Friday, 27 May 2011

My prayer for today

The purpose of religious and liturgical art is, it occurs to me, to enable us to ‘raise our minds and hearts to God’. It should nourish our prayer. This must be the ultimate test of an icon: does it enrich our prayer life?

Today I went to mass – I try to go every Friday – and so many thoughts and feelings crowded in on me as I switched off my ‘phone and went into Church. I felt all mixed up and confused, but as I knelt down the sound of the Rosary being said before mass had a wonderful effect of ordering my thoughts and feelings. At first my mind was full of many thoughts – including and especially those images of Dante’s vision of the Trinity – and the Hail Marys seemed to have a kind of magnetic effect and all my confused thoughts and emotions started to point in the same direction : just like so many iron filings. Dante and Teilhard just fused and one thing became clear to me: that if we are to experience God’s love we do indeed have to go through Mary. And the sense of that also became clear. The journey to the sacred centre – or heart – of creation can only really begin when we become or leastways aspire to become like Mary. That is, when we are – or try to become - completely and wholly open to God’s love. And then the icon of Mary pointing the way – ‘Hodegetria’ - made sense in way it had never done so before. Dante and Teilhard are both saying ‘through Mary to the sacred heart of creation’. ‘The Eternal Feminine leads us on.’ I thought that, but I also felt it.

As I took communion, a prayer emerged which somehow captured what I was thinking and feeling. I cannot express it fully, but it was something like:

Sacred Heart of Jesus come into my heart, come into the very centre of my being. Let your fire burn away all the diseases of my soul, mind and body. Help me to become more open to the divine energy that fills all creation. Help me to become less centred on myself. Become my centre. Live in and light up my heart.

Well, something like that.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Teilhard and the Divine Comedy

ABOVE: some illustrations of God, based on Dante's Divine Comedy
Top, Giovanni di Paolo, 1450; Middle. Gustav Dore, 1870; Bottom, John Flaxman, 1793 ( Click on them to see more clearly) Notice the face of Christ in the di Paolo and the outline of a man in the Flaxman.

I spent many happy hours reading The Divine Comedy as an undergraduate as part of my studies in Medieval political and economic thought. So, I know that just to say a few words about one of the greatest books ever written is rather silly. But, I believe that Dante can help to enhance our understanding of Teilhard’s approach to the Sacred Heart – and which in turn can contribute to thinking about our icon. I do this in the spirit which Teilhard invites in his letter to his cousin back in 1917: that is, to see Dante from his ‘point of view’. ( And vice versa!)

Taken together The New Life and the Divine Comedy explore the theme of ‘Love’ and take us on a journey to the very source of love, God. His journey begins in The New Life with his love for Beatrice ( who was a real woman) and ends with Beatrice leading Dante into the presence of God – who is love. The death ( at the age of 24) of Beatrice (Bice de Folco Portinari) led Dante into an intense period of reflection and writing. The New Life charts a love which begins as a story of courtly love and ends with divine love. It is a story which captivated Teilhard as it has countless others. We know that he saw in Dante’s chaste love of Beatrice an archetype of the relationship which he was to have with several women in his own life, but the parallel’s with Dante go much further than this. Of course, it is plain daft to think that we can say Teilhard was influenced by Dante in a direct way, but it is reasonable to argue that we can use Dante to illuminate Teilhard’s own life and work. Indeed, he invites this by suggesting that we should look at Dante from his point of view.

Looking at The New Life from Teilhard’s point of view, the first sonnet must have really grabbed his attention. Here is a man who is devoted to the Sacred Heart, and for whom it will assume an increasing centrality in his intellectual and spiritual life. Dante’s flaming heart dream was a moment of profound revelation to him. He tells us that he reflected on it, and that he talked to ‘many famous poets’ about it. The poetry – the whole book - is his attempt at analysing what the heart dream could mean. Indeed, he recounts that the vision made him quite ill and his friends were concerned about his state of health. So, the dream was, as we would say, a life changing event. Teilhard read this as someone for whom a ‘heart’ experience was also a life changing event. He recounts in ‘The Heart of Matter ‘that the moment he grasped the meaning of the Sacred Heart was an ‘astounding’ and a defining episode in his life. The parallels are exact and could not have been missed by Teilhard. From then on I am sure he felt that he had much in common with Dante’s journey.

We know that he read the Divine Comedy during the first world war . So, what might he made of it - from his point of view? The first thing to say is that - as far as I am aware - he does not actually acknowledge any particular debt to Dante – apart from the Beatrice reference. In such matters we can only defer to one of the greatest experts on Teilhard ,Sion Cowell, who notes that he was ‘greatly influenced’ by Dante: ‘Teilhard read or, more correctly, re-read La Divina Commedia in its French translation in 1917-1918. We can easily picture him resonating with Dante in repeating again and again the closing line of Paradiso: "The love that moves the sun and the other stars’. The close parallels between the Dante and Teilhard was - as Cowell notes –made by the distinguished Dante scholar Barbara Reynolds in her translation of Dantes’s Paradise, published in 1962. This was not the edition I used as an undegraduate, but it was popular at the time – pity that I never used that edition as it would have really helped me to make more sense of Teilhard! Having now read her introduction I am quite amazed at how she pinned down the close parallels between the Divine Comedy and The Phenomenon of Man. This had only just been published in English a few years before (in 1959), so Reynolds is reflecting the extent to which Teilhard’s writings were making a big splash in the 1960s. Reynolds is unequivocal about how Dante would have regarded Teilhard, he would, she says, ’ shine forth among the double circle of lights which are the souls of those who sought to reconcile the truth of man with that of God’. She draws attention to a number of important parallels, but for the purpose of this blog what is fascinating is that she sees Dante’s vision of God as very Teilhardian indeed. At the close of the Divine Comedy Dante sees Christ Omega! And from Teilhard’s point of view that is nothing less than the Sacred Heart: it is ‘ The love that moves the sun and the other stars’. I also have to hand the most recent edition of her translation, and she points out that her (2004) introduction has cut out the four and a half pages devoted to Teilhard and Dante because interest in Teilhard has now ‘diminished’ but that she does not ‘recant’ what she said back in 1963 and she refers us to an article on her views on Teilhard. My own view, for what it is worth, is that there are ( as Reynolds shows) rather too many coincidences between Dante and Teilhard for us to dismiss the idea that he was profoundly influenced by Dante. But that must wait for another blog! But as illustrators have shown, Dante's vision of God is of a Trinity, represented by three circles, in the middle which is Christ. The omega point.

