On the 27th of December, 1673, a nun of the Visitation Monastery in Paray-le-Monial, France, was given a gift with an experience of the Divine that left an indelible mark on spirituality.
Some years later, as she remembered that vision, she wrote: “The Lord told to me, ‘My Divine Heart is so deeply in love with humanity that it can no longer contain within itself the flames of its ardent love. It must pour them out through [you], and manifest itself to them with its precious treasures, which do contain all the graces which they need to be saved.”
This Divine Love is actually what devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is all about and it was to this truth that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque trusted her life.
Margaret Alacoque was born in Janots, France, 26 years prior to that first vision. She was the daughter of a notary who died when she was only nine years old.
But she added the name Mary to her baptismal name at the time of her confirmation. Some sources say that she was mistreated by the family of the uncle who took her in.
But at this time she was also afflicted with a rheumatic illness, that left her bed-ridden for nearly six years. The moment she recovered, it was suggested that she should get married, but she ultimately wanted to enter religious life.
So in 1671, she entered the Order of the Visitation , which was founded by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal just 60 years before.
Although Margaret Mary was known to have been spiritually matured, and religious life became difficult for her, and one of her biographies says that “she was slow and clumsy, and perhaps absent-minded; she went further to annoy the infirmarian when working as her assistant and was treated with scorn and ridicule as a result.”
As she got the series of visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she came to understand that she was being called to spread the message that had been entrusted to her: that Christians should always make reparations for their coldness, despite the love which the Lord showed them and that a special honor should be given to Jesus through times of prayer each Thursday and on the first Friday of every month.
She was however, met with strong opposition when she started to carry out the instructions she had received.
Although the first theologians condemned her revelations as delusions to evaluate them, but eventually, she found support from her spiritual director, which is the Jesuit priest St. Claude la Columbiere.
The experience of rejection and scrutiny she had were further complicated by temptations to despair, vanity, and even self-indulgence.
Margaret Mary was eventually vindicated and entrusted with more responsibility within her community, which includes being named assistant to the community’s superior and novice-mistress.
The writings of St. Claude and St. John Eudes like the work of the Jesuits, and the introduction of the Feast of the Sacred Heart helped to bring the mission of St. Margaret Mary to completion.
In her second term as an assistant superior, she became ill. But before her death on October 17, 1690, at the age of 43, and her last words were, “I need nothing but only God and to lose myself in the Heart of Jesus.” Margaret Mary died as she was being anointed.
If not for her visions, there is little in the life of St. Margaret Mary that would have set her apart from the other members of her community.
And as we may celebrate her for her visions and her work of promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which gives new life and dimension to a devotion that had already existed for close to 600 years and the secret of her holiness can be found in her humble and enduring faith.
It was even her extraordinary courage and fidelity that helped her to stand firm in her conviction which a special mission had been entrusted to her, even when those people closest to her refused to believe in her or her visions.
As Margaret Mary is with the other saints, she was conscious of the gift that she had received which is the gift of God’s love and the spirit of adoption. Just like the other saints, she got this gift with a spirit of gratitude which empowered her to pass it along to others, even down to our own time.
Actually, we live in a world in which too many have never heard that they are loved. Though, apart from hearing it, they need to be shown love.
In this world filled with love-hungry, St. Margaret Mary recalls to our mind of the power of faith and love to effect change far beyond what we might believe is possible.