Monday, 28 October 2019

A journey of the heart

The last post for this blog was back in the (wonderful) summer.  Now, as the autumn is slowly moving towards winter, I have been reflecting on that great statement by Francis to the World Wide Prayer Network he made in  June .  His words have given  me much to think about :

The Heart of Christ is so great that it wishes to welcome us all into the revolution of tenderness. The closeness to the Heart of the Lord urges our hearts to approach their brother with love, and helps to enter into this compassion for the world.. It is good, on this day of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to remember the foundation of our mission. It is a mission of compassion for the world, we could say a ‘journey of the heart,’ that is, a prayerful journey that transforms people's lives.  We are called to be witnesses and messengers of God's mercy, to offer the world a perspective of light where darkness is, of hope where despair reigns, of salvation where sin abounds. To enter into prayer is to enter with my heart into the heart of Jesus, to make a way inside the heart of Jesus, what Jesus feels, the feelings of compassion of Jesus, and also to make a journey inside my heart to change my heart in this relationship with the heart of Jesus. 

Faith in Christ, is as the Pope says, is essentially a ' journey of the heart' .  It is a journey of transforming our own heart, and a journey to the heart of Jesus. In this journey of prayer we transform our relation to ourselves, to others , and to Jesus and the Holy Trinity!  The journey of the heart is, above all a 'prayerful journey'.   There is much talk nowadays about becoming an 'intentional disciple' , but as the Pope makes clear, that journey is all about prayer.  With that in mind, I think that the journey to the Sacred Heart which is deepening our prayer life.  The world wide  'network of prayer' is, it seems a great way to undertake that journey.  You can find out all about it Here.

The network is, of course, a re-configuration of the Apostleship of Prayer which was established  by the Jesuits  back in 1844!  A re-configuration was proposed in 2012  the statues of Apostleship of Prayer were revised in 2018 and it is now also known as The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network.  (PWPN)The result is that is now making use of the internet and social media to spread the Gospel message and  promote the 'new evangelisation'.

The Apostleship of Prayer is a worldwide prayer network responding to the challenges that confront humanity and the Church’s mission as expressed in the Pope’s monthly intentions. In praying with these intentions, we extend our gaze onto the whole world and enter personally into the joys and hopes, the pains and sufferings of our brothers and sisters everywhere.

The  development  of PWPN has now given me another way to read the icon.  Teilhard, of course, was the one who, more than any other person ( I know about , anyway) to provide us with a global and cosmic vision of the future of Christianity.  It seems to me that this idea of a Global Prayer Network is a powerful response to the all the bad consequences of 'globalization'.  When we join with others from all over the world we are truly helping to realize a convergence of  humanity on (what Teilhard called ) the 'heart of the world's heart'. The PWPN is  a way in which we can join in a global 'journey of the heart'! It is still an organization centred on the Heart of Jesus, but has shown how this devotion can be made more appropriate to our world today.

In this world today it is so easy to become overwhelmed by the problems we see all around us and on TV.  The PWPN offers hope. As Pope Francis has said:

"As individuals too, we have are tempted by indifference. Flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering, we often feel our complete inability to help. What can we do to avoid being caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness? First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer!"    "The prayers of the Church on earth establish a communion of mutual service and goodness which reaches up into the sight of God. Together with the saints who have found their fulfilment in God, we form part of that communion in which indifference is conquered by love. (Pope Francis, Lenten Messages 2015, No. 2 and 3)

So when we reflect on the Sacred Heart, we should see joining in global prayer our 'journey of the heart' in our world. Think local, and pray global! When we pray to the Sacred Heart  'we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven'.

So now, I try to imagine this logo as also a pathway to and from the image of the icon. The PWPN say this about their logo:

1-The logo refers to the “Contemplation of the Incarnation,” in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. “I will see the various persons, some here, some there. First, those on the face of the earth, so diverse in dress and behavior: some white and others black, some in peace and others at war, some weeping and others laughing, some healthy and others sick, some being born and others dying, and so forth” [No. 106.] God (the Trinity) contemplates the world, and in order to save humanity, by love, decides to become incarnate. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son ... that the world might be saved through him." (John 3,16-17). The decision of God calls for our own decision. Therefore the world (in the logo) represents the worldwide network of prayer and its concern for the challenges facing humanity and the mission of the Church.

Heart of Jesus
2-The heart of Jesus. In 1986 John Paul II confirmed the Society of Jesus in its mission of spreading the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus, especially in this privileged way through the Apostleship of Prayer. Those who experience this deep relationship with Jesus, nearest to his heart, desire to be with him at the service of his mission, facing the challenges of this world. Thus it represents the way of the heart which leads to availability for the mission of Jesus in daily life. 

