The Letters of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque—Book Review

The Letters of St.Margaret Mary Alacoque, Apostle of the Sacred Heart

This book could be described as a love affair. A love affair, filled with passion, intimacy, sincerity, devotion and strength.

For the 142 letters contained within this volume have come from the pen of someone truly in love – yet someone who, through that state of being ‘in love’, shares that love with each person to whom she writes.

It is this great love which animates her every word, her every thought. For being in love and living constantly within the Burning Furnace of Charity, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as does St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, how can one not love those most close, those most dear?

All that the Sacred Heart of Jesus teaches the Saint, is about loving—loving Him and through Him, others.

In the Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary, we experienced the Saint falling in love with her Divine Spouse. With the Three Great Revelations, recorded within those pages, we witnessed the foundation of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Laid out clearly through the messages of Our Lord to the Saint during these Revelations, we encountered the establishment of the weekly Holy Hour, the monthly First Friday Communion and the Annual Feast Of the Sacred Heart.

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Now, in this compilation of her letters, we witness a very different person from that recorded in the Autobiography.

For the Autobiography largely records her earlier life, covering the intense personal experiences with her Divine Spouse.

Whilst the letters here reveal the work or mission of St. Margaret Mary to spread Devotion to His Sacred Heart. In this regard, the collected Letters might be seen as a sequel to the earlier volume. The Saint uses every opportunity to spread this devotion.

These pages lay testament to this. Here is a woman with a mission. A woman who is no longer harangued by her superiors, casting their doubts and suspicions about her visions upon her. Her visions have now been accepted by them, so she is freed from the weighty cross of suspicion.

She is now able to work to promote the meaning of her experiences. This is, in part, the strength that one experiences in reading these letters. Supported by the hierarchy, St. Margaret Mary now has a steady platform from which to plunge into her mission.

And these letters are written, in the main, to those who share something of this mission: to love Him and to spread His love. Through the precious words within this book, we are repeatedly reminded of how this community of souls, who love the Sacred Heart, reside together within His Charitable Furnace. With this, they share a mission to spread Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

But St. Margaret Mary is humble enough not to take everything for granted and most definitely tests herself with a critical eye. She prays constantly that she is not being deceived by her experiences and therefore is not deceiving others.

This critique of herself is another theme within these letters. For much of what she writes to these intimate friends could be likened to a penitent in the confessional. She sees herself as such a wretched creature, so easily deceived by her sinfulness that she may well be deceiving others. Yet the strength that rises out of this lowly state is remarkable and has the capacity to enflame all those who read her words.

Within these letters, we find proof of the Saint’s most precious relationships. We find communications with Mother Marie-Francoise de Saumaise, her beloved Mother Superior for six years at Paray-le-Monial.

It was Mother de Saumaise who was perhaps the earliest devotee, most instrumental in making the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus known (that is, other than the Saint herself and her holy confessor and guide, St. Claude la Columbiere). For her position as Superior was paramount in providing the necessary permission needed for the spreading of the Devotion. For instance, in order for images to be struck, disseminated and displayed within chapels for prayer and devotion.

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Later on in the book, we also find testament to the relationship between St. Margaret Mary and her spiritual advisor, the Reverend Jean Croiset. It is through these lengthy letters penned to this great Jesuit, that we discover the process by which the Sacred Heart of Jesus requested that the good Father Croiset write a book on the Devotion.

This was to be the first book of its kind. Entitled Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it was published after the Saint’s death. It is still as valuable a treatise on the Devotion today, as it was then. 

Whilst there are letters here written to a later Mother Superior, dear to the Saint’s heart, and a close sister, equally dear, to whom she had been Novice-Mistress, as well as letters to various family members, we shall conclude with one letter that is almost worth the entire book.

Written in July 1688, to Mother Saumaise, this particular letter recalls the final Revelation of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary, before her death in 1690. It occurred on the Feast of the Visitation, whilst she prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

In this Revelation, the Saint saw the Sacred Heart of Jesus seated on a throne of flames, the wound to His Heart visible. To His left was His Blessed Mother and to His right, the holy founder of the Visitation Order, Saint Francis de Sales. Beside Saint Francis de Sales, stood St. Claude la Columbiere.

