Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Ian's design

I have been reflecting on Ian’s design for sometime now and I still have a sense of amazement and surprise. Amazement, because of how Ian has managed to say so much in this design. If the Sacred Heart is a summary of the Christian faith, then Ian’s design has captured in the most complete way so much of what that faith is about! Teilhard said that the very thought of the Sacred Heart ‘is almost more than the mind can compass.' It is indeed the treasury of all ‘wisdom and knowledge’ ( as the Litany puts it). Ian’s design has amazed me in how it helps my mind to better ‘compass’ and comprehend what Benedict termed ‘the core of Christianity’. In this regard the word design is interesting. It comes, of course, from the latin ‘signare’ (de-signare): it means to signify or give something a sign. ( You give yourself a sign with your ‘signature’.) A design in this way seeks to make sense of something. A designer takes a problem and makes sense of it: she/he asks you to look at something differently. Good design helps us to make sense of our problems. And that is what is so surprising about Ian’s ‘design’ : it helps me make more sense of the core of my Christian faith as expressed in the Sacred Heart. ( I was not expecting that! ) Above all it is a design which will lead me (and hopefully others) to prayer: and that must be the ultimate test of any icon.

Clearly the money spent on all those candles has not been wasted!

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Design!

Well after all these weeks and months, the basic design is now complete. Obviously I will continue to work on it and develop it, not least once painting commmences. But this is fundamentally the new image, inspired by the continuous devotion to the Love of God at the heart of all things which begins with the Fathers, and passed on int the Western Church through the medieval mystics such as St Bernard and St Gertrude, visualised in a unique way in the visions to St Margaret Mary and all of which seen through the prism of the prophetic theological vision of Teilhard de Chardin.

This is my desk where I work on the design. Several layers of paper, lots of pencils and a compass. But I left one thing out... my new Asus Etab which is an absolutely gem for enlarging images I am working from!

So, a description of the piece:

Christ sits enthroned in the midst of the cosmos, symbolised by the circular nimbus (Divinity which has no beginning or end point) in a square (the created, delineated order). The final layer of the nimbus is an octagon, symbolising the eighth day of the New Creation. In the centre of the nimbus is a swirling rhythmic shape of fire. Christ’s Sacred Heart sits at the centre of the geometric shapes and is encircled with the Greek letter Omega.
Around the edges of the composition we have the created order, spiritual and corporeal, gathered together as one in the process of transfiguration at the Parousia, a time of transformation of the old order in the new heaven and the new earth.

In the lower register we have a stylised vine for Christ is the True Vine of which we are the branches, with leaves and fruit, entwined with fantastical creatures, to the left animals, to the left, fish.The Vine recalls the Eucharistic life both a foretaste of the Life to come but also an actual participation in the transfiguring new Life which is offered to all humanity 'in Christ' through His Body the Church whereby he draws all people to Himself. The animals represent the earth, the fish the sea. Entwined on the left is Adam prostrating himself, representing the whole of humanity in need of redemption, the weary and heavy of heart whom Christ bids come to Him, while to the right we have St Mary Magdalene, who was commended for desiring the ‘One thing necessary', the women who forgiven much, loves much and who stood at the foot of the Cross alongside the Mother of God and St John. She thus represents the ‘new Man in Christ’, those whose hearts have been transfigured by Divine Love and who witness to the Love even in this present age as a foretaste of the consumation of all things in the new Jerusalem when Christ the Bridegroom will take His Bride to Himself.

Crowning the vine is the Mother of God and St John the Baptist, in a deisis of supplication and prayer, honouring the Son as is Manifested as King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He glorifies His Father through His Passion. She is, as it were, the flowering of grace, the Beautiful Woman clothed in the sun, the Immaculate Mother who is all for and in Christ whose transfiguration in death at the assumption was a foretaste of the new life which is for all those who welcome her Son. John meanwhile heralds the One who is to come, manifesting the transition from the Old Covenent to the New, a witness to the evolution of salvation history where Christ must increase and all others decrease. At the Lord’s feet gushes forth seven springs of Life Giving water, just as water gushed forth from the temple in the vision of Ezekiel, the waters of life that water the earth with sweet water that brings the barren trees to bloom and the desert to spring forth, the waters of grace and new life that are the treasure of the Church. This is also representative of the gift of drink which Christ promises in the book of Revelation to those who are thirsty (Rev. 21:6). Hence the seven rivers represent the seven sacraments, the number which itself speaks of completion and fulness. The rivers burst forth from the Divine sphere into the square of the created order.

Above all of these are the supernatural or spiritual powers, what St Paul calls the powers, dominions, authorities, angels, archangels etc. To the right we have the angel carrying a measuring line from the Book of Revelation (Rev 21:15), measuring out the new Creation, principally the new Jerusalem. This reminds us of the profound order within Creation which will continue and be fulfilled in the new. On the left is one of the seraphim, a being of fire and flame which traditionally is understood to have the purpose of fanning the flames of the Love of God into a bright furnace whose heat permeates the whole of creation. The visions and reflections on the Sacred Heart speak powerfully of this energy of love, and in this teaching of the Church about these spiritual beings we have an important connection between the later devotion and its roots deep in the Patristic and Biblical theology of the Church from its earliest times.

The Archangels Michael and Gabriel hold the exalted Cross which crowns the composition, behind which the sun and moon, set against a map of gravitational energy, emanating from the planets and stars, being rolled up to make way for the new heavens and the new earth. In the visions of the Sacred Heart it is surmounted by the Cross, so the whole icon is here with the exalted Cross. The Cross touches into the depth of the darkness of God's Mystery, while reaching out into the heavens, displayed between the portents of the sun and moon. The heavens here are as a scroll being rolled up, and the pattern behind is drawn from one of the latest imaging of gravitational energy. Modern science has enabled us to perceive far more of the wonders of the universe than ever before in the history of the world, and maybe even of the cosmos as a whole. There are invisible forces at work, all within the marvellous order of creation, and all of which has its ultimate fulfilment in Christ. 

Thus we find Christ’s Heart as the culmination point for the whole of creation, both temporal and spiritual, a process with both an end or omega point, but which is also evolving through time as the energy of God’s Love, which first created, then redeemed and will finally consummate all things brings all things into unity in the Person of Christ who not only entered into Creation but entered also into death, giving Himself completely, beseeching all humanity to come to Him who is meek and gentle of heart so that they might be refreshed.
Jesus is placed within a nimbus which represents the manifestation of His Divinity, moving from a dark, unknowable centre to a bright circumference. The circumference billows with cloud forms representing the heavens which manifest the glory of God in its beauty and order. At the centre is the Sacred Heart itself, surrounded by its own mandorla within which is inscribed the Omega, denoting Christ's Sacred Heart as the Omega point as explored by Teilhard de Chardin.  

June Prayers to the Sacred Heart ( 15) Prayer to St Claude de la Colombiere

The Queen's chapel, London. The place where St Claude de la Colombiere first brought the devotion to the Sacred Heart to Britain in 1676.

London - city of the Sacred Heart!

The fact that London is home to the mother house of the Congregation of Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SEE HERE ) means that it is rather special. In this city we are blessed to have a community that is wholly dedicated to a perpetual adoration of the Sacred Heart in the Blessed Sacrament. London is truly a city of the Sacred Heart! But London has another important connection to the Sacred Heart; the time spent here by St Claude de la Colombiere. St Claude was the Jesuit priest who, more than any other, championed the cause of St Margaret Mary after he became her spiritual director in 1674. Two years later - in 1676 - he was sent to London to become the preacher to the then Mary of Modena, wife of the Duke of York who was later to become Queen Mary II when her husband ascended to the throne as James II in 1685. This was a brief reign, coming to an end in 1689 after Mary produced a Catholic heir to the throne! James fled to France and was duly replaced by a more acceptable protestant who became William III ( this is known as the ‘Glorious Revolution.’)

