The most popular of all the saints named Margaret, with the exception of that of the Scots and their own Queen Saint Margaret, is Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the “Beloved Disciple of the Sacred Heart.”
She was born at Lhautecour, France, on July 22, 1647. Her parents, Claude and Philiberte Alacoque were poor and devout. That may sound typical in the lives of so many saints, but it ought to be emphasized because parents who are poor today, who have not hindered God’s creative act by means of contraception, and who are devout in these trying times, need to be encouraged. Yes, poverty, at least in the sense of freedom from unaffordable modern luxuries, is a rich blessing to rejoice in.
Margaret was only eight years-old when her father died, a death that came soon after having been swindled by a business associate. Bedridden for five years from rheumatic fever, which she contracted when ten, Margaret’s greatest cross during these childhood years was being unable to lighten the financial burden of her mother.
Margaret, from her earliest years, lived a penitential life exhibiting an extraordinary devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord rewarded her love for suffering by appearing to her more than once covered with wounds as the Ecce Homo. At some point during this time Margaret made a vow of virginity.
When our little saint grew older, her mother, though exemplary in her Faith, convinced her daughter that the vow she had made as a child was not binding and that she ought to marry. Margaret hesitated. That hesitation allowed for her brothers to take her out socializing and to balls. Although she committed no serious sin in this, she did give in to a bit of vanity which can hardly be avoided at such affairs. Then, returning home after one of these fetes, Our Lord appeared to her as the wounded one of the scourging and reproached her while reminding her of her vow. Needless to say, she was instantly aggrieved and she renewed her childhood resolution.
In 1671, Margaret was received into the Visitation order at Paray-le-Monial. This was only ten years after the death of that order’s foundress, Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. In her own lifetime Saint Jane Frances had established eighty-six convents of sisters. However, the spirit of the sisters, though still fervent, had by the 1670s cooled somewhat from what it had been in the halcyon years of the order’s youth. In fact, it was not unusual then for a number of the sisters who joined the order in its foundation house in Annecy in the early 1600s to have mystical experiences, ecstasies, or even levitations. This was in spite of the foundress’ maxim, inspired by Saint Francis de Sales, “not to be extraordinary except by being ordinary.” The Visitation Sisters were a unique order of women in that, although they lived a contemplative life in common, they were prepared for any charitable work the Church needed, such as running schools and hospitals.
Margaret Mary was to any observer quite ordinary, although somewhat sluggish, owing to her past illnesses and naturally phlegmatic disposition. Our Lord continued visiting His new daughter of the Visitation at intervals and communicating with her intimately. To her He opened His Heart and expressed His sadness over the lukewarmness of the vast majority of the practicing faithful and especially those who had vowed themselves by religion to have no other love but His. On His third apparition to the young novice, in 1675, He opened His robe and exposed His human Heart saying:
“Behold this Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love. In return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrileges, and by the coldness and contempt they have for me in this sacrament of love…. I come into the heart I have given you in order that through your fervor you may atone for the offenses which I have received from lukewarm and slothful hearts that dishonor me in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Sister Margaret would console Jesus and by her love make reparation for the tepidness of other religious. Jesus asked her to come before the tabernacle an hour before mid-night every first Thursday of the month and keep Him company while lying prostrate on the floor. The next day, He said, she was to receive Holy Communion in reparation for the lukewarmness of the whole Catholic world. More frequent and more fervent Communion was another request given by the Sacred Heart to her to announce to the bishops of the universal Church. She would be, at the Lord’s request, the ambassadress of devotion to His Sacred Heart. She was not the first saint to exalt devotion to the Sacred Heart, there were many others: Saint Gertrude (1302) was one of its first votaries; Saint Bonaventure did so in the thirteenth century; Saint John of Avila in the sixteenth; Saint Jean Eudes wrote exhaustively on the devotion of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary fifty years before Margaret Mary’s revelations; and so did Saint Francis de Sales before him, and many others; but no saint was chosen directly by Jesus to be His vessel in spreading this devotion until Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Her mission would not be easy. Her superior, at first, did not believe in her revelations. Even the convent was divided concerning her. Some sisters treated her well and with respect, others ridiculed her. One, to whom she was assigned as an infirmary assistant, begrudged her slowness and complained openly about her. Theologians who were assigned to look into the matter, questioned her with a condescending attitude and advised her to adopt a more healthy diet. Some parents of the students she had taught calumniated her, calling her an “imposter” and “innovator.” It was not until a new confessor, the Jesuit, Saint Claude La Colombiere, came to Paray-le-Monial that our saint was vindicated, at least for the most part, and her mission supported. The devotion was not at all novel to Saint Claude who immediately recognized the authenticity of the Visitandine’s revelations and forthwith consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart. He died in 1682 eight years before Saint Margaret Mary. After this initial support from Saint Claude, a new superior, Mother Melin, was appointed to the convent at Paray-le-Monial. She furthered the good testimony of the visionary’s holy confessor, going so far as to make Sister Margaret Mary her personal assistant and the community novice-mistress. Finally, the cross was lifted that she had to carry for over ten years in her own “home” and among her own “brethren.”
