On May 31, 1985, one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in North American history swept through parts of Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada. Eighty-nine people died, and more than 1,000 were injured; the damage was estimated at over $600 million. “A bombed-out battlefield” was how one local weather service described the borough of Wheatland, PA.
An hour north of Wheatland, the tiny community of Albion was among the hardest hit, with 12 residents killed, 80 injured and a corridor of devastation two blocks wide.
St Lawrence’s Catholic Church was ripped in half, and the parish priest, Fr Robert Reilly, escaped being sucked out of the rectory window only by bracing himself against the window frame. The rectory was totally destroyed.
Against all odds, a number of homes directly in the path cut by the tornado remained standing, untouched amid the debris. There was something unusual about these homes, and it wasn’t storm-proof windows or heavy-duty framing. What set these houses apart was that in each one the family had formally enthroned the Sacred Heart and consecrated their homes and family members to Him.
Among the 12 promises that the Sacred Heart of Jesus made to St Margaret Mary is the following: “I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honoured.” As part of the ceremony of enthronement, each of these families would have placed an image of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in a place of honour in their homes. In return He kept His word in a manner bearing His unmistakable signature. As St Peter once pointed out, there is only one Man whom the winds and the sea obey.
The Albion incident was investigated by Mgr John T Carter for Soul magazine. He telephoned Fr Reilly. “Yes, Ted, it’s true,”
Fr Reilly confirmed, adding, perhaps a little ruefully: “I guess I should have had the rectory enthroned too!”
Enthronement of the Sacred Heart is a ceremony in which the family solemnly and publicly acknowledges the Sacred Heart as King of the home. This is done by formally enthroning an image of the Sacred Heart – the most beautiful that can be obtained – in a place of honour in the home. The family then consecrates themselves to the Sacred Heart. The ceremony is usually led by a priest, and is often the occasion for a family feast with friends and relations.
Literature about the devotion points out that those who affirm the sovereign rights of Christ as king of their home place the interests of His divine royalty before their own. Not to be outdone in love, He in turn makes their interests His, and protects them in a special way in accordance with the 12 promises He made to St Margaret Mary Alacoque.
“I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life. I will establish peace in their homes,” He told St Margaret. These promises have been borne out in a multitude of ways among the millions who have carried out the enthronement in their homes. Protection from natural disasters is only the beginning; countless stories exist of spouses reconciled, troubled children calmed, addictions healed, family unity restored, and painful situations resolved thanks to the clear intervention of the Sacred Heart.
“I will comfort them in all their afflictions,” the Sacred Heart promised. Indeed, a foretaste of His consolation is present in the consecration prayer the family recites together at the enthronement ceremony: “When the hour of separation shall sound, and death shall plunge our home into mourning, then shall we all, and every one of us, be resigned to Thy eternal decrees, and seek consolation in the thought that we shall one day be reunited in heaven …”
Not only families, but also businesses, schools, hospitals, parishes and dioceses can enthrone the Sacred Heart, thus formally recognising His Kingship over social institutions and defending His empire against the inroads of secularism. “Do not fear,” the Sacred Heart told St Margaret Mary, “I shall reign in spite of all my enemies and all those who would oppose it.”
In announcing his consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart, Pope Leo XIII wrote movingly of the cross seen in the heavens by the young emperor Constantine, which became “at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious victory which soon followed”.
“Today, behold,” Leo XIII wrote, “another blessed and heavenly token is offered to our sight – the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendour amid flames of love.”
It is the same glorious image that illuminates the closing words of Leo’s Act of Consecration: “… and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise to the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honour forever!”
Jane Stannus is is a writer and translator