Friday, 20 May 2011

Mary, the Rosary and the Sacred Heart

Thinking of Ian working on the Mysteries of Light and the Rosary has naturally made me reflect on the relationship between Mary, the Sacred Heart and Teilhard. And there are important connections here for the project. To begin with the devotion to the Sacred Heart has to be understood within the context of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Mary. Indeed, the devotion which springs from the French tradition has long seen the two as part of the same devotion: we find this very explicitly in the writings of St John Eudes. And therefore, Marian devotion is an intrinsic aspect of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Given this, it is noticeable that Blessed John Paul notes that the Rosary is the ‘true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory’ ( 19: Rosarium Virginis Mariae). The Rosary is a prayer of the heart, (5: Rosarium) and thus the devotion to Mary is –as he puts it – a ‘doorway’ into understanding and experiencing the Sacred Heart. And here there is an important link with Teilhard’s own devotion to the Sacred Heart and to his way of thinking as a whole.

For Teilhard women – and the feminine - were very important indeed. Many of his closest relationships were with women. His mother, of course, and his sister but also his cousin Margueritte. His mother and sister had an intense devotion to the Sacred Heart as did his cousin. But he also had important relationships with other women especially Lucile Swan. It is in this context interesting to observe that when Lucile leaves Peking he gives her a picture of the Sacred Heart with the hope that, although they will be far apart, they can still meet in the glow of divine love as represented in the Pinta image. SEE HERE So in a very real sense Teilhard saw the feminine – and Mary in particular - as a ‘doorway’ to the Sacred Heart.

Writing to his parents in 1901 - just after he had taken his first vows as a Jesuit - he exclaims that ‘At last I am a Jesuit …at last I belong entirely through the Blessed Virgin, to the Sacred Heart’. This sense of belonging to the Sacred Heart THROUGH the Blessed Virgin Mary is important and relates to what is said in Rosarium Virginis Mariae. Throughout his life Mary is seen as the doorway to the Sacred Heart. In this he is only stating a common enough Catholic understanding of the relationship between Mary and the Sacred Heart. Many prayers to the Sacred Heart are expressed ‘through the pure heart of Mary’. Thus is this sense, although he was to depart from the then conventional form of devotion to the Sacred Heart, Teilhard was always deeply grounded in Catholic tradition. And we see this in his thinking on the relationship between Mary and the Sacred Heart.

He writes about this in a number of places. In the correspondence during the first world war Teilhard makes reference to Mary in several letters. (References (MM) to The Making of A Mind, Collins, 1961)

In December 1916, for example, he reflects on the coming feast of the Immaculate Conception;

For me [it is].. the feast of ‘passive action’, the action that functions simply by the transmission through us of divine energy. Purity, in spite of outward appearances, is essentially an active virtue, because it concentrates God in us and on those who are subject to our influence. In our Lord, all modes of lower, restless, activity disappear within this single, luminous, function of drawing God to oneself, of receiving him and letting him penetrate one’s being. To be active in such a way and such a degree, our Lady must have been brought into existence in the very heart of grace, - for no later justification, no matter how immediate, could replace this constitutive, in-born, perfection of the purity that watched over the birth of her soul. It is thus that I see the Immaculate Conception. May our Lord give you and me too a little of her translucence, which is so favourable to God’s action. (MM : 149 )

What is astounding about his period as a soldier-priest is how his experiences informed his spiritual, mystical and intellectual life. In particular it is in his war-time writings that he reflects intensely on both the Sacred Heart and on Mary. In April 1916 he completed his work 'Cosmic life'. In this essay he refers to Mary as ' the pearl of the cosmos and the link with the Incarnate Absolute.. Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter' (The Prayer of the Universe, Fontana, 1973: 91) . In ‘The Mystical Milieu’ ( A MUST READ) composed in 1917 we find another wonderful description of Mary.

Seeing the mystic immobile, crucified or rapt in prayer, some may perhaps think his activity is in abeyance or has left this earth: they are mistaken. Nothing in the world is more intensely alive and active than purity and prayer, which hang like an unmoving light between the universe and God. Through their serene transparency flow the waves of creative power charged with natural virtue and with grace. What else but this is the Virgin Mary? ( In The Prayer of the Universe, Fontana, 135)

Mary is the ‘unmoving light between the universe and God’ and shows the way to the divine centre ( aka the Sacred Heart) of creation through her utter openness – her active passivity - to the energy of God’s love. It is through the example of Mary that we can be united with the fullness of God.

