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Saint Margaret Mary AlacoqueWikimedia Commons

(LifeSiteNews) — “Among the most striking proofs of the infinite love of our Redeemer is this, that, at a moment in which the love of the faithful was growing cold, the Divine Love proposed Himself as the object of special veneration and worship, and the precious treasure of the Church was opened to enrich with indulgences the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge… In that Sacred Heart we must place all our hope, from that Heart ask and expect our salvation.”

The great devotion to the Sacred Heart, of which the Sovereign Pontiff Pius XI thus speaks, (Miserentissimus Redemptor, May 8, 1928) and which has been so marvelously extended in the Church since the seventeenth century, is no new devotion. Much research by Catholic scholars has established the fact that there was not one of the great older religious orders but had a tradition of such devotion and saintly souls in their ranks with whom it was associated. This is true of the children of St. Benedict (both of the “Black monks” of the parent stem, and the later Cistercians), of the CarthusiansDominicans, and Franciscans.

St. Bonaventure’s beautiful and tender phrases have supplied some of the lessons for the new Office of the feast, while during the octave not only St. Bernard, but one of the greatest of the early Fathers, St. John Chrysostom, exhort us in turn concerning what has been so often described, and even bitterly opposed, as a novelty unknown to primitive days.

The truth is that, in post-Reformation days, a new element in the devotion has been stressed. In the ages of faith, although the devotion was always, as now, closely connected with the Passion, yet it was exultant, glorious, triumphant Love which dominated it. After the rending of the seamless garment of the Church universal, with all its dire consequences, it was the element of reparation, of loving the Heart which had so loved men, but was so little loved in return, which was emphasized; and it is this aspect of the devotion which is thus urged upon the faithful by Pius XI: the duty of reparation for the offenses, the insults, the contempt meted out to infinite Love, in our modern world which knows him not.

The saint of this day is neither the first nor the only soul to whom our Lord revealed the mystery of the Sacred Heart; but she was the one whom he chose as the special instrument of its propagation. He had taught it to others, but he did not command them to preach it to the world or to work for its public cultus. He did so command this simple Visitation nun of Paray-le-Monial, Margaret Mary Alacoque, in an age when Jansenism was chilling men’s hearts, and substituting for love of God a terrible fear, which kept them from the sacraments and made them “see the Judge severe e’en in the crucifix.”

Not that the devotion, even as formally and finally approved and propagated by the Church, depends upon the revelations, any more than that of Corpus Christi depends upon those of Blessed Juliana of Cornillon. Revelations have only an accessory part in the institution of such feasts; what the Church seeks is, what is useful for souls; and it suffices for her that a devotion is in itself good, and will make for the greater glory of God.

The saint’s own story illustrates the effect of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, rightly practiced. Like all souls specially called to a life of reparation and expiation, Margaret Mary knew much suffering. In her early life she and her beloved mother had much to endure from members of her family. She suffered from unjust constraint upon her actions, from monotony and unkindness. Her religious practices were hindered, partly by her family circumstances and partly by those of the time; she was over twenty-one before she was able to receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

Want of proper direction, and more unjust opposition, rendered her vocation a further source of suffering; and when, at last, the convent doors closed behind her, she found trials compared with which what had gone before seemed but trifling. Favored at times, even from childhood, with extraordinary graces, she found herself at the very natural disadvantage caused by such in a prudently-ruled religious house; the more so as the Visitandine spirit was of another sort. It seems ironical that, though she had entered an order in its first fervor, and a house fervent among the fervent, under successive superiors distinguished for their spirituality and their wisdom, she should have been long completely misunderstood, undervalued, and somewhat distrusted.

The tendency to scruples, excessive timidity and trouble in spiritual matters, the lack of peace which we notice in the early years, vanished only when the great revelations began. Under the influence of our Lord’s own teaching, and the guidance He further gave her in His holy servant, Blessed Claude de la Colombière, her character steadily developed. Her humility, ever great, became greater, so that she could walk safely in her mystic ways; her judgment and insight in spiritual things became sure. Despondency vanished, and no trials could disturb her peace or shake her confidence till, at the end, the religious of whom once her sisters had thought little stands revealed in her biographies “a true and valiant lover.”

Once pre-occupied with self, she became selfless, and all suffering became sweet; and after her has followed an unending procession of those who, again in the words of the great encyclical of Pius XI, valiantly strive to make satisfaction to the Divine Heart for so many sins that are committed against it, who do not fear to offer themselves to Christ as victims… who not only hate sin and shun it as the greatest of evils, but offer themselves to the divine will, and use every means in their power to compensate for the offenses committed against the divine Majesty by constant prayer, by voluntary mortifications, and by the patient acceptance of all the trials that may come upon them – in fact by living their whole lives in the spirit of reparation.

Margaret Mary Alacoque was born of a respectable family in a village in the diocese of Autun, and from her earliest years already gave signs of future holiness. Filled with burning love of the Virgin Mother of God and of the august mystery of the Eucharist, in her youth she dedicated her virginity to God and strove above all things to realize in her life the practice of Christian virtues. Her delight was to spend long hours in prayer and in the contemplation of heavenly things. She had a low esteem of herself, was patient in adversity, practiced bodily penance, and was charitable towards her neighbor, especially towards the poor. She diligently strove by all means in her power to imitate the most holy example of the Divine Redeemer.

Having entered the Order of the Visitation, her life became at once a bright example to others. She was endowed by God in a high degree with the gift of prayer, together with other favors and frequent visions. Of these the most famous was when Jesus appeared to her while she was in prayer before the most holy Sacrament and, opening His breast, showed her His divine Heart enkindled by flames and encircled in a crown of thorns; and He bade her, in return for His excessive love and in atonement for the insults of ungrateful men, to seek to have established the veneration of His Heart, which He would enrich with the treasures of heavenly grace.

When from humility she hesitated to undertake so great a task the most loving Savior encouraged her, at the same time pointing out Claude de la Colombière, a man of great holiness, as her guide and helper. He also comforted her with the assurance of the very great blessings which afterwards accrued to the Church from the worship of His divine Heart.

Margaret strove with all diligence to fulfill the Redeemer’s command. Vexations and even bitter insults were not wanting to her on the part of those who maintained that she was liable to mental delusions. She not only bore these troubles patiently, but even profited by them, deeming herself through suffering and reproach as a victim acceptable to God and taking them as a means of more easily furthering her purpose.

Renowned for religious perfection and becoming daily more united to her heavenly Spouse by the contemplation of eternal 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, and Benedict XV enrolled her name among those of the saints; and the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI extended her Office to the universal Church.

This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875). LifeSiteNews is grateful to The Ecu-Men website for making this classic work easily available online.