What is most significant – and is, I think, sufficient in itself for London to be called a city of the Sacred Heart - is that whilst in London St Claude was to practice and preach the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and furthermore share this devotion with Mary - the then Dutchess of York. Now this was at a time when it was dangerous to be a Catholic and minister to Catholics in London. In 1678 St Claude was accused of being part of a Catholic plot ( the so called Titus Oates plot – which proved to be a complete invention and fiction!). Poor Claude was arrested and thrown into jail. It was only his association with Mary which may have saved him from Tyburn : otherwise his name might have been recorded on the list of martyrs at Tyburn convent. He spent three weeks in prison and returned to France a very sick man. He never really recovered his health again and died in 1682.

Mary was the first person of (Royal) note to petition the Holy See to recognize the devotion with a feast. ( This eventually happened in 1852. ) When we reflect upon these facts it is really quite amazing. The man who was most responsible for championing the visions of St. Margaret Mary and who was her spiritual director spent a few years spreading the devotion to the Sacred Heart in St James’s palace and to the beleaguered Catholic community of London whilst at the same time guiding St Margaret Mary by letter! So in many ways St James’s palace may, with some justification, be said to be the first place outside Paray-le-Monial where public devotion to the Sacred Heart occurred – and in the lifetime of St Margaret Mary. St Claude ministered to Mary in the Queen’s Chapel ( photo above left) which had been built for the Catholic wife of Charles I - Henrietta Maria. After Mary II it no longer functioned as a Catholic place of worship.

It is about time that this Chapel is recognized for its significance in the history of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

St Claude was canonized by John Paul II in 1992.
Official Vatican site for St Claude: HERE

Prayer for today.

Dear St Claude, who once suffered in a prison in London, pray for the City that in your day persecuted Catholics. Pray that we may once again hear the words you preached in this city so that we may open our hearts to the divine love radiating from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The sacred heart of London

Seeing Ian’s most recent drawings has made me think quite intensively about the Sacred Heart. And on my return home yesterday I found myself staying put on the Central line, and making for Marble Arch. I was turning over in my head Teilhard’s famous lines about harnessing or capturing the energy of love. ( I quote it fully in French here, with the standard translation underneath.)

Quelque jour, après l’espace, les vents, les marées, la gravitation, nous capterons, pour Dieu, les énergies de l’amour.- Et alors, une deuxième fois dans l’histoire du Monde, l’Homme aura trouvé le Feu. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, L’Évolution de la Chasteté, ( Les Directions de L’Avenir, Éditions du Seul, Paris1973, p92)

The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

It is important to note here that so often this is quoted with ‘pour Dieu’ / ‘for God’ just cut out!! In doing so it greatly distorts what Teilhard is saying. For Teilhard love is an energy – the universal energy that drives human evolution. The Sacred Heart is the end point – the Omega point – of that energy. The whole purpose of human existence is to harness this great cosmic energy FOR GOD.

And that is when I thought that I had to stay on the Central line. Why, you might ask?

From Marble Arch station it is only a short walk to one of the most important places where we can experience the devotion to the Sacred Heart in London. As I reflected on Ian’s drawings I thought about the Convent at Tyburn: a place which is wholly dedicated to the task of harnessing love, pour Dieu. In the heart of all the noise of the city there is a small convent founded by MARIE ADELE GARNIER in the first year of the twentieth century. The order she founded is known as the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart. If you ever have the chance please go the Tyburn Convent and spend some time with the Sacred Heart. They have ten other convents ( in Australia, Ireland, Peru, Scotland, Ecuador, Columbia and Rome – and two in New Zealand )

When my wife and I first came to London – as a newly weds - we lived not far from the convent and we would always make a point of spending a little time as we walked into shop in Regent Street and Oxford Street ( not that we had any money!) . And over the years as we have moved further out of the city we have not been exactly regular visitors. But today, on the Central line I felt called to go to Tyburn convent. As I thought about that Teilhard quote in the context of Ian’s drawings it became clearer to me that I had to go there: and there I went.

The full title of this Benedictine order is the ‘Congregation of Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus , of Montmartre, OSB’ .The congregation was originally established in Montmartre in 1898 - the district of Paris in which the Sacre Coeur is located. However, like Teilhard’s order – the Society of Jesus – the congregation was forced to leave France under the infamous 1901 laws against religious orders. Mother Marie Adele Garnier re-located to London and settled in Tyburn. This is, of course, the location of the gallows at which more than 100 Catholics were brutally executed during the reformation. She died in 1924, but the congregation she established is still there and has spread all over the world.

The sisters maintain a perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It was, as always, a great privilege to be able to join the sisters in this great act of adoration and it brought back so many memories. All the time I have been running around the world and making my way in it they have been here in Tyburn adoring the Sacred Heart in the Eucharist. These good sisters had been harnessing the energy of love. I reflected on what kind of mess the Church – and the world - would be in nowadays if not for their adoration. But as I reflected on their love for the Sacred Heart I also felt anxious. Outside was a noisy busy London full of all kinds of (crazy) people. At any moment ‘they’ could burst in and destroy the peace which filled this small space in the middle of a great big city. And then I understood what placing all your trust in the Sacred Heart means: an absolute openness to God. It involves an acceptance of vulnerability.

People came in and out during the hour or so I was there. And it was remarkable the effect it had everyone who came in and shared in the devotion. Cutting through the silence was the general noise of the city outside and the throb and hum of the traffic and the underground made me feel that we were in a kind of spiritual engine room of the city. The adoration of the Blessed Sacrament did not feel as if it was taking place outside or removed from the world outside, quite the opposite. As we adored, we became more inter-connected with the fabric of the ‘real world’. It did not feel as if the convent chapel was at the periphery or margins of the life of London: we were at its very core – its heart.

As I walked towards the tube station to return home I felt so overwhelmed by the sheer mass of humanity and became increasingly depressed by the gap between the world of the sisters whose lives were dedicated to the adoration of the Sacred Heart and the world I had now rejoined. It was a world as described by Teilhard: a world being compressed. So many people, from so many countries all squished and pressed together. I have to confess I felt rather scared by the sheer mass of humanity: swarming and faceless. Questions buzzed around my head: We have to trust in this world and the evolution of human life? How could the Sacred Heart unite all things? What sense could I make of Christ Omega? By the time I reached Oxford Circus I had rather lost faith and hope. (... What is that line from Wordsworth : ‘ As I high as I had mounted in my delight in my dejection I sunk as low’? * ..) I felt totally confused and unable to really say why I felt so low. And then, I thought of those sisters in Tyburn. I thought of their silence and their adoration and I understood how, whilst we were all rushing about,they were busy at work harnessing that divine energy and somehow they became the still point in the eye of a storm. In harnessing the energy of love - for God - those sisters who had been brought to London all those years ago from Montmartre were in fact the beating heart of the Church and of the hope of the human race. What was taking place in that chapel 24 hours a day seven days a week was not a relic from the past brought to London over a hundred years ago: their adoration of the Sacred Heart was pointing the way to the future. They are showing us ‘le Feu’. Knowing that is what makes the difference: I stopped seeing the human mass, and began to see individuals once more!

Goto the website of Tyburn convent: HERE:

From Resolution and Independence ...The stanza captures exactly how I felt!