Church mission
3-The Apostleship of Prayer is the Official Network of Prayer of the Pope who, as the Bishop of Rome—the church which presides in charity over all the churches—has a universal perspective on the world's needs. This is expressed in Gaudium et Spes, Second Vatican Council: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of our time, especially of the poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the disciples of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.” In the very center of the logo, the continent and the country represent the commitment to the local ecclesial reality.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Francis and the Heart of Jesus

The Sacred Heart of Jesus wishes to welcome all into ‘a revolution of tenderness’ through life-changing prayer, Pope Francis said Friday, while insisting that “the heart of the Church’s mission is prayer.”

“The Heart of Christ is so great that it wishes to welcome us all into the revolution of tenderness. The closeness to the Heart of the Lord urges our hearts to approach their brother with love, and helps to enter into this compassion for the world,” Pope Francis said June 28, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Francis addressed 6,000 members of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of its founding. The network aims to mobilize Catholics through prayer to address the challenges facing humanity and the mission of the Church.

“It is good, on this day of the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to remember the foundation of our mission,” Pope Francis said. “It is a mission of compassion for the world, we could say a ‘journey of the heart,’ that is, a prayerful journey that transforms people's lives.”

“We are called to be witnesses and messengers of God's mercy, to offer the world a perspective of light where darkness is, of hope where despair reigns, of salvation where sin abounds,” the pope told the prayer network in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

“To enter into prayer is to enter with my heart into the heart of Jesus, to make a way inside the heart of Jesus, what Jesus feels, the feelings of compassion of Jesus, and also to make a journey inside my heart to change my heart in this relationship with the heart of Jesus,” he explained.

Pope Francis urged the importance of teaching children to pray, and said that it pains him to see so many children who do not even know how to make the sign of the cross.

“Teach children to pray. Because they immediately reach the heart of Jesus, immediately. Jesus wants them,” he said.

The pope also stressed the importance of intercessory prayer saying that all Catholics are called to pray for “the people who stand beside us … assuming their joys and sufferings in prayer.”

“The Bible tells us that Jesus is before the Father and intercedes for us. He is our intercessor, and we must imitate Jesus. Be intercessors,” he said.

“Throughout history, the greatest men and women of God have been intercessors like Jesus,” he added.

The Apostolate of Prayer, with its worldwide network of prayer for the Pope and in communion with him, reminds us that the heart of the Church's mission is prayer,” Pope Francis said, repeating, “The heart of the Church's mission is prayer.”

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Sacred Heart and the Tabernacle and Temple.

Pope Francis ’s reference to the Almond tree on the Feast of the Sacred Heart has prompted a fascinating new exploration of the  meaning of the Sacred Heart and of the icon itself.

Elsewhere on this blog we have referenced the importance of the heart in Salesian spirituality and Francis's reference made be think of chapter 23 of St Francis Sales’s , Introduction to the devout life, where we find an interesting  reference to the almond:

It has been said that if one writes a word on an almond, and then replace it carefully in its husk, and sow it, all the fruit borne by that tree will be marked by the word so inscribed. For my own part, I never could approve of beginning to reform any one by merely external things,—dress, the arrangement of hair, and outward show. On the contrary, it seems to me that one should begin from within. “Turn ye to Me with all your heart;” “My son, give Me thine heart; ” for as the heart is the fount whence all our actions spring, they will be according to what it is. And the Heavenly Bridegroom, calling the soul, says, “Set Me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm.” Yes verily, for whosoever has Jesus Christ in his heart will soon show it in all his external actions. Therefore, my daughter, above all things I would write that precious and Holy Name JESUS in your heart, certain that having done so, your life—like the almond tree in the fable—will bear the stamp of that Saving Name in every act; and if the Dear Lord dwells within your heart, He will live in your every action, and will be traced in every member and part of you, so that you will be able to say with S. Paul, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” In a word, whosoever gains the heart has won the whole man.

The almond has an remarkable history as a religious symbol.  Pope Francis in his reflections on the feast of the Sacred Heart  is inviting us to consider the richness of this symbol in the context of understanding the mystery of God’s love for us.

In the Litany of the Sacred Heart we say that it is ‘the holy temple of God’ and the ‘ tabernacle of the most high’.   So as we contemplate an image of the Sacred Heart we might think about the way in which the humble almond tree is given such a special place in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.  In the Book of Exodus we read:

31 Make a lamp stand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. 32Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lamp stand—three on one side and three on the other. 33Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lamp stand. 34 And on the lamp stand are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. 35 One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lamp stand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. 36The buds and branches shall be all of one piece with the lamp stand, hammered out of pure gold.