I know nothing about sacred geometry here - but I like the three circles representing the Trinity and the image of Christ in the centre of the centres... Something to think about!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

And back to Batoni!

Circles within circles is a key idea in Dante, as in Teilhard - and it seems also to hold good on this journey to the Sacred Heart. As I mused over the friendship with my old school mate Gabriele I remembered that we walked around the galleries at the National Museum in Cardiff as kids - and he knew about all the Italian artists in the galleries. He most probably told me how to say Batoni in an Italian way ! As I thought about that something clicked: in the picture painted by Batoni one of the figures is actually pointing to a copy of , yes you got it, The Divine Comedy. Possibly Gabriele may have drawn my attention to that - who knows! And then it occurred to me that the Batoni image which shows Jesus holding his flaming heart is, to say the least, Dantesque! It cannot be doubted that Batoni would have known the New Life. So, was the most famous image of the Sacred Heart actually inspired in some way by what we read in Dante? It is not so improbable, indeed it is very likely that this famous piece of Italian poetry would have shaped his ideas?

Jesus is saying in the Batoni painting : 'Vide Cor Meum'. Our response has to be - as in The New life- 'Vide Cor Tuuam!' As in Dante, we are being asked to consume a heart on fire for love of us - in the Eucharist. Only then,when we have eaten his body and drunk his blood can we - like Beatrice - rise up to a new life, in Christ.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

‘Vide cor tuum’: Dante and Teilhard

Not for the first time I find that focusing on the Sacred Heart has served to draw together and integrate thoughts and feelings as well as my present and past. The latest ‘turn up for the book’ is the connection between Teilhard and Dante and how this in turn connects with the Sacred Heart. But as the Sacred Heart is (as Benedict points out) at the very centre of Christianity, it is not so surprising that this should happen. I have been reading Dante and Teilhard since my teens, but have never really connected them or thought about them in the same kind of box. However, when we read them in parallel they serve to illuminate each other in ways that have implications for thinking about an icon of the Sacred Heart.

In June 1917 Teilhard writes to his cousin noting the publication of a new edition of Dante’s Vita Nuova – The New Life . He then notes something which has been addressed in a previous blog.

One of the most interesting mystics to study from my point of view would, in fact, be Dante, so possessed by and passionately interested in the real. ..there are few better examples than Beatrice to make one understand what is meant by the scaling up (to the level of the universe ) of the feeling nourished by a particular object ( and the object itself. - …I’m tending to give still more prominence to the realism by which mysticism lives, and also to distinguish more sharply the alternating movement that carries the soul towards (and in turn drives it away from) the divine centre, homogenous and essential, through the particular determined forms of the real that we have to know and love and bring into being. (Making of a Mind, 195)

What is apparent from his writings at this time is that Dante was at the forefront of his mind. ( As was the Sacred Heart, as he had written to his cousin about the devotion a few months before his letter on Dante.) The most obvious statement of this concern is his essay on the Eternal Feminine. In this piece, as we have noted in a previous blog, he indentifies the Virgin as a Beatrice, pointing the way to the ‘divine centre’. And also has been widely acknowledged he saw his cousin Marguerite and the other women in his life as playing the Beatrice to his Dante. But it has occurred to me that the Dante-Teilhard link is rather more than just the ‘Eternal Feminine’.

Here I would just like to make a few observations about the New Life. Just a few, because this is just a blog, not a treatise! So, just a few thoughts from an amateur Teilhardian -Danteist!

I managed to dig out the copy of The New Life that my friend Gabriele gave me all those years ago. Finding a book that one has not looked at for many years (ok, Richard Nixon was US President when I last opened the Penguin Classics edition, 1964) ) is rather like meeting an old friend. It brings back memories and a chance to think about water and bridges. Inside is a piece of paper with Gabriele notes on a poem – in Italian. And I recalled his explanation of the book and why Dante was so important to Italians. As I recall we looked at various paintings of Dante and his poetry in books. And he told me all about a ‘bella’ ‘Beatrice’ he had met – not in Florence but in Cardiff. I recalled that he believed that the whole point of life was to find your Beatrice.

I sat down the other day and tried to read The New Life through Teilhard’s eyes. What would he have taken from it? Yes, there is Beatrice who draws on Dante towards God, but there are other elements which are significant. Let us just focus on one here. It is so obvious – but I nonetheless failed to pick up on it despite knowing the book pretty well and that is the vision following his meeting (in passing) with Beatrice. That night he has a dream. In his dream ‘Love’ comes to him holding Beatrice in his arms who is naked apart from a blood covered cloth wrapped around her. In one of his hands Love holds out a heart all on fire. Love says to Dante: ‘ Vide cor tuum.’ (Behold your heart.)

