Teaching the Devotion to the Sacred Heart

Part VII

Classroom Technique
How to Organize Promoters of the Apostleship of Prayer

Editors: Thomas Diehl, S.J. and John Hardon, S. J.

My greatest success in spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Apostleship of Prayer has been through the promoters’ group. In the beginning, the group must be hand picked. I chose good promoters by having a teacher screen each of the upper three years and give me names of boys whom they thought would be likely candidates for the group. Some were eliminated in the course of talks with the teachers, and we finally got the list down to two or three boys in each class. Then I extended a personal invitation to each one to come to an organizational meeting. At this meeting I explained the purpose of the group--to make the Sacred Heart devotion a way of life for themselves and to help spread it to others. Out of an original forty-four or so, thirty persevered. Others have also have since asked to join, and of course I have accepted them, since I had intended to make the group “open” after the original hand-picking.

We call ourselves “The Men of the Sacred Heart.” The boys like this name better than “Promoters of the Apostleship of Prayer.” We have weekly meetings, and attendance has been very good. If the men fail to attend without giving me a good reason, it is held against them and they are dropped after excessive absences.

The weekly meeting usually consists of four phases, with variations:

  • An instruction by the director on some phase of the devotion and the Apostleship of Prayer.
  • An instruction on one or more of the rules of the promoters which provide for their spiritual formation.
  • Discussion of Apostolates.
  • Discussion of the Sacred Heart as He appears in one of the gospel scenes.

To help the boys with their personal development, I have conferences with them individually. I try to have them once a month if possible. These conferences are necessary if the men are to carry out their spiritual duties, for they need personal encouragement and instruction in this regard.

Most of the apostolates related to the devotion are carried out through this group. Some of the things we have done this year: We have sold a good but reasonable priced plastic-framed picture of the Sacred Heart. The promoters took the orders in their classrooms. When they delivered the pictures they distributed also a simple booklet explaining how to practice the Sacred Heart devotion through the Apostleship of Prayer.

The promoters also have pushed visits to the Sacred Heart present in the Blessed Sacrament. They got their classmates to sign up to promise to make a few minutes’ visit on one or more school days. They reminded them of this periodically. By the same method Communion Bands of Reparation were formed. Ideally, seven men promise to receive Communion on seven different days of the week. If this way is not popular, the students can merely promise such a Communion on any day of the week.

My men also help distribute the monthly leaflets, and put up monthly intention cards. We are also promoting the Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart in each classroom. We run each Promise for about one week. It helps if a teacher briefly explains each Promise as it appears. The Promises are posted one-by-one in each classroom.

The promoters also have line up interested students from their classes to come together once a month at noontime to learn and discuss the devotion and the Apostleship of Prayer. I give a little instruction and then the promoters act as discussion leaders as those present form small groups.

Informal Class Talks

  1. In November (in an effort to promote daily Mass and the morning offering)

    Subject: Reparation

    “Yesterday as I was leaving class, I found this on the floor, a crumpled picture of the face of Christ.” (They had been given holy cards the day before as part of Catholic Youth Week.) “I don’t think it was done out of spite, just a case of thoughtlessness and indifference.”

    Then I went on to explain how indifference wounds Christ and demonstrated with one example how their morning offering could make amends to Christ for the insult He receives from others:

    “O Jesus. How many people, what percentage of people do you think use Christ name as a prayer? For how many more does it come ‘Jesus Christ…’ ---day after day.” Then I told them my own feeling upon hearing young men swearing and using filthy language. If that much revolted me, you wonder why God listening to the millions who throw filth at Him all day doesn’t crush the world in disgust.

    Finally, going back to the words “O Jesus,” I explained how Mass and the morning offering itself could make up, “repair,” for these insults.

    The next three talks were more obliquely connected with the Sacred Heart devotion.