The Menorah is one of the oldest, and most revered symbols of Judaism.  So, as we contemplate the image of the Sacred Heart, we might reflect on the meaning that it is the temple and tabernacle of God.  Jesus, like the menorah is the light of the world, and the tree of life. Just as the menorah was the only source of light in the Tabernacle, The flowering of Aaron’s rod with almond flowers (Numbers, 17), prefigures the resurrection from the dead of Jesus and the new life he brings.   Aaron’s staff, of course was placed in front of  the Ark of Testimony, and later on placed inside  the Ark housed in the Tabernacle.

If you visit your local synagogue, then you will find a menorah next to the Ark, when the Torah is stored and displayed. As I understand it, it is there to signify the great power and wisdom of God's holy word. And, of course, it is there because it is such an important symbol of the the Jewish faith, tradition and history.

Why was the little old almond singled out for such a very special place on such a special symbol?  Pope Francis refers to the tradition that the almond tree was the first to bloom after the winter.  God is always first, just waiting and watching for us.  And this sense of it being a symbol of watching for us and over us, and of God who loves us and is ever waiting and watching for us enriches our understanding of the Heart of Jesus. In Hebrew the  name for almond tree is shâqêd. Shâqad also means to be watchful and on the lookout .  So the almond tree reminds us that God is ever watchful,  and so much we be always mindful of the covenant - old and new.   In Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1: 11 – 12) the Lord asks Jeremiah, what does he see?  And Jeremiah’s response is, “I see the branch of an almond tree.” God replies well,  “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”  In Job we read that  God  is a “watcher of men.”  ( Job 7:20).

The moment we focus on the menorah - decorated with that almond motif - and think about the heart of Jesus as the Temple  of God and the Tabernacle of the most high, then the profound mystery of the Sacred Heart comes into a clear perspective.

 As we contemplate an image of the Sacred Heart we should always remember the words of St John’s Gospel (John, 19-31-5) .  He sees a direct and vivid parallel between the pierced heart of Jesus and the blood and water that flowed from the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Passover.   At the time of Jesus the flow of  the  blood of many thousands of lambs washed down  from the Temple Mount to the brook in the Kidron valley would have been a familiar sight.  John asks us to look  Jesus as the Temple of the living God. His heart is the altar from which flowed blood and water.  When we look at the heart of the saviour we should see the Temple Mount, and the blood and water flowing down into the Kidron Valley, and  on the other side of which  is the Mount of Olives where he taught and from where he ascended to heaven, and Garden of Gethsemane where he spent the night with his apostles.

Now, thanks to Francis’s reference to almond flower, when I look at the Sacred Heart I also see the Temple and the Tabernacle, and the light of the menorah  signifying the presence of God.   Brant Pitrie puts it so well in his  great book The Case for Jesus:

Once you ‘ve got this first century Jewish context in mind, all of a sudden John’s emphasis on the blood and water flowing out of the side of Jesus makes sense. …He is not just the messianic son of God; he is the true Temple.   In other words, Jesus is the dwelling place of God on earth.  Given this  first century context, the piercing of Jesus’s side after his death reveals that he was the presence of God on earth…. And if Jesus is the true temple of God - the living presence of God on earth - then that means  that his death on the cross was  not just now more bloody execution.  If  his body is the true Temple of God, the true place of sacrifice, then the true altar from which the blood and water flow is his heart.   That is what makes the crucifixion redemptive.  ( Pitrie The Case for Jesus, pp 171-2) 

You can hear Dr Pitre explain all this here.

Perhaps,  I'm thinking, next to an icon of the Sacred Heart we should also place a menorah to light and remind us of  the heart of Jesus as the Holy Temple of God, and the Tabernacle of the Most High?  And in so doing enter more fully into the mystery of the pierced heart of Jesus and the Eucharist. I have to look out for one with plenty of almonds! 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Feast of the Sacred Heart, 2018

Today is always a special day.  Pope Francis reflecting on the meaning of the feast of the Sacred Heart during his Santa Marta mass reminds us of how it is really a feast which calls us to celebrate God's love. As reported by Vatican Radio, Francis tells us  that:

“It is not us who first loved God,” it's the other way around: “it is He who loved us first” he said.

The Pope said the prophets used the symbol of the almond blossom to explain this reality highlighting the fact that the almond blossom is the first to bloom in spring.

“God is like that: he is always first. He's the first to wait for us, the first to love us, the first to help us” he said.