Behind St. Margaret Mary were the other Daughters of the Visitation, flanked by their guardian angels, holding the sisters’ hearts in their hands.

Detail from a Mural in Paray-le-Monial

Our Blessed Lady spoke to them saying:

Come, my well-beloved daughters, draw near, for I want to make you the trusted guardians of this precious treasure …

Our Blessed Lady continued to speak of how this precious treasure, the Sacred Heart of Jesus was formed within the virginal soil of Her heart and, when born into the world, was not recognised by mankind. She spoke of how He came, lived and died to expiate our sin, all the time sending forth His flames of charity.

Yet mankind did not recognise this charity for what it was and strove to eliminate it. She explained that through the Father’s mercy, the sin cast against this Divine Heart has been used in such a way as to render this Heart more charitable. The more His Heart is blasphemed, the more It desires to shed Its abundant love and mercy. After explaining this, She said to the daughters:

This is the precious treasure especially revealed to you because of the tender love my Son has for your Institute.

When She had finished speaking to them, Our Blessed Lady turned to Claude la Colombiere, and said:

As for you, faithful servant of My divine Son, you have a great share in this precious treasure. For if it is given the Daughters of the Visitation to know and distribute it to others, it is reserved to the Fathers of your Society to show and make known its utility and value so that people may profit from It by receiving It with the respect and gratitude due so great a benefit.

The holy founder of the Visitation Order, St. Francis de Sales, then spoke to the nuns:

Esteemed daughters, come and draw from the source of all blessings the waters of salvation.

He explained to them that their Constitution flows from this Divine Heart, referring to his own inspiration to found the Order. For he himself had then said:

By opening His Sacred Heart, the dying Saviour brought us [the Order of the Visitation] to birth.

St. Francis de Sales then continued saying:

Let this Sacred Heart be the life that animates us and His love our continual exercise. This alone can unite us with God, help Holy Church by prayer and good example, and further the salvation of our neighbor. With this in view, let us pray in the Heart and through the Heart of Jesus …

Our good example shall consist in living in conformity with the holy maxims and virtues of this divine Heart and we shall further the salvation of our neighbour by spreading among them this holy devotion.

This Heavenly revelation clearly illustrates the shared mission between the Order of the Visitation and the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

Together they have a work, to adore and spread homage to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Whilst the relationship between St. Margaret Mary and St. Claude la Columbiere is a powerful example of this shared mission, the messages of Our Blessed Lady and St. Francis de Sales take the connection to a deeper level, into the foundations of the Orders themselves.

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Here lies the mission to spread the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by example and teaching. And it is St. Margaret Mary who has been the recipient of these Revelations and messages therein.

It is she, therefore, who is fuelled with passion for this mission more than any other. And it is she who fuels others, igniting the flame of Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

So we finish where we began, with the fact that this book powerfully discloses the mission of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, to spread the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

And whilst she does this through her passionate words of constant appraisal of her Divine Spouse, she is also very practical. We have already mentioned the book which she repeatedly urges Father Croiset to write.

We have also touched on the role Mother Saumaise played in the dissemination of Sacred Heart images. It was St. Margaret Mary who implored her to have etched a simple image of His Sacred Heart to be used in chapels for Devotion.

The Saint also writes of the wearing of a small badge over one’s own heart and of the importance of displaying images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – something, she states, is most pleasing to Him. She writes of sending little booklets of prayer for Devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Also we find the well-known Promises made by Our Lord to those who practice this devotion are recorded in this book.

To sum up, these letters are a testament to the wholehearted love and loyalty St. Margaret Mary holds for her Divine Spouse, in that there is not a word or breath that issues forth from herself that is not in some way honouring or praising His Divine Majesty, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

O St. Margaret Mary, you are so sweet, so lowly and yet so incredibly vast, living as you are with the Burning Furnace of Divine Love Himself, Who ardently dwells within your heart … Pray for us.

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