  1. In February (beginning of Lent; idea of the talk just to make Christ as humanly attractive as possible)

    Subject: Personality of Christ

    I had given them a special assignment in which they were to list the qualities in a person that they thought were most valuable, with their reasons. The qualities (or their equivalents) most frequently mentioned were: sense of humor, loyalty and trust as a friend, kindness, and strength of character, courage, conviction, and neatness.

    1. Loyalty: Christ as a friend:

      Picking out scenes from the New Testament and putting the language into “colloquial” speech, I tried to give them a “taste” of Christ. (For example, St. Peter hearing from Andrew that they have found the Massias, decides to investigate on his own. “Peter is going to go easy and weight this character out carefully. But what happens? Christ spots him a block away and calls him by name and that’s it for Peter’s plans. And then Christ gives him a nickname which is important theologically but which also fits him perfectly --- ‘Rocky,’ ‘The Rock.’”)

      I also mentioned “let these go their way (John 18:8) in Gethsemane, and His post-Resurrection treatment of the apostles as indications of his immense loyalty.

    1. Kindness:

      Christ with lepers, with children, with the man at the Probatic Pool, and so forth.

    1. Courage:

      Here I highlighted two scenes in particular: the mob coming to get Him at Gethsemane, and the cleansing of the temple, comparing these incidents with examples of human bravery. After dramatizing the cleansing of the temple, I suggested they could get a sense of it by walking alone down Maxwell Street in Chicago some Sunday, overturning tables and denouncing the people for selling on Sunday.

    1. Sense of humor:

      Christ playfully revealing Himself to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection; Christ sending Peter to pay tax with a gold piece from fish’s mouth; Zaccheus up a tree.

      I was quite pleased with the attentiveness and reception that the talk got. I think the fact that all the scenes were “dramatized” and that “preaching” was excluded made the big difference.

  1. In April (Wednesday of Holy Week)

    Subject: Christ’s Passion

    A medical report, condensed from one of the books on the subject. Boys are deeply moved by this medical report. (Confer Pierre Barbet, M.D., A Doctor at Calvary. New York: P.J. Kennedy and Sons, 1954.)

    Scourging: Four leathern thongs with balls of lead attached. Under the lash the skin at first showed bluish weals, due to the afflux of blood. Then it lost resistance and the later blows detached it in strips. The hemorrhage was not sufficient to cause death, but it would set up a fever and in consequence a violent thirst.

    Crucifixion: Cross weighed over 200 pounds; probably in shape of a T. The crucified was probably nailed to the top part (the cross beam or “patibulum”) that was then raised from the ground to fit onto the main vertical section.

    Nails: 3-7/8 inches long and 5/16 of an inch thick. Probably driven through the wrists and feet. In wrists would touch median nerve, the principal one that conveys sensitiveness to fingers. Nails would rub nerves.

    Feet probably flat against the cross, knees bent, causing cramp in muscles. No question of ledge for feet, though perhaps peg in middle on which victim could ride astride.

    The Divine Crucified was thus hanging vertically, deprived of practically all movement. One knows how terrible prolonged immobility can be when the body is in this position. One has the overwhelming desire to move one’s legs, a desire which the crucified could not satisfy. The strain would cause an intense congestion of muscles that would speedily become contracted. This constriction would cause spasms in the muscles of the hands and feet and would thereby increase the torture.

    When the condemned tried to relieve the pain of his hands by keeping his arms raised, he could only do so by leaning more heavily on the nails that held his feet. If his feet on the contrary suffered too much, he must rest his weight on his hands. He would move thus instinctively until at length his body, exhausted by pain, hung inert and dragged from both hands and feet with equal torture. Things would continue so until he died.

    The position of the raised arms occasioned painful respirational difficulty. The ribs were immobilized and the movements necessary for expiration became very difficult. The viscera in the abdomen dropped considerably by reason of their weight, and the diaphragm became displaced and paralyzed, and hindered the movement of inhalation. The crucified thus had a sensation of progressive suffocation from which he could not gain the slightest relief.

