Note: For the Year of the Eucharist, every month I will feature one saint devoted to the Eucharist and a challenge.
Life of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
If you walk into the home of an older Catholic, you will likely find an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hanging on the wall. What is the story behind his image and the devotion associated with it? While devotion to the heart of Jesus is as old as Christianity, the modern iteration was inspired by a humble, French nun: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
St. Margaret Mary was born in Burgundy, France in 1647, and from an early age, she was drawn to the Blessed Sacrament and prayer. She also experienced numerous health issues and was bedridden for four years. After her father died, her family lived in poverty and were ill-treated by relatives. These childhood difficulties drew her closer to Jesus and prepared her for future trials.
She contemplated marriage as a young adult, but after experiencing a vision of Jesus, she resolved to enter the convent. She joined the Visitation Sisters at age 23, but faced questions over her vocation and was assigned menial tasks.
Jesus appeared to St Margaret Mary beginning on Dec., 1673, and the visions continued for 18 months. The message that Jesus gave to St Margaret Mary during this time formed the basis of the Sacred Heart devotion. The tribulations continued for St. Margaret Mary after the visions as her superior, community and confessors did not believe her and thought she was delusional.
The situation changed when the Jesuit Claude de la Colombière became the confessor of St Margaret Mary and judged her visions of Jesus as authentic. He helped spread the message and was instrumental in getting her community to accept them. St. Margaret Mary eventually became the novice mistress and assistant superior before she died at age 43.
Sacred Heart Devotion
The heart is the center of our being. and the seat of our emotions and love. The Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes his great love for humanity. Jesus initiated this devotion due to his great love for us. He told St. Margaret Mary: “My divine heart is so inflamed with love for men, and for you in particular that, being unable any longer to contain within itself the flames of its burning love, it needs to spread them abroad through you, and manifest itself to them (mankind) in order to enrich them with the precious graces of sanctification and salvation necessary to withdraw them from the abyss of perdition.”
The love of Jesus for us is the Eucharist. Sacred Heart devotion is therefore linked to the Eucharist, and I would go as far as to say that devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist are the same.
The message of St Margaret Mary has a focus on reparation. Love requires two persons. Jesus loves all of humanity, but many individuals do not love Jesus back. This lack of love pains Jesus more than we can imagine, and he desires to be consoled.
He specifically asked St. Margaret Mary to make reparation for all those who mistreat him in the Eucharist: “Behold the heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for me in this sacrament of love.”
Practices of the Sacred Heart Devotion
Jesus asked for devotees of the Sacred Heart to make a holy hour on Thursday night. This commemorates the time Jesus suffered greatly in the Garden of Gethsemane and when he asked his closest apostles to stay with him. After finding his apostles asleep, he asked: “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” In his great suffering then and now, Jesus wants us to spend time with him and to be close to him.
He also asked for there to be a feast of the Sacred Heart on the Friday after Corpus Christi. This feast would be another opportunity to make reparation for all the offenses against the Eucharist.
Lastly, he requested that individuals receive Holy Communion on the First Friday of each month. He made generous promises to those you follow this devotion for nine months: “In the excess of the mercy of my heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.”
Challenge for the Year of Eucharist
In 17th-century France, there was a growing heresy called Jansenism, and followers of it believed that most Catholics should not receive Holy Communion due to their unworthiness. Jesus makes it clear to St. Margaret Mary that he desires for us to receive him frequently, given that we are in the state of grace.
The challenge for the Year of the Eucharist is to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion every First Friday. Then, to spend time with Jesus afterward in prayer and make an act of reparation.
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