October 16, 2012 is the sixth anniversary of my pilgrimage to Paray-le-Monial, la cité du Sacre-Coeur in the company of dear friends. Ma joie demeure. Little did I suspect then that six years later I would be living in a former monastery of the Visitation, where Saint Margaret Mary was greatly loved and honoured. Today that monastery of the Visitation is called Silverstream Priory.
The Mystical Invasion
Saint Teresa of Jesus died in 1582. Thirty-two years later, Mother Catherine Mectilde de Bar was born in 1614. And in 1647, sixty-five years after the death of Saint Teresa and thirty-three years after the birth of Mother Mectilde, Saint Margaret Mary was born. The spiritual climate in Europe, following the Council of Trent, was one of extraordinary effervescence. Henri Brémond in his monumental Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France speaks of a “mystical invasion.” Saint Teresa’s Carmel had crossed the Pyrenees, introducing men and women of all states of life to the way of interior prayer. The Jesuits had launched their missions to North America or, as they called it, “New France.” Men and women of God, too many to be counted, undertook great things for His glory. It was the golden age of great friendships in God. In 1610, the young widow, Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal, together with Francis de Sales, established at Annecy the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, declaring “that no great severity shall prevent the feeble and the weak from joining it.”
The Choice of God
When Margaret Mary Alacoque entered the Visitation Monastery of Paray-le-Monial, it was assumed that she, like so many other women, would disappear into the cloister, leaving behind no more than the sweet lingering fragrance of another life given to Christ. But, as always, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:27-29).
Contemplating the Pierced Side
The icy wind of Jansenism was blowing through the chinks in more than one cloister. It chilled the heart with the fear of a distant and vindictive God, eclipsing the mission of Jesus sent by the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, “to proclaim release to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk 4:18). While the hearts of many around her grew cold, Saint Margaret Mary fixed her gaze upon the wounds of Jesus Crucified. Like Saint John the Apostle, like Saints Bernard, Lutgarde, Gertrude, Mechthilde, and countless others before and after her, the humble Visitandine of Paray-le-Monial was compelled by the Holy Spirit to look upon Jesus’ pierced Side. “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10, Jn 19:37).
A Priest, A Friend
In the Jesuit priest, Saint Claude La Colombière, Margaret Mary found a friend, one capable of standing with her at the Cross, of listening with her to the murmurings of the Holy Spirit, of gazing with her at the pierced Side of Jesus, and of entering with her to dwell in his Heart. The words of the apostle Paul seem to be those of Saint Claude to Margaret Mary: “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; He has put his seal upon us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor 1:22)
The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus
In contemplating the pierced Side of the Crucified, Saint Margaret Mary discovered what many had forgotten: “the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18). It was given her to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” and fills “with all the completion God has to give” (Eph 3:19). She discovered, moreover, that the open Side of Jesus beckons to all from the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, and that His Eucharistic is, at every moment, ablaze with love.
“Behold this Heart,” He said, “which, not withstanding the burning love for man with which it is consumed and exhausted, meets with no other return from the generality of Christians than sacrilege, contempt, indifference, and ingratitude, even in the Sacrament of my Love. But what pierces my Heart most deeply is, that I am subjected to those insults by persons specially consecrated to my service.”
Reparation, Saint Margaret Mary understood, is an imperative of love. The Side of Jesus remains open in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and men pass it by — some with a cold indifference, others with a merely formalistic token of acknowledgement, and still others without the slightest indication of grateful adoration — and among these, alas, are priests and consecrated souls.
In this age of locked churches, of tabernacles forsaken from one Sunday to the next, of the Sacred Species so often handled casually and without reverence, and in the wake of public sacrileges perpetrated against the Blessed Sacrament, reparation to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is, more than ever, necessary.
The Cenacle, the Cross, the Altar
Saint Margaret Mary invites us to re-discover the Heart of Jesus ablaze with love in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic Christ, the Christus Passus, abides in our midst as Priest and Victim. There He perpetuates the oblation made first in the Cenacle, and then from the altar of the Cross.
In every age souls, like Saint Margaret Mary, have been polarized by the mysteries of the Cenacle and of the Cross actualized in the Most Holy Eucharist. In some way, the Holy Spirit continually reproduces Saint John’s icon of the Church contemplating the pierced Side of Jesus on Calvary: “Standing by the Cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. . . . and the disciple whom He loved” (Jn 19:25-26).
I Look Round for Pity
The Sacred Heart is at the center of the Most Holy Eucharist both as sacrifice and as sacrament. The sacred action of the Mass perpetuates the Sacrifice of Calvary by which Christ, obedient unto death, hands Himself over to His Father and to those who partake of His Body and Blood. The priestly Heart of Jesus that beats with love in the Sacrifice of the Mass where He offers Himself as Victim, lives and burns with the same fire of love in the Sacrament of the Altar. From the tabernacle, as once from the Cross, He seeks souls to console Him, saying in the psalmist’s words: “I look round for pity, where pity is none, for comfort where there is no comfort to be found” (Ps 68:21).
The Burning Furnace of Love
One cannot look long at Jesus Crucified without “the eyes of the heart” (Eph 1:18) being drawn to His pierced Side, and without entering, drawn on by the Holy Spirit, through the door of His pierced Side, into what men and women of every age have experienced as a “burning furnace of love.” The “unsearchable riches” (Eph 3:8) of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, contemplated “for now, as in a mirror darkly” (1 Cor 13:12), are given us, until the return of the Lord in glory, in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. And so, we go to the altar and to the tabernacle again and again to taste “with all the saints” (Eph 3:18), the “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).