Even those of us who are baptized members of the Catholic Church suffer from the vestigial after-effects of Original Sin.
That is, each of us has a darkened intellect and a weakened will. Our lower, sensual passions war against our higher, rational faculties. Each one of our own Actual Sins darkens our intellects and weakens the will all the more, inclining us the more to surrender to our passions rather than to cooperate with the graces won for us by the shedding of every single drop of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ's Most Precious Blood and that flow into our hearts and souls through the loving hands of Our Lady, she who is the Mediatrix of All Graces, to resist temptations and to scale the heights of sanctity. This is what we should make a good, integral Confession of our sins to a true bishop or a true priest every week of our lives if this is at all possible (and I realize full well that many who might be reading this article do not have access to a true bishop or a true priest more than once a year, if that!).
The pride that is at the root of disordered self-love can cause our hearts to grow cold. Indeed, the pride that is at the root of disordered self-love can cause hearts to become like stones in their hardness, their refusal to forgive, their nurturing of grudges, their public airing of every possible grievance imaginable, their desire to cause hurt and pain by speculating publicly about the lives of others in full and complete violation of the binding precepts of the Eighth Commandment. The refusal to forgive others and to let grievances go as God forgives us in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance as the tender Mercies of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus are applied to our sins through the outpouring of the The Laver of Redemption by the working of an alter Christus acting in persona Christi is one of the greatest triumphs that a devil can win over a soul.
One hardened heart can lead others to harden their hearts. Contingent beings who did not create themselves and whose bodies are destined one day, perhaps sooner than they can imagine, for the corruption of the grave can come to believe that it is their God-given right to curse others and to defame them personally in order to make themselves seem better or more important or more Christian by a comparison that is drawn to fit their own objectives of character assassination. Such an attitude can lead to dangerous obsessions, a refusal to recognize the intentions of all lives and the circumstances of all hearts will revealed only on the Last Day at the General Judgment of the Living and the Dead and that we are to unite ourselves with the silence of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as He suffered at our hands because our sins that transcended time and caused Him to be abused and subject to false accusations and calumnies during His Passion and Death.
Father Edward Leen wrote the following in his book In the Likeness of Christ:
Under the reign of Satan men were hard and unfeeling, without pity or tenderness. The one thing they looked up to was the physical power to dominate, and the one thing they feared was the helplessness of poverty. Their life was divided between pleasure and cruelty. Pride and haughtiness instead of being regarded as defects were regarded as manly virtues. Weakness was almost synonymous with vice, and all this tended to fashion hearts imperverious to the grace of God and to every human feeling. Conversion of heart was for them extremely difficult. What God required on the part of man as a necessary condition of their friendship with Him was to them abhorrent, for the practice of the Christian virtues of submission, humility, and patience would be regarded by them as degrading. They had to learn that what was not degrading to God--since nothing could degrade Him in reality--could not be degrading to them. Turning to God postulated on their part not only a change of heart, but also a change of mentality. Their human values were almost all wrong. In the terse words of St. Ignatius describing the pagan world" "They smite, they slay and they go down to Hell".
In other words, it is the law of things as they actually are that we must continually suffer from others; it is the condition of our being that we shall be the victims of others' abuse of their free wills; it belongs to our position that our desires and inclinations should be continually thwarted and that we should be at the mercy of circumstances. And it is our duty to bear that without resentment and without rebellion. To rebel is to assert practically that such things are not our due, that they do not belong to our position. It is to refuse to recognize that we are fallen members of a fallen race. The moment we feel resentment at anything painful that happens to us through the activity of men or things, at that moment we are resentful against God's Providence.
We are in this really protesting against His eternal determination to create free beings; for these sufferings which we endure are a consequence of the carrying into effect of that free determination. If we expect or look for a mode of existence in which we shall not endure harshness, unkindness, misunderstanding, and injustice, we are actually rebelling against God's Providence, we are claiming a position that does not belong to us as creatures. This is to sin against humility. It is pride. (Father Edward Leen, In The Likeness of Christ, Sheed and Ward, 1936, pp, 17-18; 182-183.)
It is the prideful refusal to forgive others and to project onto the true God of Revelation a like hardness of heart that was at the essence of the heresy of Jansenism (a recrudescence of the Albigensianism that Our Lady taught Saint Dominic de Guzman to fight with her Most Holy Rosary) in the Seventeenth Century. Jansenism, which drew great strength contemporaneously from the wretched evil that is Calvinism, believed in a concept of an impersonal God, One Who is stern and unforgiving. It was to correct and to squelch this false concept of God from the minds and the hearts of men that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ chose Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque of the Visitation Sisters to reveal the treasures and the secrets of the tender Mercies of His Most Sacred Heart, who had suffered much in her life well before she entered religious life at the age of twenty-four on May 25, 1671.
An eminent biographer of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the late Right Reverend Emile Bougaud, wrote the following concerning the state of France at the time of her birth on July 22, 1647:
The violent attacks of Protestantism against the Papacy, its calumnies and so manifest, the odious caricatures it scattered abroad, had undoubtedly inspired France with horror; nevertheless the sad impressions remained. In such accusations all, perhaps, was not false. Mistrust was excited., and instead of drawing closer to the insulted and outraged Papacy, France stood on her guard against it. In vain did Fenelon, who felt the danger, write in his treatise on the "Power of the Pope," and, to remind France of her sublime mission and true role in the world, compose his "History of Charlemagne." In vain did Bossuet majestically rise in the midst of that agitated assembly of 1682, convened to dictate laws to the Holy See, and there, in most touching accents, give vent to professions of fidelity and devotedness toward the Chair of St. Peter. We already notice in his discourse mention no longer made of the "Sovereign Pontiff." The "Holy See," the "Chair of St. Peter," the "Roman Church," were alone alluded to. First and alas! too manifest signs of coldness in the eyes of him who knew the nature and character of France! Others might obey through duty, might allow themselves to be governed by principle--France, never! She must be ruled by an individual, she must love him that governs her, else she can never obey.
