October 16: Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin

Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saint of those with polio, devotees of the Sacred Heart, loss of parents


<<<      A cloistered nun’s visions of the Sacred Heart impact the Church like a meteor      >>>

Today’s saint, in the eyes of the world, was nothing special. She grew up in a medium-sized town, never traveled, received a standard education, was not wealthy, had normal intelligence, and died at the age of forty-three. But she had visions. Powerful, thought-provoking, descriptive visions.

If she were not a nun, people would probably have whispered that Margaret was eccentric and then politely ignored her. But Margaret’s austere life as a cloistered nun buttressed her credibility. And when a holy Jesuit priest, Saint Claude de la Colombière, disseminated the content of her visions, it sparked broader interest, which eventually spread like wildfire around the globe. The innumerable cells in the body of Christ carried Margaret Mary’s visions one to the other, until devotion to the Sacred Heart became so common as to be prototypically Catholic. But it was not always so. It was today’s saint who made devotion to the Sacred Heart commonplace.

Saint Margaret Mary grew up in a large, pious, middle-class family in France in the middle of its great century of Catholic revival. She was a daughter, so to speak, of Saints Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal. The latter founded the Order of the Visitation after being inspired by the life and writings of Francis de Sales. Margaret joined her local Visitandine convent in 1671 in Paray-le-Monial, just ten years after Jane had died. Margaret suffered from serious physical ailments and so was not outstanding for her practical service to the convent. But she was especially devout and dedicated to mental prayer.

From her childhood she had experienced a closeness to Jesus Christ so unique that she thought everyone experienced it. In the convent Jesus visited her often, speaking to her as if they were old friends. And like an old friend, He opened His heart to her and told her things He told no one else. He said He was sad. He said He was disappointed in the laxity of so many of the faithful, especially the laxity of those consecrated to Him. And then one day He did something extraordinary—He showed Margaret His human heart, red as a ruby.

These were not visions of the exalted, seated Christ as King of the Universe, nor of Jesus the High Priest consecrating the world to the Father surrounded by saints and angels. This was the humble, slightly sad and discouraged Jesus wondering where all His friends had gone: “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….” It was all about the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus wanted more devotion to Him in the tabernacle, and He wanted it at specific times. He asked Margaret to come before Him for one hour at 11 p.m. every first Thursday of the month. He made promises to those who received Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays. This was the seventeenth-century version of the twentieth-century Divine Mercy devotion.

Saint Margaret Mary was not the first person, nor the first saint, to talk about the Sacred Heart. But she was the first dedicated ambassador of this message of mercy. And God used her effectively. As part of her canonization process, her tomb was opened in 1830 and she worked a miracle of healing. Images of the Sacred Heart were commonly enthroned in Catholic homes with its promises described in detail. In 1919 in Paris, an enormous Basilica on Montmartre was dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Saint Margaret Mary was canonized in 1920. Her body can be seen under an altar in the chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart at Paray-le-Monial.

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, your life of prayer and devotion to Jesus was that of a prolonged discussion with an intimate friend. Help us to dialogue with Jesus like you, knowing Him and loving Him in the hiddenness of the tabernacle. Amen.

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