In honor of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque on this, her feast day, we present a few excerpts from a delightful collection of essays by the late Solange Strong Hertz. It is available in Kindle Edition, and titled: The Thought of Their Heart, on Devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Holy Rosary.
The Open Heart
by Solange Strong Hertz
The history of devotion to the Sacred Heart is in a very real sense a gradual revelation of the secret life of the Church. Its prologue, written in the heart of St. John as he reclined against the Lord’s breast at the Last Supper, broadcasts its first rhythms to the world, setting the tempo for the dramatic rending on Calvary. Veneration for the wound inflicted there seems to have been the initial form of the cult among the faithful. From this wound, the “door in the ark,” there gradually issued the proliferation of grace we now know as Sacred Heart devotion, ramifying and increasing through time, space and circumstance to fit all the needs and conditions of worshippers truly seeking intimacy with their Lord.
It elicited tears of repentance, prompted praise, encouraged confident petition and proffered earth’s reparation to heaven for its sins against Love. For centuries the movement developed quietly in the privacy of religious houses and the souls of gifted individuals until it permeated the whole Church in ranks both clerical and lay. In addition to the saints already mentioned, among its devotees must be numbered St. Anselm, St. Frances of Rome, St. Lawrence Justinian, St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Joan of Valois, St. Peter of Alcantara, St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, St. Antoninus, St. Peter Canisius, St. Francis de Sales— to list but a few of those canonized. Others who spread its benefits are legion. Carthusians, Franciscans, Benedictines, Dominicans, each produced its particular “school” of spirituality based on affection for the wounded Heart of the Savior. The wealth of art, literature, and liturgy both canonical and popular which has come down to us on the subject attests to its vigor and sanctifying power.
Not surprisingly, it was St. John Eudes, the apostle of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who was instrumental in directing modern piety towards the Heart of her Son. Called by Pope St. Pius X “initiator, teacher and apostle of the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart,” he had begun by drawing heavily on the writings of the old Cologne Carthusians so as to establish the cult on solid theological ground. By 1672 he had succeeded in obtaining ecclesiastical approval for a Mass of the Sacred Heart to be celebrated in the communities of his own Order, the Congregation of Jesus and Mary.
The very next year, on the feast of St. John the Apostle, December 27, 1673, the torrents of private revelations converged explosively in the Visitation convent at Paray-le-Monial in France. It was there that our Lord, appearing to the humble young nun, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, chose to set the seal of divine approval on what had until then been a most salutary practice in the Church, but which nevertheless remained a private affair— a kind of “inside track” for fleeter spirits. Our Lord had once told St. Gertrude:
Whenever you desire to obtain anything from Me, offer Me My Heart, which I have so often given you as a token of our mutual friendship, in union with the love which made Me become man for the salvation of men; and I give you this special mark of friendship, …
After four great apparitions in Paray from 1673 to 1675, … devotion to the Sacred Heart was soon to be enjoined upon all. If we are to believe the words of St. John the Apostle and the ancient prophets concerning the Heart of God, we who are living three hundred years later must be about to witness nothing less than the last moments of the world. “In the latter days you shall understand these things,” promised Jeremiah. “The THOUGHTS of HIS HEART to all generations: to deliver their souls from death and feed them in famine” (Introit, Mass of the Sacred Heart). Recapitulating the experience of generations of saints and mystics,
St. Margaret Mary herself relates the extraordinary occurrences: “One day as I was praying before the Most Holy Sacrament and had a little more leisure than usual— normally the tasks I was given did not leave me much time— I was completely invested with the divine presence, so completely that I utterly forgot myself and where I was. I surrendered myself to this divine spirit and abandoned myself to the force of His love. He made me lean for a long time on His divine breast, while He revealed to me the marvels of His love and the inexplicable secrets of His Sacred Heart, things which He had hitherto always hidden from me and now disclosed for the first time. But He did it in so plain and effective a manner as to leave me no room for doubting it, such were the results that this grace produced in me, who am always afraid of deceiving myself with regard to what I assert to take place within me. He said to me:
“My divine Heart is so inflamed with love for men, and for you in particular, that it can no longer contain within itself the flames of its ardent love, and must needs spread them by your means, and manifest itself to men and enrich them with the precious treasures that I will reveal to you. These treasures contain the graces of salvation and sanctification necessary to draw men out of the abyss of unworthiness and ignorance, for the accomplishment of this great design, in order that all may be done by Me.”
Then He asked for my heart, which I implored Him to take, and having done so, He placed it within His adorable Heart, showing it to me as a little atom being consumed in a glowing furnace; and then withdrawing it thence like a burning flame in the shape of a heart, He replaced it whence He had taken it, saying:
“Behold, my beloved, a precious pledge of My love, which is inserting in your side a tiny spark of its most fiery flames, to serve as your heart and to consume you until your last moment. And as a sign that the great favor I have done you is not imaginary, but the foundation of all those that I still have to bestow upon you, although I have closed the wound in your side, the pain of it shall ever remain with you; and though hitherto you have adopted the name of my slave, I now give you that of the beloved disciple of My Sacred Heart.”
