November 2016: Why did the Relics of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and Saint Claude La Colombière came to London?

The veneration of Relics is not very fashionable these days. Why should Catholics make so much fuss about a few bits of old bone? When people lose a loved one, they often treasure a keepsake, perhaps a lock of their hair or one of their personal possessions. This makes the person they have lost feel closer to them and reminds them of the love of the person. It is the same with the Relics of the Saints. Their Relics make us feel close to them, remind us that Saints are close to us and that they are praying for us.

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But why these particular Relics and why did they come to London at this particular time? The past year, which has been the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy decreed by Pope Francis, was drawing to a close. This Year has been a time for us to grow in our trust in God’s merciful Love for each one of us, and to respond more fully to his Love.

The Relics were brought from the small French town of Paray le Monial, the “City of the Sacred Heart”, so-called because it was there, in a series of apparitions in the early 1670s, that Jesus revealed to a simple Visitation Sister, Margaret Mary, the infinite Love of his Heart for all mankind.
Jesus showed her his Heart burning with Love and told her: “Behold this Heart which has so loved men … and in return, I receive from most men only ingratitude…” He asked her to spread this message and to ask people to make reparation to Him for the coldness and offenses He suffers in the Blessed Sacrament. Saint Margaret Mary’s superiors did not know what to make of her experiences.

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In 1675 Saint Claude La Colombière was appointed Superior of the Jesuit Community in Paray le Monial and Spiritual Director to Saint Margaret Mary. He was recognised by his superiors as a deeply spiritual man with a great gift for spiritual discernment, a gift that was indeed necessary to discern the origin of the extraordinary graces which Margaret Mary was receiving. Saint Claude recognised that the apparitions were genuine and from God. He became the “Apostle” of the Sacred Heart and helped Margaret Mary to spread the message of the Love of Jesus. What better Saints than these to help us grow in trust of the Merciful Love of God? And what better time than to help celebrate the close of the Year of Mercy?

Saint Claude did not remain in Paray le Monial for long. His gifts were needed for a difficult and dangerous mission elsewhere – perhaps the most difficult mission in the world at that time. In 1676 he was sent to London as Chaplain to Marie of Modena, the Catholic wife of the King’s brother, James Duke of York, who was also a Catholic. At the time of their marriage King Charles II had promised that she would have the right to have a Catholic chapel. The chapel she was given, the Queen’s Chapel at Saint James’ Palace, had been built for Queen Henrietta Maria, the Catholic wife of Charles I.

The situation for Catholics in the London that Saint Claude knew 340 years ago was very different from what it is today. At that time, in the reign of Charles II, there were no Catholic churches in London and the public celebration of Mass for English Catholics was forbidden. Saint Claude would have been amazed if he were to have been told that one day his Relics would be welcomed into a Jesuit Church whose parish today actually includes the Chapel where he preached to the Court of the Duchess of York!

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