Thursday, 31 March 2011

Only connect : with the Sacred Heart

One of the main things that I have discovered as a result of this project and my attempt to devote this year to the Sacred Heart is that I feel more and more able to let connections emerge rather than trying to find them. I was deeply struck by what Benedict says about the Sacred Heart as the ‘centre’ of Christianity. It follows, that if it is the centre, then all lines ultimately converge with it. ( Teilhard says that ‘ Ce qui monte, tout converge – all that rises converges ) With that in mind, to trust in the Sacred Heart is simply to allow that process to take place and be alive to ( and wrestle with) what emerges: because it will all converge.

My wife is presently on a conference with other Catholic headteachers in Oxford, and the theme of their conference is Blessed John Henry Newman. It is a pity she could not bring me along (smuggled in a large suitcase) because I think I would have enjoyed the visits and the talks. Newman was, of course, a great influence on so many people – Teilhard amongst them. The two men had much in common: in particular the fact that for Newman evolution was simply not a problem for his faith. At a time when many were in a tizzy about the whole concept, Newman said (in 1868) : “the theory of Darwin, true or not, is not necessarily atheistic; on the contrary, it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of divine providence and skill.” So he shared with Teilhard an understanding of evolution as wholly compatible with a belief in God. It has taken quite a while for many Christians to get to that point: and sadly some are still rather hostile to the idea that evolution and Christianity are completely compatible. But in addition to this, Newman also shared with Teilhard an understanding of the relationship and interplay between faith and reason: again a problem for many. However, perhaps the most noticeable thing they had in common was their devotion to the Sacred Heart as the total embodiment of the Catholic faith – past, present and future. Newman wrote several wonderful prayers to the Sacred Heart, and of course he chose as his moto for his coat of arms a quote from Francis de Sales, who is so important to Ian, as we discovered a while ago. ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’ was – of course - the theme of Benedict’svisit in 2010. And, as a motto it prompts us to think in a very direct way of the Sacred Heart: the heart that is calling to us.

Here is a particularly moving prayer to the Sacred Heart by Blessed John Henry Newman:

My God, my Saviour, I adore Thy Sacred Heart, 
for that heart is the seat and source 
of all Thy tenderest human affections for us sinners. 
It is the instrument and organ of Thy love.
It did beat for us. It yearned over us. 
It ached for us, and for our salvation.
It was on fire through zeal, that the glory of God might be manifested in and by us. 
It is the channel through which has come to us all Thy overflowing human affection, 
all Thy Divine Charity towards us.
All Thy incomprehensible compassion for us, as God and Man, as our Creator and our Redeemer and Judge, has come to us, and comes, 
in one inseparably mingled stream, through that Sacred Heart.
O most Sacred symbol and Sacrament of Love, divine and human, in its fulness, 
Thou didst save me by Thy divine strength, and Thy human affection, 
and then at length by that wonder-working blood, wherewith Thou didst overflow.
O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, 
Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still. 
Now as then Thou savest, 
Desiderio desideravi--"With desire I have desired."
I worship Thee then with all my best love and awe, 
with my fervent affection, with my most subdued, most resolved will. 
O my God, when Thou dost condescend to suffer me to receive Thee, 
to eat and drink Thee, and Thou for a while takest up Thy abode within me, 
O make my heart beat with Thy Heart.
Purify it of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, 
all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness.
So fill it with Thee, that neither the events of the day 
nor the circumstances of the time may have power to ruffle it, 
but that in Thy love and Thy fear it may have peace.

In this prayer we find – as in Teilhard – the sense that we experience the Sacred Heart in a most intimate and powerful way in the eucharist.

And finally, only connect. One thing aspect of Newman that is also so evident in Teilhard their belief in how all things connect and are interrelated. And in this belief in the inter-connectedness of things Teilhard, like Newman had a tremendous sense of trust in the Sacred Heart: the lives of Teilhard and Newman demonstrate their tremendous sense of trust in life. To trust in the Sacred Heart is to trust in LIFE, and the evolution of one's own personal life and of life itself. To trust in the Sacred Heart is to trust in that God - as love - is present in the joys and the sorrows of existence. This is elegantly captured by Newman in this famous words:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.

Only connect, is not just the name of a TV quiz programme, but a line from the novel by E.M. Forster, Howards End. As in: “ Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” Perhaps that is the link between Teilhard and Newman – through the Sacred Heart : in trusting in the Sacred Heart we no longer live in fragments. Through the divine centre ( a God who IS love) we are connected to God and to others and to the Cosmos as a whole. In the Sacred Heart -in the eucharist - all converges and will converge. It is in this convergence we place all our trust. I think, above all that is what an image of the Sacred Heart has to try and express or evoke. And, I am getting that sense in Ian’s Sacred Heart. Thanks.

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