St. Margaret Mary Points to the Poconos
In time for the Oct. 16 feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a visit to the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Harleigh, Pa. By Joseph Pronechen.
Ah, the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. There’s gold in them thar hills. Spiritual gold, not the metal kind. South of Scranton, in the town of Harleigh, you can mine great graces from the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart.
Pilgrims once traveled here by the busload. And that was well before it was “nationalized” by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on May 8, 1997. Even Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and some of her Missionaries of Charity stopped by.
The shrine was founded 22 years earlier by Father Girard Angelo and dedicated in June of 1975, not so coincidentally during the month and year that marked the 300th anniversary of Jesus’ appearances to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. In the quiet of her French convent, he asked her to give the world a devotion to his Sacred Heart. The rest is history, as the devotion is commemorated as a post-Pentecost solemnity — and the Church celebrates Margaret Mary’s feast each Oct. 16.
The shrine’s motto is “Heart of Jesus, Source of Peace and Reconciliation.” Those words are inscribed in granite here, along with Christ’s exhortation to all: “Come to me all you who labor and find life burdensome.”
The close of that verse, of course, is “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). And rest is just one of the treasures you’ll find here. Another is a reminder of the 12 promises Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary when he appeared to her.
You can’t miss them. Each promise appears on its own bronze plaque, raised like a station along the concrete paths that line fountains gently rising up a slight incline of land. The serenity of the walk and the spacing of the promises invite you to stop and meditate on each one. (The promises are also listed on the shrine’s website, ShrineoftheSacredHeart.com.)
Emphasizing the Twelfth Promise, which centers on receiving Christ in holy Communion by way of the First Fridays devotion, the landscaping presents paths that lead to the outdoor altar at which Mass is celebrated on various occasions. Five fountains along the route, dedicated to the five wounds of Jesus on the cross, remind us of our baptism into the body of Christ.
Radiance and Relics
An outdoor church is what we found this part of the shrine to be. The walls are shrubs and hedges, the pews of concrete. And there’s a large, raised sanctuary with granite altar and towering stone reredos.
High behind the altar is a statue of Jesus offering his Sacred Heart. This image of Our Lord in majesty, larger than life-size, is beautifully carved in Carrara marble. We’re further reminded of his glory by the gold “radiance” behind the statue and of his kingship by the great crown with cross that floats like a huge baldachino above him.
This is one of many serene areas for prayer and meditation you find at the shrine. Another has a concrete walk curving gently around garden-like greenery for the Stations of the Cross. The setting is secluded, as if designed for peaceful and private contemplation. The scenes are familiar because they’re copies of the depictions that often accompany St. Alphonsus Liguori’s prayers in Way of the Cross booklets. I learned the South Carolina green granite was carved locally in Hazleton, Pa.
Several other shrines on the extensive grounds all radiate in some way from Sacred Heart Church. Among them are the replica Tomb of Christ with a statue of our Crucified Savior in repose before his resurrection, the Tomb of the Unborn, and Our Lady of Fatima Shrine amid trees and lawns.
Inside the church itself, with its statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Grace, you can venerate a first-class relic of St. Margaret Mary: Her index finger bone is here, behind glass under the altar.
Other first-class relics include one from St. Francis de Sales, who founded her Visitation Order, and one from St. Claude de la Columbiere, her confessor, who helped her spread the Sacred Heart devotion.
It was between December 1673 and June 1675 that Our Lord revealed many things to Margaret Mary, whom he called “the Beloved Disciple of the Sacred Heart.” He showed her his heart pierced, bleeding and crowned with thorns. Flames radiated from it. On the feast of Corpus Christi he told her he loved mankind so, but instead of love he received from the greater part of mankind only indifference.
Jesus asked to be honored as the Sacred Heart and for the Church to celebrate this feast on the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi in reparation for this ingratitude.
So it was that this 10th-anniversary year, which opened in June, proved an ideal time to launch a major revitalization effort. A big part of this is reaching out to pilgrims from all over the country, encouraging them to discover afresh the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Ken Scuba of the Save Our Shrine board of directors said that EWTN series host and Catholic lay apologist Raymond de Souza (not to be confused with Father Raymond J. de Souza, a Register contributing writer) is now chairman of the shrine’s New Evangelization Office. De Souza is giving a series of talks through next June on the first Thursday of the month in the shrine hall, one on each of the Twelve Promises. These are to be filmed as another EWTN series.
Clearly, a treasure of spiritual gold is in the making amid the pines of the Poconos.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
1 Church Place
Harleigh, PA 18225
Planning Your Visit
Sunday Mass is at 11 a.m. First Fridays begin with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., when confessions and Rosary begin. Mass follows at 7 p.m.
- October 14-20, 2007