St Margaret Mary
This week, to celebrate our Parish Feast Day, we have a lovely homily by Father Hanly on St Margaret Mary.
Today’s saint is very familiar to all of you who have been around the Church for a long time, and those of you who are closer to my age, because St Margaret Mary Alacoque had played a key role in the spiritual development of the last two hundred years.
And somehow or other, we don’t hear as much about her as we used to hear about her. And one of the reasons is she came with a message, she gave the message and the church took the message to heart. And because of that, she would be the first one to say, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
Anyhow, St Margaret Mary Alacoque came from the 17th Century, the second half of the 17th Century, 1647 she was born and she died before the century was over. She only lived to be 43 years old.
She was a mystic, which is the first thing you should understand. A mystic is somebody… maybe the best way to explain it is direct communication with Jesus, direct communication.
I’ll give you an example. When we sit on the shore and the sun is going down on a beautiful sea and we’re so moved and touched in our hearts and we know that God is communicating with us and we feel “What a wonderful time to be alive with all of these thoughts!” This is one way of entering into the presence of God.
The mystic, though, is a devil-may-care kind of person. She runs out to the nearest pier and leaps up into the water and plunges down into the depths and swims around and she’s looking for a more direct communication. It’s eye to eye, and face to face, and experience right here and now. And out of such an experience, we find mystics.
Mystics are like Moses. They don’t say, “Read this, read that, explain this, explain that.” They would just say, “I am going to take you out of slavery and bring you into freedom.”
And it’s a very direct way. And it’s annoying, because there are a lot of false mystics, just as there are a lot of false prophets.
And how do you tell a false mystic from the prophet? Only time.
And, of course, Margaret Mary had one simple message, one simple message. She says, “Jesus has told me to tell you that he needs your love, that he wants your love, that he covets your love.”
And that is her message: that God wants our love. And He’s willing to become vulnerable. He’s going to become so vulnerable that He will become one of us and He will share, not just the lovely things that we have as human beings, but He will share our weakness, our sadness, our sorrows, our pain.
And this is what Margaret Mary has to bring us.
What does Jesus say to her?
He says, “I need your love; I need to show love. I need your mercy; I need to show mercy. My presence is my grace; my grace is with you and your presence to me is the way you grace me in return. I have come to be one with you; compassion together. I have come to heal you and to be healed by you.”
And how do we heal God?
We heal God by recognising Him in His weakness, becoming one with Jesus and walking the walk of Jesus, just as He walked the walk for us.
And this is what it means when we say the Sacred Heart.
In St Margaret Mary’s time, there was a heresy known as Jansenism. Jansenism had a great reign in Paris, in France, and also in Ireland. In fact, in Ireland there are still many Jansenists.
A Jansenist is someone who looks at God as a stern ruler. He is one who knows that there is only very few people are going to be saved and God has picked them out one by one. And everybody else in the world, all these evil people, no matter what they do, they cannot do anything but sin and they will be destroyed forever.
Believe it or not, this was a very popular heresy of the time, espoused by priests and nuns and Catholics as well.
And today you can actually see a Jansenistic crucifixion. A Jansenistic crucifix has Jesus, instead of opening his arms to all, has them straight up in the air and only the few that can pile in that narrow gate will receive mercy and forgiveness and kindness.
Now what in heaven’s name was the Church to do? Because it ran like fire through Europe, this notion of God.
And, all of a sudden, the answer was a little nun in a little convent in Burgundy in France. She spoke and she told her superiors that Jesus was speaking to her and revealing to her what he wanted.
And, of course, she was laughed at and she suffered a lot of degradation and people making fun of her, especially her own in the convent.
But she met a Jesuit father who believed her and he became her spiritual director.
And she met others who knew what?
They knew this was a holy woman. This was not somebody that was trying to put herself forward. This was a woman who knew suffering as a child, who knew suffering as a teenager, who barely made it into the convent. And when she was in the convent, took the lowest and most humble form, of an assistant to an assistant of the infirmarian.
But when she spoke, she spoke with such great courage that, finally, year after year she kept saying that Jesus had said these things to her and because ultimately her humility, her ability to take the scorn of others and turn it into joyful prayer, this is what made people finally say, “She must be telling us the truth.” It’s an amazing thought.
She showed, first of all, Jesus told her to go into a certain place and she would find a crucifix and she would also find a heart.
And the heart would have two things: it would have fire coming out of it and it would be ringed by the thorns that were wrapped around the head of Jesus on the cross.
The fire was a sign of the fire of God’s love that would bring healing, that would bring warmth, that would bring light and hope to all people.
The heart, of course, is the same heart that we all put when we say “I love you” – we make a little heart.
But there’s a difference in this heart. This heart is wrapped in thorns. And, of course, we know that the crucifixion is the greatest act of love that God could give us.
And what it meant was that this is no romance. This is no good for a couple of days or a couple of years. This is the kind of love that is full of self and total sacrifice.
And out of the love, and out of the heart, and out of the fire, comes an understanding of God: the majestic great God of heaven is a needy God who cries out for our love, who, when we refuse Him, has the same feeling that we have when we are rejected by others whom we love.
This is the needy God. This is the God, though, who knows what compassion means, who knows what caring means, who knows what it means to be lost and alone, who knows what it means to be truly a lover.
For a lover, one thing you cannot take away and that is his hunger to give himself totally and completely to the one he loves.
Margaret Mary gave this gift to us and, at the age of forty three, God took her into heaven and, a few years later, she was, finally, all the stories that she told were accepted by the church and she was made Blessed. And a few years after that, she was canonised and she is today a Saint.
And you wonder why this church has her name?
Well, not just because of the things that I’ve told you, but also because it was at this time, in the 1920s, when she was finally recognised and canonised a saint, that they were building the church that you’re now sitting in, and the good fathers, the missionaries at that time, felt that they would give her a fresh name, this church would have a fresh name, and the name would be St Margaret Mary.
And today we pay tribute to her and to those early missionaries who were so kind and generous to give us this special, special woman, this special, special saint, that we might learn that God is poor, that God is in need, that God expresses His love by compassion, forgiveness and kindness.
And this is what He expects of us: that we recognise our poverty, we recognise our need and we reach out with compassion, love and kindness, to love each other.