“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 …”
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).