‘When he had stayed there for some time, he awoke the sleeping woman and forced her to eat the burning thing in his hand; and she ate it with great misgivings. In a short time..he clasped the lady in his arms and turned away with her up towards heaven.’ (IV)

And this is the subject of the first sonnet. Dante’s journey which begins with ‘Vide cor tuum’ is thereafter not a romantic ( heart throb) love story, but a quest to understand divine love. As the introduction ( by William Anderson) to my edition notes ( and I marked this all those years ago!) : ‘Beatrice dies and draws up Dante’s highest aspirations to her position, where Mary is, in the heaven of humility. Thus through this chaste love the conflict between the teachings of the church and the worship of the earthly lady is resolved.’

His vision of the burning heart consumed by the object of his love, is as we discover in the book, an expression of the spiritual journey from the love of a woman, to the love of God. Is this dream in Dante an early example of the Sacred Heart? Would Teilhard had seen it as such? I think yes, to both questions. For Dante the figure of Love is divine. Indeed, in the closing sections of the New Life he is quite explicit about the Christ-like nature of Beatrice. Beatrice is leading him to Christ. That is the whole point of the book. Just as in the gospel, when Christ appears after the resurrection his followers ( especially the men) do not recognize him. Neither does Dante, but it is clear that the Lord ‘Love’ who holds Dante’s heart in his hand is divine: for ‘God is love.’ But Dante does not see Christ’s heart: the flaming heart is his own. It is on fire - being consumed by love. Beatrice eats his burning heart and is taken off to heaven. It is also important to remember that at this time although the Sacred Heart was not a recognized devotion, there were many who were privately devoted to the heart of Jesus. Chief amongst these were the Franciscans. And Dante was very much schooled in Franciscan Catholicism. Thus Dante’s journey to understand divine love begins – in poetic sense – with his vision of Love holding a flaming heart. Before this Dante is just a young man who has been infatuated for many years with a school girl ( like my friend Gabriele) . His dream of the burning heart marks the beginning of a spiritual journey that will end in the Divine Comedy. His dream in The New Life is of Beatrice as a saint, full of love, arising to heaven and leading him to Christ.

Teilhard – as someone devoted to the Sacred Heart must surely have picked up on the implications of what Dante was saying for his own thinking. He must have warmed to the part of the book where Dante has a vision of the’Lord of Excellence’, who weeping tells him that Love is ‘Like a centre of a circle, from which all parts of the circumference are equally distant’ (XII) . Beatrice - who has his heart - is leading him into the circle. The New Life is full of references to the heart : and the heart is a kind of doorway or point of departure on this journey towards the centre of the divine circle: God. This must have resonated with Teilhard at a very deep level. Just as the vision of the burning heart enables Dante to resolve the conflict between his romantic and spiritual love, the Sacred Heart will enable Teilhard to resolve the conflict between his love of matter and love of God and between science and religion. It is this sense that Teilhard sees Dante as being ‘real’ and showing how to ‘scale up’ to the ‘level of the universe’. In the New Life I think Teilhard sees the stirrings of a New Christianity. But this is clearer in the Divine Comedy – see next blog! ( The Divine Comedy and the Comedy of Evolution)

Note on the picture. Try though I may, I have yet to find much by way of paintings or drawings based on Dante's New Life. The exception is the image above which is by Evelyn Paul (1883- 1963) dated 1916. This was done as a series of illustrations for an edition of Dante Gabriel-Rossetti's translation of The New Life. GO HERE to find out more about this artist. ( A truly wonderful illustrator!)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Icons: windows or /and mirrors?

For me the whole point about commissioning an icon from Ian has been to use sacred and liturgical art as a way to think and reflect on my faith and how I have lived it in the past and how I live it now. What sometimes confuses me is exactly what role can art play in spiritual life? Icons, so it is often said are 'windows'. Yes, I get that. Reflecting on the Sacred Heart in terms of art does indeed serve as a window. But all to often over these months the image of the Sacred Heart has proved to be more a of a mirror. As I explore and reflect and pray what comes to mind is not what is 'out there' in front , but what is 'inside' me, behind. The more I think about the future, the more does the image suddenly make me look at myself. ( Deep into MY HEART: my inner core of what I am.) It can be most dis-concerting. It reminds me of a car journey when I could see practically nothing out of the car window in front of me, but I had a clear view of what was behind me in my rear-view mirror. Reflecting on the relationship between Ian's Rosary commission and the Sacred Heart took me to Teilhard's thoughts on the Virgin Mary. And in doing that I found myself standing in a tomb in Ravenna Italy! The tomb belongs to Dante. I was there a few years ago, whilst teaching at the University of Bologna. As I reflected on the Rosary, this memory came back very strongly and made me think of Teihard's love of Dante. I had forgotten how important Dante was for me in my youth. In school I had an Italian friend who came from Florence and -inter alia- we studied art history together for our 'O" levels. Our special study was the Italian Renaissance and of course Gabriele coming from Florence knew all the paintings and sculptures so well. He taught us all so much. But he also introduced me to Dante, and as a parting gift he gave me a copy of La Vita Nuova - The New Life. Standing there in Ravenna a few years back, looking at Dante's tomb, I thought again of this great work that my friend had introduced me to and later that week I managed to get a copy and re-read the whole thing. And that was that, until the other day!! But I think now that Dante is far more important to the Sacred Heart than I had imagined. So now I feel as if I am driving by looking in my rear- view mirror again. Icons are windows, but it seems to me when it is dark outside they reflect and become mirrors. So, I think I have to revisit my old friendship and re-read Dante and see if things become clearer! I feel strongly that it will give insight, and I will go with this feeling. Dante and the Sacred Heart?? .. O come on....

