“Behold This Heart Which Has So Loved Men” – The Sacred Heart of Jesus
In a world growing cold to the love of God for man, in a world of floundering faith because of the heretical idea that frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist was sinful, Jesus Christ reached out to restore mankind to His life. He gave the world a chance to experience the fervor of His love. He gave the world His Sacred Heart.
The agent chosen to make known Christ’s great plan for restoring the flame of love within men’s hearts was not a Pope or statesman or high-ranking member of the Church. Rather, He chose and prepared for this mission a young girl who would become a humble cloistered Sister of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Visitation – Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Margaret was born July 22, 1647, and with three older brothers, she quickly developed into a tomboy. But there was another side to the lively little girl, a deeply spiritual side which was nurtured in a mystical way.
According to the book, St. Margaret Mary, Apostle of the Sacred Heart by Ruth Fox Hume (Farrar Straus & Cudahy, NY. 1960), at age 4, Margaret went to live for awhile in her godmother’s castle which had its own chapel. When not pursuing her childhood activities, Margaret would spend time kneeling in that chapel, looking at the tabernacle. Well before she was eight years old, she consecrated her virginity to God, a hint at the Divine Source of her spirituality (p.19).
The years of youth were not kind to Margaret. In 1655, her father died suddenly, leaving his wife to cope with financial difficulties. Margaret and her mother were forced to live with abusive relatives and during that time, the little girl was stricken with a serious illness that forced her to be bedridden for two years. She recovered suddenly after promising the Blessed Virgin to enter religious life if cured. But her restoration to health did not stop the problems with the relatives, who ridiculed her and refused to let her delay her household chores long enough to attend early Mass (p. 21-33).
The trying years passed and the family became prosperous again. Margaret’s mother looked forward to the day her daughter would wed. But Margaret was unsettled in her heart, for she took her sickbed vow to the Blessed Virgin seriously. Her family vociferously opposed the idea of the religious vocation, so for several years, Margaret – ever popular – attended parties and balls with the dashing young men of her time. But afterwards, in the silence of her room, Our Lord appeared to her, about which she wrote:
My Sovereign Master appeared before me, as He had been in His scourging, all disfigured, overwhelming me with strange reproaches: that it was my vanities which had reduced Him to this state, that I was wasting time so precious of which He would demand from me a rigorous account at the hour of death (p. 40).Sister Margaret Mary’s words
Finally, in one vision, Christ reminded her, “We must be faithful to each other, you and I” (p. 41).
It was not long afterward that, at age 23, the gentle Margaret Alacoque entered the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial, France. The year was 1670.
The structure of convent life was difficult for Margaret and she herself was difficult for her superiors to understand. The young woman appeared to be incredibly slow at learning convent duties, at mastering the precise order of meditation for each day, and at heeding – even hearing –convent bells summoning the nuns to their daily work. At one point, Margaret’s superiors decided they had to deny her time in the chapel in order to help her learn to perform her convent duties properly.
The problem was that Margaret heeded Our Lord’s time, not the convent’s. “The favors of divine love were so excessive that they often carried me completely outside of myself and made me incapable of doing anything,” she wrote (p.65).
Margaret was being prepared by the Lord Himself for a great mission. He spoke to her frequently, the “voice” she could hear so plainly while gardening, sweeping the cloister, and especially before the tabernacle.
Just over a year after her profession, on December 27, 1673, Sr. Margaret was given a reprieve from her duties in the infirmary. She hurried to the chapel. And Our Lord appeared to her, His Heart visible within His side. He told her:
“My Heart is so inflamed with love for men and for you in particular, that no longer able to contain within itself the flames of its burning charity, it must spread them abroad by means of you….I have chosen you…” (p.83-84).Our Lord to Sr. Margaret Mary
That was the first great vision Sr. Margaret Mary had. The second came soon afterwards. She saw the Heart of Jesus enthroned on a great mass of flames, around it was a crown of thorns, and in the center, the wound of the centurion’s spear (p.85).
Jesus told her He wished the image of His Sacred Heart to be publicly exposed “to touch the unfeeling hearts of men.” He asked her to receive the Holy Eucharist on the First Friday of each month and on each Thursday night, to prostrate herself in her convent cell between 11 o’clock and midnight in remembrance of His agony in the garden: “Not only to appease the divine wrath…but also to lighten in some way the bitterness that I felt in being abandoned by my Apostles…” (p.88).
