Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Seraphim, St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart (1)

St Margaret Mary with PUTTI, not Seraphim!
Carrado Giaquinto, 1765
The reading of St. Francis de Sales  naturally made me take the road to Paray-le-Monial again.  This was prompted by the timely arrival of a kind and thoughtful present from a friend: The Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary, Tan Books, 1986. (HERE )  ( So  thanks Maria!) Reading it today  I noted that she tells us that she imagined, whilst looking at a picture of St. Francis de Sales , that he called her his daughter and that she felt that he had become her ‘good father’: this appears to be before she decided to join the Convent of the Visitation at Paray-le-Monial.   What I also find fascinating is that she describes the Sacred  Heart  using the idea of fire and a furnace of love.  I was expecting her imagery to be rather more anatomical, but no. Her description is all about fire and light.  All of this makes the subsequent imagery of the Sacred Heart which came out of the Paray-le-Monial experiences even more perplexing.  Did artists actually bother to READ her autobiography? This emphasis on the Sacred Heart as a fire and a furnace of love is made even clearer in her reference to her vision of the Seraphim.  Our icon is, I think quite a rare example of  showing the Sacred Heart and the Seraphim.  But what is puzzling is why the image of the Sacred Heart and the Seraphim is not more common, given what St Margaret Mary actually wrote : 

Seraphim in the fresco at the
Chapel of the Visitation, Paray-le-Monial
I felt myself wholly rapt in interior and exterior recollection, and at that time, the Adorable Heart of my Jesus appeared brighter than the sun.  It was surrounded by the flames of Its pure love, and encircled by Seraphim, who sang in marvelous harmony: ‘ Love triumphs, love enjoys, the love of the Sacred Heart rejoices!’ These blessed spirits invited me to unite with them in praising this Divine Heart, but I did not dare do so.  They reproved me, telling me they had come in order to form an association with me, whereby to render It a perpetual homage of love, adoration and praise, and that , for this purpose, they would take my place before the Blessed Sacrament.  Thus I might be able, by their means, to love It continually, and as they would participate in my love and suffer in my person, I on my part, should rejoice with them.  At the same time they wrote the association in the Sacred Heart in letters of gold, and in indelible characters of love.  This lasted from two to three hours, and I have  felt the effects thereof throughout my life, both by the assistance I received, and by the sweetness which it produced and continued to produce in me, although I felt overwhelmed with confusion.  From that day I addressed them by no other name, when praying to them, than by that of my divine associates. (pp 102- 103) 

Thus the Seraph in the top left once gain provides an important focus for reading the icon.  It draws our attention to the close association between the Seraphim and the Sacred Heart for St Margaret Mary - BUT, not for the imagery which dominated the devotion inspired by her experiences!!  I am, however, very puzzled as to why this association is not more widespread in the imagery of the Sacred Heart – especially in the light of the importance she attached to the role of the Seraphim??  Where they do make an appearance they tend to be represented by (dreadful, sentimental, cute and terribly kitsch) ‘putti’ rather than by six winged Seraphim.  I wonder How many artists bothered to include the Seraphim in pictures of the  Sacred Heart / St Margaret Mary?  I have not come across too many..thus far.  

A beautiful and powerful prayer by Saint Margaret Mary that  brings out the significance she attached to the Seraphim:

O most loving Heart of my only love, Jesus, not being able to love, honor and glorify Thee according to the extent of the desire which Thou hast given me to do so, I invite Heaven and earth to join with me; I unite myself with the burning Seraphim to love Thee. 

O Heart all burning with love, mayest Thou inflame Heaven and earth with Thy most pure flames and consume all that they contain, in order that all creatures may breathe only by Thy love! Grant me either to die or to suffer, or at least change me completely and make me all heart in order to love Thee, consuming myself in Thy burning ardor.

 O Divine fire, O all pure flames of the Heart of my only love, Jesus, burn me without pity, consume me and I will not resist. Oh! why dost Thou spare me since I deserve only fire and since I am fit only for burning? 

O Love of Heaven and earth, come, come, into my heart and inflame me! O devouring fire of the Divinity, come, descend upon me! Burn me, consume me in the midst of Thy most lively flames which make those live who die in them.

 Amen. *

I think that this is a prayer which is very much in keeping with a teilhardian understanding of the Sacred Heart.  I wonder if he knew it? Probably not,  but it is very close to his own prayers to the Sacred Heart. I feel the icon is reflecting the sentiments of this prayer in so many ways: if I were to put a list of prayers which help us to read this icon I would say this prayer would be high on that list.  A real find, and a real treasure.

(More of her prayers HERE.)*

This is so very nice: because when I see the Seraph in the icon I can remember St. Margaret Mary and recall the payer (above).  It is amazing how that Seraph has assumed such an important place in the icon!  

*Taken from Prayers Composed in Honor of the Sacred Heart by St. Margaret Mary, edited by Monsignor Gauthey, Paris 1951.

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