Friday, 20 May 2011

Mary, the Rosary and the Sacred Heart

Thinking of Ian working on the Mysteries of Light and the Rosary has naturally made me reflect on the relationship between Mary, the Sacred Heart and Teilhard. And there are important connections here for the project. To begin with the devotion to the Sacred Heart has to be understood within the context of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Mary. Indeed, the devotion which springs from the French tradition has long seen the two as part of the same devotion: we find this very explicitly in the writings of St John Eudes. And therefore, Marian devotion is an intrinsic aspect of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Given this, it is noticeable that Blessed John Paul notes that the Rosary is the ‘true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory’ ( 19: Rosarium Virginis Mariae). The Rosary is a prayer of the heart, (5: Rosarium) and thus the devotion to Mary is –as he puts it – a ‘doorway’ into understanding and experiencing the Sacred Heart. And here there is an important link with Teilhard’s own devotion to the Sacred Heart and to his way of thinking as a whole.

For Teilhard women – and the feminine - were very important indeed. Many of his closest relationships were with women. His mother, of course, and his sister but also his cousin Margueritte. His mother and sister had an intense devotion to the Sacred Heart as did his cousin. But he also had important relationships with other women especially Lucile Swan. It is in this context interesting to observe that when Lucile leaves Peking he gives her a picture of the Sacred Heart with the hope that, although they will be far apart, they can still meet in the glow of divine love as represented in the Pinta image. SEE HERE So in a very real sense Teilhard saw the feminine – and Mary in particular - as a ‘doorway’ to the Sacred Heart.

Writing to his parents in 1901 - just after he had taken his first vows as a Jesuit - he exclaims that ‘At last I am a Jesuit …at last I belong entirely through the Blessed Virgin, to the Sacred Heart’. This sense of belonging to the Sacred Heart THROUGH the Blessed Virgin Mary is important and relates to what is said in Rosarium Virginis Mariae. Throughout his life Mary is seen as the doorway to the Sacred Heart. In this he is only stating a common enough Catholic understanding of the relationship between Mary and the Sacred Heart. Many prayers to the Sacred Heart are expressed ‘through the pure heart of Mary’. Thus is this sense, although he was to depart from the then conventional form of devotion to the Sacred Heart, Teilhard was always deeply grounded in Catholic tradition. And we see this in his thinking on the relationship between Mary and the Sacred Heart.

He writes about this in a number of places. In the correspondence during the first world war Teilhard makes reference to Mary in several letters. (References (MM) to The Making of A Mind, Collins, 1961)

In December 1916, for example, he reflects on the coming feast of the Immaculate Conception;

For me [it is].. the feast of ‘passive action’, the action that functions simply by the transmission through us of divine energy. Purity, in spite of outward appearances, is essentially an active virtue, because it concentrates God in us and on those who are subject to our influence. In our Lord, all modes of lower, restless, activity disappear within this single, luminous, function of drawing God to oneself, of receiving him and letting him penetrate one’s being. To be active in such a way and such a degree, our Lady must have been brought into existence in the very heart of grace, - for no later justification, no matter how immediate, could replace this constitutive, in-born, perfection of the purity that watched over the birth of her soul. It is thus that I see the Immaculate Conception. May our Lord give you and me too a little of her translucence, which is so favourable to God’s action. (MM : 149 )

What is astounding about his period as a soldier-priest is how his experiences informed his spiritual, mystical and intellectual life. In particular it is in his war-time writings that he reflects intensely on both the Sacred Heart and on Mary. In April 1916 he completed his work 'Cosmic life'. In this essay he refers to Mary as ' the pearl of the cosmos and the link with the Incarnate Absolute.. Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter' (The Prayer of the Universe, Fontana, 1973: 91) . In ‘The Mystical Milieu’ ( A MUST READ) composed in 1917 we find another wonderful description of Mary.

Seeing the mystic immobile, crucified or rapt in prayer, some may perhaps think his activity is in abeyance or has left this earth: they are mistaken. Nothing in the world is more intensely alive and active than purity and prayer, which hang like an unmoving light between the universe and God. Through their serene transparency flow the waves of creative power charged with natural virtue and with grace. What else but this is the Virgin Mary? ( In The Prayer of the Universe, Fontana, 135)

Mary is the ‘unmoving light between the universe and God’ and shows the way to the divine centre ( aka the Sacred Heart) of creation through her utter openness – her active passivity - to the energy of God’s love. It is through the example of Mary that we can be united with the fullness of God.

In October 1918 he refers to what had said on ‘Rosary Sunday’. He sees the Rosary as an ‘expansion’ and ‘explanation’ of the Ave Maria and an expression of love for Mary which in time:

.. turns into a need to know our Lady better, to ‘sympathize’ with her: in some way the heart of the Blessed Virgin becomes transparent, and in it we relive the mysteries – so that the whole of dogma becomes familiar, concrete an real, in Mary. Finally, we understand that the mysteries have their parallel and their extension in the alternations, often indeed mysterious, of our own joys and sorrows. So our whole life is Christianized, in a way, in the development within us of the Ave Maria. (MM: 247)

In the Rosary the heart of Mary becomes ‘transparent’. We can see through the mystery and experience it as ‘real’ and ‘concrete’. Through Mary we can be united with the Heart of Jesus, her son.

