The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is as ancient as the Church. It commenced upon the Cross, from the moment when this divine Heart, pierced by the soldier's spear, opened to the faithful an inviolable place of refuge. When the first Christians and the martyrs, with that faith and love, which made them triumph over torments and death itself, kissed the wounds of Jesus crucified, who can doubt that in applying their lips to the wounded side of their Redeemer, as they meditated on His Passion, they thought at the same time of His Sacred Heart, and of its infinite love which seemed to burst forth in flames through that sacred opening in His side? Thus too did the greatest saints of every age, St. Augustin, St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, St. Gertrude, St. Mechtildis, St. Catherine of Sienna, penetrate the secret of this devotion, long before it was proposed in any special revelation. But it was reserved for the seventeenth century to see the Sacred Heart of Jesus honoured by a public worship, and for France to give birth to this devotion. The person whom God employed to make known His designs of mercy in the establishment of this devotion, was a simple Religious of the Visitation, at Paray le Monial, in Charolais, known by the name of Mary Margaret.

Jesus Christ, who had already favoured her with His most precious gifts, appeared to her one day, and said: “My divine Heart is so full of love for men, that, no longer able to restrain the flames of its burning charity, it must needs spread them abroad by every means, and manifest itself to men, to enrich them with the treasures which it contains. To you I disclose these priceless treasures; they contain the graces of sanctification and salvation necessary to draw mankind from the abyss of perdition.”

The designs of our Divine Lord were made known to Mary Margaret some time afterwards in a still clearer manner. “Whilst praying before the Blessed Sacrament,” she says, “one day within its octave, I received from God excessive graces of His love. As I felt myself moved with the desire of making Him a return of love for love, He said to me: ‘You cannot give me any greater mark of your love than by doing what I have already so often asked of you.’ Upon this, disclosing to me His Divine Heart, He said to me: ‘Behold this Heart, which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself, in order to testify to them its love; and in return I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, in the neglect, irreverence, sacrileges and coldness which I meet with from them in my Sacrament of love. But what afflicts me most is, that I receive this treatment from hearts which are specially consecrated to me. For this reason, I ask you to procure the first Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi to be set apart as a special feast in honour of my Heart, by making an act of reparation, and communicating on that day, in order to atone for the indignities which it has received during the time that it has been exposed upon my altars; and I promise that my Heart shall dilate itself to shed in abundance the influence of its divine love upon those who shall render it this honour, or procure it to be rendered.’ ” The humble religious replied: “To whom, O Lord, dost Thou address Thyself? to so wretched a creature, so poor a sinner, that her unworthiness would be even capable of hindering the accomplishment of Thy design. Thou hast so many generous souls to execute it.” “Do you not know then,” replied our Lord, “that I make use of the weakest instruments to confound the strong, and that it is in the little and poor of spirit that I display my power with greater splendour, in order that they may attribute nothing to themselves?” “Do Thou give me, then,” rejoined the sister, “the means of doing what Thou commandest.”

Upon this our Lord added: “Address yourself to my servant (this was Father de la Colombière, S.J.) and tell him from me to do what he can to establish this devotion, and to afford this gratification to my heart. Let him not be discouraged at the difficulties which he will meet with, for there will be no lack of them; but let him remember that those alone are all-powerful who distrust themselves, and place all their confidence in me.”

Father de la Colombière, who had examined the sanctity of this religious with great care, and was satisfied by evident marks of the truth of her communications with God, considered himself called to contribute to the establishment of so holy a devotion, especially as it presented nothing which was open to suspicion. He began with himself, and wished to be the first disciple of the Heart of Jesus, and the first adorer of His love, according to the directions prescribed to the sister Mary Margaret. He accordingly consecrated himself to this Sacred Heart, on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi, June 21, 1675, a day which may be regarded as that on which the Heart of Jesus made its first conquest.

Since that time, this devotion, censured and combatted, as are all the works of God, has been at length established with marvellous success throughout the whole world, especially after it had received the solemn approval of the Holy See. Thus did the event prove how justly founded was the confidence of Mary Margaret, when she said: “Though I should see the whole world let loose in opposition to this devotion, I should never despair of seeing it established, since I have received an assurance of it from the mouth of our Blessed Saviour Himself.”

(Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Translated from the French by the Rev. George Tickell, S.J., 1858.)