These weaknesses should at least have been hidden in the shadow of the sanctuary, to await the time in which some sincere and honest solution of the misunderstanding could be given. But no! parliaments took hold of it, national vanity was identified with it. A strange spectacle was now seen. A people the most Catholic in the world; kings who called themselves the Eldest Sons of the Church and who were really such at heart; grave and profoundly Christian magistrates, bishops, and priests, though in the depths of their heart attached to Catholic unity,--all barricading themselves against the head of the Church; all digging trenches and building ramparts, that his words might not reach the Faithful before being handled and examined, and the laics convinced that they contained nothing false, hostile or dangerous.
God keep me from saying any harm of the old French Church! We have not forgotten that, only a century before, the bishops of England apostatized at the command of Henry VIII; whilst, in 1793, even after the enervating effects of the eighteenth century, the French bishops and priests ascended the scaffold, or went into exile, rather than separate from Catholic unity. It is not less true that the Church of France at that period was no longer closely united with the Pope. That great luminary of the Church, as St. Francis de Sales calls His Holiness, met in France too much that was opposed to the benign influence of its rays; consequently there resulted a diminution of life-giving warmth, of sap, and of fecundity. This was the first wound dealt us by Protestantism, and from it the Church of France bled for two centuries.
There was at the same time a second, perhaps a more dangerous, wound. The blasphemies uttered by Protestants against the Blessed Sacrament could not heard without a thrill of horror. Was there not, however, some truth in what the reformers said? Was it not the light and irreverent conduct of Catholics toward the Holy Eucharist that gave rise to those blasphemies? Would it not be better to abstain from Holy Communion, or henceforth make use of it with more reserve? Vainly did Fenelon, whose intuitive perception told him all, write his famous letter on "Frequent Communion." Vainly did Bossuet pour out his great soul in his admirable"Meditations on the Discourse after the Last Supper." Naught availed. Arnauld's book on "Frequent Communion," or rather against it, received universal approbation, and began to direct the conscience of many.
Such writers did unquestionably reject with fear the blind predestination of Protestantism; but under the pretext of a reaction against the softness of Catholic morals, they led souls to despair. Massillon unconsciously headed the crusade against the mercy of God by his famous discourse on the small number of the elect;and Pascal followed with his biting irony on the Society of Jesus, guilty only of the crime of maintaining and defending the goodness and mercy of God in His relations toward sinners.
All these tendencies were floating, so to say, in the air, vague and undecided, when Jansenism appeared, seized upon them, and reduced them to definitive shape. Jansenism is the most astonishing heresy that has afflicted the Church. Its doctrine is, after all, only a shameful form of Protestantism, for their fundamental principle is the same. It is the doctrine of a God whose love is half-hearted; who came upon earth, but who had not the heart to die for all men; who dwells, it is true, in the Holy Eucharist, though one does not precisely know why, for He wishes that we receive Him therein as seldom as possible; who has established the tribunal of mercy and pardon, but has hedged it round with such conditions as to render it unapproachable.
In order to get a hold on the mind of the people and make these ideas familiar to them, Jansenism concealed the beautiful crucifixes of Christian ages, on which the Saviour is represented with arms widely extended to embrace all mankind, and eyes tenderly lowered to the earth to attract all souls to Himself. They replaced them by the hideous little images still found in some houses, poverty-stricken and ugly, the hands of the Saviour fastened perpendicularly above His head, to enclose within them as few souls as possible, and His eyes so raised toward heaven as no longer to behold the earth. Instead of these words, so sweet to faith, engraven above tabernacles in which the God of love resides: Quam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine ("How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!") they substituted such words as these: "Keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the Lord." Jansenius wrote treatises on frequent Communion, that is to say, against it; and he made lavish use of his erudition to teach the Faithful to absent themselves from it as much as possible. Toward the Sovereign Pontiff this serpent-like heresy pursued the same policy. It did not deny His power, as do Protestants, but it worked with incredible skill. It knew how to do without Him, and even to disobey Him with profound respect. That is to say, wherever Protestantism denied, Jansenism was hypocritical. Both aimed, though by different means, at the same result, namely, the diminution of divine love in souls.
There was no hope of escaping such dangers except by an energetic reaction of faith and piety. The infinite love of God should have been boldly affirmed; souls should have been urged to approach the holy table, to frequent Communion; they should have been cast into the arms of the Sovereign Pontiff, as children more obedient, more tenderly devoted, than ever. But this was not the case. Some allowed themselves to be rightened by simulated austerity, and others were seduced by these grand words: "Return to the discipline of the primitive Church." Sentinels did not perform their duty, some were traitors; and little by little Jansenism penetrated everywhere, not as a doctrine in which souls believed, but as an influence to which they yielded. The most fervent communities, the most austere cloisters, were not preserved from it. They inhaled it, almost unsuspectingly, like those subtle poisons floating in the air, which bear within them death sometimes, disease always.
From these combined influences there resulted in France, at the end of the seventeenth century and during the whole of the eighteenth, a corruption of the true spirit of the Gospel, a kind of semi-Christianity, commonplace and cold, utterly incapable of captivating souls. The conquering charm of Christianity, the principle of its eternal fruitfulness, is the dogma of God's infinitive love for man, that grand doctrine, at once so full of mystery and yet so luminous, of a God who loves man unto passion. In the same measure as one approaches it, whether entirely to deny or merely to diminish this infinite love, one sees die out or sensibly decrease that sublime inebriation which makes virgins, apostles, and martyrs, that folly of man responding to the folly of God. The world had had a first example in the absolute sterility of Protestantism; and France was about to offer a second, which, though less perfect, was none the less striking; since, without absolutely denying infinite love, it was content with an unintelligible concept of it.
