In the last month someone sent me to read the letters of St Margaret Mary Alacoque to her mother superior, novices, relatives and priests.
This French 17th century nun was largely responsible for the spread of the Sacred Heart devotion. Until recently it was very common for Catholic households to have up somewhere one of those pictures of Jesus Christ pointing to a stylised image of his heart, pierced with a crown of thorns and emanating scarlet flames and rays of light. And going to Mass on nine first Fridays of the month was a thing lots of Catholics knew about at least, if they didn’t practice it.
Her letters are fascinating on many levels; as a study of the culture and times she lived in alone. The life and private thoughts of a person declared by the Church as a saint have always intrigued me. Plus her personality and the intersection of her spirituality and description of her experiences with the teachings of experts on prayer like St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila are interesting.
I didn’t know that St Margaret Mary reported many mystical experiences even apart from the visions of Jesus about the Sacred Heart, some involving people who had already died. I was charmed by her humility in saying that she might have ‘been deceived’ or imagined these ones, or been asleep and dreaming. She might have, we can’t know. To be declared a saint doesn’t mean a person never made mistakes of perception or judgement or even action.
In contrast, I noticed that she never doubted the reality of her visions of Jesus. There’s no doubt of her very deep love of God and utter abandonment to Jesus. Every page is seeped in this attitude:
Despite my great wretchedness He never abandons me. I have no other refuge but His adorable Heart, which always answers for me and is my defender….It seems to me I would like to have a thousand bodies with which to suffer, a million hearts with which to love Him and a million souls with which to adore Him.
She seems to have been a great spiritual director to her friends, her brothers, and novices. There were glimmers of the treasure of the ‘little way’ of spiritual childhood (trusting in God’s mercy alone) that St Therese would later mine much more fully. The letters did sometimes get repetitive to read – she often apologised for writing the same things over and over again.
The main impression I get from her letters though is that they are an illustration of a lived experience of redemptive suffering. I had a quick look online and you can get the letters of St Margaret Mary through St Paul’s here.
I also enjoyed, for want of a better word, this article published in last week’s Catholic Weekly, (originally in US publication The Federalist) both from the point of view as a writer and as a valuable perspective on the whole bathroom gender politics thing.
I’ve read Pope Francis’ latest exhortation, Amoris Laetitia twice, once for a not-so-quick read-through (it’s around 300 pages long) and the second time to let it start to sink in. It’s consoling in parts, challenging in others. I might take either the chapter on love or the one on the spirituality of the family to my retreat I’ve booked for June.
My friend Fr Richard Healey has very helpfully reformatted the document to make it more reader-friendly in a variety of formats for different devices. The downloads are here.
On the non-religious side of things I read the latest Delicious magazine and hope to make the cauliflower risotto (with crispy sage and toasted hazelnuts no less!) for dinner this week. And I really have to finish (as in, get past the first few pages) of a new book by parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson, 21 Days to a Happier Family.
Feel free to tell me what you’re reading. Any good tips? Especially in fiction? I see that Dean Koontz has a new book out just in time for Mother’s Day, hmmm.
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Have the same copy of Delicious, and love their recipes, too. I struggle trying to find decent fiction. Have you read any of the Rosemary Sutcliff books? “Eagle of the Ninth” is historical fiction, set in post-Roman Britain, well written and intriguing. I find contemporary fiction difficult to sift through as the need to edit out the soft porn etc. gets tiresome. Would welcome any suggestions.
I haven’t read historical fiction probably since my uni days, never heard of her but I’m willing to give the book a try, thanks Lucy! A few months back I read Ceremony of Innocence by Dorothy Cummings McLean, published by Ignatius Press. I wouldn’t say it was awesome but it kept me entertained for a couple of nights.
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Thanks for the tip. Might make that my Mothers Day present!