But, as it sometimes chanceth, from the might
Of joy in minds that can no further go,
As high as we have mounted in delight
In our dejection do we sink as low;
To me that morning did it happen so;
And fears and fancies thick upon me came;
Dim sadness--and blind thoughts, I knew not, nor could name.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A little exposition

Well more work on the drawing this morning, then this afternoon it was back to my mum's garden shed to sand the boards... interestingly I also have a commission for Our Lady of Perpetual Succor (whose feast happens to be this month as well) and one of the Mother of the Church, which is by popular acclaim now simply Our Lady of the Wall... which I originally painted on the Israeli seperation wall in Bethlehem. This one is to be a gift from some sisters to the Pope, which is a great honour and highly appropriate given that it was his orginal talk to the extraordinary Synod of Middle Eastern bishops that was its inspiration. (For those of you interested you can see an extended presentation of this icon in this video, at just after the half-way point )

I don't know what is wrong with my computer, but it keeps posting and loosing half of what I have written! Once again I had written a lot of explanation, only to find it has vanished. Really so annoying. And now it has done it again!!! It seems that the reflections shouldn't be posted... sorry David for that. However, some close up photos of what I have been developing in the bottom area in particular...

Using inspiration from some illuminated manuscripts, I have woven a vine with its leaves and grapes around the lower half, which speaks of the Eucharist, and the New Creation which bursts into life. To the left there are fantastical animals, while to the left fantastical fish, and in the upper regions there will be birds and stars, thus depicting the whole of the created order orientated to Christ. In the left bottom corner there is Adam, symbol of all humanity, and to the right St Mary Magdalene. Why Mary? Because she was at the Cross and met Christ risen in the Garden, because she 'desired the One thing necessary' and because forgiven much she loved much, thus in these ways she witnessed, responded to and experienced the Sacred Heart redeeming her and desiring her.To right and left of Christ we have the traditional deisis of the Mother of God and St John Baptist.

June Prayers to the Sacred Heart ( 14) St Josemaria's writing prayer.

Thinking of Ian writing the icon has just made me realize the relevance of a little prayer which we find in St. Josemaria Escriva’s wonderful book Camino. (The Way) ( Spanish/ English edition published by Gracewing, 2002) I have found this book a treasury of prayer and wisdom.

This my prayer for today.

882.- Cuando quieres hacer las cosas bien, muy bien, resulta que las haces peor. -Humíllate delante de Jesús, diciéndole: ¿has visto cómo todo lo hago mal? -Pues, si no me ayudas mucho, ¡aún lo haré peor!

Ten compasión de tu niño: mira que quiero escribir cada día una gran plana en el libro de mi vida... Pero, ¡soy tan rudo!, que si el Maestro no me lleva la mano, en lugar de palotes esbeltos salen de mi pluma cosas retorcidas y borrones que no pueden enseñarse a nadie.

Desde ahora, Jesús, escribiremos siempre entre los dos.

In English:

When you want to do things well, really well, it turns out that you do them worse. – Humble yourself before Jesus and say to him: Don’t you see how badly I do everything ? -Well, if you don’t help me a lot, I’ll do it even worse!

Have pity on your child: you see, I want to write a big page each day in the book of my life…But I am so clumsy!, that if the Master doesn’t guide my hand, instead of graceful strokes, my pen leaves behind blots and scrawls that can’t be shown to anyone.

From now on Jesus, we’ll always do the writing together.

That is my prayer when I write: ‘Come on Lord, let us do the writing together. I am pretty useless on my own!’

'Desde ahora, Jesús, escribiremos siempre entre los dos.' Sounds a good prayer for all iconographers!!

Thoughts on the sketch

Ian, all those candles have clearly paid off!! It is fascinating to see how the writing takes place. And I think I now more clearly understand why an icon is 'written'. You are using words and sentences. You are expressing ideas using a distinct set of rules. It is an image which has syntax- a grammar. Over the past months I have learnt a little of this grammar so I think I understand what I am looking at - but it would be so good to have a little commentary from you. I like the idea that the heart is at the centre of a kind of vortex drawing everything to itself. Obviously, it is this centre of the icon which - from a Teilhardian perspective - is so important. I know that you have had more thoughts about this since Naur, so I am very excited to see how you now see this 'hearth' or 'furnace'. ( Teilhard calls it the of the 'universal “foyer” of attraction ' and I am getting a sense of the kind of 'pull' which the divine centre of the universe exercises. The Sacred Heart in the drawing ' attracts' like a kind of gravitational force.. ) That is why I really liked the Naur heart: my eyes were immediately drawn into the centre. The scale of Christ is also just perfect and it is fascinating to see how you have adjusted the drawing. Clearly lots of things are happening in the corners, and I know we talked about that - so again I just can't wait to see how they develop. I can see an Alpha at the front of the drawing and I am wondering how an Omega can be worked in? I feel that it is very evocative of St Paul and St John - which is what Teilhard's Sacred Heart is all about! It is a really powerful drawing. Thanks for showing us a critical stage in the writing process. Another candle for you today at Mass!!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Working on the sketch

Here is the sketch so far... I did spend half an hour explaining it, but it go lost in the ether! Not time to do that again, but at least an idea of what is going on.  

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Back to the Beginning...

Sadly, the original board I had made wasn't made with the correct struts on the back, and it warped. So, I had another board made up which has set things back a little. However, the board was ready by the end of the week, and on Thursday I spent the day routing it and sanding it. On Monday I must collect the icon exhibition from Tolworth, but Tuesday should see me back to the board, gluing the gauze and then applying the layers of gesso, polishing it ready for the application of the gold leaf.

This part of the process is very much akin to the preparation which the priest makes of the elements of bread and wine and of the altar for the consecration. In the eastern rite these preparations are substantial, the Offertory procession impressive in comparison to our western emasculated efforts.In the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, which pre-dates the Missal of Paul V by 1,000 yrs, the Offertory and Preparation of the gifts is something really celebrated by the whole assembly, not something done by the priest isolated at the side of the altar or on the altar steps. Rather the priests conducts a number of prayers and rituals on a side table, but then a grand procession brings the chalice and paten, with the bread and wine ready to be consecrated, among the people. They in turn bow profoundly, and as the priest passes he often touches the bowed heads with the sacred vessels. This is real lay participation!

The preparation of the board is thus something much more significant than we might initially have thought. It is about purifying, setting aside, dedicating, creating a blank space on which the Holy One can be manifested and come among his people. It is akin to the spiritual opening of those seeking re-birth as the New Man, the surrender of the whole person to the will of God,the desire for all that is Good through which God can become part of our very selves and our world.

June Prayers to the Sacred Heart ( 13) Lighting a candle

The act of lighting a candle is a form of prayer which is common in many Christian traditions - as it is in the Jewish tradition. Of course, in the Catholic tradition a votive candle is usually placed by a statue - but the use of icons is increasingly more common. In the Orthodox tradition there is an important relationship between prayer, candles and icons. So it is fitting that my prayer for today was/is lighting a candle for Ian's work by a statue of the Sacred Heart in my local Church before Mass. I have often been asked by people who do not quite 'get' why Catholics light candles. I usually explain that the tradition goes way back to the earliest times of Church. I was taught that the early Christians would light candles as part of the funeral ceremony. That sounds reasonable to me. We still light candles to remember a loved one who is no longer with us. And we light candles for people who are ill or facing a challenging time. In these instances I feel that I am reminding myself of the baptism we share in Christ and that Jesus is the' light of the world.' It is an outward sign of the light that illuminates even the darkest moments of our lives in this 'vale of tears'. It is also an act of solidarity : a sign that we are with that person in spirit. And the Holy Spirit came as fire. Thus when a light a candle for a person I feel closer to that person - alive or dead. By lighting a candle I am praying and that prayer, I believe, will help to bring some light, hope, faith and love. In a sense the candle helps my prayer by enabling me to focus in a more intense way. A while ago I noticed a young woman light two votive candles with such reverence. She then took the candles and stood directly under the statue of the Sacred Heart, bowed her head and prayed. She then placed the candles in the candle holder and made the sign of the cross and returned to her seat. It was a simple and beautiful demonstration of what lighting a candle can do to focus a prayer of trust in God's mercy and love. In the simple act of lighting a candle we can grasp some of the mystery of prayer. When someone tells that they have lit a candle for me I always feel closer to God. Why, I do not know. I also think that when we light a candle we somehow pray less with words and allow our hearts to do the talking. Lighting a candle is a heart felt prayer.