In proportion as this quasi-Christianity spread over France, the sublime inspirations of faith and piety became weaker. During the whole of the eighteenth century there was but one new institution, that of de la Salle, a tardy scion of the great tree of which some years before it was impossible to number the new shoots. The old institutions languished, and some literally died out. In France, virgins and apostles, souls consecrated to God, became fewer and fewer. The old abbeys were too spacious for their inmates daily diminishing in numbers; and in revenge at not being able to people them, they pulled them down. The riches no longer necessary, since the monasteries were now deserted, were used in demolishing the old cloisters of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, so interesting in point of art, which had been erected by saints, and embalmed with the still living traces of their footsteps. They replaced them by magnificent abbeys in the style of Versailles, that is to say, as destitute of style as of reminiscences. The same spectacle was witnessed in the ranks of the clergy, among whom were found some zealous priests, some men of duty, but no saints. All was mediocre, no enthusiasm, no fire. Missions died out, and a sensible diminution of warmth and life was everywhere felt. As one sometimes sees a grand old tree no longer shooting its huge branches toward heaven, no longer clothed in luxuriant foliage, because of the wound at the root, so the Church of France gave signs of deep-seated disease. (Right Reverend Emile Bougaud, The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Published in 1890 by Benziger Brothers. Re-printed by TAN Books and Publishers, 1990, pp. 24-29.)
It was into this spiritual mess, so similar in many respects to our own days, that Margaret Mary Alacoque was born, being favored in her youth with visions of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ which she, being meek and humble of heart like unto the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, believed were given to everyone, learning later that she, through no merits of her own, was a chosen soul through whom Our Beloved would make known the tender devotion that to His Most Sacred Heart that He wanted instituted to combat the coldness of the stony hearts of men who had conceived of a God as unforgiving of them as they were of each other.
This point is amplified in the readings for Matins in today's Divine Office:
Margaret Mary Alacoque was born of a respectable family in a village in the diocese of Autun. From her earliest years she gave signs of holiness. Filled with a burning love of the Virgin Mother of God, and of the august mystery of the Eucharist, while still a young girl she dedicated her virginity to God. Above all else she strove to realize in her life the performance of Christian virtues. She delighted to spend continuous hours in prayers and in meditation upon the things of heaven. She was humble, and patient in adversity. She practised bodily penance. She was charitable towards her neighbours, especially the poor. By every means within her power she strove diligently to imitate the most holy example left by our divine Redeemer.
Margaret entered the Order of the Visitation. There her life became immediately a shining example to others. God endowed her highly with the gift of prayer. He gave her other favours, such as frequent visitations. The most famous of these was that one when Jesus appeared to her as she knelt in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Opening his breast, He revealed his divine Heart glowing with flames and encircled with a crown of thorns. He bade her in return for his excessive love and in atonement for the insults of ungrateful men, to seek to have established public adoration of his Heart. This devotion he promised to enrich with treasures of heavenly grace. When, out of humility, she hesitated to undertake so great a task, the loving Saviour encouraged her. At the same time he pointed out Claude de la Colombiere, a man of great holiness, as one who could guide and help her. Our Lord also comforted her with the assurance that very great blessings would accrue afterwards to the Church from the worship of his divine Heart.
Margaret strove ardently to fulfill the Redeemer's command. Vexations, even bitter insults, were her portion from some who maintained that she was subject to mental aberrations. She not only bore these sufferings patiently, she even profited by them, offering herself in anguish and reproach as a victim acceptable to God, bearing all things as a more sure means of accomplishing her purpose. Renowned for her religious perfection, becoming each day more closely united with her divine spouse by contemplation of celestial things, she took flight to him in the forty-third year of her age, and in the year of restored salvation 1690. She became famous for miracles. Benedict XV added her to the list of the saints; Pius XI extended her office to the universal Church. (Matins, The Divine Office, Feast of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque.)
Yes, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was called to a life of great prayer and contemplation from her childhood:
Just outside the gate of the castle, and on the very same terrace, stood the chapel, shaded also by hornoeam trees. Here the little girl often retired. "Here she passed long hours kneeling, her little hands joined. Far from growing weary, she esteemed no pleasure in life equal to that tasted in those moments of silent prayer, which was never discontinued but with regret."
"I was constantly urged," she says, "to repeat these words, the sense of which I did not understand. 'My God, I consecrated to Thee my purity! My God, I make to Thee a vow of perpetual chastity!' Once I repeated them between the two elevations of holy Mass, which I generally heard on my bare knees however cold the weather might be. I did not know what I had done, nor what the words vow and chastity signified." She understood but one thing, and that was that these mysterious words, which hovered constantly on her lips at the most solemn moments, meant the complete gift of herself to a God whom she esteemed worthy of all gifts.
At the same time there was born in her that attraction for prayer which was to make her one of the greatest contemplatives ever known in the Church. "Form this early age," says Pere Croiset, "the Holy Ghost Himself wished to teach her the fundamental point of the interior life, and bestow upon her the spirit of prayer. Whenever she could not be found on her knees in some part of the house, her friends were accustomed to look for her in the church; and there she was sure to be discovered and immovable before the Blessed Sacrament."
