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CLOSE TO THE HEART OF JESUS

Father Francis's picture
Saint Margaret Mary-Alacoque

There are few saints who have been privileged to receive a vision of Our Lord, but Margaret Mary-Alacoque was one of those for whom He had a very special message. Through her He wanted to remind the world of His personal love for each one of us.

Born in 1647 in a small town in Burgundy, her father was a lawyer who died when she was eight years old and she was sent away to be educated by the Poor Clares, being immediately attracted by what she saw of the nuns' life. They in turn were so impressed with the little girl’s piety that they allowed her to make her First Communion when aged nine. At the age of 11 she developed a rheumatic illness which kept her confined to bed for most of the next five years.

The nuns sent her home to recover from her illness but home life had changed for the worse: her married sister and husband had moved into the family home and taken control of the household. Confirmed when she was 22 years old, taking the name of Mary, the Sacrament seems to have strengthened her determination, for she managed to overcome her family’s opposition and in June 1671 she entered a Visitation Convent.

Soon afterwards, Margaret-Mary became aware that Our Lord was telling her to seek humiliations and mortifications. She was to encounter plenty of them in the course of her religious life. On 27 December 1673 she received her first vision. She was praying alone before the Blessed Sacrament when Jesus appeared to her, inviting her to sit close beside Him, like St. John at the Last Supper. This was to show her how much He loved her, and He went on to tell her that she was to be the disciple of His Sacred Heart. He wanted everyone to know and experience the love in His Heart, and to love Him in return.

Over the next few months, Jesus appeared several times to Margaret-Mary, explaining how devotion to His Sacred Heart was to be spread. An image of His human heart was to be honoured, and He asked those who loved Him to receive Holy Communion frequently, especially on the first Friday of each month in memory of the day on which He died. He also requested a vigil of one hour on Thursday evening, meditating on His sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane. To all those who practised devotion to His Heart, He promised that He would give them all the graces they needed, comfort them in all their troubles, and be with them at the moment of death. Margaret-Mary received the final revelation in 1675, when Our Lord asked her to establish a feast of the Sacred Heart on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.

When Margaret-Mary approached her Mother Superior she was treated with nothing but contempt and disbelief. She was told to write down her experiences so that they could be considered by theologians. Their opinion was that Margaret-Mary was suffering from delusions and should take more food. As a result of this opposition and stress, she became very ill. She prayed that she might regain her strength in order to carry on her mission, and when she recovered her Superior took it as proof that she was telling the truth. From then on, she helped Margaret-Mary to begin the devotion Our Lord had described, although several of the Community remained hostile to her.

In 1682 a new Superior was elected. She had known Margaret-Mary all her religious life and was one of the few Sisters who accepted the truth of the visions. She immediately chose her as her assistant and novice mistress. This gave Margaret-Mary the opportunity to teach the novices about the Sacred Heart, and she was so successful that even professed nuns began asking permission to attend her teaching sessions. The Sacred Heart devotion quickly spread, and the feast was officially established in 1685.

In October 1690 Margaret-Mary was taken ill. She asked for the Sacraments, confident that Jesus would keep His promise to be with her to the last moment of her life. He rewarded His faithful disciple, and a priest came to hear her confession and anoint her. On 16 October, while being anointed she died, aged 43. She was canonised in 1920.

We owe a debt of gratitude to St. Margaret-Mary. In spite of opposition and lack of support from many of her community, who did not believe that Jesus was revealing Himself to her, she persisted in promoting the message that Jesus loves each one of us. We can ask her to help us in our everyday life to say to ourselves 'Jesus loves me.' The best way we can honour Margaret-Mary today is by following her example and practising the devotion she promoted.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in thee.