At a later apparition, Christ stood before her,
“Behold this Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to consuming itself to witness its love. And in return, I receive from most of them only ingratitude from their irreverences and their sacrileges and by the coldness and contempt that they have for Me in this sacrament of love…” (p.111).Our Lord to Sr. Margaret Mary
He asked for a feast day in honor of His Sacred Heart to be established and for the faithful to make a Communion of reparation on that day.
THE TWELVE PROMISES OF THE SACRED HEART
In His communications with Sr. Margaret Mary, Our Lord also promised blessings to those who honor His Sacred Heart. These became known as the Twelve Promises of the Sacred Heart:
- “I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
- “I will establish peace in their houses.
- “I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
- “I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all in death.
- “I will bestow a large blessing upon their undertakings.
- “Sinners shall find in my Heart the source and the infinite ocean of mercy.
- “Tepid souls shall grow fervent.
- “Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
- “I will bless every place where a picture of My Heart shall be set up and honored.
- “I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
- “Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be blotted out.
- “I promise thee in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who communicate on the First Friday in nine consecutive months the grace of final penitence; they shall not die in my disgrace nor without receiving their sacraments; My Divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.”
Jesus Delivers Fr. Colombière as the Implementation Agent
How could promotion of this devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus be accomplished by a cloistered nun? The hand of Providence intervened. Fr. Claude de La Colombière, S.J., had been assigned as superior to the Jesuit House at Paray-le-Monial. Occasionally he served as confessor to the Visitation Sisters. During his first encounter with Sister Margaret – a mere glance at her – he realized she was a “chosen soul” (p.103). he came to realize that he had been “sent” to pray specifically to aid her, although at first he did not know for what reason.
Through subsequent conferences with Sr. Margaret – conferences during which Sr. Margaret sometimes bore messages and instructions from Christ Himself to the priest – Fr. Colombière realized his mission:
- to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart;
- to promote First Friday Communions, and Thursday night Holy Hours; and somehow,
- to obtain a special feast day to honor Christ’s Sacred Heart.
Fr. Colombière, after a year and a half in Paray, was sent to England to become chaplain to the Catholic wife of the King’s brother. England was Protestant and Catholics were forbidden to attend Mass or receive the sacraments. The persecution was such that a great many Catholics were martyred.
But Fr. Colombière, not bound by such restrictions because of his royal duties, was allowed to offer Mass and preach to English Catholics from the private chapel of his assignment. This he did and he often preached on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When he was banished from England two years later, Fr. Colombière became spiritual director to students in the Jesuit seminary. And these young Jesuits – true to their missionary tradition – carried not only the Catholic Faith but also devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
The Implementation of the Feast Day Comes Together After Their Lives
After Fr. Columbière died in 1682, his diaries and spiritual writings were found and published. Therein were the details of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s visions. The book reached many hands, for Fr. Colombière had been a brilliant preacher, well-liked and respected in every community he served. His book gained steadily in popularity and those who read it were inspired to keep the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus during the Octave of Corpus Christi. This was particularly so in various Visitation convents. Soon chapels were built in honor of the Sacred Heart; devotions and prayers were written and published and pictures were circulated.
In the meantime, Sr. Margaret Mary, still blessed with divine communications, was appointed novice mistress and used her post to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus among her charges. A short devotional writing, La Devotion au Sacré-Coeur de Jesus (Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus), was published posthumously by J. Croiset in 1698 (wikipedia).
Sr. Margaret Mary never lived to see the Feast of the Sacred heart officially established. She died on October 17, 1690. The Feast of the Sacred Heart was established in 1765, and extended to the entire church in 1856, for the Friday after the Feast of Corpus Christi. In his 1928 encyclical, Miserentissimus Redemptor, Pope Pius XI stated that Jesus Christ had “manifested Himself” to Sr. Margaret Mary and referred to the Savior’s words to her.
The promises of Our Lord are as important today as they were in the 17th century. He has asked for a picture of the Sacred Heart to be honored in our households (note: the Divine Mercy image features the Sacred Heart); for First Friday Communions and for Thursday Holy Hours; and for observation of a Feast Day in His Honor. He has promised countless blessings in return for this show of love and devotion.
How can we say no?
This article, “Behold This Heart Which Has So Loved Men” – The Sacred Heart of Jesus is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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