The weak health of Mme. de Corcheval [her Godmother] did not permit her to superintend, as she wishes, Margaret's education; therefore she remitted that charge to two of her lady companions, who taught the child to pray, to read and write, and to study the catechism. One of these ladies was gracious and amiable, but Margaret fled from her. The other, though harsh and severe, failed not to attract the little pupil, who preferred the rebuffs of the one to the caresses of the other. The sequel will show that this surprising conduct was owing to one of these secret instincts which God implants in pure hearts; for later on it was discovered that she who appeared as gracious was not all that she seemed.
Horror of evil, desire of solitude, flight from men, love of purity,—behold the first impressions engraven by God in the soul of this holy child, now in her sixth year! To perfect the picture here given, we must add that from her cradle she united to all other graces a most tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin. "I had recourse to her," she says, "in all my needs, and she warded off great dangers from me. I ventured not to address myself to her Son, but I feared not to go to her. I offered her the little crown of the Rosary on my bare knees on the ground, or else I made as many genuflections as there are Ave Marias, or I kissed the ground at each." The Blessed Virgin never lets herself be outdone in love; and from her earliest childhood, the dear little one received most signal graces. Right Reverend Emile Bougaud, The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Published in 1890 by Benziger Brothers. Re-printed by TAN Books and Publishers, 1990, pp. 42-44.)
It is not wonder that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ favored the young Margaret Mary Alacoque with the secrets of His Most Sacred Heart as one who is devoted to His Most Blessed Mother, especially by means of her Most Holy Rosary, will always be close the Heart that was formed out of the sanctuary of love that is the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Saint Margaret Mary was not the first saint, obviously, to be told of the secrets of the Sacred Heart. Saint Gertrude the Great, who lived four centuries before her, was given great mystical insights into the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, including a revelation given to her by Saint John the Evangelist as to why he, Saint John, had not written of the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart, Which beat with such ardor below the breast of the Divine Redeemer upon Whom John reposed at the Last Supper:
Once St. Gertrude asked the beloved disciple St. John why he, who first had the happiness of reposing on the Saviour's breast, had taught us none of the secrets of the Adorable Heart. St. John answered that God has reserved to Himself to make them known in a time of great coldness, and that He held back these wonders to rekindle the flames of charity at a time in which it would have grown cold and almost extinct.
This is the explanation of that aurora, at once so luminous and so secret. The Heart of Jesus has never ceased to be contemplated, adored, loved; never was it not preached. Its devotion is transmitted from soul to soul, from solitude to solitude. The more sensitive the souls and the more lonely the retreat, the more intimate and ardent, the sweeter is the devotion. But to illustrate with souls even the most devoted to the Heart of Jesus throws on it no ray of light. It comes not forth from shadow. Several times the devotion seemed on the point of bursting forth. But it did not, though the dawn went on increasing; the light became more distinct, the devotion more tender. The seventeenth century found all ready to hail it; but a single voice was needed to call it forth.
Almighty God, indeed, would be able to satisfy Himself with a single voice. But as the devotion preceded by so long preparation was to spread throughout the Church and preside for ages over the renewal of fervor of piety. He resolved to confide this holy deposit to a religious Order, a band of virgins scattered over the face of the earth, who, inflamed by that burning Heart, would radiate its beams beyond the grates of their cloistered homes.
As yet, as far as we know, no one has studied the history of the Visitation from this point of view. No one has shown that it was established for the Sacred Heart; and we ourselves who have written its origin, why may we not now confess that we did not then know to what a degree the broad lines and least details of that Institute relate to the Heart of Jesus? We shall now fill up this void. After having seen devotion to the Sacred Heart arise and spread throughout the whole Church, we shall go back to gaze upon it as it increases in beauty and brilliancy in the bosom of the Visitation. (Right Reverend Emile Bougaud, The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Published in 1890 by Benziger Brothers. Re-printed by TAN Books and Publishers, 1990, pp. 140-141.)
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was the "single voice" that Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ had chosen from all eternity to institute a formal, public devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus replete with acts of piety from the faithful and a liturgy sanctioned by Holy Mother Church. Our Saint, however, had to suffer much from within the convent of the Visitation once she was visited by Our Lord as it is only through suffering that we are perfected in the crucible of love that is the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Which beats in unison with the heart from which It was formed, the Immaculate Heart of Mary:
In a few minutes, Mother de Saumaise had arrived at the infirmary, where she found Sister Catherine Marest busy as usual about her numerous duties among the sick. She found, too, that Sister Margaret Mary was in an even more alarming condition than she had been for several days.
"Truly, I don't what to do for her, Mother," sighed the infirmarian. "She seems to be in dreadful pain, although Doctor Billet says he can't find anything wrong with her."
The superior hid her true feelings as best she could. "Well, perhaps I can help a little, Sister. Would you leave us alone for a little while?"
Sister Catherine hesitated, then nodded doubtfully. "Of course, Mother. But I'm warning you. Sister Margaret Mary is living in a world all her own these days. She's not even likely to hear you if you speak to her. much less give a sensible answer."
"Yes, Sister. I understand."
"All she does is lie in her bed, mumbling and stammering about people not loving God enough, and how necessary it is for her to receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays."
"Sister dear. . ."
"I tell you, Mother, it's frightening. And a little exasperating, too. And in my opinion--"
"All right, Mother, I'm going. But I thought you might as well hear what I had to say."
Soon Mother de Saumaise was experiencing the truth in Sister Catherine's words. Sister Margaret Mary, pale as a corpse and evidently in great pain, had given no sign that she recognized her visitor. Her eyes were closed, and her thin fingers clutched feebly at a crucifix.
"Lord, I've tried, but they won't let me come to You! They don't believe about Your Sacred Heart . . ."
The superior bent anxiously over the bed, "Sister! Sister Margaret Mary!"
