We have two saints to celebrate today, both women, one married and a mother, the other a Visitation sister. Saint Hedwig (1174-1243) was married to Henry I, the duke of Silesia. They shared a strong faith and a true concern for the poor. Hedwig went out among the poor and was known to take off her own shoes and give them to a woman who might otherwise never have a pair. Accounts of her life say that Hedwig would then spend the rest of the day barefoot herself, going about her work until her return home.
She could look back on a marriage in which she and her husband were true partners and companions.
Together Hedwig and Henry founded hospitals, monasteries and the first convent and school for young women in their kingdom. The convent was Cistercian, established just north of Breslau, in what is now Poland. The convent was built by prison labor. Once the building was finished, the prisoners were set free.
Henry died and Hedwig entered the convent they had established. She never took vows, but she devoted herself to prayer and to giving her fortune away the needy. She could look back on a marriage in which she and her husband were true partners and companions.
Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque was born nearly five hundred years after Hedwig. When she was a child in France a popular theology called Jansenism (named for a Dutch theologian named Cornelius Jansen) affected many Catholics. Jansenism held that God’s mercy does not extend to all people. God chooses some to save and some to condemn, and there is nothing a man or woman can do in the face of God’s irresistible will. There is no free acceptance of a freely given grace.
Margaret Mary was not a particularly bright or gifted sister, but Christ came to her in four different visions. In these visions, she saw his sacred heart and she saw that it was filled to overflowing with mercy for every woman and man who ever had, who was, or who would ever live. Christ told her to encourage devotion to his sacred heart.
Margaret Mary’s sisters were skeptical. She did not fit their notions of a woman who would be visited by Christ and entrusted with a holy task. But she had the confidence and support of a Jesuit confessor and advisor, who told Margaret Mary to follow as Christ led. Eventually, the convent began keeping a feast for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a feast that soon spread throughout the church. By 1856, less than 200 years after her death, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was officially observed by the Roman Catholic Church. It is kept nineteen days after Pentecost.
Hedwig had a heart for the poor. Margaret Mary had a heart for mercy. When you pray today, offer this litany of the Sacred Heart:
Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy.
God our Father in heaven, have mercy on us.
(continue to repeat “have mercy on us” after each invocation)
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
God the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, one God,
Heart of Jesus, Son of the eternal Father,
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother,
Heart of Jesus, One with the eternal Word,
Heart of Jesus, infinite in majesty,
Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God,
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High,
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven,
Heart of Jesus, aflame with love for us,
Heart of Jesus, source of justice and love,
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Heart of Jesus, wellspring of all virtue,
Heart of Jesus, worthy of all praise,
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts,
Heart of Jesus, treasure house of wisdom and knowledge,
Heart of Jesus, in whom there dwells the fullness of God,
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father is well pleased,
Heart of Jesus, from whose fullness we have all received,
Heart of Jesus, desire of the eternal hills,
Heart of Jesus, patient and full of mercy,
Heart of Jesus, generous to all who turn to you,
Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness,
Heart of Jesus, atonement for our sins,
Heart of Jesus, overwhelmed with insults,
Heart of Jesus, broken for our sins,
Heart of Jesus, obedient even to death,
Heart of Jesus, pierced by a lance,
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation,
Heart of Jesus, victim of our sins,
Heart of Jesus, salvation of all who trust in you,
Heart of Jesus, hope of all who die in you,
Heart of Jesus, delight of all the saints, have mercy on us. Amen.