Our modern-day devotion to the Sacred Heart comes from a series of very special encounters that Jesus had with a humble Visitation nun turned saint named Margaret Mary Alacoque.
Jesus called her “the Beloved Disciple of My Heart,” and she called him her “Sovereign Master.” She was the chosen instrument that the Lord used to reveal his heart to us. In a letter, she explained, “If only you knew how much I feel drawn to love the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ! It seems to me life has been given me only for that.”
There were four specific apparitions that gave the world the beautiful devotion of the Sacred Heart. These all took place in the chapel at Paray-le-Monial, France, where Saint Margaret Mary’s body lies incorrupt today. The first one occurred during a time of Eucharistic Adoration on December 27, 1673. Saint Margaret Mary’s own words describe what happened:
I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament when I felt myself wholly penetrated with that Divine Presence, but to such a degree that I lost all thought of myself and the place where I was, and abandoned myself to this divine spirit, yielding up my heart to the power of His love…. He made me repose upon his sacred Breast and disclosed to me the marvels of his love and the inexplicable secrets of His Sacred Heart…. He said: My divine heart is so inflamed with love for men, and for you in particular that, being unable any longer to contain within Itself the flames of its burning love, it needs to spread them abroad through you, and manifest Itself to them in order to enrich them with the precious treasures which I make known to you…. I now give you [the name] of the beloved disciple of my Sacred Heart.
Jesus then asked Margaret Mary for her heart. She gave it to him, and he placed it in his own heart for a time, then returned it to her as she heard him say: “There, my well-beloved, that’s a precious proof of my love for you, hiding in your side a little spark from Its hottest flames. at will be your heart from now on—it will burn you up to your very last breath….”
Following this apparition, Sr. Margaret Mary was consumed by the fire of love from the Sacred Heart of Jesus and by the mission of making it known to the world. Even so, she wrestled with reporting her visions to her superiors. She trusted in Jesus, believed she was operating in submission to him, and was convinced of the guidance she was receiving from the Holy Spirit. However, her deep and sincere humility made it difficult to comprehend why the Lord would favor her with such a marvelous task.
Saint Margaret Mary shared the desire of Jesus’s heart as revealed in this second apparition:
It [His Heart] must be honored under the symbol of this Heart of flesh, whose image He wished to be publicly exposed. He wanted me to carry it on my person, over my heart, that He might imprint His love there…and destroy all inordinate affections. Wherever this sacred image would be exposed for veneration, He would pour forth His graces and blessings.
In the third apparition, Jesus gave very specific instructions that continue the framework of the Sacred Heart Devotion:
Don’t be afraid. Simply focus your attention on my voice—First of all, you are to receive Me in the Holy Eucharist as often as obedience allows…. You are to receive Communion on the first Friday of each month. Then every Thursday night…you are to get up between eleven o’clock and midnight [as in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper] to keep me company in humble prayer to my Father.
The apparition that took place in June 1675, during the octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi, is seen as a culmination of the presentation of the devotion. In it, Jesus said,
Behold this heart which has loved men so much, that it has spared nothing even to exhausting and consuming Itself in order to testify to Its love; and in return I receive from the greater number nothing but ingratitude by reason of their irreverence and sacrileges, and by the coldness and contempt they show me in this Sacrament of Love.
These words truly pierce the heart of anyone who seeks to love Jesus. They express his sorrow and pain because of our sins and lack of reverence and attention. But Jesus gave us a remedy in this devotion, a means to repair the damage of neglect:
What hurts me the most is that hearts dedicated to my service behave in this way. That is why I am asking you to have the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi set apart as a special feast in honor of my Heart—a day in which to receive Holy Communion and make a solemn act of reparation for the indignities I have received in the Blessed Sacrament while exposed on the altars of the world. I promise that I shall open my Heart to all who honor me in this way, and who get others to do the same; they will feel in all its fullness the power of my love.
The twelve promises to those who practice the Sacred Heart devotion:
+ I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life.
+ I will establish peace in their homes.
+ I will comfort them in all of their afflictions.
+ I will be their refuge in life and especially in death.
+ I will abundantly bless their undertakings.
+ Sinners will find in my heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
+ Lukewarm souls will become fervent.
+ Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
+ I will bless those places wherein the image of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed and honored.
+ I will give to priests the power to touch the most hardened hearts.
+ Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in my heart.
+ I promise you in the mercy of my Heart that my all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.
Anne Costa is a wife, mother of one young adult daughter, and grateful “revert” to the Catholic faith. She is the bestselling author of six books, including Refresh Me, Lord! Meditations to Renew a Women’s Spirit and Embracing Edith Stein: Wisdom for Women. Anne also authored Healing Promises: The Essential Guide to the Sacred Heard (Franciscan Media), from which this article is excerpted.