The Feast of the Sacred Heart
Beginning in 1686, the convent at Paray-le-Monial observed the feast of the Sacred Heart privately, and two years later, a chapel was built at the convent to honor the Sacred Heart; observation of the feast of the Sacred Heart spread to other Visitation convents soon after. And, do you know who dedicated themselves to promoting the feast? Sister Margaret’s two brothers, the same who had encouraged her to be a belle.
Saint Margaret Mary died on 17 October 1690. She was forty-three. Her suffering at death was intense, as it had been throughout her penitential life. Refusing all alleviating bromides, her last words were “What have I in heaven and what do I desire on earth, but Thee alone, O my God”, and then she passed away pronouncing the Holy Name of Jesus.
Margaret’s holiness, and the testimony of Saint Claude de la Colombiere (and his Jesuit superiors at that time), certainly helped in the promulgation by the Church of this exquisite devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; nevertheless, it has been emphasized by pious promoters of the cause that even if the Church had rejected the authenticity of the revelations given to our saint, the devotion eventually could have been approved which she gave her life to advancing. It had a long tradition and heavy support among religious orders, the Carthusians and Franciscans, preeminently, even before Jesus came to His servant at Paray-le-Monial.
In March, 1824, Leo XII pronounced Margaret Mary Alacoque Venerable, and on 18 September, 1864, Blessed Pius IX declared her Blessed. Additional proof of her heroic virtue occurred when her tomb was opened in 1830 and two of the disabled present were cured. Her body rests under the altar in the chapel at Paray-le-Monial. Her feast is celebrated on 17 October. She was canonized by Benedict XV in 1920.
It was not until the feast was approved by Rome in 1765 that the episcopate of France fully embraced it. This was, incredible as it seems, in spite of the objections of the French Jesuits at that time. Could the forty year suppression of the Jesuits by Clement XIV in 1773, although immediately due to Masonic pressures, have also been a divinely-permitted punishment for this volte-face? How fitting it was indeed that in Paris on the very hill, Montmartre, where, in 1534, Saint Ignatius and his six founding companions first took their common vows, that a basilica should be built in honor of the martyrs of the Revolution, and dedicated in 1919 to the Sacred Heart. Finally, in 1856, at the urgent entreaties of the French bishops, Pope Pius IX extended the feast to the universal Church with the rank of double major. In 1889, it was raised by the Church to a double of first class. The acts of consecration and of reparation were everywhere introduced together with the devotion.
Saint Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart
It is wonderful to relate that another saint, who was born exactly one hundred years after Margaret Mary, took the name Teresa Margaret of the Sacred Heart as a Discalced Carmelite in honor of Saint Teresa of Avila and the as-yet uncanonized Margaret Mary Alacoque. She is the only saint that I know of who took the Sacred Heart as her name in religion. She, too, was a mystic and an infirmarian. Born Anna Maria Redi, this noble daughter of an Italian count, joined a Carmelite convent in Florence at the age of seventeen and died in 1790 at the age of twenty-three. She cared for the disabled sisters and for the mentally ill. Yes, another Margaret, by her second religious name, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934. The Josephite Sisters, founded in Australia in 1886 by Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, were fully titled, The Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
There is much more that can be written as to the subsequent history of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, its promotions (as well as its resistance by certain bishops and theologians), and its beautiful litany, but that would be another chapter.
Nine First Fridays
We cannot end this brief account of such a great saint without relaying Our Lord’s promise of mercy, which He communicated to our saint, for those who would attend Mass and worthily receive Holy Communion, on nine consecutive First Fridays in reparation for the sins committed against His Sacred Heart. From the writings of Saint Margaret Mary:
“On Friday during Holy Communion, He said these words to His unworthy slave, if I mistake not: I promise you in the excessive mercy of my Heart that its all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on nine first Fridays of consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they will not die under my displeasure or without receiving their sacraments, my divine Heart making itself their assured refuge at the last moment.”
