21st Oct 2011

A Saint for our Times

Rediscovering Sacrifice, Suffering and the Mercy of the Sacred Heart

by Kathryn Jean Lopez 

Scandal. Immorality. The destruction of innocence.

It could be any week, and all of these will pop up somewhere. In headlines. In the neighborhood. In your life. Yet the answer, the deterrent, the healing balm is always the same: Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This month marks the feast of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the 17th-century nun to whom Christ Jesus revealed his Sacred Heart: “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that It has spared nothing, even exhausting and consuming Itself in testimony of Its love.” Thanks be to God, her confessor, Fr. John Croiset, instructed her to write down those words so that our lives too might be transformed. He wrote: “Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a more warm-hearted and ardent devotion towards Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, its principal motive being the extreme love which He shows us in this Sacrament, and the principal object, to make reparation for the contempt and outrages which He suffers in this same Sacrament.”

Saint Margaret Mary’s feast day this year fell on a Sunday, but in this month dedicated to Our Lady – and her desire to hold our hand as we are drawn into the life, death, and resurrection of the God she said yes to – we mustn’t let the moment and the message pass. Not in our aching world. She’s a saint for all times, but maybe in particular, for our time. She is the woman to whom Christ revealed His Heart so that we might give Him ours.

She writes in her autobiography:

On one occasion, whilst the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, feeling wholly withdrawn within myself by an extraordinary recollection of all my senses and powers, Jesus Christ, my sweet Master, presented Himself to me, all resplendent with glory, His Five Wounds shining like so many suns. Flames issued from every part of His Sacred Humanity, especially from His Adorable Bosom, which resembled an open furnace and disclosed to me His most loving and most amiable Heart, which was the living source of these flames. It was then that He made known to me the ineffable marvels of His pure [love] and showed me to what an excess he had loved men, from whom He received only ingratitude and contempt. “I feel this more,” He said, “than all that I suffered during My Passion. If only they would make Me some return for My love, I should think but little of all I have done for them and would wish, were it possible, to suffer still more. But the sole return they make for all My eagerness to do them good is to reject Me and treat me with coldness. Do thou at least console me by supplying for their ingratitude, as far as thou art able.

When you read the words of Christ, you realize He is referring to your sins as much as anyone else’s. Me – I am causing this pain to Love itself. To the God who loved me so much to live and die for me.

And when you read the words of the servant He revealed his Heart to, it’s hard not to ask: Who talks like that today? Do I?

I must. And yet I reach for an Advil or glass of wine at the end of a long day or whatever it is that might make the pain sting a little less. Maybe tonight I’ll stop in and spend an hour with Him instead. Maybe I’ll make everyday Lent – seek quiet penance and sacrifice daily – because it’s not like my sins or the sins of the whole world are confined to 40 days. Deny myself – because I know. I look at His Heart – I receive it – in the Eucharist; I am reminded by the image on a wall, and in His words to Sister Margaret Mary.

All too often we ask for more. We protest in outrage. Sometimes it’s appropriate that we do. But the solutions run deeper than any political or corporate response. They involve your heart and mine – and His.

The “cross is good at all times and in all places,” she wrote in a letter in 1688, in which she also wrote: “He is making life so bitter for me that my only consolation is to see the Heart of my adorable Savior reign. Whenever this devotion makes some new advance He gives me the pleasure of suffering something special. But there is nothing I would not be willing to do and suffer for that. Even the greatest bitterness is changed into sweetness in this adorable Heart. There everything is changed into love.”

The late Fr. John Hardon enthusiastically encouraged the devotion to the Sacred Heart: 

God became man out of love for the sinful human race. He became a mortal man to die to prove how much He loves us. He assumed a human will that He might freely suffer. Do all humans suffer? Yes. Do all humans suffer willingly? No. The essence of love is to suffer willingly for the one you claim to love. God became man to suffer with a human will.

“Read the letters of St. Margaret Mary,” he implored. “After twenty pages you will have to brace yourself. This loving God more than we have to means loving the Cross. Christ joyfully chose the cross and invites us to do the same out of love for Him.”

As we face our daily struggles, as we dread the next challenge, His Heart focuses us on Him. If we can see but a glimpse of His love – and St. Margaret Mary helps us to – how can we not want to do more, be more of a servant, however undeserving and flawed? Why would we do anything other than place our hearts in His, willing to take anything on, at the cost of sacrifice, in His love?

Very few of us, perhaps not even priests in confessionals, know the true depths of this world’s contempt and outrages, or how much they offend the source of all justice and mercy. But Christ does. And it pierces His Heart. It’s why St. Margaret Mary wanted to suffer more, and we might consider and answer that call. For the sake of the souls of the world. For the sake of our souls. In reparation for the times we have also stabbed His Heart.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She speaks frequently on faith and public life. 

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)