Friday, 15 June 2012

Feast of the Sacred Heart

Reading David Richo's book has been an excellent way to prepare to celebrate the solemnity of  the Sacred Heart.  He shows how the heart is such a powerful archetype which needs to be re-discovered for our present century - despite the fact that it is so overshadowed by some of the excesses of the popular devotion of the past.  That said, the mass today was well-attended and one could not fail to be aware of how the devotion is still burning like an ember in the church.  It is as if it needs a great wind to fan it back into glowing, and vibrant life.  I was especially moved as we sang 'To Jesus', heart all burning' - words by Aloys Schlör  (1885-52) which has long been popular in its English translation.  (Listen HERE ) This hymn evoked deep memories of childhood for me, but  it also fired up  my belief that this devotion is not just a matter for spiritual nostalgia.  The people at mass were not engaging in just  sentimental nostalgia: their devotion was manifestly  alive and active.  Reflecting on this I turned to something which Blessed  John Paul said about the relevance of the Sacred Heart for us in the present century.  Speaking of the feast in 1994 in a general audience he argued:

It is important for the faithful to have deep sensitivity to the message it gives: in Christ's Heart the love of God has reached out to all humanity.  In our day this message has an extraordinary timeliness.  Contemporary men and women, in fact, are often confused, divided, as if lacking an inner principle to create unity and harmony in their being and acting.  Unfortunately rather widespread behavioural patterns intensify their rational and technological dimension, or on the contrary, the instinctual aspect. even though the core of the person is neither pure reason nor pure instinct.  A person's centre is what the Bible calls 'heart'.  At the end of the twentieth century, the long-dominant unbelief of the Enlightenment school now seems obsolete.  People feel an intense nostalgia for God, but they have lost their way to the inner sanctuary where his presence dwells:  that sanctuary is precisely the heart, where freedom and intellect encounter the love of the Father who is in heaven.  The Heart of Christ is the universal seat of communion with God the  Father; it is the seat of the Holy Spirit.  To know God, one must know Jesus and live in harmony with his Heart by loving God and neighbour as he does.......Today, devotion to Jesus's Heart offers an authentic and harmonious fullness, in the perspective of a hope that does not disappoint, to a one-dimensional humanity or to one even tempted to give in to forms of a certainly practical, if not theoretical nihilism.  About a century ago, a well-known thinker announced the 'death of God'.  Well, an unending spring of life, giving hope to every person, has streamed precisely from the Heart of God's Son, who died on the cross.  From the Heart of Christ crucified is born the new humanity redeemed from sin.  The man of the year 2000  needs Christ's Heart to know God and to know himself: he needs it to build the civilization of love.
( in C.J. Moell, (ed)  Pope John Paul:  Holy Father, Sacred Heart, Crossroads, New York.2004: pp187-8)

As we sang 'To Jesus, heart all burning' to celebrate this great feast  I think that we all felt that John Paul's message - that 21st century men and women need the Sacred Heart to know God and to know themselves - is one which has a profound relevance for our times.

 I believe that this is also is the message of David's book and is precisely what Teilhard was saying:  the Sacred Heart is not just a sentimental devotion of which belongs in the past. We urgently need it today so as to know God and know ourselves.  We need this powerful archetypal symbol to enable us to  evolve  spiritually as individuals and a species.  We need it to build a civilisation of love.   That is the message this very important feast. The Sacred Heart is the ultimate response to the despair and nihilism expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche and his ilk: it is the answer to the malaise which infects post-modern societies.

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