"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

St Margaret Mary Alacoque: "...an abyss of love to meet our every need”

argaret Mary Alacoque, also known as Saint Margaret Mary, was a French nun who is known for her private revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the 17th century. The last word of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola is the word love in its highest divine expression. In ancient Greek ἀγάπη, agapē, i.e., divine love. But St Margaret Mary looks at agape this way, “This divine heart is an abyss filled with all blessings, and into the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.”

Her early years were marked by sickness and a painful home situation. I quote, “The heaviest of my crosses was that I could do nothing to lighten the cross my mother was suffering.” After considering marriage for some time, she decided to enter the Order of the Visitation nuns at the age of 24. A Visitation nun was “not to be extraordinary except by being ordinary,” but the young nun was not to enjoy this anonymity. A fellow novice termed Margaret Mary humble, simple, frank, but above all, kind and patient under sharp criticism and correction. One description of her is that she could not meditate in the formal way expected, though she tried her best to follow it which meant giving up her “prayer of simplicity.” Using her words, “We should always look to God as in ourselves, no matter in what manner we meditate upon Him, so as to accustom ourselves to dwell in His divine presence. For when we behold Him within our souls, all our powers and faculties, and even our senses, are recollected within us. If we look at God apart from ourselves we are easily distracted by exterior objects.”

Initial Visions: Three years as a nun, Margaret Mary began receiving private revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1673. These visions continued for 18 months, revealing to her the form of the devotion. The revelations instructed Margaret Mary to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart through specific practices, including receiving Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month, Eucharistic adoration during a "Holy hour" on Thursdays, and the celebration of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Christ's Message: In her visions, Christ expressed his desire to make his love for humanity known and to make up for the coldness and ingratitude of the world through her love and devotion. St Margaret Mary once said about her devotion, I quote, “I do not know of any other exercise in the spiritual life that is more calculated to raise a soul in a short amount of time to the height of perfection and to make it taste the true sweetness to be found in the service of Jesus Christ.”

Opposition and Challenges: Margaret Mary faced opposition and skepticism, both from within her own community and from theologians who doubted the authenticity of her visions. Some of her sisters and others considered her an impostor and an innovator. Like many saints, Margaret Mary had to pay for her gift of holiness. But all this stopped when a fellow saint, the Jesuit Claude de la Colombière, came to give the needed support and spiritual guidance as a confessor. Claude de la Colombière declared her visions to be genuine.

Spread of Devotion: Margaret Mary served as Novice Mistress and saw the Feast of the Sacred Heart observed privately at the monastery beginning in 1686. A chapel was built in Paray-le-Monial to honor the Sacred Heart, and the observance of the feast spread to other Visitation convents.

Appeal to King Louis XIV: In 1689, Margaret Mary received a private request from Jesus to urge King Louis XIV of France to consecrate the nation to the Sacred Heart. The purpose was for the king to triumph over the enemies of the Holy Church. However, there is no record of the king's response.

Margaret Mary Alacoque's devotion to the Sacred Heart and her experiences with these revelations had a lasting impact on Catholic spirituality. The Feast of the Sacred Heart is now celebrated widely in the Catholic Church, and the practices she promoted, such as the Holy Hour and First Friday devotions, continue to be a significant part of Catholic tradition. Margaret Mary Alacoque was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church and is remembered for her profound spiritual experiences and dedication to promoting the love of God symbolized by the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There are 12 explicit promises the Lord Jesus gave to St Margaret Mary for those who persevere in devotion to His Sacred Heart. They have been approved and cited by the Church. But the renowned Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said that there is nothing new! I quote, “These promises affirm and offer no more than Our Lord Himself promise in the Gospel to absolute Faith. What is new in these promises therefore not their content, but the circumstances of their fulfillment, in fact, that what has already been promised in substance in the Gospels is now attached precisely to devotion to the Sacred Heart.” Fr JM Manzano SJ