 Francis continued, it is not easy to understand God's love as is narrated in the passage from today liturgical reading in which the Apostle Paul speaks  of“ preaching to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ.” “It is a love that cannot be understood. A love that surpasses all knowledge. It surpasses everything. The love of God is so great; a poet described it as a “bottomless sea without shores…” This is the love that we must try to understand, the love that we receive” he said.
The Pope said that throughout the history of salvation the Lord has revealed his love to us: “He has been a great teacher.” Recalling the words of the prophet Hosea, he explained that God did not reveal his love through power but “by loving His people, teaching them to walk, taking them in His arms, caring for them”.
“How does God manifest his love? With great works? No: He makes himself smaller and smaller with gestures of tenderness and goodness. He approaches His children and with his closeness He makes us understand the greatness of love” he said. Finally, Pope Francis said, God sent us His Son. “He sent Him in the flesh” and the Son “humbled himself until death”. This, he said, is the mystery of God's love: the greatest greatness expressed in the smallest smallness. This, he said, allows us to understand Christianity.

Reflecting on what Jesus teaches us about what kind of attitude a Christian should have, he said it is all about “carrying on God’s own work in your own small way”:  that is feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, visiting the sick and the prisoner. Works of mercy, he said, pave the path of love that Jesus teaches us in continuity with God’s great love for us! Not words about love, but concrete gestures. Pope Francis concluded saying we do not need great discourse on love, but men and women “who know how to do these little things for Jesus, for the Father .' “Our works of mercy, he said, are the continuity of this love.”

The image that has captured my imagination is the blooming almond tree.   It is not an image we tend associate with the Sacred Heart, and yet as we reflect on it, that symbol of the almond is very powerful and suggestive. Francis has given us much to think about by referencing the almond tree! I shall spend the next few days thinking about it!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Curry and Teilhard

Well, there are plenty of things I thought I would never see.  Pigs flying, or  a politician admitting he /she got things wrong. I am not a Daily Mail reader, but I had a bit of a shock when I read a piece on Teilhard in the said paper this morning.  The coverage of Archbishop Michael Curry's  sermon at the wedding of the year has led to the most remarkable reaction as to 'who is this Jesuit priest'?   Curry quoted, of course, one of the most famous passages from Teilhard, and used it to good effect.  Read the full text, here.  The section on Teilhard had this to say:

'French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century, a Jesuit Roman Catholic priest. A scientist, a scholar, a mystic. In some of his writings he said from his scientific background as well as his theological one, in some of his writings he said, as others have, that the discovery or invention or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history. Fire to a great extent made all of human civilization possible. Fire made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating, which reduced the spread of disease in its time. Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates. Fire made it possible, there was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire. The advance of science and technology are greatly dependent on the ability to take fire and use it for human good.
Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your head if you did -- I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, fire, the controlled, harnessed fire made that possible. I know that the Bible says, and I believe it, that Jesus walked on water. But I have to tell you that I didn't walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible.
And de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harness the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.'

Amen, Bishop, Amen.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Sacred Heart of 2017- the shrine in Guernsey

As the year comes to an end  I have reflected on what image of the Sacred Heart has had the most impact on me over the past year.  And without doubt it was an image or rather a space I found whilst in Guernsey in the summer: Le Galloudec Shrine.   By chance we came across a chapel which had been constructed in what had been a German second world war defence building by a man who was determined to transform it from a symbol of hate into a symbol of love.

The Le Galloudec Shrine is located at Fort Hommet at Vazon in what had been a military bunker during the German Occupation of the Island in the Second World War.  A local man, Hubert Le Galloudec, began his remarkable work in work in the 1950s creating a chapel devoted to the Sacred Heart out of  local sea shells.  Sadly it was badly vandalised and was closed in 1971, but  Friends of the Le Galloudec Shrine restored it and opened it to the public in the summer of 2008. Read a BBC report about it HERE.

Of course, the trouble with the reports that are around is that they really don't get it at all!  They describe it as essentially a shrine decorated by Biblical themes, images and symbols. Well it is.  But when you study it in more detail it is apparent that either by accident or design - and I think the latter- old Hubert was making a far more profound statement about the Sacred Heart.  The Shrine is placing the devotion into its Biblical and theological context.  To me it is a simple but eloquent statement of the theology which was expressed by  Pope Pius XI  in Miserentissimum Redemptor in 1928 when he famously said that the Sacred Heart was: " ... a summary of all our religion and, moreover, a guide to a more perfect life contained in this one devotion?".  Furthermore, Le Galloudec seems to addressing the very themes we find in Pope Pius XII's  encyclical Haurietas Aquas published in 1956!   It is not a great work of art, but it is a great example of someone who had the vision and courage to proclaim the relevance of the Sacred Heart to building a civilization of love from the ruins of one which was built on hate and evil.  It is an inspiration for us today as we look out on our world torn apart by the very same forces that built those ugly bunkers.

Hubert Le Galloudec built a shrine.  What can we build? 

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The icon painters of Bethlehem

It was wonderful to hear about the progress of the Icon school in Bethlehem through a Christmas broadcast on the BBC.  Hear it here.
If you want to understand what an icon is all about, you could do no better than listen to the interviews with Ian and his students.