"They think I'm out of my mind, Lord! Or that the Evil One has me in his power . . ."
"My dear child listen to me!"
Lord, what am I going to do? How can I explain to people about Your Sacred Heart when even the Sisters here don't believe in me?
For a moment Mother de Saumaise stood in puzzled silence, gazing down at the frail young figure before her. Truly, the case of Sister Margaret Mary presented a real problem. Though her eyes were closed, tears were streaming down her pale cheeks and from time to time her breath came in such labored gasps that it seemed that she must surely strangle. Actually the sight was such a heartrending one that finally the superior could stand it no longer.
"Sister, in the name of holy obedience, open your eyes and listen to what I have to say!" she commanded. "At once, do you hear?"
Wonder of wonders! Sister Margaret Mary immediately ceased her moaning and looked up. "Yes, Mother?" she whispered. "You wanted me?"
As the superior gazed into the dark, tear-filled eyes so obediently raised to hers, a pang shot through her heart. Suddenly Sister Margaret Mary seemed to pitifully frail and wasted, far older than her twenty-seven years! How was she possibly going to be severe with one who was suffering so much? And yet, if there was to be any lasting peace in the community--
"Sister, I have some important news for you," she announced in a matter-of-fact voice. "I hope you're well enough to hear it."
Suddenly fresh color flooded Sister Margaret Mary's face, and she struggled feebly to a sitting position. "Oh, Mother, do you really believe in me at last? she burst out.
"Well . . ."
"Y-you're going to let me make the Holy Hour on Thursday nights? And receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays, too?"
With a great effort Mother de Saumaise steeled herself against the childlike joy rapidly dawning in Sister Margaret Mary's eyes. "No, Sister, she said coldly, "that's not it at all."
"The truth of the matter is that I'm tired of your staying in bed day after day, of no use to yourself or to anyone else. And the other Sisters are tired of it, too."
Slowly the color began to drain from Sister Margaret Mary's face, and she sank back weakly upon her pillows. "I. . .I'm sorry, Mother," she whispered.
"Sorry! Being sorry isn't enough, Sister. Don't you think you owe the community much more than that for all the trouble you've caused?"
"Y-yes . . . of course. . ."
Well, why do you persist with your lies then? Your foolish imaginings and day-dreams?"
"Lies? Oh, Mother. I've never lied to you! Our Lord really does come to me, unworthy as I am! And perhaps if you'd let me do what He's asked . . ."
Suddenly Other de Saumaise drew herself up to her full height. "Very well," she announced grimly. "That's just what I will do--if you'll cooperate."
Sister Margaret Mary's eyes widened in tearful amazement. "Y-you mean that you'll let me make the Holy Hour, Mother?" And receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays."
"That's what I mean, Sister. But on one condition only."
"Oh, Mother! What?"
The superior looked sternly at the young religious before her. "On the condition that you get out of that bed and act like the rest of us. In other words, Sister, that you show you're cured--once and for all--of these miserable illnesses."
"If Our Lord really comes to you, tell Him to prove it to everyone here by restoring you to instant good health. That's simple enough, isn't it?"
For a moment Sister Margaret Mary did not answer, gazing long and earnestly at the crucifix in her trembling hands. Then slowly she raised her eyes. "Very well, Mother," she whispered. "I'll ask for a cure. Right away. . ." (Mary Fabyan Windeatt, Saint Margaret Mary and the Promise of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, published originally in 1953 by Saint Meinrad's Abbey and republished by TAN Books and Publishers in 1994, pp. 77-81.)
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was up and about the very next day. She suffered so much to get through to her Mother Superior and her fellow Sisters, many of whom were imbued with the spirit of the Jansenism that was described so very well by Father Bougaud in his own biography of our Saint of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Working with the help of Blessed Father Claude de la Colombiere, who suffered much in his own right in late-Seventeenth Century England to promote the cause of the Catholic Faith and the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was able to win the day for the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the convent of the Visitation of Paray le Monial in France. Suffering is the path each of us must trod to win the day for the triumph of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through our tender devotion to the Immaculate Heart in Mary in our own lives, which is why we must have a very special place in our daily devotions to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus for Saints Gertrude the Great and Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Blessed Claude de la Colombiere.
Our Lord, seeking to melt the coldness of the Jansenism that had spread like wildfire in France, made the following promises to Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque concerning those who keep the devotion to His Most Sacred Heart. It is always good to be reminded of those promises as they were given by Our Divine Redeemer Himself to a Saint whose body remains incorrupt to this very day despite having died three hundred twenty-two years ago this very day:
1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
2. I will establish peace in their families.
3. I will console them in all their troubles.
4. They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.
5. I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.
7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
8. Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.
9. I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.
10. I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.
11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.
12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under my displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.
How can we persist in hardness of heart?
Why aren't we willing to suffer for the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus as Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque did?
Why don't we consider it our privilege to be hated and calumniated and misunderstood and persecuted as she was in imitation of the Divine Redeemer, Whose Most Sacred Heart was pierced by the lance that had been thrust through his side by Saint Longinus.
Why aren't we willing to suffer the difficulties of the present age of naturalism in the world and apostasy and betrayal from the hands of the conciliarists, for whose conversion back to the true Faith before they die we must pray most fervently each and every single day without fail as no one who esteems false religions is a friend of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with gratitude and with profound joy for being given endless opportunities to offer our sufferings to that Most Sacred Heart through the Immaculate Heart of Mary as we pray as many Rosaries each day as our states-in-life permit?
