You are probably familiar with the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However, you might not know much about one of the saints who was instrumental in spreading this beautiful devotion.
This is the story of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647 - 1690) who is intimately connected with the devotion to the Sacred Heart. And, her life helps us understand the meaning of suffering from a Catholic perspective.
Jesus Reveals Himself to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
A few years after she entered the Order of the Visitation in Paray-le-Monial, France, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque received private revelations from the Lord in which He asked her to help promote the devotion to His Sacred Heart. Beginning on December 27, 1673, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, and continuing for 18 months, Sr. Margaret Mary received several private revelations regarding the devotion.
As an obedient nun, she shared these with her superior who scoffed at the idea that Sr. Margaret Mary could possibly have such a calling let alone have seen the Lord. Thus began many years of suffering for her as her story was discounted by fellow sisters, superiors, theologians, and priests. Throughout this time, Sr. Margaret Mary suffered through torturous interrogations that concluded with the pronouncement that she was delusional.
Her sufferings were not relieved until St. Claude de la Columbiere, a Jesuit priest met with Sr. Margaret Mary and assured her that what she had received was real. The priest began to promote the devotion, which although not a completely new one, began to gain new found energy because of Sr. Margaret Mary's revelations and the support that the Jesuits gave to it. After the early death of Fr. Claude, his writings on the revelations were found and read by Sr. Margaret Mary's superior and fellow sisters who then accepted her revelations as genuine.
Through her suffering, the message of devotion to the Sacred Heart was spread during her lifetime and, of course, long after she had gone on to her reward in Heaven. Perhaps, Sr. Margaret Mary had been prepared for her ordeal of suffering by her experience to answer her own calling to the religious life.
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Her Childhood Suffering
The childhood of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was marked by expressions of piety which she had learned from her grandmother who lived next door to her wealthy family. Sadly, her happy life was soon interrupted when, in her eighth year, she suffered the death of her beloved grandmother and her own father. The death of the latter plunged the family into a nightmare because of the laws of the day.
Although the family was quite well-off, the estate fell into the hands of her father's brother-in-law because the oldest male heir to the estate, Margaret Mary's older brother, was too young to come into his inheritance. The new owner of the estate treated Margaret Mary and her family as servants forcing them to work for him to maintain their own home and controlling all of their spending and coming and going.
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A Miraculous Healing and a Vocation
Under this strain, Margaret Mary fell ill from rheumatic fever which left her bedridden and lonely among her own family who were too busy maintaining the estate to care for her.
In her despair, she turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary for help and promised to become a religious if she was healed. Soon afterward, she was restored to health.
An Obstacle to her Vocation
After a number of years, Margaret Mary's older brother, Chrysostome, became old enough to come into his inheritance and the family's fortunes turned for the better. Margaret Mary did not forget her promise to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but her family, in particular, her mother, Philberte, backed by her older brother blocked her path.
Instead of the religious life, they insisted that Margaret Mary get married. Their concerns were based on fear. In particular, her mother feared for someone to look after her as she had already lost her husband and two sons to early deaths. Now of the remaining sons, the older son had married, and the younger son, James, was studying to become a priest.
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A Breakthrough to Fulfilling her Calling
In the midst of this dilemma, a Franciscan priest, unknown to any of the family members, unexpectedly came to their home. The family opened their home to the priest, and he stayed as a house guest. During his visit, the priest met with Margaret Mary and learned of her vocation.
Moved by her story and convinced of her calling, the Franciscan priest admonished Chrysostome that he was getting in the way of God's plans. With a change of heart, the older brother gave his consent to his sister. The task of helping to convince Margaret Mary's mother fell to the younger brother who through his gentleness and persuasiveness was able to convince Philberte that she should not prevent her daughter's vocation. Not long afterward, Margaret Mary entered religious life in the Order of the Visitation.
Through this difficult road to begin her religious vocation, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had received a deeper understanding of the meaning of suffering. Her suffering had united her in a more profound way with the Suffering Savior. It would be He who would come to His bride Sr. Margaret Mary in order to reveal to her His Most Sacred Heart. And, through these revelations, the beautiful devotion to Sacred Heart became a much more widespread devotion even as we see it today.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Novena
One way to participate in the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to pray a novena. The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is always on a Friday, nineteen days after Pentecost. The Sacred Heart of Jesus Novena should then begin on the Wednesday of the week before the Solemnity. Of course, the novena can be prayed at any time.
O my Jesus, you said, "Truly I say to you, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you." Behold I knock, I seek and I ask for the grace of (mention your intention).
O my Jesus, you said, "Truly I say to you, whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My Name He will give it to you," Behold in your name I ask the Father for the grace of (mention your intention).
O my Jesus, you said, "Truly I say to you, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away," Behold I, encouraged by your infallible words, now ask for the grace of (mention your intention).
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of You, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Your tender Mother and ours.
Our Father; Hail Mary; Glory Be
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Our life, our sweetness, and our hope, to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ, Amen.
St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.
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Learn More about St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
Get to know this saint of the Sacred Heart better through the writings of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Under obedience, St. Margaret Mary wrote an autobiography. Read, in her own words, her encounters with the Lord and the suffering she endured for the sake of promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Feast Day: October 17th (Memorial)
Patron saint of devotees to the Sacred Heart
Patron saint of polio patients
Patron saint against the death of parents