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For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Margaret Mary Alacoque, Religious, 1647-1690
The widespread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus celebrated in the Church today can be directly attributed to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. In a period of time when religious devotion in France was, at best, cool, this unlikely saint was charged by Jesus with strengthening the love of God in the people.
Born the fifth of seven children to the family of an official in Burgundy, Margaret was a good child, but, like most saints, had no extraordinarily angelic traits as a young girl. At the age of four, she took a vow of chastity, but later said that she had no idea of the meaning of either a vow or chastity. When she was about eight, her father died and Margaret was sent to school in a convent run by the Poor Clare nuns. It was at this time that she began to be attracted to a religious vocation. The nuns, impressed with her piety, allowed her to make her First Communion at the age of nine (At that point in time, children were generally not allowed to receive Communion).
A few years later, a sickness caused her to be sent home. There, she found that one of her sisters had taken control of the household and Margaret and her mother were treated no better than servants. When Margaret had reached a marriageable age, her family began pressuring her to marry and she considered this for a time. At the age of twenty, however, Margaret had a vision of Jesus which made her determined to follow Christ, and she entered a convent of the Visitation nuns. At the time, this order had two classes of nuns. The choir nuns were the cultivated, educated nuns who did the teaching and sang in the choir, while the lay nuns were the unschooled women who did the menial chores in the convent. Margaret Mary was a part of this second group. Hers was not an easy life, and she suffered the scorn and ridicule of some of the learned nuns because of her piety. Strongly devoted to Christ, Margaret Mary accepted her suffering in the name of Jesus.
From a human standpoint, God often works in strange ways. A nun with little education whose circumstance was to do the menial labor in a convent would not normally be the one we would choose to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart. But during the next several years, our Lord made himself known to Margaret Mary many times and, on December 27, 1673, she received the first of the revelations which she was to have. At that time, Jesus told her that the love of his heart must grow and that she was to be the person to make this known to humanity. In later revelations, He said that his heart was to be represented in the image of the Sacred Heart which we are familiar with today. Jesus also told her that, as far as she was able, she was to atone for mankind’s ingratitude for his loving kindness by frequent reception of the Eucharist, especially on the first Friday of the month (from which comes the devotion of nine First Fridays), and a one hour prayer vigil on Thursday nights (the Holy Hour which was popular for many years). In one revelation, Jesus asked Margaret Mary to have a feast of reparation established on the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi to be known as the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
While giving these instructions to Margaret Mary, Christ told her that obedience to her superior was foremost. The superior, Mother de Saumaise, was skeptical of Margaret Mary’s revelations and initially treated her with contempt. But, when Margaret Mary became very ill and was near death, her superior allowed that, if she were to recover from this illness, she would take that as a sign that her revelations were really from Jesus. Margaret Mary prayed to Jesus and immediately regained her health.
Margaret Mary had a powerful ally in her confessor, Saint Claude La Colombière. He not only believed in her mission, but encouraged her and was, at least in part, responsible for making her crusade known in the world. He, Saint Margaret Mary, and Saint John Eudes, are called “Saints of the Sacred Heart.”
Margaret Mary's message today: Many of the saints were scorned because of their lives of devotion and prayer; Margaret Mary was one of these, although her sanctity was eventually recognized by those in her community. Likewise, we may experience the same reaction when we try to live out our Christian beliefs. Jesus encourages us to persevere, however, as he did in his visions to Margaret Mary.