    The heart was greatly hindered. With the arms raised it had double work to send blood to the hands. It would palpitate rapidly, but weakly. Because of this feebler flow of blood stagnation would ensue and end in practically stopping circulation of blood.

    The brain, receiving no pure blood, suffered an intense congestion of the nervous substance. This produced cephalalgia--like to an iron ring pressing upon the skull.

    Final cause of death: most probably (according to Dr. Barbet in A Doctor at Calvary) was asphyxiation.

  1. In April (last day of April; Apostleship of Prayer intention had been priestly vocations through the Eucharist)


    I gave the students some statistics revealing the need for vocations; explained different types of vocations; mentioned a few inspiring examples of priests.

Design for Reparation Project

The purpose of this grammar school project is to increase devotion to the Sacred Heart and to encourage prayers and sacrifices for the salvation of souls. It may be adapted to suit the occasion and purpose of the teacher. The child performs a practice. Afterwards, he pastes a colored block over a square on the chart marked with the same color. When all the squares have been covered, the colored blocks will make a design. The design explained here is only a suggestion. A more complicated one may be worked out for older children. To help hold interest in the project, make the practice easy and practical. Try to change them about twice a week.

Materials: cardboard, paste, scraps of construction paper, and scraps of white paper.

For each child a piece of cardboard 8 ½ by 11 ½ inches was lined in ½ inch squares. Each square was marked to indicate a color which coincided with the design in mind. Scraps of red, yellow, black, and brown construction paper were cut into ½ inch squares, the number of each kind being approximately:









Scraps of white paper were cut into strips measuring approximately ½ by 3 inches. One practice was listed on each strip. The practices will vary according to the purpose and occasion of the teacher. The following practices are only suggestions:

  • Say ten aspirations
  • Make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament
  • Say the Litany of the Sacred Heart
  • Say nine Glorias
  • Make a small sacrifice
  • Say three Hail Marys

The following explanation may be used with the project.

The month of June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart. During this month He wants you to be a missionary and help Him save souls. Each square on the chart represents one soul that can be helped by your prayers. Each square is marked with a special color.

Black represents souls in mortal sin. Red represents communist souls. Yellow represents the poor souls in Purgatory. Brown represents souls to be converted to the faith.

Draw a practice from the box. Perform it in honor of the Sacred Heart for the intention of helping Him save one of these souls. After you have performed the practice, paste a colored block over a square marked with the color indicated on your practice. When you have filled all the squares with colored blocks you will see a holy design.

Each month the whole class prays for the intentions of the holy father given on the Apostleship of Prayer leaflets by choosing a practice and performing it everyday in honor of the Sacred Heart. The intention and practice may be posted in the classroom to serve as a reminder to the children.

Suggested practices: (Practices may be selected according to the age of the children):

  • Say please when you ask for something
  • Decade of the Rosary
  • When you get home from school, ask your mother if you may help her
  • Make the Way of the Cross
  • Say excuse me when you pass in front of anyone
  • Memorare
  • Say a short prayer to St. Joseph
  • Say thank you when you receive something
  • Make a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament
  • One Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be to the Father.

The practices may be changed as often as the teacher likes, and intentions might be expanded. For instance, during the month of March, the children might like to pray for vocations to a different community each day. Older children could give reports on the works of these communities. The entire class may perform the same practice or each child may draw a different one. Try to keep the children interested by showing them pictures or by telling them stories that relate to the intention of the month. This project should increase their devotion to the Sacred Heart and make them love to help Him save souls.

Correlation with the Mass

The Apostleship of Prayer and devotion to the Sacred Heart can be integrated not only with the religion class but also with geography, history, and other subjects. I usually worked up the Mass and the morning offering together at the beginning of school to counteract the “no prayer book” habits of the summer. We made both of these a project study and correlated it with their “new” subject, geography. We planned a program to be presented to all the grades. Various children prepared a little talk on the Mass, how to attend it; others talked on phrases from the morning offering, explaining how to unite “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” with the Mass.