And so, that is my prayer for Ian today. It is a light glowing and illuminating - together with many thousands of others all over the world - the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

June Prayers to the Sacred Heart ( 12) Prayer to the Universal Christ

As I am discovering, the process of writing an icon is a profoundly spiritual journey for the iconographer. But it seems to me that it is also a deeply spiritual experience for one who commissions an icon. And I was not expecting that, but it is clearly the case that the focus on an image - in this case the Sacred Heart – does not as some might think lead to ‘worshipping’ an image or idol, but exactly the opposite. An icon leads to a contemplation of that which cannot be imagined or captured by human artifice. The iconographic experience as I see it now, is a way of contemplating the profound truths which are contained in Christian theology - and especially that of Orthodox and Catholic theology. Contemplating the idea of the Sacred Heart in iconic terms has time after time returned me back to the Sacraments and the teachings of the Church. At the same time – and much to my surprise – contemplating the image of the Sacred Heart and praying to the Sacred Heart in the context of Teilhard de Chardin has not served to take me off into some New Age la la land, but again , quite the opposite: it has led me to rediscovery of what we might term ‘traditional’ Catholicism. An instance of this was this morning. Over the past few months, I have been re-discovering the power of the most ‘traditional’ of Catholic practices: the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I thought I would use the adoration today to pray for Ian’s work.

Several non-Catholic friends over the years have said that they were not too keen on Catholicism because ‘too much is going on’. Well, we leave that to one side. But in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament next to nothing is going on. Nothing is ‘going on’ but actually everything is going on. The presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance is such a (can’ t think of the word, so I will just say ) powerful focus for prayer. No words are being uttered. People just quietly and humbly adore. Adore, that is an important word. People pray by adoring the body of Christ present in the host contained in the monstrance. Adore: to love wholly and completely and with the whole of your heart.

Robert Faircy recounts that Teilhard’s accounts of his experiences of the Sacred Heart in ‘Three stories in the style of Benson’ are, according to one of Teilhard’s oldest and closest companions, ‘true religious experiences of his own’. (Faircy, All things in Christ, p 29) So I think we may read these stories as rather more than just stories about a friend. As I prayed today Teilhard’s account of an experience during an adoration of the Blessed Sacrament ( written in 1916) came to the forefront of my mind. It is an account which has to be read in the context of the experience recounted whilst looking at a picture of the Sacred Heart. You can read them here: go to Chapter 2, page 16.

Just an short extract. experience assumed proportions which no physical analogy could express.
‘I had then the impression as I gazed at the host that its surface was gradually spreading out like a spot of oil but of course much more swiftly and luminously. At the beginning it seemed to me that I alone had noticed any change, and that it was taking place without awakening any desire or encountering any obstacle. But little by little, as the white orb grew and grew in space till it seemed to be drawing quite close to me, I heard a subdued sound, an immeasurable murmur, as when the rising tide extends its silver waves over the world of the algae which tremble and dilate at its approach, or when the burning heather crackles as fire spreads over the heath.
‘Thus in the midst of a great sigh suggestive both of an awakening and of a plaint the flow of whiteness enveloped me, passed beyond me, overran everything. At the same time everything, though drowned in this whiteness, preserved its own proper shape, its own autonomous movement; for the whiteness did not efface the features or change the nature of anything, but penetrated objects at the core of their being, at a level more profound even than their own life. It was as though a milky brightness were illuminating the universe from within, and everything were fashioned of the
same kind of translucent flesh….‘So, through the mysterious expansion of the host the whole world had become incandescent, had itself become like a single giant host. One would have said that, under the influence of this inner light which penetrated it, its fibres were stretched to breaking-point and all the energies within them were strained to the utmost. And I was thinking that already in this opening-out of its activity the cosmos had attained its plenitude when I became aware that a much more fundamental process was going on within it….. ‘I heard then the Ave verum being sung.‘ The white host was enclosed once again in the golden monstrance; around it candles were burning, stabbing the darkness, and here and there the sanctuary lamps threw out their crimson glow.’

I believe these were indeed accounts of Teilhard’s actual experiences of the Eucharist – and the Sacred Heart. We only have to read his essay ‘Le Pretre’ - ‘The Priest’ – written a few years later ( in 1918) to get a sense of what Teilhard experienced in the Eucharist. And from this work’ The Priest ‘ we have today’s prayer.

I kneel, Lord, before the universe that has imperceptibly, under the influence of the host, become your adorable body and your divine blood.
I prostrate myself in its presence, or better – much better - I recollect myself in that universe.
The world is filled by you!
O universal Christ, true foundation of the world, you who find your consummation in the fulfilment of all that your power has raised up from nothingness, I worship you, I am lost in the consciousness of your plenitude permeating all things.
( in The Prayer of the Universe, Fontana,1973: 161

And we can only pray that the Church may be renewed and strengthened through the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

( The image above is taken from the web page of the 'Mission of Spirit and Truth' based in St. Louis. A really inspiring example of how to make the Eucharist more relevant to young people : see HERE) Do we have anything like this in London? I don't know...but we should.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

June Prayers to the Sacred Heart ( 11) Prayer to St Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal

Now that Ian has begun work on the icon I think that my main contribution is to pray. The task of writing this icon of the Sacred Heart is truly awesome as we contemplate the meaning which it embodies. We learnt early on in this project (March11th 2011 )that St Francis de Sales has a special place in Ian’s heart, and so it is appropriate that we should seek the interscession of this great Saint. An expert on the Salesian tradition, Dr. Wendy Wright, has this to say about the importance of the Sacred Heart to St Francis and St Jane de Chantal:

the heart was central. In fact, the entire edifice of the Salesian spiritual tradition is undergirded by the image of the heart…This is not the external, formalized devotion to the Sacred Heart that later came into being but a vision of an ‘interconnected world of hearts’- the hearts of God and human kind bridged by the crucified heart of Jesus…The Salesian universe was an imaginative vision grounded in scripture and tradition which envisioned a world of interconnected hearts: the hearts of God and humankind united in the divine-human heart of Jesus.

‘Come to me and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart’ ( Mathew 11.)

(Sacred Heart :Gateway to God., Darton, Longman and Todd 2002)

And so, knowing of their love for the Heart of Jesus – the place wherein the heart of God and the hearts of humanity are united – we ask for their prayers to guide the writing of this icon.

With humility we entrust this work to the patronage of two Saints who were especially devoted to the Heart of Jesus:
St. Francis and St Jane pray for all who seek to be humble and gentle of heart.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Month of The Sacred Heart

Well today, finally, I started putting pencil to paper.

The past week has been a rather busy period trying to get all sorts of bits and pieces tidied up, and also following up the possibility of a whole new church to inscribe with icons in the US as well as trying to take some ideas for setting up an icon school in Bethlehem. However, in the midst of all of this, I have been toying with how to represent the Sacred Heart effectively. In Naur I had a simple circular mandorla and gilded flames. This wasn't completely satisfactory to my eye as I wanted to capture the sense of the all - pervasive presence of the Fire of God's love creating, sustaining and redeeming all things.

