Wednesday, 12 September 2012

February 15th: the anniversary of Teresa Higginson's death

February 15th, the day that Teresa Higginson went to join her Divine Spouse in an eternal embrace is also the feastday of the entry into glory of two other very great servants of God, intimately connected with the Sacred Heart.  They are the French Jesuit Saint Claude de La Colombière, and the Polish canon Blessed Michal Sopoćko.  Both of these priests were the respective spiritual directors of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to whom Our Lord revealed his Sacred Heart, and of St. Faustina Kowalska to whom Our Lord revealed his Heart's overflowing Divine Mercy.

This has enormous significance for the Sacred Head devotion: Teresa was to state that God arranges everything beautifully.  The Sacred Head of Our Lord which was revealed to Teresa is the seat of the Divine Wisdom that governs the motions of the Sacred Heart. These two great and holy priests as it were acted as the Sacred Head in their guidance of the revelations of the love of the Sacred Heart.  It was through the exercise of their priestly authority and their considerable erudition in directing the two great mystics that they were to fulfill such a role.  And like the Sacred Head, both of them in their lives were to wear a severe crown of thorns and to suffer very greatly, for God ordained a very great glory for them in heaven.

Saint Claude de La Colombière

Saint Claude de La Colombière (Saint-Symphorien-d'Ozon, 2 February 1641–Paray-le-Monial, 15 February 1682) was born of noble parentage at Saint-Symphorien-d'Ozon in 1641 between Lyon and Vienne. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1659, and after fifteen years of religious life in the Jesuits, he made a vow as a means of attaining the utmost possible perfection, to observe faithfully the Rule and Constitutions of his order under penalty of sin. Those who lived with him attested that this vow was kept with great exactitude.

In 1674, Claude was made superior at the Jesuit house at Paray-le-Monial, where he became the spiritual director of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque and was thereafter a zealous apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1676, he was sent to England as preacher to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York, afterwards Queen of Great Britain. He lived the life of a religious even in the Court of St. James's (the official residence of the British Monarchy), and was as active a missionary in England as he had been in France. Although encountering many difficulties, he was able to guide Saint Margaret- Marie by letter.

His zeal soon weakened his vitality and a throat and lung infirmity seemed to threaten his work as a preacher. While awaiting his recall to France he was suddenly arrested and thrown into prison, denounced as a conspirator against the English throne. Thanks to his title of "Preacher to the Duchess of York" and to the protection of the King of France, Louis XIV, whose subject Claude was, he escaped death but was condemned to exile in 1679. The last two years of his life were spent at Lyon where he was spiritual director to the young Jesuits, and at Paray-le-Monial, where he returned to improve his health. His principal works, including "Pious Reflections", "Meditations on the Passion", "Retreat and Spiritual Letters", were published under the title, "Oeuvres du R. P. Claude de la Colombière" (Avignon, 1832; Paris, 1864).

He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on June 16, 1929, and canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 31, 1992.  His relics are preserved in the Jesuit Church around the corner from the monastery of the Visitation nuns at Paray-le-Monial.

Blessed Michal Sopoćko

Blessed Canon Michal Sopoćko (November 1, 1888 in Vilnius Region – February 15, 1975 in Bialystok,
Poland was a professor of pastoral theology at Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania.  He was born  in 1888 in Nowosady near Valozhyn in the Polish and Lithuanian border areas. He entered Vilnius Priest Seminary in 1910 and was ordained in 1914. He was a priest in Vilnius (1914–1918), then a chaplain in the Polish Army in Warsaw and Vilnius during World War I. After obtaining his doctorate in theology in 1926 he became the spiritual director at the seminary in  Vilnius. and 1928 professor of pastoral theology at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius.

St. Faustina Kowalska in her diary (Notebook V, item 1238) stated: "This priest is a great soul, entirely filled with God." Since 1931 Faustina had been trying without success to find someone to paint the Divine Mercy image until Sopoćko became her confessor in the middle of 1933.  In January 1934 he arranged for the artist Eugene Kazimierowski (who was also a professor at the university) to paint the image.  In 1942, during World War II he and other professors and students had to go into hiding near Vilnius for about two years. However, he used this time to establish a new religious congregation based on the Divine Mercy messages reported by Faustina Kowalska. After the War, Sopocko wrote the constitution for the congregation and helped the formation of what is now the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy.

In her diary on February 8, 1935, (Notebook I, item 378) Faustina had written that the Divine Mercy devotion would be suppressed for some time after her death, but would be accepted again, although Sopocko would suffer very greatly for it. In 1959 the Vatican forbade the Divine Mercy devotion and put Sopocko under severe ecclesiastical censure. But in 1965 Karol Wojtyla, then Archbishop of Kraków and later Pope John Paul II opened a new investigation and submitted documents in 1968, which resulted in the
reversal of the ban in 1978.

Until 1962 Sopoćko remained a professor of pastoral theology at Vilnius University and the seminary in Bialystok, Poland. He died on February 15, 1975 in Bialystok and was buried there: exactly 70 years after the death of Teresa Higginson. In 1988 his remains were transferred to the Church of Divine Mercy in Białostoczek Bialystok. His case for beatification was started at the Vatican in 1987. In 2004, Pope John Paul II issued a decree on the virtues of Father Sopocko. In December 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved of a miracle through his intercession. His solemn beatification took place on Sunday September 28, 2008 at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Bialystok.

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