By Denise Trull
St Margaret Mary Alacoque was born in 1647, the only daughter of Claude and Philiberte Alacoque and sister to six brothers. Her childhood was a contented one. Her father was a wealthy notary in the town and provided his family with a secure and loving household. Margaret was a quiet, thoughtful child who did not care for games. She loved her mother dearly and enjoyed following her about in her everyday duties. She especially looked forward to the times when her mother would take her to Church to visit the Blessed Sacrament. Margaret Mary simply enjoyed sitting in the silence, wondering what Jesus looked like behind that golden tabernacle door.
When Margaret was eight years old, however, her father died suddenly of pneumonia. This was a severe blow to her and she mourned for him with that poignant and deep sorrow found in the suffering of sensitive children. To give her a helpful change, her mother sent her to school with the Poor Clares in Charolles. Here she proved her sweet and happy nature, and became a favorite of the nuns there who saw something different in her -- a seriousness that impressed them. They allowed her to receive her First Communion at the young age of nine. It was a great moment of grace for the little girl. She began to thrive under their care.
Sadly, at the age of eleven she became very ill with rheumatic fever and had to return home where she remained ill and weak over the course of four years. During this time, her wealthy father’s assets -- the future support of his family -- were held by an uncle who refused to give them to her mother. Helplessly, Philiberte had to comply with this and her family sank into poverty. She was forced to move in with the uncle and his wife. Every day Margaret Mary would have to hear her jealous aunt make fun of her mother for her poverty and watch as she forced her to do menial tasks. There was much yelling and threats in the house. Given her sensitive temperament, the shock of her father’s death, her fragile recovering body, and the dysfunction in the home -- Margaret Mary slowly became anxious, nervous, and hesitant. She could only find solace from the upheaval in the house by retreating outside and hiding in the garden. Here she prayed for her mother and grew very close to Our Blessed Lady to whom she confided all her sorrows.
Eventually, her mother received justice and the family was able to return to their home. By this time, Margaret Mary had grown so close to Our Lady that she had decided she wanted to be a Visitation nun. She was seventeen, though, and her mother wanted her to have the joy of going to parties and outings in hopes that she might find a young man to marry. Margaret Mary decided to please her mother and go with her brothers. One night when she was returning from a ball dressed in her finery, she received a vision from Jesus who appeared to her scourged and bloody. He chided her gently not to forget Him. He told her how full of love His heart was for her because she had promised His mother to be all his. She was very moved but was so anxious and unable to make a decision for a long time. She felt frozen by anxiety. Finally, at age 24, she entered the Visitation sisters convent.
Because of the early trauma in her life, she was slow and hesitant in her work and worried that the sisters might be upset with her. And actually they were. So she had to deal with that and it made her more anxious. She forgot things. She was nervous when doing her chores in the infirmary. She dropped things. She forgot the words to prayers. The sisters worried she would not be able to make her profession of vows being so scattered and hesitant. But her fellow novices found her kind, gentle, simple and frank. She was patient with all their mistakes, being so aware of her own. At last she was professed on November 6, 1672.
And it was to this timid, anxious soul that Jesus gave His message of love to all humanity. He began to appear to her in visions with instructions on how the faithful were to praise and love His Sacred Heart. Jesus told her she was to come every Thursday evening before the Holy Eucharist and meditate upon His love and suffering. The Church would later take up this devotion, making Thursdays especially dedicated to the Holy Eucharist.
As her visions increased, Margaret Mary worried the whole time. Was this true? Was she being deceived by the devil? Would anyone believe her? Would they think she was crazy? Well, yes. Some of them did such as her fellow sisters and theologians they brought in to examine her. She had to deal with that suspicion on a daily basis. She would cry at night wondering why Jesus had come to someone as weak and flawed by life as she was. That He would come to someone so anxious and indecisive and clumsy and afraid of everything. Jesus’s answer came on the feast of St. John, in 1673. He appeared to Margaret Mary and drew her to His heart. There she laid her head and He told her of His love and care. He wanted all mankind to know of his grace and His great desire to fill them with his treasures. He had chosen her for this task, and He knew she could do it. What did she think as she lay upon His heart? What comfort and calm were hers? It is something to ponder. That Jesus let her rest upon His heart.
Soon after, Margaret Mary fell into the fatherly care of St Claude de Colombiere, the confessor for the Visitation sisters. He not only believed her visions but gave her peace through his gentleness and wisdom. God had sent him to take care of Margaret Mary, and he did just that. As she became more confident in the Sacred Heart she learned to lean on His strength. Her anxiety, her timid nature, her soul, wounded as a girl, still remained but she had the absolute assurance that this heart of Jesus would never let her go. And neither would St Claude. He helped her in every way until the Adoration of the Sacred Heart was added to the Church’s devotions and prayers and all men and women could come and entrust their needs to Jesus’s loving heart. Eventually, Margaret Mary would become the novice mistress in her convent. She was kind, patient and loving even with the slowest and most awkward. She taught them all the beautiful prayers she had received from Jesus in her visions. I wonder what they all thought, being with the actual sister who had heard these words straight from the mouth of God Himself.
Sometimes we may think we are too flawed for holiness. That the traumas we may have survived in our youth left too many scars for us to be worth anything to God. St Margaret Mary tells us that this is not so. And it is precisely to those who feel flawed, anxious, afraid, and indecisive that He gives His Sacred Heart. We can draw very near to that golden tabernacle and almost hear Him say: “Here Child, rest on my heart. All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well."
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in Thee!