Yesterday I got a bit of an inspiration and started to work with a pattern which is found in the Al hambra in southern Spain. This has a swirling movement, but is beautifully balanced and tranquil. It also reminds me of some of the energy field waves photos which David included earlier on. A nimbus or mandorla is a representation of God's glory and power, and so using this shape as one presents a reflection of the Uncreated Energies found in creation in the patterns and forms of power we find around us in the very fabric of creation. I have been experimenting how to include this in the composition, and you can see here how things are beginning to emerge.

Here we have a mandorla in which is placed the figure of Christ. Surmounting it I have placed the Cross, held by an angel as in icons of the Anastasis. I have used the same figure of Jesus I used in Naur.

June Prayers to the Sacred Heart ( 10):The Litany to the Sacred Heart

Because the Sacred Heart is indeed a summation ( or to use a mathematical term Sigma , Σ ) of the Catholic faith, it is as we have observed a challenge to understand. ( To say the least. ) We cannot, of course ‘know’ a mystery we can only participate in the mystery. We get to know the Sacred Heart by participating in the devotion: in other words by prayer. Perhaps the most important of the prayers associated with the Sacred Heart is the ‘Litany of the Sacred Heart’ – which Teilhard would have known well and said often. ( It was prescribed in the Roman Breviary he used every day.)

A ‘litany’ is really one of the oldest forms of prayer. The word comes from Latin and Greek and means a form of supplication or petition. The Mass contains an ancient form of litany common to both the Roman and Orthodox Churches : the Kyrie. I have always found the litanies used in the Orthodox Church very beautiful and inspiring. In the Catholic Church there are 6 litanies approved for public use – and the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of them - although there are many more used in private devotion. The sung version of the Litaniae Sacratissimo Corde Jesu is, I think a perfect way of saying the litany and enables you (well, it does me) to reflect on the different aspects of the Sacred Heart. To here it sung, go HERE

So, go to You tube and follow the text! ( English Latin Text HERE:)

Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
R. Christ, graciously hear us.
V. God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mother's womb, [etc.]
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the Word of God.
Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty.
Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God.
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High.
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven.
Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity.
Heart of Jesus, vessel of justice and love.
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love.
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues.
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise.
Heart of Jesus, King and center of all hearts.
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead.
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received.
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills.
Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy.
Heart of Jesus, rich to all who call upon You.
Heart of Jesus, fount of life and holiness.
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our offenses.
Heart of Jesus, overwhelmed with reproaches.
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our iniquities.
Heart of Jesus, obedient even unto death.
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation.
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who hope in You.
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in You.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints.

V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. spare us, O Lord.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. graciously hear us, O Lord.
V. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us.

V. Jesus, meek and humble of Heart,
R. Make our hearts like unto Thine.

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of Thy most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which He offers Thee in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Thy mercy, in Thy great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee forever and ever. Amen.

There is also a lovely setting of a litany - in French - to the Sacred Heart by Didier Rimaud and Jacques Berthier HERE:

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The feast of Pentecost: a Eureka moment!

It is not often I have ‘Eureka’ moments. But I had one yesterday: not that I jumped out my bath and ran round the streets of London naked, but it was a moment when I think I had discovered something new about myself. Let me explain.

A year ago, yesterday, June 11th ( on feast of the Sacred Heart) I felt that I had to devote myself to the Sacred Heart. I laughed to myself and smiled, because the Sacred Heart meant very little to me. I had grown up with it, and I was aware that it was important to Teilhard, but it was something that I was really not bothered about. As I said in an earlier blog, the only real adult memory I have of the Sacred Heart ( which made an impression) was seeing the great mosaic in Sacre Coeur in Paris as a student. That impressed me, but as for the rest, no. But last year I felt that – after several years of heartache and sadness - somehow I should get it, and with a smile and a laugh I said : ‘ OK, Lord, let’s go!’ And so I went off on my pilgrimage to find the Sacred Heart. I was determined that it would not be about reading books, but reflecting and exploring and above all, praying. Eventually I realized that the image thing had to be sorted, and hence this project – which has been immensely worthwhile.

So, yesterday was the anniversary of starting this journey. I did not want to sit and agonize over it, so I got on with the day and went to mass last night: the first mass of the feast of Pentecost. And during the mass I had my ‘Eureka’ moment. I think I finally found what I was looking for. One year later is a little too neat, but there we are! It was during the Sequence and I thought and felt these ideas and feelings.

We are inviting the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts. And my heart, I realized, is what God sees and wants. My heart is, I now believe, a kind of emergent property of all I am: it is the sum of all my parts and greater than all of them. And only God can see this process of me becoming me. Only God can see ‘all of me’: the way in which my soul and mind and body interact and how all the different parts of my life interact and overlap and shape and form one another. If God is Alpha and Omega, my heart is the Sigma (Σ) : the summation of all the things that have shaped and formed my inner being. My heart is that complex centre of my being which emerges as the essence of me. I cannot know my Sigma, just as I cannot apprehend the Alpha and Omega that is God. Indeed, only God can see this summation or essence of me. And what God sees, he loves. God loves me, all of me: he loves my heart. And he wants to live in my heart. Because I cannot be complete without God’s love holding and pulling all me together. That is what God sees when he sees each one of us: a beautifully unique creation which evolves over the course of a life, however short or long. But a creation whose heart - his or her Σ - is incomplete without the gravitational presence of divine love. In Teilhard’s terms: my heart is being pulled and attracted by Christ Omega. God, who is love, loves us for who we are and is infinitely merciful and forgiving of our failures and inadequacies. God loves and wants our love. In the life and body of Jesus of Nazareth he has shown us HIS essence in a way that we as human beings can understand. Jesus is the way, the truth and the light sent to guide us to God’s love.

And so to the Sacred Heart. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit desires to live in our hearts, but all too often we do not get or understand this or we just refuse the invitation. And this hurts the God who loves us. Perhaps we are rather scared or frightened? Perhaps this is why I keep writing ‘Scared Heart of Jesus’ and have to keep correcting my blogs. I may be scared of the Sacred Heart! The message of the Sacred Heart, however, is that I should not be afraid to open my heart to God and to others. I just have to trust in that love and allow myself to be open to the attraction of Christ Omega: the Sacred Heart. Yes, the Sacred Heart is on the face of it a simple – if not crude - symbol, but it is a powerful expression – indeed the most powerful expression – of the relationship God wants with us. That is, a union: his heart in ours. God wants to complete us. But in order to have the courage and strength to overcome our fears of surrendering to this love we need the Holy Spirit. And hence, the lines of the Sequence – Veni, Sancte Spiritus - which seemed to penetrate into my heart at Mass:

Light immortal, light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill..

Bend the stubborn heart and will,
Melt the frozen, warm the chill.

And so we say:
‘Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love’

This was made beautifully clear for me in the reading for the day in my Magnificat. ( A really excellent publication! ) It has a quote from Brother Simeon, a Cistercian Monk ( Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis ) And it struck through to my heart and made so much of my journey thus far so much clearer.

Tears are the humble, created water of my heart that corresponds to the powerful water of the Spirit’s life in me. Tears are perhaps the most rejuvenating and re-creating water of all, the evidence that I have allowed grace to melt the ice at the centre of my being. As Leon Bloy says strikingly, where there are tears, there is the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit of God is always, as at the beginning, ‘hovering over the waters’. (cited in Magnificat, June, 2011: Vol 1, No 9, p 174)

Perhaps all the tears of the past few years had finally melted my heart – the Σ and centre of my being. A year ago, on the feast of the Sacred Heart, the Holy Spirit could at last find a small space to fill and a flicker of an ember to enkindle. As a result I found the courage to say, ‘Let’s go’, and for the first time I actually let go.