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque composed the following prayer to her Divine Visitor Who indeed desires that each one of us approach the font of Mercy that is His Most Sacred Heart through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of His Most Blessed Mother:
O Divine Heart of Jesus, inexhaustible Source of love and goodness, ah! how I regret that I have forgotten Thee too much and loved Thee so little! O Sacred Heart, Thou dost merit the reverence and love of all hearts which Thou hast cherished so much and laid under infinite obligations. And yet Thou dost receive from the greater number nothing but ingratitude and coldness, and especially from my own heart which merits Thy just indignation. But Thy Heart is all full of goodness and mercy, and of this I wish to avail myself to obtain reconciliation and pardon. O Divine Heart, I grieve intensely when I see myself guilty of such cowardice and when I consider the ungrateful conduct of my wicked heart, which has so unjustly stolen the love that it owes to Thee and bestowed it on myself or on vain amusements.
O Heart most meek, if the sorrow and shame of a heart that recognizes its error can satisfy Thee, pardon this heart of mine for it is sorry for its infidelity and ashamed of the little care which it has taken to please Thee by its love. O Sacred Heart of my Saviour, what could I expect from all this but Thy displeasure and condign punishment if I did not hope in Thy mercy. O, Heart of my God, Heart most holy, Heart to which alone belongs to pardon sinners, do Thou in Thy mercy pardon this poor miserable heart of mine. All its powers unite in a supreme effort to make reparations to Thee for its wanderings from Thee and the disordered application of its love.
Ah! how have I been able hitherto to refuse Thee my heart, I who have so many obligations to make Thee its sole possessor, nevertheless I have done so. But now how I regret that I have wandered away from Thee, from the love of Thee who art the Source of all goodness, in a word, from the Heart of my Jesus, who although needing me not, hast sought me out and lavished Thy favors on me. O adorable Heart of Jesus, is it possible that my heart can have treated Thee thus, my heart which depends entirely on Thy love and thy benefits and which, if Thou shouldst take them from it, would fall into the utmost extremes of misery or be reduced to nothingness? Ah! how I am beholden to Thy goodness, O indulgent Heart of my Saviour, for having borne with me so long in my ingratitude! Oh! how timely Thy mercies come to pardon my poor, inconstant heart!
O Heart of my Jesus, I now consecrate to Thee and give Thee all my love and the source of my love, which is my heart; I give Thee both irrevocably, although with great confusion for having so long refused Thee Thine own possessions. O Divine Heart, my very capability of bestowing my poor hear on Thee is a proof of Thy great love for me, but alas! I have availed myself badly of such a favorable opportunity to merit Thy love and grace. Oh! how great is my confusion at the thought of this! O Heart of my Jesus, reform my faithless heart, grant that henceforth it may bind itself to Thy love by its own, and that it may approach Thee as much in the future as it has wandered away from Thee in the past, and as Thou art the Creator of my heart, may Thou, I beseech Thee, one day give it the crown of immortality.
We have wounded the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. We have done so. I know only too well the vain amusements that occupied my life for far too long, vain amusements for which I must make reparation until the day I die.
Oh, yes, we do indeed wound the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus so carelessly and so frequently, do we not? All the more reason to be even more careful in returning a true love from our truly repentant hearts to the very font of Divine Love, something that Father John Croiset noted:
Consider that it was no less afflicting and sad for Jesus Christ to see the ingratitude of the majority of the faithful, who would have only coldness and indifference for Him in the Sacrament of His love. He saw the little esteem, nay, even the contempt with which they would treat this greatest proof of His love. He saw that no matter what He might do to be loved by the faithful, even dwelling always amongst them in the Blessed Eucharist, neither this excess of His love, nor His benefits, nor His very presence would be capable of making the greater part of them love Him or would prevent them from forgetting Him. he saw that those churches in which He was to be sacramentally present would be left for most of the time without adorers. He saw what little reverence, nay, what disrespect would be shown in His presence. He saw clearly how the greater part of His followers, who spend long hours in vain amusement and useless visits and complete idleness, would rarely find a quarter of an hour to spend before Him in the Blessed Sacrament. He knew how many others would visit Him only under compulsion and without either devotion or reverence. And finally, He saw the very small number who would eagerly visit Him and devoutly adore Him. He saw clearly that the greater number take no more notice of Him than if He were not really present in the Blessed Sacrament or than if He were a person of no consequence.
The harsh treatment which He received from the Jews, Gentiles and heretics was indeed very painful to Him, but they were His open enemies. But could we ever thought it possible that those who recognize His benefits, that those who make profession of being faithful to Him, that His own children should not only be insensible to His benefits and in no way touched with compassion at the sight of the grief caused by such contempt, but that they should treat Him with contempt by their irreverences and sacrileges? Our Saviour might well say: "If pagans and Turks and infidels had treated Me so, I might have endured it." "for if my enemy had reviled me, I would verily have borne it". (Ps. 54:13), but that Christians, Catholics whom I have not only redeemed, but have fed and nourished with my Body and Blood, should have nothing but contempt for Me, that they should treat Me with ingratitude, is too much. "But thou a man of one mind, my guide and my familiar: who didst take sweetmeats together with me! (Ps. 54: 14-15)
What must be the sentiments of this most generous and tender Heart of Jesus which has so loved men, and which finds in the hearts of those men only coldness and contempt? "I am become a reproach among my enemies." (Ps. 30: 12). If after exposing Myself to the contempt and hatred of My enemies in the midst of the outrages which I suffer, I could at least find a large number of faithful friends who would console Me! But it is quite the contrary: "They that saw me without fled from me." (Ps. 30:12) The greater number, seeing that I have disguised Myself under the feeble appearance of bread in order to have the pleasure of dwelling among men, abandon Me and forget Me as a person who has no place in their hearts, "I am forgotten as one dead from the heart." (Ps. 30:13) (Father John Croiset, The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, republished by TAN Books and Publishers.)
