After a long absence, today draws me back to reflect on the icon and Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Bridgend, South Wales. First built in the middle of the 19th Century, the present building was completed in 1998. It was an appropriate church to celebrate the feast as the design of the building was inspired by the symbolism of the Pelican - a truly ancient Christian symbol of Christ. The guide to the Church tells us that the 'interior shape and design of the building , especially its support beams, convey the sense of being within the heart of Christ'. The Tabernacle has splendid Pelican on the top and is engraved with an image of the Pelican feeding its young. Outside the church visitors are greeted by a large statue of the Sacred Heart, and there is, of course, one inside. The symbol of the Pelican has long since fallen out of popular favour - not least because we know that the Pelican does not feed its chicks with its own blood when no other food could be had. But for centuries the symbol of the Pelican as a a symbol of self-sacrificing love was widespread. St Thomas, of course in Adoro te devote says, for example:
Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
And as I sat in this lovely church I reflected on the profound truths which this ancient symbol expresses and marvelled at the wisdom of the parish in commissioning such a design in the 1990s! However, I was less clear about the relationship between the readings at mass and the Sacred Heart. However, it all became clearer when I read the text of Pope Francis's homily today. Read here. So during the day the Pelican and Francis's words have made me think about the meaning of the feast! I'm still thinking.
The Pelican image is clearly one which has great affinity to that of the Sacred Heart, and the Blessed Sacrament. This is apparent in so much imagery which links the Sacred Heart, the eucharist and the Pelican, and the church in Bridgend does this on an architectural scale, as a simple holy picture does it in a small and intimate way. Perhaps we have lost this 'pelican' sense of the Sacred Heart as a symbol of God's totally self-sacrificing love. To enter St Mary's is to be reminded of it in a wonderful way. So, it was a perfect place to celebrate the feast. But, the readings at mass did not seem to connect with this, but having read Pope Francis's homily, the connections started to happen.
..the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus invites us all to turn to the heart, the deepest root and foundation of every person, the focus of our affective life and, in a word, his or her very core....
The Heart of the Good Shepherd is not only the Heart that shows us mercy, but is itself mercy. There the Father’s love shines forth; there I know I am welcomed and understood as I am; there, with all my sins and limitations, I know the certainty that I am chosen and loved. Contemplating that heart, .. The Heart of the Good Shepherd tells us that his love is limitless; it is never exhausted and it never gives up. There we see his infinite and boundless self-giving; there we find the source of that faithful and meek love which sets free and makes others free; there we constantly discover anew that Jesus loves us “even to the end” (Jn 13:1), without ever being imposing....Contemplating the Heart of Christ, we are faced with the fundamental question of our priestly life: Where is my heart directed? Our ministry is often full of plans, projects and activities: from catechesis to liturgy, to works of charity, to pastoral and administrative commitments. Amid all these, we must still ask ourselves: What is my heart set on, where is it directed, what is the treasure that it seeks? For as Jesus says: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).
Turning to the readings at mass, the Pope taught that:
To help our hearts burn with the charity of Jesus the Good Shepherd, we can train ourselves to do three things suggested to us by today’s readings: seek out, include and rejoice.
Seek out. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God himself goes out in search of his sheep (Ez 34:11, 16). As the Gospel says, he “goes out in search of the one who is lost” (Lk 15:4), without fear of the risks. Without delaying, he leaves the pasture and his regular workday. He does not put off the search. He does not think: “I have done enough for today; I’ll worry about it tomorrow”. Instead, he immediately sets to it; his heart is anxious until he finds that one lost sheep. Having found it, he forgets his weariness and puts the sheep on his shoulders, fully content.
Such is a heart that seeks out – a heart that does not set aside times and spaces as private, a heart that is not jealous of its legitimate quiet time and never demands that it be left alone. A shepherd after the heart of God does not protect his own comfort zone; he is not worried about protecting his good name, but rather, without fearing criticism, he is disposed to take risks in seeking to imitate his Lord.
A shepherd after the heart of God has a heart sufficiently free to set aside his own concerns. He does not live by calculating his gains or how long he has worked: he is not an accountant of the Spirit, but a Good Samaritan who seeks out those in need. .... Like every good Christian, and as an example for every Christian, he constantly goes out of himself. The epicentre of his heart is outside of himself. He is not drawn by his own “I”, but by the “Thou” of God and by the “we” of other men and women.
Include. Christ loves and knows his sheep. He gives his life for them, and no one is a stranger to him (cf. Jn 10:11-14). His flock is his family and his life. He is not a boss to feared by his flock, but a shepherd who walks alongside them and calls them by name (cf. Jn 10:3-4). He wants to gather the sheep that are not yet of his fold (cf. Jn 10:16).
So it is also with the priest of Christ. He is anointed for his people, not to choose his own projects but to be close to the real men and women whom God has entrusted to him. No one is excluded from his heart, his prayers or his smile. With a father’s loving gaze and heart, he welcomes and includes everyone, and if at times he has to correct, it is to draw people closer. He stands apart from no one, but is always ready to dirty his hands. As a minister of the communion that he celebrates and lives, he does not await greetings and compliments from others, but is the first to reach out, rejecting gossip, judgements and malice. He listens patiently to the problems of his people and accompanies them, sowing God’s forgiveness with generous compassion. He does not scold those who wander off or lose their way, but is always ready to bring them back and to resolve difficulties and disagreements.
Rejoice. God is “full of joy” (cf. Lk 15:5). His joy is born of forgiveness, of life risen and renewed, of prodigal children who breathe once more the sweet air of home. The joy of Jesus the Good Shepherd is not a joy for himself alone, but a joy for others and with others, the true joy of love. This is also the joy of the priest. He is changed by the mercy that he freely gives. In prayer he discovers God’s consolation and realizes that nothing is more powerful than his love. He thus experiences inner peace, and is happy to be a channel of mercy, to bring men and women closer to the Heart of God. Sadness for him is not the norm, but only a step along the way; harshness is foreign to him, because he is a shepherd after the meek Heart of God.
Dear priests, in the Eucharistic celebration we rediscover each day our identity as shepherds. In every Mass, may we truly make our own the words of Christ: “This is my body, which is given up for you.” This is the meaning of our life; with these words, in a real way we can daily renew the promises we made at our priestly ordination. I thank all of you for saying “yes” to giving your life in union with Jesus: for in this is found the pure source of our joy.
For me a few lines stand out and helped me to reflect on the feast of the Sacred Heart and the icon: the first is that the Sacred Heart is a symbol of "The epicentre of [our] heart [has to be ] outside of [ourselves]. We must be drawn by not by our selves , but by 'the “Thou” of God and by the “we” of other men and women.' The second is that we ought to focus more on the line 'This is my body given up for you.' St Thomas refers to Christ as a Pelican, and it is this image which powerfully expresses the idea that to share the body and blood of Christ is to give up our hearts to God and to other people.
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