Thursday, 9 April 2015

Remembering Teilhard: the 60th anniversary of his death

At Easter time we remember that it was Teilhard's dearest wish to die during the Easter season: and his wish was granted, as sixty years ago today, on Easter Sunday 1955 , Teilhard died in New York.  At mass today I (like many I am sure) prayed for his soul. And sixty years on he remains a controversial figure: distrusted by some and held in great love and esteem by others.  And me? Well, I suppose that all I can say, like the man whose sight was restored: ' all I know is: I was blind and now I can see!' The blog began as an attempt to try and make sense of the Sacred Heart.  I did not get it, and I think largely because of Teilhard, now I do. And, in the process I have not found myself wandering off into some strange wacky new-age Christianity.  Quite the opposite: I would say that the more I have allowed Teillhard writings to guide me, the more do I appreciate and value the traditional or orthodox teachings on the heart of Jesus! And that, it seems to me, is significant.  Thus reading Teilhard on the heart of Jesus  - as Christ Omega and the heart and centre of the universe - has not led me to reject the traditional devotion which was so dear to Teilhard's mother.  Teilhard believed that the Sacred Heart was a living symbol of  Divine love which was vital to the future of the Church: he did not reject his mother's devotion, he wanted to expand and enlarge it.  We must never forget that Teilhard's whole system of thought was rooted in and centred on the Sacred Heart.  As we remember Teilhard today in our prayers  we should also pray that Catholics rediscover the Sacred Heart !

Looking back, I recall that the starting point for the blog was Teilhard's short story in the style of R.H. Benson (an author cited by Pope Francis a while ago!)  in which he describes an experience of praying with a picture of the Sacred Heart. Perhaps it was the one by Pinter (above) that he carried with him.  Robert Faircy S.J. recounts that Teilhard had told Jeanne Mortier that 'The picture' was an account of his own personal mystical experience - and I find that entirely plausible.  From this time on (1916)when he wrote 'The Picture' it is apparent that the Sacred Heart had indeed become the foundation of all his subsequent work. (Read Faircy here on this point.)  If we want to understand why the Sacred Heart was so absolutely central to Teilhard, we must always return to 'The Picture'. Read here - chapter 2.)

Today I have been reading and re-reading 'The Picture'  and reflecting on my own journey thus far. The piece was written , with two others, 'The Monstrance' and 'The Pyx' just before a battle at Nant-le-Grand the October of 1916. Reading the first story in the context of the other two I am reminded how it is really all here in these mystical stories.  All that comes after is in so many ways just an exploration of the thoughts and feelings contained in these brief stories.  Above all, we see how central  Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist is to his whole life and his life's work. 'Christ in the World of Matter' provides us with an insight into how, by this time,  the universe 'in all its power and multiplicity, came to assume [for him] the lineaments of the face of Christ'.   Teilhard makes it clear that his intellectual development as a priest -scientist was grounded in a mystical experience: the foundations of his geology were laid down in the metamorphosis of the Great War in which he came to a profound understanding of the meaning of the Sacred Heart and the mystery of the Eucharist.  In 'The Picture' he recounts an experience of seeing an image of the Sacred heart 'melt' : like a the process of forming an igneous rock.  And then, it begins to undergo a metamorphic process of transforming into a new form. I allowed my gaze to wander over the figure’s outlines I suddenly became aware that these were melting away: they were dissolving, but in a special manner, hard to describe in words. When I tried to hold in my gaze the outline of the figure of Christ it seemed to me to be clearly defined but then, if I let this effort relax, at once these contours, and the folds of Christ’s garment, the lustre of his hair
and the bloom of his flesh, all seemed to merge as it were (though without vanishing away) into the rest of the picture. It was as though the planes which marked off the figure of Christ from the world surrounding it were melting into a single vibrant surface whereon all demarcations vanished.

The Sacred Heart was no longer just the familiar image: for Teilhard, it had become the centre of all creation. There was a heart at the centre of the universe: a heart which was filling all and uniting all things.

I perceived that the vibrant atmosphere which surrounded Christ like an aureole was no longer confined to a narrow space about him, but radiated outwards to infinity. Through this there passed from time to time what seemed like trails of phosphorescence, indicating a continuous gushing-forth to the outermost spheres of the realm of matter and delineating a sort of blood stream or nervous system running through the totality of life.

Then, in the stories  concerning adoration of the Blessed Sacrament , 'The Monstrance' , and the experience of carrying the Eucharist in battle, 'The Pyx' , Teilhard shows that the Sacred Heart is to be found  and adored in the Eucharist.  These themes are to be  echoed and explored and refined in the decades to come, but they are never so purely expressed as in his ' Christ in the World of Matter'.  When we once begin to look at an image of the Sacred Heart with the intensity of Teilhard, we soon begin to understand that the whole of Teilhard's writings are about the Sacred Heart!  His whole life was centered on the Sacred Heart.  His message today is simple: centre your life on the heart of Christ. Place all your trust in the love of Christ. 

As we reflect on his life and pray for his immortal soul we recall the great prayer in his 'Mass on the World', composed a few years later (1923) :

Tu autem, Domine mi, include me in imis visceribus Cordis tui. Atque ibi me detine, excoque, expurga, accende, ignifac, sublima, ad purissimum Cordis tui gustum atqueplacitum, ad puram annihilationem meam.

‘And thou, my Lord, enfold me in the depths of thy Heart. And there keep me,
refine, purge, kindle, set on fire, raise aloft, according to the most pure desire of thy
Heart, and for my Cleansing extinction.’

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