Friday, 10 June 2011

June Prayer to the Sacred Heart (9): A prayer to the Holy Spirit

Let us return to Ian’s comment about feeling rather overwhelmed by the Sacred Heart. I share his sense of inadequacy in the face of the mystery of God’s love for his creation as expressed in the Sacred Heart. Indeed, Teilhard also admits that the very ‘thought of it is almost more than the mind can comprehend.’ Almost, is an important qualifier here. It is overwhelming, but it is not quite beyond our reason and our faith. My experience over the past six months or so has been that the closer I get to the Sacred Heart – the stronger the pull or the ‘attraction’ of the Sacred Heart, - the more do you get pulled into the mystery of the ‘heart’ in the Bible. The word in used throughout the Old and New Testament – indeed it is reckoned to be mentioned some 743 times! And the meaning of the term is quite complicated: it means so many things. I believe that the revelation of the Sacred Heart is a most powerful image which provides us with a doorway into the meaning of heart in Holy Scripture. When we contemplate the idea of our heart in relation to God’s heart and in relation to the heart of Jesus we stand, like Moses, on holy ground. We stand and contemplate not a burning bush, but a burning heart. A heart that burns but is not consumed. We contemplate the mystery of the God who is love and whose word has been made flesh - a human heart. We contemplate the very heart of creation that is aflame for the love of us. And, from the perspective of Teilhard, we stand in adoration of Christ Omega who is uniting all things. This is not something we can grasp with our mere human minds and hearts. And thus it is why Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles as fire – precedes the feast of the Sacred Heart. It is why the feast of the Sacred Heart is celebrated after the coming of the Holy Spirit. We need the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to be able to unite with the heart of Jesus. And we also need the intersession of Mary – the Eternal Feminine - within whom the heart of Jesus was formed - to point the way to a fuller understanding of this great mystery.

And thus today’s prayer is for everyone – especially iconographers – who are being ‘attracted’ by the Sacred Heart.

Come , Holy Spirit.
Come by means of the powerful intersession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, thy well-beloved spouse.

Come Holy Spirit.
Come with the blessing of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
so that we may all may fulfil God the Father’s plan for our lives.

(PS. I came across this beautiful prayer in The Catholic Herald today – June 10th 2011. )

Thursday, 9 June 2011

June Prayer to the Sacred Heart (8): A prayer for an Iconographer

It is so good to know that Ian is back in the UK after his travels. I am very much looking forward to seeing his exhibition in London this weekend.

I have to confess that when we started this project I had absolutely no idea as to what it would involve. My feeling now is that trying to think about my Catholic faith in terms of images has been a kind of pilgrimage. Yes, that is what this is! It is a pilgrimage not to a place or a space, but to a concept or idea as expressed in an image. I have not been to the Holy Land – like Ian - or to the shrine of a Saint. I have not journeyed to Paray-le-Monial. Mine has not been a kind of Chaucerian pilgrimage to Canterbury – a ‘hooly blisful martir for to seke’. But it has been about a journey to an image which helped me when I was ill: ‘ that hem, hath hoplen whan that they were seeke’. I rediscovered the Sacred Heart as a result of being ‘seeke’: but it was something that, despite being an image with which I had grown up, was in truth, a strange land for me. I prayed the prayers to the Sacred Heart, but did not know what they meant. Chaucer says that pilgrims were ’pierced by nature in their hearts’ to go on pilgrimages ‘to distant shrines known in foreign lands’ ( So priketh hem nature in hir corages; thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages..for to seken straungen strondes, to ferne halwes , kowthe in sundry landes’. )

As I have journeyed to this icon - which Ian will be writing in this month of the Sacred Heart - I have been telling stories – just like Chaucer’s pilgrims. And I suppose that is what a pilgrimage is: travelling to a place when we are ‘seeke’ in mind and body telling stories on the way so as to make sense of what the journey of your life has been. Although a pilgrimage is to ‘straugen strondes’ - strange lands- it is also a journey to home. A pilgrimage is a journey to a special place that is your spiritual home. It is the place that you take your sickness: the home where you hope and pray to be healed.

As I wrote that last line, the words of a hymn by Francis Stanfield came into my head:

O Sacred Heart,
Our home lies deep in thee
On earth thou art an exile's rest
In heaven the glory of the blest;
O Sacred Heart.

And there you have it. This pilgrimage to an icon of the Sacred Heart has been about finding my way home. And I think that that is why it was so important to Teilhard as well. His journey was to take him to ‘straugen strondes’ but also into exile far from the Church he loved wholly and completely, but was sadly not ready for his ideas. And yet he was only journeying on a ‘road less travelled’ to the Sacred Heart - which appeared to diverge from the path then acceptable to Rome . His journey ended where it began – in his mother’s love of the Sacred Heart. He never left home. And, I suppose, neither have I.

But, evenso, this pilgrimage has been bewildering at times. As a pilgrimage should be. And so, I sympathize with what Ian says in his recent post:

All of this is literally mind shattering. I find my head fragmenting into shards trying to comprehend all of this and hold some sort of sense from it, but it is literally beyond the pallid little mind I have, mortal creature that I am.

Yes, the journey to the Sacred Heart is one heck of an adventure and the most challenging of pilgrimages! The reason for this is obvious. It is ‘mind-shattering’ BECAUSE we are on a journey into what Benedict calls the ‘core’ of Christian belief. When we reflect on and pray to the Sacred Heart we are contemplating the totality - THE CORE - of the mystery of what Ian describes as the ‘ centre of the God’s power as experienced in our world and transforming it, as creative and redemptive. In the Person of Jesus, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this comes to its apex, its Omega Point..’ ‘the meeting point of the Creation with its Creator and Redeemer’

And so we are at one with Teilhard in saying:

" Our Lord's Heart is indeed ineffably beautiful and satisfying: it exhausts all reality and answers all the soul's needs. The very thought of it is almost more than the mind can compass

So, the prayer for today is for 'mind shattered' Ian.

Dear Lord, Enlighten and direct Ian's soul, heart and spirit. Guide his hands that he may worthily and perfectly write an icon of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Exhibition in London

The exhibition about my work in Palestine and some of the icons I have written, will be displayed in Our Lady Immaculate Church, Tolworth, from this Saturday for a week. The church is close to Tolworth station, and is open from about 7.30am each day.

Link to the church of Our Lady Immaculate

Getting back in focus

Well after a rather long absence I am back on the case! David has given us some fascinating glimpses of the way in which devotion to the Sacred Heart takes us into every aspect of the Christian faith, and the nuances which this devotion has found in writings from Pope Benedict to Dante. All of this obviously provides a rich and fertile soil for our project.

However, we need to now draw things into focus if we are to begin to make a coherent and powerful image. So, lets get back to fundamentals, not least the Scriptures, basic Christology and the Person of Christ. This I believe is the ascetical route that enables me as an iconographer to begin to conceive of the image afresh. We already have the work done in Naur, and I hope to build on this now. My plan is that we will have the icon  complete by the end of this month or perhaps the middle of July.