In October 1918 he refers to what had said on ‘Rosary Sunday’. He sees the Rosary as an ‘expansion’ and ‘explanation’ of the Ave Maria and an expression of love for Mary which in time:

.. turns into a need to know our Lady better, to ‘sympathize’ with her: in some way the heart of the Blessed Virgin becomes transparent, and in it we relive the mysteries – so that the whole of dogma becomes familiar, concrete an real, in Mary. Finally, we understand that the mysteries have their parallel and their extension in the alternations, often indeed mysterious, of our own joys and sorrows. So our whole life is Christianized, in a way, in the development within us of the Ave Maria. (MM: 247)

In the Rosary the heart of Mary becomes ‘transparent’. We can see through the mystery and experience it as ‘real’ and ‘concrete’. Through Mary we can be united with the Heart of Jesus, her son.

He prays, in December 1918 that it is his dearest wish that:

God, through our Lady, may grant us to share in her purity and to have so ardent a passion for her, that we may be able to serve, in our own small way, to regenerate the world. We must have absolute faith in the power of this divine virtue to transform souls and spread itself; and we must see to it too, that the greatest interest of our life is to feel that we are growing a little more within her, and are serving to radiate her influence. (MM: 262)

Most significantly,earlier in the March of that same year he wrote a piece on ‘The Eternal Feminine’. It evidently draws on both Goethe and Dante ‘s ideas on the ‘eternal feminine’ - and it is dedicated to Beatrix. For Teilhard ' The Eternal Feminine 'opens the door to the heart of creation'. Mary is the ‘the door' to the' heart of creation' and the 'zone of mutual attraction' lying between God and the earth'. Mary, the Virgin, is the ' mother of all human kind '. Devotion to Mary is thus, as Blessed John Paul expressed it, and as Teilhard argues, a gateway through which which we can become closer to the fire of divine love. (See The Prayer of The Universe, Fontana, 1973: 143-153)

A few years on and thousand of miles from the battle fields of the first world war, (in Tientsin, China in the late 1920s ) he writes in The Divine Milieu:

When God decided to realize His Incarnation before our eyes, He had first of all to raise up in the world a virtue capable of drawing Him as far as ourselves. He needed a mother who would engender Him in the human sphere. What did he do? He created the Virgin Mary, that is to say He called forth on earth a purity so great that, within this transparency, He would concentrate Himself to the point of becoming a little child.

His belief in evolution meant that for Teilhard, Mary is a defining point in human and cosmic history. In his ‘Introduction to the Christian life’, written in 1944 Teilhard spells this out in the clearest possible terms .

Christ born of the Virgin, and Christ risen from the dead: the two are one inseparable whole…I believe in the divinity of the Child of Bethlehem because, in so far as, and in the form in which that divinity is historically and biologically included in the reality of the universal-Christ to whom my faith and my worship are more directly attached. (in Christianity and Evolution, 159)

The relationship of Mary – and devotion to Mary - to the Sacred Heart is, therefore, not the least bit marginal for Teilhard. As the ‘eternal feminine’ Mary is a central aspect of the energy of love and God’s plan for humanity. Sion Cowell in his excellent book describes Teilhard’s sense of the eternal feminine in these terms:

As intermediary between the human and he cosmos, the feminine stimulates the cosmic energy of the masculine with whom she forms the dyad – the unity of two persons in a single whole that must be supercentred on God. The dialectics of the feminine and the masculine is an essential agent in the unitive energy of love.

Thus, when Teilhard is putting his ideas on the Sacred Heart together in 1950 in ‘ The Heart of Matter’ it is of immense significance that the conclusion is subtitled ‘ The Feminine, or the Unitive’. Reflecting on his life he observes that ‘some feminine influence’ has always been at work. As it is in the cosmos: the eternal feminine leads us on towards the ultimate unity with the heart of Christ . So, although expressed in a different language, Teilhard is putting forward the same idea as Blessed John Paul : the devotion to Mary is a doorway to the Sacred Heart. The eternal feminine leads us on and illuminates the way to the divine centre.

So, Ian in painting icons of the Rosary, you are actually working on a gateway to the Sacred Heart. Which is entirely as it should be. We could not have planned that!!

PS: A thought, just a thought. Perhaps – because of this link between the Sacred Heart and Mary (the ‘eternal feminine’) - this is why the revelation of the mystery of the Sacred Heart was first entrusted to women – Saint Margaret Mary and Saint Faustina? In just the same way that Our Lord first appeared after his resurrection to women, and not men?

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