Thirty–Seven Years of Mass
I am dedicating this special entry to my friend Monsignor Arthur Burton Calkins on the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood or, as we say in Italian, “after 37 years of Mass.” Monsignor Calkins is more familiar than anyone else I know with the writings of the Servant of God Louise–Marguerite Claret de la Touche. I ask her to intercede for him today.
A Find at Santa Maria in Ara Coeli
I am becoming increasingly sensitive to the little manifestations of Divine Providence — God’s “gentle leadings with bands of love” — on a daily basis. Last Saturday a dear friend invited me to visit the Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli with her. After making our devotions and spending a moment before the church’s famous Santo Bambino, we stopped for a moment in the gift shop to look at its impressive display of icon reproductions. All of a sudden I was drawn to this particular image. It look vaguely familiar to me. I found the Face of Christ, the pierced Side, and the inscription, “It is mercy that I desire,” strangely compelling. I also felt that the little image was destined for my friend. She went home with it. Later that day, after some searching, I identified it as the image painted by Louise–Marguerite Claret de la Touche (1868–1915), one of the last century’s most notable mystics of the Sacred Heart and a spiritual advocate for priests.
Mother Louise–Marguerite Claret de la Touche was fond of drawing and painting: a popular pastime in Visitation monasteries of the last century. She left a number of pictures of landscapes, animals, flowers, and still–lifes. It is, however, her inspired painting of the Merciful Jesus, that continues to touch hearts and move them to prayer.
Father Charrier, S.J., Louise–Marguerite’s confessor, ordered her to execute the painting after she related to him a vision in which Our Lord manifested Himself revealing His wounded side. (The similarities with the experience of Saint Faustina Kowalska are striking.)
Meekness and Majesty
Louise–Marguerite painted the image at the end of 1902 and the beginning of 1903. It is unlike other pictures of the Sacred Heart dating from the same epoch. The Face of Christ resembles that of the Holy Shroud of Turin. The eyes of Christ seem to search the soul of the one meeting His gaze. Around the head of Christ the artist painted a double halo: the first represents a crown of thorns; the second, adorned with three stylized lilies, bears the inscription, Misericordiam volo, “It is mercy that I desire” (Mt 9:13).
Contemplating the image, one discovers at the same time the meekness of Jesus and His majesty. Meekness and majesty are inseparable in Him. Gesturing with His hand, Our Lord indicates His pierced Side. The opening in His tunic has, in effect, the shape of a heart.
The Sacred Side
The image represents the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy: “They shall look on Him whom they pierced” (Jn 19:37). The pierced Side of Christ reveals the infinite love of His Heart; it is the wellspring of His mercy.
Call Me Mercy
Mother Louise–Marguerite’s own writings tell of what inspired her in painting the image:
“One day, prostrate at the feet of Jesus, I was calling Him my soul’s one and only Good, the sovereign love of my heart, the infinite treasury of all riches. In the end I said to Him, ‘My Jesus, how do You want me to address you?’ And He answered, ‘Call me Mercy!’ O my sweet Mercy, O Jesus who died of love upon this Cross, grant that, brought back to you by the appeal of Your Mercy, we may live from Your love and for your love’! (Diary, Good Friday, 13 April 1900)
Priest, Temple, and Door
Notice that the image represents the majesty of the “Eternal High Priest,” of the “Divine Sacrificer” Who, from His open Side, continues to pour out “life–giving torrents of Infinite Love” upon humanity and, in particular, upon priests. The lanced pierced His right side: an evident allusion to the vision recounted in Chapter 47 of the prophet Ezekiel. Christ is, at once, the “High Priest” (Heb 4:14) and the Temple (Jn 2:21). Saving water streams out from below the right side of the Temple, and swells to become “a river” producing life in abundance wherever it flows. In this light, the wound in the Side of Christ is revealed also as “the door” (Jn 10:7) through which one enters the Holy of Holies to “obtain mercy and gind grace” (Heb 4:16).
In a meditation on the parable of the prodigal son, Mother Louise–Marguerite gives a magnificent commentary on her painting: an exaltation of the Merciful Love of God manifested in the person of Christ:
I meditated on the prodigal son. Oh! Such a sweet and mild meditation! This parable is an exquisite image of the Infinite Mercy of the Heart of God, traced by the hand of Jesus Himself. How good it is to review all the traits of it and to see its divine beauties! God is Love. He is Infinite Love. This Infinite Love, this divine essence, has no form of Itself. It is an immense sea that nothing can circumscribe, a light limited by no obstacle; but outside of Itself, Infinite Love takes various forms, so that we may come to know It. One of the forms of Love, the most attractive for our sinful souls, really is that divine form of Mercy. Mercy is a form of Love suited to us sinners, but It is truly Love, Infinite Love always the same, uncreated, eternally living and active. Infinite Love creates, mediates, redeems, illumines, and glorifies. Mercy is creative in that It creates a new purity in the repentant soul. It mediates by putting Itself between sin and Divine Justice and by drawing repentant Love near to Pardoning Love. It redeems by delivering the soul from sin, and sets free by purifying the soul. It illumines because It alone can make one see at the same time the misery of the sinner and the goodness of God. Finally, It glorifies because It gives heaven to souls, and by their salvation gives glory to God. (Diary, October 1905).
A Spiritual Patrimony
When Mother Louise–Marguerite finished her painting, she gave it to her mother, who was astonished by what her daughter had produced. Rather than hang it in her parlour where it would have been out of place in the midst of paintings of a secular nature, her mother decided to put it aside, like a relic, in a special coffer. Today, the painting belongs to the Institute founded by Mother Claret de la Touche: Bethany of the Sacred Heart. Like Saint Faustina’s image of the Merciful Christ, it continues to speak to souls, especially to priests.