This School of Love
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“…take my soul into your most sacred wound, so that in this school of love, I may learn to make a return of love to God, who has given me such wondrous proofs of his love.”
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October 17, 2014
“Margaret Mary must be very great in heaven,” Fr. Dehon noted in his diary on her feast day. “Who, next to Mary, Joseph, and St. John has better understood the Heart of Jesus, sounded its depth, shared its love, and alleviated its sadness? Is not this dear saint, like the Moses of the revelation of the Sacred Heart! I humbly ask her to help us, to obtain our pardon, so that we may give the Sacred Heart what He expects of us.”
Margaret Mary was a member of the Sisters of the Visitation, a religious community co-founded by Jane Frances de Chantal and Francis de Sales. “It is in the Heart of Jesus,” Francis de Sales wrote, “that the Sisters of the Visitation must make their continual contemplation.”
In researching examples of the practice of the interior life, Fr. Dehon recorded that Francis de Sales considered the prayer proper to the Visitation to be the prayer of simple regard, of simple repose and rest in God. Francis immediately adds, however, that this regard must be on “this beloved Heart.” He has each one of his spiritual daughters take the following resolution: “I shall appoint a certain time every day for this sacred sleep, in order that my soul, in imitation of the beloved disciple St. John, may in all safety sleep on the amiable breast, that is, in the loving Heart of the loving Savior.”
Fr. Dehon points out that this type of prayer is not oblivious to one’s neighbor. Francis de Sales wishes his spiritual daughters to consider the neighbor only in the Heart of Jesus, by looking at him through this sacred breast. “Therein,” he used to say, “who would not love him? Who would not bear with his faults? Yes, he is there, this dear neighbor, there in the Savior’s breast; he is so loved and so lovable that the Spouse dies out of love for him.”
It is within this spiritual practice that Margaret Mary experienced a series of revelations as she prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. She understood that Jesus was calling her to be an agent for raising consciousness concerning his loving heart and for promoting ways to express love in return.
In summary, Fr. Dehon writes, “The aim of souls consecrated to the Sacred Heart is to render to the Divine Heart of Jesus, under the auspices of the Immaculate Virgin, the adorations, praises, disinterested love, and special reparations which he himself asked of St. Margaret Mary in the great revelations at Paray-le-Monial; to propagate the cult of the Sacred Heart; to procure for him public homage; to erect sanctuaries and altars in his honor; to express our love and compassion in the outpouring of prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed upon our altars, to offer him our hearts immolated in the works, trials, and sacrifices of each day and in the ministries which call forth great devotedness and abnegation, such as the care of the working men, the poor, and the foreign missions.”
The motto of the Visitation Order, of which Margaret Mary Alacoque was a member, is, “To be extraordinary by being ordinary.” It has to be a Trickster God who chose Margaret Mary to receive visions of Jesus and revelations from his Sacred Heart asking for a loving response to God’s unconditional love. In making her visions known, she was not quite living up to her Order’s motto, raising many suspicions about her, not only in her day, but also in ours.
She saw Jesus’ five wounds shining like bright suns and heard these words: “Behold this Heart which has loved humanity so much and that finds only indifference, neglect, and ingratitude among most people—and often even among those whom it has honored with a special love.” These words began an Act of Reparation that the Priests of the Sacred Heart prayed daily before the renewal of Vatican II.
The mandala displays five concentric suns. The warm colors and the color placement give the mandala a vibrancy, which exudes much energy. The mandala’s border consists of the repetition of the words, “extraordinary” and “ordinary.” Like a koan, these words invite the viewer into paradox in order to meditate on its wisdom.
The sun is an ordinary part of life, but as the essential element of life, it is extraordinary. It may be taken for granted, but is nonetheless the source of life and energy for Earth and its people. With all the wounding and woundedness in the world, Jesus’ wounds could seem quite ordinary. His, however, look like suns—sources of life, energy, and warmth—very extraordinary. In the context of devotion to the Heart of Jesus, these wounds symbolize God’s unconditional love.
Humanly speaking, the experience of being wounded often encourages people to respond by wounding others. That’s a very ordinary response. Yet, making a return of love honors wounds as a reminder not to wound others. Indeed, wounds can teach how to love others deeply, gently, and compassionately. That is extraordinary.
The lived spirituality of devotion to the Heart of Jesus is as essential as the life-giving energy of the sun—at once both ordinary and extraordinary.
My devotion to the Sacred Heart began before I even knew what it was. In grade school, I went with my Mom and Dad to our country parish. On the First Fridays of each month, the pastor celebrated Mass at 5:30 AM which allowed the farmers to be home in time to milk the cows and do other regular chores. The main purpose of participating in this Mass, as I understood it then, was to honor the Sacred Heart and to fulfill all the conditions to enjoy the fulfillment of the promises the Sacred Heart made to St. Margaret Mary.
During my high school seminary years, the promises of the Sacred Heart as known through St. Margaret Mary were emphasized in a new way. I began to see myself as one with our Lord in striving to repair the damage of sin in our troubled world, to fill up what St. Paul referred to was lacking in the sufferings of Our Lord. It did not occur to me that there was really nothing I could add to the infinite merits of Christ’s gift of self on the cross, yet I experienced a deeper oneness with the sufferings of Jesus on my behalf. During these years praying the way of the cross was a concrete way of expressing this oneness with the sufferings of Christ, which led to the glory of the Resurrection.
The thirty-day retreat during my preparation for final vows concretized this oneness with the Lord and His love for me and for all people. Meditating on his public life I realized how deeply His Heart reached out to all people, how He invited me to be filled anew with His Loving Spirit. Making my final vows as a son of Fr. Dehon furthered my lived experience of being committed to share His Love with each person I meet and/or minister to. At about this time, an Adrian Dominican sister reminded me how precious my SCJ religious vocation was: to be one with the Sacred Heart who ever makes reparation for the sins of the world. As St. Pius X said: to restore all things in Christ.
Serving the Lakota showed me new dimensions of “devotion to the Sacred Heart.” From Lakota traditions I learned a person was highly favored if s/he gave and shared, even if that person had very little. Our Lord shared His all for me and for each person who ever lived. He invited me to reach out in compassion and understanding to each person. Even when I did not want to extend such kindness, the example of Christ challenged me on every side. Each of my efforts to share, to be present, to welcome, to support, to listen—each of these efforts was rewarded far beyond any of my expectations. More and more people responded to know Jesus’ kindness and personal love because somehow they experienced a glimpse of His powerful goodness present in our relationship. Jesus’ love multiplies when we share it. He continues to challenge me to share His gentle Love, to live in the spirit of Fr. Dehon.
Tom Westhoven, SCJ
The Church honors the memory of St. Margaret Mary on October 16. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer the Sisters of the Visitation, the Priests of the Sacred Heart, and all who dedicate themselves to the Heart of Jesus.
The Priests of the Sacred Heart now use a four-week cycle of daily reparation prayers. The following prayer draws its inspiration from the Act of Reparation that the Priests of the Sacred Heart once prayed every day.
your love embraces all people,
but we often respond with indifference, neglect, and ingratitude
towards you and towards one another.
We thank you that, despite this response,
you have become one with us.
By dying and rising with us,
you have taught us your way of love.
By opening your heart to the world,
you have invited us to share in your life
with the Father and the Spirit.
with the Father and the Spirit, live in us
so that through our compassion and understanding,
our giving and receiving,
and our efforts at reconciliation,
we might truly live in you.
By our active faith,
grant us a place in your prayer:
I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
that the world may know that you sent me
and that you loved them even as you loved me.”