“Mine is the immense happiness of working, suffering, loving . . . my part is too beautiful. ” Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart
When my mother died a little over a year ago, I found a hidden gem pressed between the pages of an old, precious Spanish missal. It was a very thin folded leaflet, from her youth, before she came to the states from Guatemala to marry an American. I had sufficient knowledge of Spanish to translate the words encircling the image of the Sacred Heart: Archconfraternity of the Guard of Honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The Guard of Honor
My mother’s name written on the inside of the leaflet, with her “Hour of Guard” indicated from 9 to 10 a.m. I could hardly believe it. I, too, had joined the Guard of Honor just three years prior to my mother’s death. Had she forgotten through so many years and passages of a long life that she still had the paper, or, more likely, had she just not recognized my description of the Guard of Honor when I had joined, her own initiation having been so far removed, in another place and time?
In the void I was feeling after having lost my “soul mate”, the small piece of paper was an unexpected gift from the Master we both knew and loved. We were beautifully linked in death, as in life, with Eternity’s door held open before the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I glanced again at my mom’s name and time slot written-in “Hour of Guard”. For the last several years of her life, when she was no longer able to physically attend Mass as she would like, every morning without fail, during the 9 o’clock hour, she would watch the daily Mass on EWTN. Even if my mother had not remembered her membership in the Guard of honor, Jesus had kept her true to her hour until the end in such a special way.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
I shared my mom’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; when I learned of the Guard of Honor, designed very much with the laity in mind, but also for clergy and religious, I knew I had to join.
The Archconfraternity of the Guard of Honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (aka The Hour of Presence to the Heart of Jesus), was begun by Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, in the Visitation Monastery of Bourg, in France, on March 13, 1863. Through her hard work and direction, though she was sickly and often overwhelmed with weariness under the burden of the numerous, necessary correspondences, the new association spread quickly, one might say, miraculously, from Sister Marie’s small cell at the monastery. By March 9, 1864, the Guard of Honor had become a Confraternity, and on November 26, 1878, it was given the status of an Archconfraternity.
One year after its foundation, the Guard of Honor received the approbation of Pope Blessed Pius IX, who called himself ‘the first Guard of Honor’. By this time, there were 30 bishops from France and abroad, over 110 monasteries, as well as a great many of the faithful spread over 20 countries who were included in the membership.
“While we should be slow to call it a miracle, we must admit that such a vast and rapid expansion, starting from the cell of a humble Visitandine, is highly improbable. It makes sense if one sees it as a manifestation of the will of Jesus Christ, since this expansion happened at the same time that Margaret Mary Alacoque, the confidante of Paray, was being beatified (1864). This beatification was a renewed sign of the Church’s approval of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.” HAURIETIS AQUAS, On Devotion to the Sacred Heart , May 15, 1956
Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart
Sister Marie was born Constance Bernaud in Besancon, France, on October 28, 1825. At the age of five, she expressed a desire to become a nun. Her parents passed it off as a childish idea and so when she was only 16, they arranged for her to marry a 28-year-old businessman. The couple had no children, and Constance was left a widow at the age of 20. In June of 1849, she accepted the invitation of a close relative to attend a retreat at the Visitation Monastery of Bourg, in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She never left that monastery. Shortly after, she became a Visitandine and took the name, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, desiring Him to be her Patron.
Sister Marie’s loved the Sacred Heart, St. Francis de Sales and his writings on the devout life. St. Francis de Sales, who together with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in 1610, wrote and preached about the duties and blessings of a truly devout life centered on Christ. His teachings were not primarily for clergy and religious but focused on showing lay Christians of every walk how to build up the Kingdom of God within themselves and the world around them while attending to the practical duties of daily life.
An Hour a Day Focused on Jesus on the Cross
Sister Marie wanted to bring as many souls as possible to Jesus in a way that would not only sanctify themselves and their days but also bring hourly consolation to her Master, whose greatest complaint was His constant thirst for souls. She was inspired to devise a membership whereby the associates would unite whatever they were doing at any chosen, fixed hour, with the sufferings of Jesus on the cross.
“This hour would be offered just as it is, without making any changes to whatever occupations or activities would be part of it. During that hour, associates would unite themselves mentally to Christ as He offers Himself on the Cross for our redemption. The enrollments in the Confraternity would be inscribed upon a dial marking the twelve hours of the day. In this way, a crown of adorers ‘taking up their guard’ one after the other would be formed around the world. This ‘Guard of Honor’ would be modeled after the vigil kept by the Blessed Mother, Magdalene, and John at Calvary. They stood at the foot of the Cross at the very moment Our Lord’s Heart was pierced, from which flowed blood and water, the symbols of the Grace merited by His sacrifice.” Little Manual of the Sacred Heart
Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart accomplished this work of God in a hidden manner, only those close to her knew the hand and heart that Jesus was using to spread the Guard of Honor throughout the world. She lived out the rest of her life, a hidden and humble servant of God at the Visitation Monastery of Bourg-en-Bresse, until her death on August 3, 1903.
Today Catholic Christians throughout the world have access to a rich treasure of redemptive graces we can daily claim for souls, with no other effort than going about our work, play or rest, while thinking of Him who loves us. Like my mother, I am grateful for the invitation.
“When one is a disciple of Jesus Christ and a Guard of Honor of His Most Sacred Heart one must not think solely of one’s own interests, one must help Him to save others. The Zeal which devours the Sacred Heart must pass on to the hearts of His friends”. Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart Bernaud
All excerpts were taken from The Manual of the Association of the Guard of Honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Second Edition (2017), translated and edited by the Monastery of the Visitation, Mont Deux Coeurs. Tyringham, MA
March 13, 2018, is the 155th anniversary of the founding of the Guard of Honor.