He prays, in December 1918 that it is his dearest wish that:

God, through our Lady, may grant us to share in her purity and to have so ardent a passion for her, that we may be able to serve, in our own small way, to regenerate the world. We must have absolute faith in the power of this divine virtue to transform souls and spread itself; and we must see to it too, that the greatest interest of our life is to feel that we are growing a little more within her, and are serving to radiate her influence. (MM: 262)

Most significantly,earlier in the March of that same year he wrote a piece on ‘The Eternal Feminine’. It evidently draws on both Goethe and Dante ‘s ideas on the ‘eternal feminine’ - and it is dedicated to Beatrix. For Teilhard ' The Eternal Feminine 'opens the door to the heart of creation'. Mary is the ‘the door' to the' heart of creation' and the 'zone of mutual attraction' lying between God and the earth'. Mary, the Virgin, is the ' mother of all human kind '. Devotion to Mary is thus, as Blessed John Paul expressed it, and as Teilhard argues, a gateway through which which we can become closer to the fire of divine love. (See The Prayer of The Universe, Fontana, 1973: 143-153)

A few years on and thousand of miles from the battle fields of the first world war, (in Tientsin, China in the late 1920s ) he writes in The Divine Milieu:

When God decided to realize His Incarnation before our eyes, He had first of all to raise up in the world a virtue capable of drawing Him as far as ourselves. He needed a mother who would engender Him in the human sphere. What did he do? He created the Virgin Mary, that is to say He called forth on earth a purity so great that, within this transparency, He would concentrate Himself to the point of becoming a little child.

His belief in evolution meant that for Teilhard, Mary is a defining point in human and cosmic history. In his ‘Introduction to the Christian life’, written in 1944 Teilhard spells this out in the clearest possible terms .

Christ born of the Virgin, and Christ risen from the dead: the two are one inseparable whole…I believe in the divinity of the Child of Bethlehem because, in so far as, and in the form in which that divinity is historically and biologically included in the reality of the universal-Christ to whom my faith and my worship are more directly attached. (in Christianity and Evolution, 159)

The relationship of Mary – and devotion to Mary - to the Sacred Heart is, therefore, not the least bit marginal for Teilhard. As the ‘eternal feminine’ Mary is a central aspect of the energy of love and God’s plan for humanity. Sion Cowell in his excellent book describes Teilhard’s sense of the eternal feminine in these terms:

As intermediary between the human and he cosmos, the feminine stimulates the cosmic energy of the masculine with whom she forms the dyad – the unity of two persons in a single whole that must be supercentred on God. The dialectics of the feminine and the masculine is an essential agent in the unitive energy of love.

Thus, when Teilhard is putting his ideas on the Sacred Heart together in 1950 in ‘ The Heart of Matter’ it is of immense significance that the conclusion is subtitled ‘ The Feminine, or the Unitive’. Reflecting on his life he observes that ‘some feminine influence’ has always been at work. As it is in the cosmos: the eternal feminine leads us on towards the ultimate unity with the heart of Christ . So, although expressed in a different language, Teilhard is putting forward the same idea as Blessed John Paul : the devotion to Mary is a doorway to the Sacred Heart. The eternal feminine leads us on and illuminates the way to the divine centre.

So, Ian in painting icons of the Rosary, you are actually working on a gateway to the Sacred Heart. Which is entirely as it should be. We could not have planned that!!

PS: A thought, just a thought. Perhaps – because of this link between the Sacred Heart and Mary (the ‘eternal feminine’) - this is why the revelation of the mystery of the Sacred Heart was first entrusted to women – Saint Margaret Mary and Saint Faustina? In just the same way that Our Lord first appeared after his resurrection to women, and not men?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Interesting analysis...

David, I stand enlightened! Your reflections on the connection of Light and the Sacred Heart are excellent, and certainly help bring me back in focus to the icon. Will be keeping this ticking over in the background as I battle with 17 faces and figures to complete...5 done, 3 in progress...9 to do!

The Mysteries of Light

It is good to hear from Ian. Looks like he has been very busy on all fronts. As for me, this is not my favourite time of the year. I spend my days marking exam scripts – possibly the least spiritual work on the entire planet! I am so pleased that Ian is working on the `Mysteries of Light’ or the ‘Luminous’ mysteries. I said this last Thursday – the day allocated in the Rosary cycle. Actually, I said it on the underground – which I think was rather appropriate ( using my ipod) and I naturally thought of Ian labouring away in Anjara. But, contrary to what Ian says, I think that the Mysteries of Light have a considerable relevance for the project: yet another coincidence since, for Teilhard, the Sacred Heart is all about light. His thought is wholly rooted in St John’s Gospel and in St Paul and I have no doubt that he would have been much excited by the addition of these mysteries to the Rosary in 2002. The Rosary also has an important relationship to the Divine Mercy – discussed earlier - as the Mysteries of Light were also introduced by Blessed John Paul.

I am not sure about how Teilhard viewed the Rosary. He had, of course, a great devotion to Mary, but I am in the dark about if he said the Rosary regularly. That does not matter so much: but what is clear is that he always stressed the importance of light within the gospels. And, the Sacred Heart is an expression – or rather the ultimate expression of this. With this in mind I have been reflecting on ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE - the encyclical by Blessed John Paul which sets out the teaching on the Mysteries of light. Blessed John Paul states that :
The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation. Developed in the West, it is a typically meditative prayer, corresponding in some way to the “prayer of the heart” or “Jesus prayer” which took root in the soil of the Christian East.