One little set back however. The board has warped a little so I am thinking to have a new one made up. This will set us back a little time wise but I think we need to have as good a job as possible.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus – Back in Focus

The ‘heart’ appears in Scripture over 1000 times, and is a metaphor for the centre of a person, an anthropological characteristic, where is found good and evil[1]. It is the place where we know and choose, the place of conversion, renewal, of choice for or against God, of knowing God and ourselves in the fullest, deepest sense. It is the place where the human person comes to know and be known by God, the centre of the human character. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jer 31:32

It is also used, occasionally, about the Holy of Holies as the centre or ‘heart’ of the temple and about Jerusalem as the ‘heart’ or centre of the world. The ‘heart’ of the world is Jerusalem, the ‘heart’ of Jerusalem is the Temple, the heart of the Temple is the Holy of Holies. And the Holy of Holies is where God dwells, symbolised in the Old Testament narratives by the shekhinah, or cloud of glory that first accompanied Moses in the desert and finally settled on the Tent of Meeting. Subsequently this became the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud rested [shakhan] upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle." Exodus 40:34-35. “In classic Jewish thought, the Shekhinah refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense, a dwelling or settling of divine presence, to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekhinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable.”  The symbol of this indwelling glory is a golden light, brightness, luminosity or fire, often in the form of a cloud, such as travelled with the Hebrews through the desert, or that came upon the Mountain of Horeb when God gave the Law, or the flames of the burning bush, or that was manifest in the visions of the prophets such as Ezekiel. “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” Ezekiel 1:28 

With the Person of Christ, these two aspect meet. Being True Man and True God, the anthropology of Christ gains a deeper, sacred significance. In John’s Gospel we have the following dialogue after Jesus drives out the money changers from the Temple: “Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” Jn 2:14-16. If the Body of Christ is the new Temple, then the heart of Jesus is the new Holy of Holies. And this heart is thus symbolised as a place of divine Light or Fire.

 The heart of Jesus is thus a Christological phenomenon, the centre point of the whole Person of Christ, true God and true Man, the meeting of the hypostatic union of the two natures, human and divine, the point of co-inherence. As such, it is the meeting point of the Creation with its Creator and Redeemer, the Omega Point, origin and consummation of existence. The Biblical image for this Life is as Light. St John writes “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 1:3-5 New American Bible

And Light is energy; not just any energy but here in the Person of Christ divine energy. Vladmir Lossky, drawing on the Patristic theological insights and language, expresses it this way:  “This distinction is that between the essence of God, or His nature, properly so-called, which is inaccessible, unknowable and incommunicable; and the and the energies or divine operations, forces proper to and inseparable from God’s essence, in which He goes forth from Himself, manifests, communicates, and gives Himself. ”

St Basil: “It is by His energies that we say we know our God; we do not assert that we can come near to the essence itself, for His energies descend to us, but his essence remains unapproachable”. Epistle 234. As the heart is the seat of our ‘knowing’, and especially of our ability to know and love God, then in Christ His Sacred Heart is the place of His self-knowledge and His self-revealing, where He is truly one Person in two Natures. It is the energies that flow through His heart by which the cosmos is Created, redeemed and gathered together into the new creation. Light is the symbolic manifestation of these energies. We see this in the vision of the Sacred Heart, but also in the experience of theosis in such people as St Symeon the New Theologian and many of the Hesychast fathers of the east.   The human heart becomes, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through sacramental grace such as baptism and the Eucharist, filled with the Divine Light or Fire of the shekinah.

That which shines forth from the heart of Christ it is the Divine Light that blinds, that reveals and yet hides, that brings knowing and un-knowing, that wounds and heals. These energies of God can be best known and described as love. St John tells us that ‘God is love’. Teilhard de Chardin speaks of this love which creates, and re-creates, that is the evolutionary energy that brings about all things into the One.
Christian anthropology understands our destiny, into which we evolve through the working on us of Divine Love and Fire, in other words the Holy Spirit, as the destiny of love, for God and our neighbour. St Paul describes love is the greatest of the three things known now which will endure the end of all things, and the very essence of the good life of the Christian.

All of this is literally mind shattering. I find my head fragmenting into shards trying to comprehend all of this and hold some sort of sense from it, but it is literally beyond the pallid little mind I have, mortal creature that I am.

Given this, it is not surprisingly that the devotional use of the Sacred Heart has rather side-lined the theological, with the emphasis on reparation, and the stirring up of the emotion of pity for the poor suffering Saviour, of a desire in us to console. The ascetical image of the Sacred Heart has never had a chance to emerge given the overwhelming simpering sentimentality which Teilhard refers to so negatively. Though the vision of St Margaret Mary was ascetic, the Sacred Heart a living ball of Light surmonted by the Cross, bearing a wound and crowned by thorns, rather than a pierced dripping piece of glowing flesh, the language of devotion found in her writings, and indeed of many others, was deeply emotional, sensual, passionate as was usual at that time. Given this it was inevitable that the imagery that grew up around this would be the same and much of the language around it equally evocative in the same way.

In order to re-discover the ascetical imagery we need to adopt ascetical language too. This is where the patristic inheritance helps. Despite the difficulties of thinking in those refined terms, through its discussion of Christian anthropology  and the Divine Energies, the heart of Christ can be understood as the centre of the God’s power as experienced in our world and transforming it, as creative and redemptive. In the Person of Jesus, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this comes to its apex, its Omega Point. This, I would suggest, is the point of departure for the icon of the Sacred Heart.

Once we have this as the main focus, we can weave some of the other elements, more specifically the vision of Teilhard.

[1] The Sacred Heart of the World: Restoring Mystical Devotion to Our Spiritual Life,   By David Richo p. 11


June Prayer to the Sacred Heart (7): A prayer for priests

The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every Consecrated Host is made to burn Itself up with love in a human heart.
St John Vianney (1786-1859)

The greatest tragedy which has faced the Catholic Church in my life-time is the way in which some sick and wicked men have brought the priesthood into such disrespect. It is a matter of personal sadness for me as I have known so many good and holy priests, and what has happened in recent years has caused so much damage to how people see the Church. When we pray for the future of the Church we must, therefore, have a special thought for our priests. With this in mind the relationship between the Sacred Heart and the priesthood must have a top priority in our prayers. In 2009, when Benedict XVI inaugurated the then ‘year for priests’ ( On the Feast of the Sacred Heart) he reminded us what St John Vianney said of the priesthood. “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”. Indeed, this quotation appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1598).

You can read what Benedict says in full by going HERE.
But here are a few excerpts.

God’s heart, as the expression of his will, is spoken of twenty-six times in the Old Testament. Before God’s heart men and women stand judged. His heartfelt pain at sins of mankind makes God decide on the flood, but then he is touched by the sight of human weakness and offers his forgiveness. Yet another passage of the Old Testament speaks of God’s heart with absolute clarity: it is in the eleventh chapter of the book of the Prophet Hosea, whose opening lines portray the Lord’s love for Israel at the dawn of its history: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11:1). Israel, however, responds to God’s constant offer of love with indifference and even outright ingratitude. “The more I called them”, the Lord is forced to admit, “the more they went from me” (v. 2). Even so, he never abandons Israel to the power of its enemies, because “my heart”—the Creator of the universe observes—“recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender” (v. 8).
The heart of God burns with compassion! On today’s solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Church presents us this mystery for our contemplation: the mystery of the heart of a God who feels compassion and who bestows all his love upon humanity. A mysterious love, which in the texts of the New Testament is revealed to us as God’s boundless and passionate love for mankind. God does not lose heart in the face of ingratitude or rejection by the people he has chosen; rather, with infinite mercy he sends his only-begotten Son into the world to take upon himself the fate of a shattered love, so that by defeating the power of evil and death he could restore to human beings enslaved by sin their dignity as sons and daughters. But this took place at great cost—the only-begotten Son of the Father was sacrificed on the Cross: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1). The symbol of this love which transcends death is his side, pierced by a spear. The Apostle John, an eyewitness, tells us: “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (cf. Jn 19:34).....The very core of Christianity is expressed in the heart of Jesus; in Christ the revolutionary “newness” of the Gospel is completely revealed and given to us: the Love that saves us and even now makes us live in the eternity of God. ….God’s heart calls to our hearts, inviting us to come out of ourselves, to forsake our human certainties, to trust in him and, by following his example, to make ourselves a gift of unbounded love.
While it is true that Jesus’ invitation to “abide in my love” (cf. Jn 15:9) is addressed to all the baptized, on this feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the day of prayer for the sanctification of priests, this invitation resounds all the more powerfully for us priests.

