(Here in Canada, Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Saint Hedwig – normally celebrated on the 16th – are moved to October 20th, to make room on the 16th for the first Canadian-born saint, Marguerite d’Youville. So here is a re-post of a few words on the two saints of today, to refresh our devotion – not least, since the parish I attend is has Saint Hedwig as its patroness).
Margaret Mary Alacoque (+1690) was a contemplative nun in France, who from childhood devoted herself to God, with some rather intense asceticism, and entered the Order of the Visitation in 1671. She was subject to various humiliations, including the delaying of her profession; she was assigned to work in the infirmary, the other Sisters being impatient at times with her perceived incompetence, but the good Sister persevered, and her patience, piety and zeal eventually won her acceptance. Soon afterward, starting in December 1673, and continuing for a year and a half, Sister Margaret began to receive remarkable visions and revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, emphasizing the very human love the Son of God has for us, a necessary antidote to the rigorous and cold Jansenism which was then infecting hearts and souls. The devotion to Christ’s human heart – symbolic of His infinite and always available love and mercy – met with much opposition from a France mired in the rigoristic heresy of Jansenism, but, with the help of her confessor, also canonized, the Jesuit priest Claude de la Colombiere, soon spread throughout the world.
A third consecrated woman is also today, Saint Hedwig of Silesa (+1243), who, like D’Youville, married young, at what we would consider the too-tender age of twelve, but things were different back then (not least, lives were considerably shorter). Unlike Mrs. D’Youville four centuries hence, Hedwig’s match was a relatively happy one, to Henry the Bearded, son and heir to the Duke of Silesia, who helped his wife in her apostolic way of life. Henry supported his wife’s hosting banquets for the poor, and giving away much in alms, not least to monasteries and schools. All of this, in the midst of the sorrows of this vale of tears – she buried five of her six children. Upon her husband’s death in 1238, Hedwig, who had always lived an ascetical life, joined the Cistercian monastery at Trzebnica that she had persuaded her husband to found back in 1202, and it was there she died after five years of religious life, in 1243. Providentially, Saint Hedwig is the patroness of the parish where I live, so I have a special devotion to this Polish saint, except that we here move her feast to the 20th.