Today is the Feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and it takes me back to my conversion.
My conversion, as it happened, was in stages.
But a key stage took place in a tiny chapel in the Swiss Alps. The experience was focused on homecoming – coming home to the Church.
It culminated with a deep sense of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and my true home being within His Heart. For as I knelt and gazed at a picture of His Sacred Heart, it was as though He pulled my attention to the very centre of His Heart. I had a powerful sense that this was to be my home.
At the time, in August 1998, I knew nothing of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I was not Christian, I was practicing a Pagan spirituality within New Age constructs.
It wasn’t until February 2006, almost eight years later, that I began to understand something of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Now a Catholic, I was reading the Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, when Roger and I made our very first pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial, in France.
On entering the chapel of the Apparitions, where St. Margaret Mary repeatedly encountered the Sacred Heart of Jesus Himself, I was immediately drawn to her relics.
There I prayed and there I felt I had come home. I didn’t want to leave her side. Here were the remains of she, who, perhaps above all, understood with incredible intimacy, the mysteries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Not only did she experience the repeated visions and encounters filled with messages and instructions from her Beloved Master, she experienced His presence with her continuously.
Her heart – having been taken by Our Lord from her breast and placed within His own burning furnace – was on fire with a passion and ardour for Him and only Him. This passion consumed her and she used every opportunity to spread devotion to His Sacred Heart.
This was married with an incredibly powerful sense of her own powerlessness and darkness. For, through the above direct experience of His Heart, she was continuously confronted with the comparison between her tiny human heart and the greatness of His.
She therefore was acutely aware of her own sinfulness, so much so that any minute sinful act was unbearable for her.
O St. Margaret Mary, when I first sat beside you, I never wanted to be parted from you. For there I felt the most profound comprehension of the mysteries of His Most Sacred Heart. And that the fire of His love and mercy that so consumed you, warmed me.
You, who, at the age of four, made a vow of perpetual chastity.
You, who tried to please your poor ailing mother, by attempting to bury your abhorrence of worldliness and marriage.
You, who could not bear to part from her weeping side, delayed entering your true home, the cloister.
How long you suffered this world of games and vanities, so alien to yourself. But you always sought out some small corner, some nook or quiet place, where you could pray undisturbed, to your beloved Lord.
And when you became ill, so ill that you nearly died, no science on earth could save you. Only Heavenly intervention was to be your remedy. You called upon Our Lady and to Her you consecrated yourself. And you were completely healed.
And your penances, so extreme. An extremity, which was later called into check, by Our Lord Himself and the Holy founder of your order, St. Francis de Sales.
Only obedience will suffice, they told you, all in obedience. And how well you followed this counsel, how well you followed the holy vow, providing such an example of how truth is transferred and understood, through obedience to ones’ superiors.
All that is false is washed away when one upholds such an example of obedience as yours.
And then at last, cloistered in the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial, you had come home.
You had come home to your Beloved and were able to live your life only for Him. Then came your true mission, as your spirit was free to fly to the heights reserved for you.
And it then began, as you prayed in front of our Lord in His Blessed Sacrament, He became visible before your very eyes and transformed your heart, your soul, naming you the beloved disciple of His Sacred Heart.
How dear you are to me. My life has been transformed at Paray-le-Monial, where, since graced by your holy presence, His Sacred Heart beats, day and night.
And now, my life is dedicated to your legacy. My home is consecrated to His Sacred Heart, my spiritual practice is centred around the devotions you spread, the weekly Holy Hour, the monthly First Friday and the annual Feast. My home is filled with statues and images of His Sacred Heart and my work is dedicated to It.
When St. Gertrude encountered St. John the Evangelist, on his Feast day in the thirteenth century, he told her that:
The meaning of the blessed beating of the heart of Jesus which he had heard while his head rested on His breast, was reserved for the latter times when the world grown old and cold in divine love, would require to have its fervour renewed by means of this mystery of burning love.
It was to be you, my dear St. Margaret Mary. It was to be you who would enflame the world in these latter times with devotion to His Most Sacred Heart. It was to be you who would continue the work of knowing Him so intimately, as the Beloved Disciple did.
And again, on his (St. John the Evangelist) feast day, December 27th, 1673, you encountered Him – and it all began. As you yourself wrote of this:
One day … I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament, when I felt myself wholly penetrated with that Divine Presence…and abandoned myself to this Divine Spirit, yielding up my heart to the power of His Love. He made me repose for a long time upon His Sacred Breast, where He disclosed to me the marvels of His Love and the inexplicable secrets of His Sacred Heart, which so far He had concealed from me.
Then it was that, for the first time, He opened to me His Divine Heart in a manner so real and sensible as to be beyond all doubt, by reason of the effects which this favor produced in me… It seems to me that this is what took place:
‘My Divine Heart’ He said ‘is so inflamed with love for men, and for thee in particular that, being unable any longer to contain within Itself the flames of Its burning Charity.
It must needs spread them abroad by thy means, and manifest Itself to them (mankind) in order to enrich them with the precious treasures of sanctification and salvation necessary to withdraw them from the abyss of perdition. I have chosen thee … for the accomplishment of this great design, in order that everything may be done by Me.’
After this He asked me for my heart, which I begged Him to take. He did so and placed it in His own Adorable Heart where He showed it to me as a little atom which was being consumed in this great furnace, and withdrawing it thence as a burning flame in the form of a heart, He restored it to the place whence He had taken it saying to me:
My well-beloved, I give thee a precious token of My love, having enclosed within thy side a little spark of its glowing flames, that it may serve thee for a heart and consume thee to the last moment of thy life; its ardor will never be exhausted.
And it was during this vision that our Lord also said to you,
If hitherto, thou hast taken only the name of My slave, I now give thee that of the beloved disciple of My Sacred Heart.
I had a dream once, where I was with a group of pilgrims, led by a Priest, so very dear to me. He took us to the place where the Sacred Heart of Jesus had appeared to you. When we got there I realised it was the house I had grown up in.
O, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, your home, rested within the mysteries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, appears, so it seems, to be mine.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, pray for us.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.