At the start of this year I decided to devote the year to the Sacred Heart by using an icon to help me on the journey. And as we are the first week of advent I am now on my way to Bethlehem: there to give my heart and to allow Christ to be re-born in my heart. This seems a fitting end to the year. However, I would not have imagined that at his stage in the journey I would be following so many wise men and women. But then again, the Sacred Heart is, so the litany of the Sacred Heart says, the 'delight of all the Saints'! As I journey to Bethlehem I now find that I will be sharing the journey with two Carmelites as well as my other constant companions - especially Teilhard. I really do not know very much about the 'Carmelite way', but I am pleased that I am now getting to know St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Back in January I would have been surprised to learn that I would be accompanied by these two great saints, but I think they have much to tell us about the Sacred Heart. I have been reading Prof John Welch's (O.Carm) book The Carmelite Way ( Gracewing, 1996) and I think it will be an excellent 'guide book' for the journey to the stable in Bethlehem.
It is clear to me at this stage that a devotion to the Sacred Heart involves a process of 'purifying' of the heart. Like in the Welsh hymn, we pray for not wealth or riches but a 'Calon Lan': a pure heart. The gift of someone who has no gold or myrrh to give and has no lamb to offer the new born King of the universe.
As I set out I find Saint Teresa's idea of the soul as an 'interior castle' very appealing. Prof. Welch's book describes the way St. Teresa thought of the journey of a soul in terms of responding to God's call:
Where is this call coming from ? From the center of one's life. Teresa's image for the journey to and with God is the movement from periphery of a circle to its center. We begin the pilgrimage living at the periphery of our lives, locked into many dissipating centres, and gradually, through prayer, we are de-centered and drawn to another Center. The advantage of Teresa's image is that God is not in the distance to be reached by crossing rivers, passing through deserts, or climbing mountains. God is 'always already there' in the center of our existence. If anyone is absent from the relationship it is the human being who is unaware of the friendship being continually offered. (Welch, p64-5)
The journey to the Sacred Heart in Bethlehem is therefore a journey to my own heart: the more I centre my life on the Sacred Heart - the divine centre - the more I know my own center - re-centred on Christ. I think that this is what a journey to the Sacred Heart is all about: you cannot find Christ in other people if you cannot find him in yourself. The Sacred Heart is calling deep within my own heart. Looking at the icon I am seeing the circles within circles in a different way now. I need to explore what St. Teresa is saying about finding the centre or heart of our inner castle. At first thought I find it very evocative of Teilhard and of the icon. I don't know if I understand her yet, and I pray that I will find out more in the next few weeks. At at this stage, I can just ask St. Teresa to pray for all those who are preparing to offer their hearts to the child in a manger.
St Teresa, pray for us as we journey to Bethlehem.
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