What an overwhelmingly unbelievable opportunity for us to have prayed before the Heart of our Patron here, a time of great grace and joy, peace and hope, a time of personal encounter in our own hearts with our Lord! Our Lord has spoken to our hearts and they are on fire: lives recommitted, the straight and narrow found again, virtues requested, and even miracles sought.
January 15, 2013 was the 125th anniversary of the canonization of St. John Berchmans. That year, I made my own pilgrimage to Flemish Belgium to the sites made holy by our patron: to the town of Diest to visit his birth home now shrine, the church of Baptism and another church in which he received his first Holy Communion; I visited his school in Mechelin, the city that happens to be where his heart is now kept in the beautiful reliquary (which we have all now seen), at a Jesuit church in honor of Our Lady. I had the extraordinary privilege of venerating his heart. The Jesuit custodian of the heart and I spoke at some length about the miracle in the state of Louisiana and about our church being the only cathedral in the world with SJB as a patron. In fact, he wrote an article on their Jesuit website all about the Cathedral and the miracle. (http://www.jezuieten.org/nl/nieuw/saint-john-berchmans-cathedral)
In 2015, right after I celebrated my 25th anniversary as a priest, June 29, in July I returned to Diest and Mechelin and had, yet again, the opportunity to venerate his heart, but this time, with the 150th anniversary of the apparition and miracle in mind, just a year and a half away. I met the new Jesuit custodian of the heart and, after a pleasant time together, I requested that the heart travel to Louisiana for the great occasion of the anniversary. After the initial reluctance, as the heart had not left Belgium in 395 years, and after any number of emails back and forth (and getting our bishop in contact with the Jesuit superior), we agreed that the heart could come. Dates and times were set, as well as plenty of other details considered, such as a new travel box/case for the heart’s safe passage which the Cathedral commissioned, documents for customs, etc, and you know the rest of the story.
SJB’s heart is now in a reliquary made for his beatification in 1865. His heart was removed from an older reliquary made when Berchmans was declared venerable, in 1745. When his heart was removed to be placed into the new reliquary, some fragments and smaller pieces and particles of his heart remained and were collected together and placed into a small white vessel in the shape of a heart with a flame coming out of the top of the heart. That white heart was then placed into a reliquary made in Ghent between 1825-1875. (see pictures with more photos available on the www.sjbdevotion.org website). How appropriate as our patron once said: “When I think of Jesus and His mother, it so sets my heart on fire!” These two reliquaries have been kept together for quite some time.
The Flemish Jesuits have been so moved by our devotion to SJB, their native son, that they have made the extraordinary decision to give the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans the older reliquary with the fragments of his heart!! We will be able to venerate his heart here in our own Cathedral for decades and generations to come. With hearts filled with gratitude for most unexpected, generous gift, please, offer a prayer for the Jesuits of Flanders and their intentions!
Edwin Cardinal O’Brien brought to a wonderful conclusion these monumental days, Dec 8-18, with the following words at the end of his homily:
This past Thursday, in Rome, at the Church of St Ignatius, I prayed at St. John Berchmans’ tomb, then climbed the steep stairs to a small room, you might call it a cell, where he died, 22 years of age. There I offered Mass at an altar that has since been installed. I prayed for this Diocese of Shreveport, for your bishop, your clergy and religious, and all the faithful. And lastly, I prayed for the success of these days, now coming to a close, that the heart of St. John Berchmans through his intercession might inspire each of us to fling open our hearts in welcome to the one who at every Eucharist says to us: I am standing at the door knocking and if you hear my voice, open the door; I will come into you and eat with you and you with me. So let our prayer be that of the psalmist: “Enlarge my heart that you may enter.” St. John Berchmans, treasured patron, pray for us.
May you and your loved ones have a Blessed Christmas,