Kings of France and the Requested Consecration Left Undone for 100 Years
Nor can we end without mentioning that Our Lord had requested through Saint Margaret Mary in 1689 that the King of France, Louis XIV, consecrate the nation to the Sacred Heart. This was not done. Nor was it done during the long reign of his immoral and incompetent successor, Louis XV. It was done, one hundred years late, by Louis XVI, too late to save France, or the King himself, from the blood-lust of the Revolution. Before he was imprisoned Louis XVI, no doubt under the inspiration of his holy confessor, the Irish refugee, Abbé Henri Essex Edgeworth, made the consecration most piously of both his nation and himself to the Sacred Heart. Alas, the King and the Queen (the Abbé was her confessor as well) were both executed. Our Lord made reference to this hundred year procrastination of the kings of France in His message in 1931 to Sister Lucia of Fatima in regard to His requested consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart: “Make it known to My ministers, that given they follow the example of the King of France, in delaying the execution of My command … that like him, they will follow him into misfortune, they will repent of it, and they will do it, but it will be late. Russia will already have spread its errors in the world …”
An Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (For the First Friday of the Month)
ADORABLE Heart of Jesus, glowing with love for us and inflamed with zeal for our salvation: O Heart! ever sensible of our misery and the wretchedness to which our sins have reduced us, infinitely rich in mercy to heal the wounds of our souls, behold us humbly prostrate before you to express the sorrow that fills our hearts for the coldness and indifference with which we have so long requited the numberless benefits that you have conferred upon us. With a deep sense of the outrages that have been heaped upon you by our sins and the sins of others, we come to make a solemn reparation of honor to your most sacred majesty. It was our sins that overwhelmed your Heart with bitterness; it was the weight of our iniquities that pressed down your face to the earth in the Garden of Olives, and caused you to expire in anguish and agony on the cross. But now, repenting and sorrowful, we cast ourselves at your feet, and implore, forgiveness. Adorable Heart of Jesus, source of true contrition and ever merciful to the penitent sinner, impart to our hearts the spirit of penance, and give to our eyes a fountain of tears, that we may sincerely bewail our sins now and for the rest of our days. Oh, would that we could blot them out, even with our blood! Pardon them, O Lord, in your mercy, and pardon and convert to you all that have committed irreverences and sacrileges against you in the sacrament of your love, and thus give another proof that your mercy is above all your works. Divine Jesus, with you there are mercy and plentiful redemption, deliver us from our sins, accept the sincere desire we now entertain, and our holy resolution, relying on your assistance of your grace, henceforth to be faithful to you. And in order to repair the sins of ingratitude by which we have grieved your most tender and loving Heart, we are resolved in the future ever to love and honor you in the most adorable Sacrament of the Altar, where you art ever present to hear and grant our petitions, and to be the food and life of our souls. Be you, O compassionate Jesus, our Mediator with your heavenly Father, Whom we have so grievously offended, strengthen our weakness, confirm these our resolutions of amendment, and as your Sacred Heart is our refuge and our hope when we have sinned, so may it be the strength and support of our repentance, that nothing in life or death may ever again separate us from you. Amen.
An Act of Consecration and Reparation to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
MOST Sacred Heart of Jesus! I adore you; I offer to you all that I am and all that I possess; I consecrate to you my soul with its faculties, my body with all its senses, my heart with all its affections, desiring in all things to honor, love, and glorify you; in thanksgiving for the numberless benefits that I have received from you, especially in the Holy Eucharist; in atonement for my own sins as well as in reparation for all the offenses that are committed against you in the sacrament of your love, and, finally, in humble supplication, that I may henceforth be faithful to you, that I may please you in thought, word, and deed, that I may suffer in patience and in perfect resignation to your holy will, that I may become like to you in meekness and humility, that I may persevere in your love and your grace to the end of my life, and that I may praise you and bless you with the saints and angels in eternity.
We beseech you, also, O good Jesus, by your Sacred Heart, overflowing with sweetness and mercy, to bless our Holy Father, the Pope, and our Holy Mother, the Church; to take under your special protection this congregation [my parish], our homes, our country, our rulers, our legislators, our bishops, our priests, and all Religious Orders. We recommend to you all our concerns, our friends, relatives, benefactors, and all those who have asked us to pray for them; those who are sick and those who are dying, and all who are under any affliction. Cast an eye of compassion on obstinate sinners, [the mistaken], and unbelievers.
Give eternal rest to the faithful departed.
Bless in particular the apostolic labors of those who are engaged in giving missions and retreats, in propagating the Faith in [mission] lands, in spreading your kingdom on earth, and in fostering devotion to your most Sacred Heart and to the most holy Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.