Our health unit explains the value of a schedule to get “time for everything.” We made and explained, in our panel, such a schedule. Finally, we climaxed the talks and skits with an explanation of “Masses around the world.” With a globe and printed chart and pupils explained and showed every child can unite the works, joys, suffering, play, and prayers that make up his everyday schedule with a Mass being offered at that exact time in some particular spot of the world.

Our theme for this project and the motto for our commandment study was “Links with the Mass,” portrayed by a chain uniting the central Mass picture with the commandment picture or the prays, works, and so forth, picture.

This project gave the whole school a renewed Apostleship of Prayer spirit.

Plan for a Discussion of the Art Value of Sacred Heart Pictures

Assemble a variety of pictures of the Sacred Heart. These can be found around the school; students can bring them from home. Place them before the class before beginning the discussion.

Introduce the topic: We know absolutely nothing from reliable sources about our Lord’s physical appearance. Tradition and theology can give us some idea of the general appearance of His holy humanity; beyond this we cannot go. Ricciotti’s Life of Christ has interesting material about the physical of our Lord as taken from writers in the early centuries after His death. Most school libraries of any size have books devoted to Christian art and iconography. The students can be shown samples of paintings of our Lord that were done during the various periods of church history.

To be a picture of the Sacred Heart, the picture of our Lord must show the symbol of the Sacred Heart. Introduce the story of St. Margaret Mary who was the first to draw the symbol of the Sacred Heart. The symbol: the Heart, the wound, the rays, the flames, the crown of thorns, the small cross. There are many variations in the artistic arrangement of the elements of this symbol.

What qualities should a picture of the Sacred Heart have? His Heart must be shown in an appropriate manner, and the following three important facts regarding our Lord should be brought forth in a visual way; He is God, He is man, He is Redeemer.

As God: The Image should have a hieratic quality. This man is the God-man. A hieratic picture (and all good religious art has this quality) shows that our Lord is not on the same level with other men. Our Lord is God. A good picture must show this in some way, a visual way. The hieratic quality in a picture excludes the overly familiar, the too human. It implies a dignity, a majesty that must be communicated in a visual way; hence, it is difficult to describe this quality in words.

As Man: Does this picture show that the artist knew that our Lord was born of a woman, lived the obscure life of an ordinary workingman but in a divine manner, ate and drank, was glad to lie down at night because of the fatigue He experienced? Jesus is not a symbol, a myth. His Heart is beating now in His glorified body.

Is this picture realistic in technique? If it is, are we looking at the picture of a man, or a weak, womanish-looking image with a beard added as an afterthought? In presenting this discussion to girls, I have asked them whether they would have much respect for their fathers, uncles, or brothers if these good people would have the wan, sickly, sissified appearance of so many “holy pictures.” The question usually provokes much laughter; they get the point. “Do you mean to tell me that our Lord is less virile, less manly than the male relatives you admire and love? He is the most beautiful, the most perfect, and the manliest of men. Do not imagine that our Lord ever looked like these ‘holy pictures’ that are so false, so insipid.”

Is this design too abstract, too formulated, dehumanized? Is it bad “modern”? (Some students may believe that anything “modern” is better than the insipid kind of picture we have mentioned above.) Certain styles of art may be too decorative in intent, too abstract, too “avant-garde” to be effective in expressing the divine love of the Sacred Heart. Is the print a bad one? Crude in color, crudely reproduced? All of these points will be considered in relation to the medium used. A woodcut will not have the same quality as an oil painting.

Details of clothing should not be over overemphasized. It would be too startling, perhaps, to show our Lord in the dress of today, yet the overemphasis of historical details can make Him seem to belong exclusively to the past.

As Redeemer: Why wouldn’t we want a picture of our Lord shown as laughing? St. Bernadette said that our Lady smiled on occasion when she appeared to her at the grotto at Lourdes. We can assume that since it is a human perfection to smile, our Lord smiled, too. But why not in pictures? Because a picture is a static thing. An image of our Lord with a perpetual expression of this kind would be distasteful and untrue.