For many, however, the Rosary is something of a puzzle as a form of prayer, but when we read ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE carefully we can better understand why Rosary is such an important part of Catholic life. It is, he says, ‘ a way of assimilating the mystery’ of Christ. And, the process of repetition - which some find boring and tedious - is a vital dimension of the Rosary:

Meditation on the mysteries of Christ is proposed in the Rosary by means of a method designed to assist in their assimilation. It is a method based on repetition. ... If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is quite another thing, however, when the Rosary is thought of as an outpouring of that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them.
In Christ, God has truly assumed a “heart of flesh”. Not only does God have a divine heart, rich in mercy and in forgiveness, but also a human heart, capable of all the stirrings of affection. If we needed evidence for this from the Gospel, we could easily find it in the touching dialogue between Christ and Peter after the Resurrection: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times this question is put to Peter, and three times he gives the reply: “Lord, you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:15-17). Over and above the specific meaning of this passage, so important for Peter's mission, none can fail to recognize the beauty of this triple repetition, in which the insistent request and the corresponding reply are expressed in terms familiar from the universal experience of human love. To understand the Rosary, one has to enter into the psychological dynamic proper to love.
One thing is clear: although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her and through her. The repetition is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ,… The Rosary helps us to be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness.

Of course, from the standpoint of this project, it is significant that John Paul directly links the Rosary – as a method of prayer to the Sacred Heart in this passage. And, in introducing the Mysteries of Light he argues that: ‘ Certainly the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light.’ For Teilhard, the whole mystery of the Sacred Heart is a mystery of light. I think, therefore, that when we reflect on what Blessed John Paul says about the Sacred Heart, and the Divine Mercy in conjunction with what he says about the Rosary as a way of ‘assimilating’ their mysteries we can understand how they are inter-connected. So, I think there could be NO BETTER preparation for writing an image of the Sacred Heart than working on the Mysteries of Light!! From here on in, the Mysteries of Light will be my daily prayer for the Sacred Heart icon.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Logging in from Jordan

Just to keep you faithful followers up to date...

The latest icon painting course in Bethlehem was a great success. A lovely mixed group...German, Austrian, French, Palestinian and English. They all brought a deep reflective spirit that brought out the depths of iconography as a spiritual discipline naturally and powerfully. All managed to achieve good progress and icons of acceptable standards, so that at first glance you weren't aware of 'good' or 'not so good' ones. The sisters really make the course, because their community is one of the most loving, tender, generous and natural I have come across, deeply rooted in Byzantine and Benedictine spirituality. I may post an evaluation from one of the participants shortly.

I am now back in Anjara, continuing with the icons of the Holy Rosary. My aim is to finish the Mysteries of Light, and so far progress is fair to good. Trying to repeat the same character, eg. Our Lady or as it has been this week St Peter, is a real challenge as you want them to be clearly recognisable as the same person. In the Mysteries of Light I have relied up St John's Gospel which might seem strange given that the central mystery is the Transfiguration which doesn't occur in his Gospel, and the Last Supper is oblique.

The start for me came from the account of Cana in Galilee, which of course only appears in John's Gospel and which is the one mystery of this set in which Our Lady appears. I then reflected upon the baptism. Islam's critique of Christianity is that you can't be certain about what is written about Jesus, that it was corrupted by St Paul and the early Church. However, in Islam, the testimony of two or three witnesses is conclusive, so in these scenes about Jesus' earthly ministry I was keen to have the apostles witnessing the events to which later they will bear witness.

John's account of the baptism struck me because it has the wonderful narrative of St Andrew bringing his brother St Peter to see Jesus, believing that he has found the long promised Messiah. The Synoptic Gospels have nothing of this. So I decided to stick with John's account and replaced the three angels traditionally present in icons of Christ's baptism with Andrew and Peter. I have been painting their faces this week, trying to capture something of St Andrew's excitement and anticipation, together with St Peter's curiosity and conviction.

I will try to remember to take some photos as work progresses so you get an idea of what is developing.

Apart from this, I spent today re-arranging the shrine. The building isn't the most inspiring, but it had become a little cluttered and disorganised, so Padre Hugo happily let me loose on it. The only major thing to do was to re-hang the cross above the altar, something I thought might take half an hour. However, as these things do, it took five hours! Combine lack of tools, lack of Arabic, distractions such as a baptism, a rain storm, and places being closed as it is Islam's holy day being Friday, and the time just rolled ever onwards! However, we triumphed in the end, and the shrine is now a contemplative visual space, with the pews aligned rhythmically, a decent space around the altar and the shrine statue of the Madonna, a lack of distracting clutter,and the Cross and Statue clearly visually central (before the Cross was hung on a pillar to the side, and the area above the altar was dominated visually by a light fitting).

Anyway, not much here on the Sacred Heart, but that will resume soon. I follow David's reflections with interest!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Divine Mercy : further reflections

Having completed the novena to the Divine Mercy I think I am in a better position to reflect a little more on its relation to the Sacred Heart.

