Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Pope Francis : a Pope for the heart of Christ.

In the history of the Sacred Heart two traditions have been extremely important: the Franciscan and the Ignatian.   So, a Jesuit Pope called Francis,  I would think, will be someone who one might well expect
to be very focused on the spirituality of the heart.  And from his various statements thus far it appears that Pope Francis will indeed prove be a Pope who will ask us to think about our spiritual lives in terms of the heart.

As we have noted elsewhere in this blog, Franciscans  were amongst the first to focus on the heart of the Saviour.  In particular we have noted that St. Bonaventure – known as the Seraphic Doctor of the Church- was especially important in the development of the devotion.  Hence the seraph in the top left of the icon provides a window ( an icon) through which to reflect on the Franciscan tradition.   However, the icon is also informed by the Ignatian tradition which was so central to Teilhard.  Hence it was fitting that the icon was actually delivered by Ian on the feast day of St Ignatius – 31st July - which was, to say the least a remarkable coincidence!

On the matter of Ignatian spirituality and the central role of the Heart of  Christ I cannot do any better than to quote from the words of  Fr. David Fleming S.J.  The whole point he argues of the ‘Spiritual exercises’ of St. Ignatius was to promote a  ‘response of the heart’. As Fr. Fleming argues in his excellent  book What is Ignatian Spiritality?’ :

“Heart” does not mean the emotions (though it includes our emotions). It refers to our inner orientation, the core of our being. This kind of “heart” is what Jesus was referring to when he told us to store up treasures in heaven instead of on earth, “for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:21) This is the “heart” Jesus was worried about when he said “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” (Matthew 15:19) Jesus observed that our heart can get untethered from our actions: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) Heart in this sense—the totality of our response—is the concern of the Spiritual Exercises. This heart response is a cornerstone of the Spiritual Exercises. Creation is a flow of God’s gifts, with a human response being the link that allows the flow to return to God. The human response is a free choice to allow God’s creation to speak. Creation helps us to know and love God and to want to live with God forever. Early in the Exercises, Ignatius asks the retreatant to pray before Jesus Christ on the cross. He identifies Christ as creator, the God of the Principle and Foundation. “Talk to him about how he creates because he loves,” Ignatius seems to say. This is no abstract God of reason, but a loving God seen in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the Pauline Christ of Colossians and Ephesians. It is the Christ of the Prologue to John’s Gospel: the Word “in whom all things were created.”  This is the Son of God, the Alpha and Omega of John’s Apocalypse. Our spiritual journey is an attempt to answer the question, “What is life all about?” Here is Ignatius’s answer: a vision of God for our hearts, not our minds. It is a depiction of the Creator as a superabundant giver. He gives gifts that call forth a response on our part, a free choice to return ourselves to him in grateful thanks and love. It is a vision that only a heart can respond to". Read more  Here

As Fr. Fleming notes, St. Ignatius does not include any novenas, offices or devotions in his spiritual exercises.  The only exception in the Ignatian tradition is the central place of the Sacred Heart as it was promoted in the 17th century by St. Claude de la Colombiere. The core theme of Ignatian spirituality Fr. Fleming observes is, therefore,  that  ‘Jesus is all heart’.

As a Jesuit Pope Francis will naturally be  totally imbued with this tradition.  So, it is not so surprising that the theme of  the heart has been at the very heart of his words thus far!  In no particular order, for example, in his comment on what he called the ‘icon’ of the Turin Shroud, Pope Francis calls us to ‘…allow ourselves to be reached by this look, which is directed not to our eyes but to our heart.’

In his Regina Caeli address, he observes that:

everything passes through the human heart: if I allow myself to be reached by the grace of the risen Christ, if I let that grace change for the better whatever is not good in me, [to change whatever] might do harm to me and to others, then I allow the victory of Christ to affirm itself in in my life, to broaden its beneficial action. This is the power of grace! Without grace we can do nothing – without grace we can do nothing! And with the grace of Baptism and Holy Communion can become an instrument of God’s mercy – that beautiful mercy of God.

In his Urbi et Orbi message:

Most of all, I would like it to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious!

In his homily at the Chrism Mass:

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God's heart.

And in his address to religious leaders he asks them to pray for him with the words:

And I ask you for a special prayer for me so that I can be a pastor according to the heart of Christ.

Pope Francis, it is clear, will be a Pope ‘according to the heart of Christ'.

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