We must remember that Jesus never resisted the will of His Father. It was by His obedience that He redeemed the world. Obedience implies suffering. We know that this was so in the life of our Lord. The central lesson of our Lord’s life was one of redemption through obedience. If the face is too happy-go-lucky (like the ads of the men who drink the right beer and smoke the right cigarettes), it does not show His mission as Redeemer should be implied in a good picture of the Sacred Heart. Here is a man who for love of us endured pain, contempt, spitting, whippings, and grief of heart.

There are many problems involved in the production of good Sacred Heart art. There must be the visual implication of the two natures in His person, the suffering of His passion and death with the victory of His resurrection. Of course, no one ever has, or ever will fully solve these artistic, visual problems. It is much too large an order for even the greatest of geniuses. But we can always consider and attempt such visual meditations.

The fostering of a more careful selection of pictures and statues of the Sacred Heart (since many of them are of very poor quality) might be a real service that a teacher could do the students and the school at large.

In the teaching of art we should discourage the use of the Sacred Heart subject (and other religious subjects) as a pretext for exploring new methods and techniques. Limited skill, such as that of the amateur or child, can be combined with a reverent, interiorly formed approach toward sacred subjects. This is not the same as the casual slapping together of artistic ingredients that is sometimes labeled religious art. For such overt experiments it would be better to try landscapes, still life, or abstractions.

Many of us know by now that art must not be sugary, calendar-like, or photographic. On the other hand, it is not difficult to find teachers who feel that this evil is remedied by an equally bad “modern” -- imitative, crudely conceived, formed not from within by intuition and love. To understand these points , one must have a general sympathy for contemporary art and some knowledge of its tools and techniques. These considerations apply to Sacred Heart art.

The Guard of Honor

On March 11, 1893, the Holy Father, Leo XIII, canonically erected the Arch-confraternity of the Guard of Honor in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, at the Monastery of the Visitation of Holy Mary, and affiliated it to the Arch-confraternity at Bourg in France, with all of the rights and privileges of the French Arch-confraternity.

The object of this devotion is to attend our Lord in spirit, to worship Him, and to watch over the interests of His Sacred Heart, by choosing any hour of the twenty-four to keep an Hour of Guard by offering the actions of the hour in honor of the Sacred Heart. The practice of this devotion need not interfere with any duty, and is a happy means of sanctifying duty or pleasure. Each hour has a specific intention.

In school, at the beginning of each hour, either the teacher or an appointed pupil says the intention for the following hour in this way:

Teacher: Let us offer this Hour of Guard in honor of St. Joseph for nations and those who govern them.

Pupils: Let us love and praise the Sacred Heart for all those who do not love and praise Him.

Teacher: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart,

Pupils: Protect the Guard of Honor.

This is one part of the devotion; the second part is having a theme or an intention of practicing a virtue pleasing to the Sacred Heart for a week at a time during the whole year. In our school, some teachers omit this second practice.

Intentions for the Hours


In honor of:


The Blessed Virgin for the Church


St. Joseph for nations and those who govern them


For the just on earth, for the army and all political, civil, and social institutions


The seraphim for families and children


The cherubim for schools and teachers


The thrones for laborers and travelers


The dominations for the poor and afflicted


The virtues for the propagation of the faith


The powers for the conversion of sinners and for reparation of sacrileges


The principalities for the agonizing


The archangels for the souls in purgatory


The angels for the reign of the Sacred Heart and for the Guard of Honor.