First of all the image. What is noticeable is that the original image painted in Vilnius by Kazimirowski in 1934 does have a directness which subsequent representations lose. It was heavily restored in 2003. I prefer the un-restored version, but the restored version is not so bad: they have an honesty about them that the other later versions lack. The other famous image was painted in 1943 by Adolf Hyla - which I find rather holy picturish. Other popular representation are by Robert Skemp and Kathleen Weber – and the less said about these the better. I must confess to finding so many of the later images increasingly sentimental and rather lurid and really not conducive to prayer. But that is just me, I guess. For the record, Saint Faustina was not too keen on the original image – and wept that it did not capture the beauty of what she had experienced. What they all have in common, however is the emphasis on rays of mercy flowing from Jesus’s concealed heart. So the images are, in my opinion, rather poor as works of religious art. I find the best way to pray with this image is to close ones eyes as soon as possible and focus on the flows of mercy. But, as I say, it may be that for some it works. For me, it works as a kind of initial spark of an idea. But it is iinteresting to note that Saint Faustina records in her diary that the image itself was not important . Its significance was 'Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush' but in God's grace. (Diary 313) In which case, as in all works of religious art, we wait upon God's grace rather than the skill of the artist. It is only in prayer that the message of the image can be understood.

On meditating on and praying with this image, it is these rays which command my attention: in this regard it is reminiscent of Pinta’s Sacred Heart. I have a feeling that if Teilhard would have had access to this he would have rather liked it for that reason.

As for me, when praying the Divine Mercy chaplet I just could not help thinking of Portia’s famous speech in the Merchant of Venice. ( In my day we had to learn such stuff off by heart in school. ) It kept popping into my head all the time and so in the end became part of my prayer. When Portia asks Shylock to exercise mercy, he retorts: ‘On what compulsion, must I?’ It seems to me that Shylock speaks for all of us when he poses this question: why should I be merciful?

Portia’s reply says it all.

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.

This idea of Mercy as an ‘attribute of God himself’ and therefore one which must use to ‘season justice’ is, of course, central to the Divine Mercy as a devotion. As we contemplate Divine Mercy, we recall that it is something which is common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. ( And indeed other religions.) Perhaps this devotion is calling us to put this ‘attribute of God’ to the forefront of attempts to seek peace and reconciliation between people of the Abrahamic faiths. Mercy is severely ‘strained’ in so many parts of the world today. Rather than choosing mercy so many people choose to take their justice 'unseasoned' and in blood and flesh. And they often do this in the name of a merciful God! However, if the world is to progress, we have to focus with greater intensity on the idea that God is Mercy and God calls us to be merciful. I think this is what the devotion is calling us to do.
By reflecting on the Mercy of God I have come to realize that the future evolution of humanity is wholly dependent on our willingness as a species to be merciful to one another: that means that we must cease to see people who are different to us ‘the other’. When we see people as not one of ‘us’ we can be utterly and completely without mercy. Realizing a sense of the earth and humanity as a whole involves understanding that the answer to Shylock’s question ‘ On what compulsion must I [ be merciful] ?’ is because it is only through mercy that we can become fully human. Harnessing those rays of mercy which flow out of the Divine Mercy image is a necessary aspect of (what Teilhard called ) harnessing the ‘energy of love’ for God. It is only through choosing mercy - individually and collectively - that we can evolve and realize our potential as children of God. As a prayer in the Divine Mercy Chaplet beautifully expresses it;

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless, and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair, nor become despondent, but with great confidence, submit our selves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.

When we exercise compassion - and submit to God's holy will - we are acknowledging that we are made in the Creator’s image and likeness and are therefore made to be merciful. But, all too often human beings choose cruelty, vengence and blind ‘justice’ rather than forgiveness and understanding. When we are merciful we place ourselves in the position of another : we choose to do to a fellow human being what we would want to happen if we were in the position of the person asking for our mercy.

Jesus, as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, shows us the way because he has experienced a world in which no mercy is given. And yet we as individuals constantly wound Christ through our inability to love and our readiness to hate. We only have to reflect on the news which fills our newspapers and TV screens to appreciate how utterly merciless human beings can be. To be a Christian is to believe that God does not stand outside human suffering and pain, in Jesus God weeps with us and feels our pain. His heart is pierced and bleeds. The Divine mercy reminds us that despite all our lack of compassion and love, God still loves us. God is merciful. When we pray ‘Jesus, I Trust in You’ we are trusting in the mystery of God’s infinite mercy. We have to trust in the mercy of God - in Portia's sense , 'enthrone mercy in our hearts' - or else live in a world consumed not by the power of love, but the power of hate. It is our choice. Blessed John Paul expressed this on during the Mass for the canonisation of St Faustina when he asked in April 2000:

What will the years ahead bring us? What will man's future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences. But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr Faustina's charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium..........May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the face of the risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: Christ Jesus, I trust in you! Jezu, ufam tobie!

See here for the full tex of the homily.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Devotion to the Divine Mercy

It is now a week since I began to explore the devotion to Divine Mercy. I began a novena ( is it only Catholics who say novenas??) ; I have said the Divine Mercy Chaplet; and try to say a special prayer at three o’clock. I have to confess that this devotion has been largely dependent on an iPod app! I think that the iPod is a rather good piece of spiritual kit, as you can carry it round with you everywhere. In my pocket I have Universalis – (HERE ) which is SO good, as well as prayer books a Bible and rosary beads ( and much else beside) ! I find it is a great way pray wherever you are; I much prefer to say the rosary with my iPod than with my beads! My feeling so far is that the devotion does place a great emphasis on understanding that God is full of mercy and that is - of course - a central message of the Sacred Heart. The Divine Mercy directs our attention to the importance of seeking God’s mercy for ourselves and for the world. In turn, the more we reflect that God is merciful, the more do we understand that we are called to be merciful. Reflecting on this, I recalled that in the Beatitudes Jesus says ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ And in the next line : “ Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.’ The more we ask for God’s mercy for ourselves and for the world, the more do we realize that without a merciful heart, we cannot and will not see God. I do not think I have ever really reflected on the mystery of God’s mercy and God’s call for humanity to exercise mercy until now. In the image of the Divine Mercy God’s loving mercy is flowing out from the heart of Jesus: we have to open ourselves to that flow of divine mercy. I think I now appreciate why it is such a powerful devotion which complements but does not replace the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Indeed, the more we meditate on the Divine Mercy, the closer we get to the heart of Jesus.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Blessed John Paul II and Teilhard

On this special day when we honour a truly great and holy man, I cannot resist quoting what Blessed John Paul said about Teilhard:

"The Eucharist is celebrated in order to offer on the altar of the whole earth the world's work and suffering in the beautiful words of Teilhard de Chardin," in his book Gift and Mystery, On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priesthood, 1996.

