Thursday, 18 August 2011

Reading the Sacred Heart through 'Orientale Lumen'

I find that, when reflecting on this  icon of the Sacred Heart as Christ Omega,  I come back to  two important statements time after time after time:that the Sacred Heart is a 'summary of our religion' (Pius IX ) and that it is  a 'summary of the whole mystery of our redemption' (Pius XII).   As the litany of the Sacred Heart puts it: 'Cor Iesu, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae.'  The heart of Jesus as a treasury ( thesaurus) of all wisdom and knowledge.   

When we think about these and other statements on the Sacred Heart we have to ask ourselves how come the Sacred Heart is not far more central to our private devotion and public liturgy?  In simple terms it is perhaps because the standard image does a rather poor job in providing a way of entering MORE FULLY into the mystery of the revelation of the Sacred Heart.  

 Living with this icon I am getting a much better understanding of why I thought an icon would provide a better doorway or window into the Sacred Heart. In the back of my mind at the time I commissioned this icon was the letter of Blessed John Paul II in May 1995 entitled  Orientale  Lumen.  (READ HERE) In it John Paul draws our attention to the importance of  the  Catholic Church becoming more open to the light from the Eastern Christian traditions.  I was reminded of this letter  recently when reading Robert Smith's  introduction to the English translation of Fr. Michael Evdokimov's  wonderful book, Light from the East: Icons in Liturgy and Prayer.  (Paulist Press, 2004)  (HERE)  I came across it in the Hudson Memorial Library in St. Alban's Cathedral a few weeks ago and have really just started to read it and it has prompted to re- read John Paul's letter in full.   I have found the letter and Fr. Evdokimov's book very helpful and inspiring.   Having read them, I think I can advance the following argument.

 I believe that the 'orientale lumen' which Ian has brought to the Sacred Heart has done so much to illuminate the meaning and significance of the Sacred Heart to someone like me - a Catholic who thought the Sacred Heart was best left in the past.  Teilhard's great insight was that the Sacred Heart had to be CENTRAL to the Christianity of the future.  But for this to happen we had to SEE the Sacred Heart in a new way.  We had to see in the Sacred Heart a symbol of a Cosmic Christ, a UNIVERSAL Christ  at the centre of creation and who loves us with a human heart.  A Christ who wants our hearts to unite with his.   It took the light of the Eastern tradition to enable me to see this more clearly.  It took this icon ( for me at least) to be able to (AT LAST)  read this great thesaurus of our faith.   I think that is significant.  

I am no expert, so a book recommendation from me is pretty well worthless, but Evdokimov's book is a must read for anyone concerned about the direction of Christianity and the importance of more dialogue and convergence between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.  Perhaps it is through icons that this process of convergence can happen? 

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