If we are faithful to the revelations of the Most Sacred Heart given by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to such mystics as Saint Gertrude the Great and Saint John Eudes and to His great, humble and obedient suffering servant we honor today, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, then we can be confident that these great saints will intercede for us from Heaven so that we can imitate their complete self-surrender to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as we, who have been given the privilege to live after Our Lord sent His Most Blessed Mother to the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal, to establish devotion her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, attempt to lead all souls to the font of Divine Mercy through the Immaculate Heart of Mary out of which It was formed and to which It is perfected united.
We need to pray to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque so that our Communions will be more fervent and our visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, where the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus beckons us for our love, will be more frequent. How can we refuse to imitate a Saint of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus who suffered so very much to help spread the devotion that is meant to inflame our own hearts and to be symbolized on the national flags of every nation on the face of this earth?
Our Lady's Immaculate Heart will triumph. May we play some small part in helping to plant a few seeds for this triumph by our own daily fidelity to her Fatima Message, especially by praying her Most Holy Rosary, whose fulfillment will bring upon us the dawning of an era of peace wherein all men everywhere will exclaim during the Reign of Mary and the Social Reign of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sovereign King:
Vivat Christus Rex! Viva Cristo Rey!
Our Lady of Fatima, us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, pray for us.
Saint Gertrude the Great, pray for us.
Saint John Eudes, pray for us.
Blessed Claude de la Colombiere, pray for us.
Saint Luke the Evangelist, pray for us.
Bishop Emil Bougaud on the Social Aspect of Devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
There is to the devotion of the Sacred Heart a private side and a social side. Margaret Mary begins with the first.
"In fine, my dear Mother," she writes, " are we not all consumed in the burning heart of His pure love? It will reign, this amiable Heart, in spite of Satan, his imps and his agents. This world transports me with joy. But to be able to express to you the great graces and benedictions it will attract upon all that shall have procured it the most honor and glory is what I cannot do in the way that He has given me to understand it.
"He has made me see the devotion to His Sacred Heart as a beautiful tree, from all eternity to spring up and take root in the midst of our Institute, and to extend its branches into the houses that compose it, so that each may gather from it fruits most pleasing to her liking and taste. But He desires that the daughters of the Visitation should distribute abundantly to all that will eat of it the fruits of this sacred tree. By this means He desires to restore life to many; and, by withdrawing them from the way of perdition, and destroying the empire of Satan in their heart, to establish in them that of His love."
Behold the first design, the supernatural, the social side of devotion to the Sacred Heart, that which regards souls at all times and in all places. Margaret Mary continues: "But He does not wish to stop here. He has still greater designs, which can be executed only by His almighty power."
Which are those designs that the Saint calls the greatest, and for which she invokes the All-powerful?
"He desires, then, it seems to me, to enter with pomp and magnificence into the palaces of kings and princes, therein to be honored as much as He has been despised, humiliated, and outraged in His Passion. May He receive as much pleasure therein at seeing the great ones of the world abasing and humbling themselves before Him as He once felt bitterness at beholding Himself annihilated at their feet!"
The tone of these words convinces one that Margaret Mary, when uttering them,. was in a sort of ecstasy. What follows leaves no room for doubt on the subject.
"Here are," she continues, "the words that I heart on this point: 'MAKE KNOWN TO THE ELDEST SON OF MY HEART,' SPEAKING OF OUR KING, 'THAT AS HIS TEMPORAL BIRTH WAS OBTAINED THROUGH DEVOTION TO THE MERITS OF MY HOLY CHILDHOOD, IN THE SAME MANNER HE WILL OBTAIN HIS BIRTH OF GRACE AND ETERNAL GLORY BY THE CONSECRATION THAT HE WILL MAKE OF HIMSELF TO MY ADORABLE HEART, which wishes to triumph over those of the great ones of the world. IT WISHES TO REIGN IN HIS PALACE, TO BE PAINTED ON HIS STANDARDS AND ENGRAVEN ON HIS ARMS, IN ORDER TO RENDER HIM VICTORIOUS OVER ALL HIS ENEMIES.'"
Margaret Mary spoke only of the king, because, in the spirit of those times, the king and France were one. The king personified all the souls of France living and breathing in one single soul.
To comprehend Almighty God's request with regard to the standard, we must recall that, from the earliest ages, France had always had a sacred standard, one that was not borne to vulgar combats; one that rested in the sanctuary of St. Denis under the shadow of the country's holy protectors. It was removed from its sacred shrine only when the monarch headed the army, when it was solemnly sought in the hour of the greatest danger, or when it was to be carried afar to the holy wars. It symbolized the religious soul of France, and floated like a sacred prayer amid the nation's banners. It was a standard of this kind that God had given to Joan of Arc. He had prescribed its form and emblems, and communicated to it the secret virtue that roused exhausted France to unhoped-for triumphs. Today, through the lips of the virgin of Paray, God asked of the king of France something of the same kind, a sacred standard which was to symbolize an act of faith. It was to be borne side by side with the nation's flag, and, in a voice that could be distinctly heard above the proverbial bravado of her enemies, proclaim that France places her trust in the blessing of God.