And later in his great encyclical on the Eucharist ( Ecclesia de Eucharistica) - published in 2003 - Blessed John Paul used quite explicit Teilhardian language to convey his message.

'.When I think of the Eucharist, and look at my life as a priest, as a Bishop and as the Successor of Peter, I naturally recall the many times and places in which I was able to celebrate it. I remember the parish church of Niegowić, where I had my first pastoral assignment, the collegiate church of Saint Florian in Krakow, Wawel Cathedral, Saint Peter's Basilica and so many basilicas and churches in Rome and throughout the world. I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ. " (My emphasis)

For me, that is what Teilhard is about. It is what the Eucharist is all about: it is nothing less than the Sacred Heart of the Cosmos.

The Encyclical ends so beautifully and reminds us that the sacrament - above all - calls to our hearts.

"In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope. If, in the presence of this mystery, reason experiences its limits, the heart, enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly sees the response that is demanded, and bows low in adoration and unbounded love. "

To read it in full go here.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is the second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday. It is also the day on which John Paul II has been beatified. It is fitting that the beatification should take place on this day as he was a great supporter of the devotion which developed out of the experiences of a Polish nun, St Faustina Kawalska, between 1930- 1938. In 1959 the Church expressed its concerns about the dissemination of the image and the devotion, and the reversal of this position came about largely through the efforts of the then Karol Wojtyla, Cardinal Archbishop of Cracow. In due course Blessed John Paul II established today’s feast in 2000 on the occasion of the canonization of St. Faustina. Five years later - on the eve of the feast of the Divine Mercy whilst vespers were being said in preparation for the following day - Blessed John Paul died. Given this, his beatification today is wholly appropriate. Blessed John Paul stated that:

"The Message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me… which I took with me to the See of Peter and which it in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate."

For many Catholics the Divine Mercy, however, is something of a mystery – including myself. They most probably know the image, but little else. And many get rather confused about the relationship between the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy – again, including myself.

Dr. Robert Stockpole - director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy - (GO HERE ) has argued that ’the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy devotions are theologically inseparable and complementary,’ but they are definitely not ‘identical’. He explains:

the mercy devotion, to a great extent, is a further development, a further unfolding, of that tradition of Heart-Spirituality that comes to us from St. John Eudes and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart may be defined as the worship and service of the Second Person incarnate of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, because of His love for us, symbolized by His pierced and wounded Heart of flesh. Devotion to The Divine Mercy, on the other hand, may be defined as the worship and service of the Triune God, because of His merciful love for us, poured out through the Merciful Heart of Jesus, and symbolized by the rays that stream from His breast in the Mercy Image. The centrality of the Heart of Jesus in both devotions is clearly evident. ….In short, the differences between these two devotions are best described as differences of emphasis, for both spring from a common source: devotion to the same Heart of Jesus, overflowing with merciful love for us. (See his discussion in full here .)

Given the nature of this project at this point I think all I can do is reflect upon the images themselves and how they can complement one another. To that end today I have begun a Novena to the Mercy of God (SEE HERE), I will say the Chaplet of Mercy ( SEE HERE ) and the three o’clock prayer (SEE HERE ) . Let me see what emerges. It is clear that from what both Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict have said, the devotions to the Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy should be central to our spiritual lives, and so it is fitting that I should begin my exploration of the two devotions , and I ask Blessed John Paul to pray for me as I begin this novena

What I would say at the outset it that the emphasis on LIGHT in the image of the Divine Mercy is very relevant to the challenge of making an icon of the Sacred Heart inspired by Teilhard. The comparison with Teilhard’s Pinta image and that produced by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski in 1934 – under the direction of Saint Faustina - is one which would have appealed to and fascinated Teilhard. The image produced under direction of St. Faustina is such a radical departure from the Sacred Heart image. No heart, just light. Perhaps that is why it has become so popular. So I will keep these two images in mind and in my prayers for the next nine days. (When I was in hospital I was visited by a member of a local Catholic Church and she gave me a copy of the Divine Mercy image which I would use to aid my prayer. And I have to confess I thought of it as a Sacred Heart image. And most Catholics I would think do the same. But of course they are different and it is important to be clear about these differences. )

But, this focus on light is also something which enables me to connect with Ian's work on the Mysteries of Light ( or Luminous Mysteries) . Again, it is fitting that Ian is working on the Mysteries of light - which was introduced by John Paul (in 2002) to supplement the existing mysteries of the Rosary. (Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful) The Mysteries of Light , begin in the Jordan (-where Ian now is!) :The Baptism in the Jordan; The Wedding at Cana; The Proclamation of the Kingdom; The Transfiguration;The Institution of the Eucharist. Perhaps through this mystery I can connect Teilhard, with the Sacred Heart and Divine Mercy and Ian's work in Anjara, Jordan? Let us see: Jesus I Trust in You.