Weekly Themes and Intentions for Guard of Honor




"Abide in my love" (John 15:9)


"Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5)


"To him who overcomes, I will give the hidden manna" (Apocalypse 2:17)


Confidence in God



Sanctification of the first actions of the day


Thoughtfulness at prayer


The practice of a needed virtue


Appreciation of the Mass



The Sign of the Cross


Invocation of the angels


Exercise of the holy presence of God





Attention to duty


Exercise of the spirit of faith


Assiduity at labor





Actions performed in union with Mary


Purity of heart


Fidelity in little things


Purity of intention



The Heart of Jesus, a divine support


Acts of love




Respect for God's house



Sanctification of the present moment


A spirit of sacrifice




Prayer for holy Church



Defense of the absent neighbor


Vigilance over words


Purity of thought


Fortitude in temptation



Meekness in relation to our neighbor




Evenness of temper


Kindly judgment of persons and events



Devotion to the angel guardian


Zeal for souls


Respect for authority


Good example



Devotion to the holy souls in purgatory


Gaining of indulgences




Forgetfulness of injuries



Good use of time


Compunction for sin


The predominant passion



Writing Up the Daily Intention of the Apostleship of Prayer

Each day the Apostleship members pray for a special daily intention. It is found on the leaflet, and it never changes from month to month. For example, on the first of each month it prays for thanksgivings; on the second, for the afflicted; on the third, for the sick, and so forth.

Cut out these thirty-one intentions, put them in a hat, and let each student draw out one. His assignment is then to find a picture that illustrates the intention in some way, and to write a paragraph or two relating the picture to the intention and telling why a teen-age student should pray for the intention. (Encourage originality here; discourage a natural tendency to be overly pious.)

Then beginning with the first of the next month, have the class officer post on the bulletin board the picture and the paragraph for the intention of the day. Then to the morning offering add the daily intention. For example, “for intentions of all our associates, and especially for city parishes and the sick.”

Such procedure puts variety in the morning offering, gives the students a chance to exhibit their work publicly, and gives a special meaning to the Apostleship of Prayer intentions that would otherwise go unexplained.

Exhibiting the intentions will make the students conscious of the relative goodness or badness of their work. Watch neatness and originality spread. You can also be sure that at least one student is praying for the daily intention in a special way. For him that intention means something---what he himself wrote about it.

This same procedure can be used by working from newspaper headlines and a paragraph or so telling how the headline fits into the intention of the day. Here are some actual examples from high-school students in third year English. The statements are original.

Intention: The intemperate. Picture: A Jail

The is the “lockup,” the “tank.” In it are men, who could be replaced by anyone, even by you or me. Here are caged the dregs of society, the intemperate. How did they stumble into incarceration? How does anyone?

Excessive indulgence in the human appetites, the seven capital sins, is the password for being admitted to this clique. Forgotten and despised by society, these men sink to the lowest depths in the sea of life. Help them! Help yourself! Pray for the intemperate.

Intention: Conversions. Picture: A laborer

One wouldn’t ordinarily associate this sort of man with making many conversions. But the fact is that he has a great potential for making converts.

An everyday fellow like him has so much opportunity, if not more, to make converts as a priest.

One army corporal converted one hundred and sixty-two men in three years by his good example. Making conversions doesn’t necessarily mean a life of hardship such as St. Francis Xavier’s and other great saints. It’s not too hard. Why not give it a try?

Intention: The young. Picture: A huge generator

A powerhouse of energy. A great potential for good. That is youth. If youth sets a goal, it will give its all to chalk up a victory. The Apostleship of Prayer offers up all its prayers on the ninth of each month for the intention of youth that it may spread the love of God throughout the world.

Intention: Vocations, Picture: A daydreaming boy

This boy, his mind and thoughts wandering far from the nearby babbling brook, might be seeing himself slash over tackle for ten yards in the East-West All-Star Game; he might be about to hit a tie-breaking home run in the World Series. Maybe He’s a pilot, flying high above the silver clouds surveying his silent, majestic domain, or perhaps he sees himself a priest, about to hold Christ in his hands for the first time. To do all these things our young friend is going to have to grow bigger and stronger, physically and mentally and spiritually. It’s going to take fortitude, determination, and a lot of “stick-to-itivness.” When the going gets tough, he’ll have to get going. Pray always for the fortitude to see an undertaking through, whether it’s temporal or spiritual.

Copyright © 1999 Inter Mirifica

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