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THE HISTORY OF DEVOTION TO THE SACRED
HEART OF JESUS. ST. PAUL says, “ the foolish things of the world hath God chosen that he may confound the wise ; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible hath God chosen, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought things that are : that no flesh should glory in his sight.”—1 Cor. 27, 29. In like manner God chose a timid humble French Nun, Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque, to be the apostle of the devotion to His Sacred Heart. In the origin of the devotion we see the finger of God ; in like manner in its progress, in its rapid and marvellous diffusion through Christendom, we trace the manifest working of the Divine Spirit. In the Church we have no devotion which spread with such rapidity as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The very sweet name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus caught the hearts of the faithful, and rekindled therein the fire of Divine love. If the devotion had warm friends, it too had deadly enemies, but like a wild torrent it bore down all opposition. A brief sketch of the progress of the devotion cannot fail to be interesting, and shows the steady and certain working of the Spirit of God.
Blessed Margaret Mary confided all the secrets of her soul, all her visions and revelations, to her confessor, Father de la Colombière, of the Society of Jesus. Our Divine Lord said to her : “Adresse-toi à mon serviteur (c'etait le père de la Colombière) et dis-lui de ma part de faire son possible pour etablir cette devotion, et de donner ce plaisir a mon Cour.” (La vie, &c., par Mgr. Languet, p. 170)—“Go to My servant (Father de la Colombière, her confessor), and tell him from me
to labour with all his might to establish this devotion, and to give this pleasure to my Divine Heart.” This holy and learned man examined the revelations and believed they were from heaven. On the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi, the 21st of June, 1675, he consecrated himself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and promised God to devote his life to make known to the world this holy devotion. The holy Nun's portion to the last was the Cross—God soon deprived her of her confessor, who understood her, and who was her only consolation. Father de la Colombière, after two years at Paray, was sent by his superior to England as chaplain to the Duchess of York. God had his own wise designs in this change. It is a remarkable fact, a fact which augurs well for the future return of England to the true Church that the first petition for the Feast of the Sacred Heart came from Protestant England. In France, Poland, and Italy, the Nuns of the Visitation caught up the spirit of Sister Margaret Mary, and were extending on all sides devotion to the Sacred Heart; in England, in the crowded streets of London, the child of St. Ignatius preached the love of Jesus, and unfolded to the world the treasures of His Sacred Heart. Father de la Colombière confirmed in the faith the wavering Catholics, and made many converts. The holy devotion enkindled new zeal in the hearts of the pious Catholics, and in the year 1607, seven years after the death of Blessed Margaret Mary, Mary of Modena, Queen of James II. of England, presented to the Holy See, under the Pontificate of Innocent XII., a petition for the institution of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a proper Mass for the Convents of the order of the Visitation. As we have already remarked, this was the first petition to the Holy See for the institution of the Feast in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Though Father de la Colombière was banished from England, still devotion to the Sacred Heart never died out in that faithless land. In the darkest midnight of persecution the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus inspired perseverance and courage to the faithful few. When religious liberty began to dawn upon proud Albion, we find Dr. Milner, this great champion of faith in these dark days of persecution, saying Mass at Old Oscott, upon the first altar ever erected in England to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The English Catholics of our day have given to Christendom a noble example of love and faith in the Sacred Heart of Jesus by their late pilgrimage
In the Life of Blessed Margaret Mary, a petition of an earlier date had been presented from the Convent at Paray-le-Monial; but being wanting in the due formalities it had not been entertained by the Holy See.
to Paray-le-Monial. A thousand devout pilgrims left the shores of England to honour the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Paray-le-Monial, the cradle of the devotion. There fervent Catholics proudly bore on their breast the badge of the Sacred Heart; the banner of the Sacred Heart floated from the mast head. In Protestant England, as well as in Catholic France, a thousand sweet voices sang loving hymns to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
“While ages course along,
Blessed be with loudest song
By every heart and tongue.”
At the shrine of Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque they wept and prayed for the conversion of their country. We, with forgiving and willing hearts, join in their prayer, and say, "Sacred Heart of Jesus bring back England to the bosom of the Church of God.”
But to return to our subject. The Church of God preserving the deposit of faith pure and unsullied, is ever vigilant ; she is zealous at the rise of new popular devotions, and the more so, if the devotion be accompanied by alleged visions and miracles. In Rome there is no enthusiasm ; when a petition is presented to confirm or sanction a new devotion, theologians coldly weigh it, clear canonists plead for and against with the acute dryness of lawyers, and if the proofs of the evidence amount not to absolute certainty, cool judges pass sentence against the petition. Rome did not think it wise to put her seal upon the new devotion ; the visions and miracles of sister Margaret Mary were not yet fully proved and known; the time was not yet come, and the petition was rejected.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was daily extending itself through all parts of France, the dew of heaven was upon it, and it caught and kept hold of the hearts of the people. From Paray-le-Monial it spread to Moulins and Semur; next we find Dijon, Lyons, and Marseilles on fire with the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Representations of the Sacred Heart were circulated in thousands through the country, and altars, chapels, and churches sprung up as if by magic-all consecrated to the Adorable Heart of our Blessed Lord. Pious associations were being formed to extend the devotion, and in less than thirty years we find no fewer than three hundred confraternities—each numbering thousands—of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Press lent its powerful aid to the holy work. The “ Book of Retreats,"containing the revelations of Margaret Mary, by Father de la Colombière, was the first published to extend the devotion ; Sister Mary Magdalen Joly, of the convent, Dijon, wrote a little book for the same purpose ; but the two great works on this subject were* Devotion to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ," by Father John Croiset, S.J., a learned professor at Lyons, and Father Joseph de Gallifet's standard work, “On the Worship of the Sacred Heart of our God and Lord Jesus Christ,” published in Rome in the year 1726. Of this work Benedict XIV. says, “Nothing could be more perfect.” The life of the holy religious, written with the greatest care and exactness, by Monsignor Languet, Vicar-General of the diocese of Autun, in the year 1715, afterwards Bishop of Soissons, and subsequently Archbishop Sens. This work, narrating the extraordinary graces bestowed by the Almighty upon the holy Nun, and also the exalted sanctity of her life, gave the greatest impetus perhaps of all to the new devotion. After a lapse of about thirty years, under the Pontificate of Benedict XIII., a petition for a proper Mass and Office in honour of the Sacred Heart was addressed to the Holy See by the religious of the Visitation, supported by the king of Poland and the bishops of Cracow and Marseilles. At this time the “ Promotor Fidei” was the learned Cardinal Lambertini, afterwards Benedict XIV. The Holy See was not yet satisfied, the time was not yet come, so this petition, too, shared the fate of the former. The petition was rejected-first, because the revelations made to Blessed Margaret Mary had not yet been juridically examined, also the miracles reported to have been wrought through her intercession had not yet been authenticated. Secondly, the postulators of the cause urged too strongly the question disputed among philosophers, and hence doubtful, viz., that the human heart is the real seat and principle of all man's affections. "On this account," says the learned Benedict XIV., “I suggested with due reverence that the petition should not be granted.”—(De Servorum Dei Beatificatione).
Confraternities multiplied ; an archconfraternity was established in the city of Rome; not only altars and churches, but whole cities, were consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and numerous miracles followed in the track of the devotion showing thereby the finger of God that the inspiration was from heaven. The devotion was now extended throughout the Christian world. Catholic Poland in a special manner appeared on fire with the love of the Adorable Heart of Jesus. The bishops of Poland and the archconfraternity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rome, again brought forward the cause under the Pontificate of Clement XIII. The time was now