We have no idea exactly what St Madeleine Sophie looked like, as she always refused to allow herself to be photographed or painted. But really, Sophie would say we don't need to know the exact size or shape of her nose or mouth: instead, she would want her legacy, and her enduring gift for us, not to be centred on her, but on the limitless love of the Heart of Jesus.
So I rather fancy she'd approve of her latest portrait... or rather, her first-ever painted prayer, by the expressionist artist Stephen B Whatley. The newest of his Christian tributes was unveiled on social media two weeks ago: I first saw it on Twitter, so I'd already been drawn to its radiance and symbolism before I met it on Facebook with this much longer explanation...
From the very first, the Sacred Heart captured my attention, plus the book. It is of course a symbol of her commitment to education, but the first thought that came to me was of Sophie's own words in the 1815 Constitutions, in the section regarding novices... the Heart of Jesus should be to them as an open book in which they study all that concerns each particular virtue... Two hundred years later Sophie is still saying this to us; still urging us to contemplate Jesus, to learn from him, in order to grow in union and conformity with his Heart.
(The image on the book, at first glance, looks like a small boat. Maybe Sophie is also reminding us that our contemplation must then become mission, always seeking to journey beyond frontiers, towards new horizons...?)
There is a dialogue going on here, a true, quietly profound Heart to heart; one which we are all invited to make our own. And looking at Sophie's rapt face, I also remembered some words by Phil Kilroy RSCJ, Sophie's biographer, who writes of her lifelong inner journey, out of the dark power of Jansenism into the sunlight of God's tender love... The core of Sophie's spirituality is her absorbing focus on the Heart of Christ. This is rooted in her life's experience, a reaching forward, out of Jansenism, into the light of God's love revealed in the Heart of Christ. (emphasis mine)
And isn't this what Sophie would want our absorbing focus to be too? Not on her, or her face, but on the reason for her captivation and quiet radiance: the Heart of Jesus, ever-open, overflowing source of all love. I'm sure this is what she guided Stephen's brush towards... and where she now directs my attention, gently yet oh-so firmly...
This is some of what I see; what about you...? Spend some time with this painted prayer, maybe with its high resolution, clearer version on Stephen's website. What does this image evoke in you, and what depths does it - does Sophie, does Jesus' Heart - invite you into...?