Mother de Saumaise was probably rather surprised by so serious a communication and one that tallied so little with what she knew of Margaret Mary's humility. She made no reply, and our sweet and humble Marguerite became anxious at her silence. Were her letters lost? Would Mother de Saumaise, until then so courageous for the interests of the Heart of Jesus, hesitate before this new perspective? Again she wrote to her, August 12, 1689: "I declare to you, my dear Mother, that your silence regarding the two long letters that I have had the honor to write you has given me a little pain. I know not to what to attribute it, except that perhaps I have set down my thoughts too freely and simply. I should perhaps have kept them concealed under a humble silence. You have only to tell me this, and I assure you that it will greatly gratify my inclination never to speak of these things, but to bury them in the secret of the Sacred Heart of my Divine Master. He is witness of the violence that I must do myself to speak of them. I should never have resolved to do so, had He not made known to me that it is for the interest of His glory; and for that I should cheerfully sacrifice millions of lives, if I had them, through my great desire to make Him known, loved, and adored. But perhaps you have not received my letters, and that would be still more afflicting to me." It was perhaps in the fear that these letters were lost, and that in the event of her death her secret might not descend with her into the tomb, that Margaret Mary reduced to writing the following. It was in the month of August, some days after the 12th, perhaps the 25th, the feast of St. Louis. It is less a letter than a sort of declaration, throughout which reign unaccountable solemnity and majesty:
"Live + Jesus!
"The Eternal Father, wishing to repair the bitterness and agony that the Adorable Heart of His Divine Son endured in the palaces of earthly princes, amidst the humiliations and outrages of His Passion, wishes to establish His empire in the heart of our great monarch, of whom He desires to make use in the execution of His designs, which is to have an edifice erected in which shall be a picture of His divine Heart, to receive the consecration and homage of the king and all the court.
" Moreover, this divine Heart wishes to make itself the defender of the sacred person of the king, his protector against all his enemies. Therefore has it chosen him as its faithful friend, to have the Mass authorized by the Holy Apostolic See, and to obtain all the other privileges that ought to accompany devotion to this divine Heart.
"It is by this divine Heart that God wishes to dispense the treasures of His graces of sanctification and salvation, by bestowing His benediction on the king's undertakings, according a happy success to his arms, and making him triumph over the malice of his enemies."
A consecration of the nation to the Heart of Jesus, a national temple raised to the Heart of Jesus, an inscription to the Heart of Jesus on the national standard--this is what Our Lord asked of the blessed Sister. Under this condition: He will render the king, that is, France, victorious over all her enemies, and will give her an eternal reign of honor and glory.
Saint Margaret Mary then goes on to recount the best means for realizing this plan; the best means for reaching the ears of Louis XIV. She mentions Pere de la Chaise, the king's confessor, who at this time enjoyed great favor: "If the goodness of God," says she, "inspires this great servant of the Divine Majesty to employ the power He has given him, he may rest assured that he has never done an action more useful to God's glory, more salutary to his own soul, nor for which he will be better recompensed.
"It will be very difficult, on account of the great obstacles Satan purposes putting in the way, as well as of all the other difficulties God will permit in order to His power seen. He can effect all that He pleases, though He does not always do so, not wishing to do violence to man's will. For this we must pray much and get prayers."
We may have remarked that in all these letters there breathes a deep and holy enthusiasm. The Heart of Jesus will reign in spite of its enemies! All that God wishes from France--that national consecration, that national temple, that inscription to the Heart of Jesus on a standard,--all will be accomplished; but it will take time, and nothing less than the omnipotence of God is necessary. Fearful misfortunes will, moreover, take place in the mean time.
We have not Mother de Saumaise's answer to his letter of August, 1689. She who had known how to reach Rome and arouse the thoughts of the Sovereign Pontiffs would neglect nothing to to reach even Louis XIV. We know that she had recourse to the Superioress of the Visitation of Chaillot, the refuge of Mlle. de la Fayette, where dwelt the queen of England, and which held, so to say, its door open to the court of Louis XIV. Might it happen that Pere de la Chaise would not dare to speak of it to the king? Might it happen that Louis XIV's soul would not be sufficiently humble to comprehend the Christian grandeur of such a thought? Be that as it may, those tender and magnanimous advances to the Heart of Jesus were not understood, and Margaret Mary's last admonitions were without avail, were lost in oblivion. They were, indeed, her last words, we are at the close of 1689, and she was nearing her death.
1689! Involuntarily we pause at this date, for it evokes another, 1789! A century has just rolled by between the epoch in which the humble virgin, hidden in the depths of a cloister, pointed out to Louis XIV the ark of salvation prepared for him by the goodness of God, and that other epoch in which arose the storm that was to sweep away the monarchy, and with it all other monarchies. If told in the days of his splendor of the perils in store in France, of the necessity of seeking a remedy, a shelter far above man, yea, even in the Adorable Heart of Jesus, Louis XIV would have smiled incredulously. And yet this was true. From Louis XIV France descended to Louis XV, from Louis XV to Voltaire, from Voltaire to Robespierre and Marat; that is to say, from pride to corruption, from corruption to impiety, and from both the one and the other to a hatred of God and man which was to bring about her universal punishment.
Ah, this was only the beginning of our sorrows! From 1789 let us go to 1889. There we find a new century, one scarcely les sad than its predecessor; one in which minds are darkened and hearts chilled; one in which nothing is lasting; one whose every cycle of fifteen years witnessed a storm that carried away a throne; one in which man lives amidst constantly recurring political convulsions, in distrust of the present, in uncertainty of the future.
It was for such times that had been providentially prepared, and it was in the midst of such catastrophes, that we see making its way, painfully but surely, devotion to that Heart which is meek and humble, which suited so well the age of Louis XIV; which is pure, for it was of purity that Louis XV's reign had so much need; which was consumed by love and devotedness, qualities that would not have proved prejudicial to the age of such as Robespierre; which raises sad hearts and comforts crushed souls; which suits our own time and all times. (Right Reverend Emile Bougaud, The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Published in 1890 by Benziger Brothers. Re-printed by TAN Books and Publishers, 1990, pp. 267-273.)