I feel as if I have been standing by a pool-side for sometime trying to work up the courage to jump into the cold water, when suddenly someone has jumped in and soaked me! And given that I am soaking wet, I might as well take the plunge! Ian’s last blog on ‘letting the icon begin its work’ was a timely post and encourages me to jump back into what is a very large and deep pool. If you read back to the start of the blog you will find that it begins with my interest in the relationship between Christian faith and the public square, and my belief that the Sacred Heart had a critical role to play in political and policy debates. And it follows that if the Sacred Heart is a summary of our faith, then our icon must, perforce, be the window through which we look out on the public square! Ian is right to bring our attention to this point: we have to put our window to work. We have to start using it. Thus far the icon for me has been about focusing my prayer life: but of course it has to work in other ways. Prayer is also about action: prayer is about wrestling with human problems and the human condition. I had not read Fr. Mark Kirby’s piece on the Sacred Heart, but I find it quite one of the best things I have read on the Sacred Heart to date. Fr. Kirby’s point is well made: all theology is ultimately a theology of the Sacred Heart. And that includes theology which is concerned with politics and public policy.
I agree with Ian that the general tone of the response to the riots in several English cities has not been impressive and I think the reason for that is that the riots have confused and bewildered us in terms of what it tells us about our society. Yes, what stands out in all the mess and confusion is the response of the two people he mentions to the violence and brutality that resulted in death and destruction in the cause of shoes, booze, technology and doughnuts. The tragedy of recent events is the sheer banality of it all it was not about rights or liberties but grabbing what could be grabbed. However, through the clouds of all the confusion about what the riots tell us about ourselves, the reaction of the two men shone like two beams of light cutting through a thick fog. The light of father who chose to remain calm and ask others not to respond with violence to the death of his son and two other young men. The light of the student who faced the media with a smile and told of his regard for the country in which he was living and showing no bitterness or anger for what had happened to him. In Teilhard’s sense these two people were harnessing the energy of love – rather than acting as a channel of hate.
The Sacred Heart speaks powerfully to a humanity which so often rejects love and chooses hate and selfishness. When we realize the capacity human beings have to do bad and wicked things we can only seek the mercy of a God who is calling us to realize the potential we have to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. And yet what we saw is how easily human beings can do precisely the opposite. The Sacred Heart is calling us to trust in love, and reject hate. The Sacred Heart is showing us that if we are to evolve a better civilization it has to be one which, in the words of Blessed John Paul, is a civilization of love. The looters showed us in no uncertain terms what a civilization based on self-love – greed- looks like. And it is not a pretty sight.
As to the causes of the kind of events we witnessed on our streets, I think looking through the window of our icon can help us to better understand what we are seeing in the world today. In the Sacred Heart as Christ Omega we are looking at the world from the perspective of a God whose purposes and designs are being worked out through the cross of evolution. We have to understand that humanity is still evolving and in many respects what we saw in those riots was an aspect of the ongoing (painful) evolution of humanity. Let us just look at two aspects of the riots: technology and the compression of humanity.
Teilhard understood that human evolution was a story of communication. Technology, he argued in the future would increasingly mean that human beings would be ever more inter-connected and that would have huge consequences. Technology clearly played and important part in organizing the looting and rioting. Technology which would enable human beings to communicate with one another had, he believed, the potential for greater understanding and unity between human beings. But what we saw was the potential for technology to connect people in ways that would enable them to do bad and selfish things rather than seek the common good. Evolution for Teilhard is not a straight line. It is about pain and error, mistakes and failure. Human beings progress through ‘groping’ around using trial and error. Technology can be an instrument of democratic change, but also of tyranny. It can be a tool to enable human beings to do good, but also a tool which can be used for bad. We saw the bad, but we also saw the good. We saw how people used technology to form anti-social networks, but also later on, how it was used by people to form pro-social networks. Human beings have choice : they can either be open to the energy of love and solidarity or they can close themselves off from that energy. To believe in a loving God, who created all things and who is the beginning and end of all things is to believe that human evolution has a point or a purpose. To believe in a God who is love is to believe that evolution has a destination. To trust in the Sacred Heart is to trust in the slow work of God. To trust is to have faith in the future. A civilization of love can only be built in a civilization in which people trust one another and hope in the future. When human beings do not trust and do not hope a civilization of love is not possible. And so, through trial and error, we have as a society and as a planet to learn to create the conditions and institutions in which human beings can learn to trust one another.
But this challenge of building trust is ever more complex. One reason for this was again evident in the riots: the compression of humanity. England, like many other countries today is being shaped by the pressures of massive shifts and movements of the human race. London and other British cities has changed dramatically within my lifetime. The planet is experiencing unprecedented movements of peoples. Teilhard likened this to ‘compression’. This compression of humanity is clearly a critical phase in the evolution of our species: like it or not, humanity can no longer live in little self-contained islands. Like it or not, England is a multi-racial country. What I took away from the riots was a positive thing. What took place was nasty, brutish and thankfully short – but it also showed how the country was evolving. What we remember about the riots is that people came together. It was not about racial conflict, it was about people coming together. We were all inspired by the reactions of two Muslims. In some way the events showed that we were groping our way to more understanding. The riots brought out the capacity that people have to show sympathy and kindness and build trust – and yes it showed the capacities we have to love our neighbour as ourselves. To have trust in the Sacred Heart is, I think about having faith in the human capacity for love.
To trust in the Sacred Heart is to have faith in evolution not as the story of human selfishness and greed or the story of self-interest and survival of the fittest, but as the story of how human beings progress through exercising their capacities for mutual aid and reciprocal behaviour. To have trust in the Sacred Heart is to believe that God is love and the creation is an act of love which culminates in what we see in our icon. If we see the world through this window then we have the strength to trust, hope, and love. Through the smoke and fires of failure we have faith in the future above and ahead of us.