And so our prayer for today is simple .

Father, we pray that all your priests will love the heart of Jesus more and more. When we see a priest we pray that we will see the heart of Jesus shining out. St. John Vianney pray for our priests.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

June Prayer to the Sacred Heart (6): The cosmic Christ

It is in the Sacred Heart that the conjunction of the Divine and the cosmic takes place..There lies the power that, from the beginning, has attracted me and conquered me… All the later development of my interior life has been nothing other than the evolution of that seed. 1919 (cited in R. Faricy, All Things in Christ, Fontana, 1971; pp13-14)

This ‘seed’ continued to grow and evolve throughout his life. If we do not understand this seed of the Sacred Heart in his life and work we simply do not understand Teilhard. And, if we do not understand the central place of the Sacred Heart in his vision of the future of Christianity, we simply do not understand what Teilhard has to say to us in the 21st century. The Sacred Heart is the point at which all creation is converging: it is the personal heart of the cosmos. It is the centre of Christ and the centre of our centre - our heart – and the centre of all that is and will be. The Sacred Heart is the fire of love which beats and glows at the heart of creation and to which all is converging. The Sacred Heart is the Omega Point. It was - as he noted in 1939 - his mission in life to propagate this belief. (Faricy, p 17) All that he writes is ultimately about this mission to spread this seed, this ‘attraction’ to the Sacred Heart. (He did not like the word ‘devotion’ as it was, ’too sentimental’ and ‘ too weak’. ) Teilhard wished to spread an attraction to the universal, cosmic Christ: that is to the ‘true heart of Jesus’.

So , our prayer for today is part of an early prayer by Teilhard which encapsulates his mission to renew the Sacred Heart’s position in the life of the Church. It is to be found at the end of his first great statement of his ideas, ‘Cosmic Life’, completed in Easter 1916 in Dunkirk.

Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you truly contain within your gentleness, within your humanity, all the unyielding immensity and grandeur of the world. ... I love you as the source, the activating and life-giving ambience, the term and consummation, of the world, even of the natural world, and of its process of becoming.
You the Centre at which all things meet and which stretches out over all things so as to draw them back into itself: I love you for the extensions of your body and so to the farthest corners of creation through grace through life, and through matter.
Lord Jesus, you who are as gentle as the human heart as fiery as the forces of nature, as intimate as life itself you in whom I can melt away and with whom I must have mastery and freedom: I love you as a world, as this world which has captivated my heart ; — and it is you, now realize, that my brother-men, even those who do not believe, sense and seek throughout the magic immensities of the cosmos.
Lord Jesus, you are the centre towards which all things are moving: if it be possible, make a place for us all in the company of those elect and holy ones whom your loving care has liberated one by one from the chaos of our present existence and who now are being slowly incorporated into you in the unity of the new earth.

The Prayer of The Universe, Fontana, 1973; 103-4

Today we pray that this ‘seed’ of the Sacred Heart - as the cosmic Christ - will grow in our heart’s poor soil and attract and unite with our heart.

Monday, 6 June 2011

June prayers to the Sacred Heart (5): A prayer from St. John Eudes

This exploration of the Sacred Heart by reflecting on its artistic representation is like following a river to find its source only to discover that you are back where you started. For the more does one explore the image, the deeper we are pulled into prayer. It is as if we can only really find the source of the river by swimming in it. And then the source becomes more apparent: the Sacred Heart flows out of the very depths of the human experience of the self and the divine. And thus our journey to the Sacred Heart begins and returns again and again to the Holy Eucharist.

As we explore the Sacred Heart in prayer we realize that it calls and pulls us towards the very core of existence: what Teilhard called the ‘heart of matter’, the heart of the universe , and the heart of the divine and the heart of ourselves. In short, reflecting on the Sacred Heart and prayer to the Sacred Heart is powerful stuff. Teilhard believed passionately that it held the key to the ‘Christ of today’, as he expressed it to Jeanne Mortier. The Christianity of the future had to spread the good news of the Sacred Heart as ‘ the centre of energy that creates and drives the world’ ( Mortier, Album, p193). For this reason he was worried that the devotion that was practiced in his own time would fail to bring about this sense of the ‘cosmic’ scale of Christ. In his letter to his cousin who was about to go off to Paray le Monial in 1917, he is highly critically of the ‘mawkish’ images full of ‘false sentimentality’ and ‘excesses of false devotion’. Teilhard’s preference is for the Sacred Heart to become the ‘centre of an almost esoteric cult reserved for those who wish with all their hearts to be real Christians through and through’. (Making of a Mind, p192) In other words, the Sacred Heart was so deep and complex and powerful a mystery that it is wholly unsuited to be a popular – mass market - devotion fuelled by industrially produced cheap sentimental kitsch images. But, as he admits ‘ the mistake may be mine’. Was the mistake all his? I don’t think so. If the power of the Sacred Heart is to be harnessed by the Church it may be that it is a good thing that the devotion has suffered a decline or (to use a word favoured by Teilhard) diminishment. For Teilhard the dominant image was (As he notes later in The Heart of Matter ) ‘oddly limited both in the object to which it was directed (Reparations ) and in its symbol ( the heart of our Saviour, depicted with curious anatomical realism!). Thus a few years before his death he observes:

The remains of this narrow view can still, unfortunately, be seen today, both in a form of worship which is always obsessed by the idea of sin and in an iconography which we must needs deplore without too much vexation. For my own part, however, I can say that at no time has its influence held the least attraction for my piety. (Heart of Matter, 43)

The iconography of the Sacred Heart, in my experience to date, does get in the way of prayer. It has not been much help for me on this journey. But, like, Teilhard, that just might be to do with me: I may be wrong. Thus my exploration of the Sacred Heart has essentially involved prayer which is focused by words rather images. Where images have aided prayer they have - like the icons of the Virgin, and Pinta’s picture - helped me to focus on the heart of Jesus. I have also found that icons of the Annunciation, Transfiguration, Resurrection , Ascension and Pentecost can be powerfully evocative of the Sacred Heart. And, of course the Rosary is also indispensible for anyone on a journey to the Sacred Heart. But the Batoni type pictures , no. I have tried, but no they are not a great help. Where they do work is through a quick look and then close your eyes and imagine the image just morphing into something else - as Teilhard did. In this respect, I think that the simple drawing by St Margaret Mary has been far more effective as an aid to prayer: a kind of map to use on the journey. My reading of the history of the devotion suggests that, in this respect, I am more in tune with the devotion as it was prior to the age of kitsch ‘anatomical realism’.
Thus the prayer for today comes from St John Eudes. Many of his prayers are remarkably vivid and - for me - really capture Teilhard’s sense of the Sacred Heart and the sense of the cosmic Christ. His prayers can be immensely visual and seem to have the effect of inducing a clear mental picture. As in this prayer.

O furnace infinitely to be desired! Who will grant me to be plunged into that burning fire?
O Mother of Jesus, O all you angels and holy saints of Jesus, I give myself to you and to each in particular, and I give you also all my brothers and sisters in Christ, and all the inhabitants of earth, that you may cast us all into the abyss of that sacred furnace!

Attend and hear, O vast furnace of love!
A tiny straw asks most humbly and earnestly to be plunged, buried , lost, devoured and consumed wholly in your sacred flames and your holy fires forever and ever!

O fire which ever burns and is never extinguished.
O love which is ever fervent and never grows tepid, inflame me wholly that I may love you wholly.


St John Eudes pray for us.