The following year: This divine Heart was shown me on a throne of flames; it was more resplendent than the sun and transparent as crystal; it had its own adorable wound, and was surrounded by a crown of thorns, signifying the stings caused by our sins, and there was a Cross above it, implying that from the first moment of the Incarnation the Cross was planted in it. … He showed me that the ardent desire that He had of being loved by men and of rescuing them from the path of perdition, where Satan brings them in crowds, had made Him form the design of manifesting His Heart to them, with all the treasures of love, of mercy, of graces, of sanctification and salvation which it contains, in order that He might enrich all who were willing to render it and procure for it, all the love, honor and glory in their power, with the profusion of these divine treasures of the Heart of a God from which they spring. He told me that this Heart was to be honored under the form of a heart of flesh, the picture of which He wished to be exposed and worn by me on my heart, in order to impress its love upon my heart, and fill it with all the gifts with which His Heart is full, and so destroy all irregular movements within it.
He said that wherever this holy picture should be exposed to be honored, He would lavish His graces and blessings, and that this blessing was a last effort of His love to favor men in these latter times with a most loving redemption, to deliver them from the thralldom of Satan, which He intended to overthrow, that He might place us under the gentle liberty of the dominion of His love, which He wished to reestablish in the hearts of all those willing to practice this devotion.
There was a third vision that same year: On one occasion while the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, I felt wholly drawn within myself by an extraordinary recollection of all my senses and powers. Jesus Christ, my gentle Master, presented Himself to me, all resplendent with glory, His five wounds shining like so many suns. From His Sacred Humanity issued flames on all sides, especially from His adorable breast, which resembled a furnace, and which was open, disclosing to me His most loving and lovable Heart, the living source of these flames. It was then that He discovered to me the unspeakable wonders of His pure love, and to what an excess He had gone in loving men, from whom He received only ingratitude and neglect, “which I feel much more,” He said, “than all I suffered in My Passion. If only they made me some return for My love, I should think but little of all that I have done for them and should wish, if it were possible, to do yet more. But they have only coldness and rebuffs to give Me in return for all My eagerness to do them good. Do you at least give Me consolation by making up for their ingratitude as far as you are able.”
“In the first place you will receive Me in the Blessed Sacrament as often as obedience will allow you, no matter what mortifications and humiliations may result to you, but they must be regarded as pledges of My love. Moreover you will receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month, and every Thursday night I will make you share the heavy sorrow that it was my will to feel in the Garden of Olives. This sadness will bring you, without your comprehension, to a state of agony harder to bear than death. In order to be with Me in that humble prayer which I then offered to My Father in the midst of My agony, you will rise between eleven o’clock and midnight, so as to lie prostrate with me for an hour, with your face to the ground, both to appease God’s anger and to ask mercy for sinners.”
The last and greatest revelation took place during the octave of Corpus Christi, 1675: As I prayed before the Blessed Sacrament … I received from my God excessive tokens of His love, and felt myself desirous to make some return and to render Him love for love. Then He said to me, “You cannot make Me any better return than by doing what I have so often asked of you.” Then revealing His divine Heart, He said:
“Behold this Heart which has so loved man that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to give them proof of its love, and in return I receive from the greater number nothing but ingratitude, contempt, irreverence, sacrilege and coldness in this sacrament of My love. But what I feel still more is that there are hearts consecrated to Me who use Me thus. Therefore I ask of you that the first Friday after the octave of the Blessed Sacrament shall be kept as a special feast in honor of My Heart, to make reparation for all the indignities offered to it, and as a Communion day, in order to atone for the unworthy treatment it has received when exposed upon the altars. I also promise that My heart shall shed in abundance the influence of its divine love on all those who shall thus honor it or cause it to be so honored.”
Propagated tirelessly through the efforts of St. Margaret Mary, her director Bl. Claude de la Colombière and other dedicated members of the Order of the Visitation and the Society of Jesus— to whom this work of mercy was specially entrusted— devotion to the Sacred Heart spread like wildfire, eventually receiving the enthusiastic approbation and support of ecclesiastical authority. “I am come to cast fire on the earth,” our Lord told His disciples, “and what will I, but that it be kindled!” (Luke 12: 49). Private piety, without losing anything of its character, became official. In 1856 Pius IX extended to the whole world a Feast of the Sacred Heart, already approved in 1765 by Clement XIII. In conjunction with the Encyclical Annum Sacrum, Leo XIII consecrated the world to the divine Heart in 1899. In 1928 Pius XI raised the Feast to the highest liturgical rank, with Mass and Office for an entire octave, bringing out at the same time the encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor. Hundreds of confraternities and many new religious orders, not to mention the Apostleship of Prayer, had arisen and prospered with papal approval, promoting the devotion until now, when not to have heard of the Sacred Heart or First Fridays is hardly to be a Catholic.
In 1956 Pope Pius XII crowned the devotion with the magnificent encyclical Haurietis aquas, in its way a veritable little summa of “the thought of His Heart,” which Jeremiah promised would be best understood in the latter days. What is expected of us now?
Dear Readers, to find out what is expected of us now, you must read Solange Hertz little gem of a book. It is a quick read, but do not be deceived, you will return to it again and again and it will become one of those essentials of your spiritual reading that you depend on to “jump start” your meditation.
As the title of her book, The Thought of Their Heart, implies, these two hearts are truly one and their thought is as of one heart. These two most generous and loving Hearts call us today to enter into their friendship, share their joy and suffering in order to save sinners. Come, let’s join them!
If you would like to read some of my other posts on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, here are a few links:
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, pray for us!
Remember, pray the Rosary and confound the devil!