Thursday, 28 July 2011

The Cross and the Sacred Heart

Ian notes that: '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 marvelous order of creation, and all of which has its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. '

Here again, we have much to think and reflect upon. This element of the icon provides a focus for a good deal of prayer and food for thought. And, as in other aspects of the icon, Ian combines the old and new aspects of the Sacred Heart so as to deepen our understanding of the image and the devotion. Let us just focus on the cross here.

The cross is an important feature of the of the image of the Sacred Heart. In the standard type of Sacred Heart images the cross is usually on top of the heart and surrounded by fire. In this icon. however, the cross does not surmount the heart but surmounts the image of Christ Omega, but it serves the same ‘function’: to remind us of the crucifixion and the passion of Christ. Here, however, we see Christ in glory – at the Parousia – and so it is fitting that the cross should be of the exalted type. The cross, as in the standard image, is actually rooted in the Sacred Heart – here depicted in terms of the nimbus of the divine centre. But, in keeping with Teilhard’s Pauline conception of the Sacred Heart as a cosmic focal point of all creation, the cross reaches out and encompasses the sun and the moon and the cosmos itself.

The cross is VERY important to Teilhard, just as it is very important to the Sacred Heart. Read, for example what he says on the meaning of the cross in The Divine Milieu.

In its highest and most general sense, the doctrine of the Cross is that to which all men adhere who believe that the vast movement and agitation of human life opens on to a road which leads somewhere, and that that road climbs upward. Life has a term: therefore it imposes a particular direction, orientated, in fact, towards the highest possible spiritualisation by means of the greatest possible effort. To admit that group of fundamental principles is already to range oneself among the disciples-distant, perhaps, and implicit, but nevertheless real-of Christ crucified. Once that first choice has been made, the first distinction has been drawn between the brave who will succeed and the pleasure-seekers who will fail, between the elect and the condemned.

The meaning of human evolution - and pain and suffering - is therefore to be found in the cross.

To sum up, Jesus on the Cross is both the symbol and the reality of the immense labour of the centuries which has, little by little, raised up the created spirit and brought it back to the depths of the divine milieu. He represents (and in a true sense, he is) creation, as, upheld by God, it reascends the slopes of being, sometimes clinging to things for support, sometimes tearing itself from them in order to pass beyond them, and always compensating, by physical suffering, for the setbacks caused by its moral downfalls. The Cross is therefore not inhuman but superhuman. We can now understand that from the very first, from the very origins of mankind as we know it, the Cross was placed on the crest of the road which leads to the highest peaks of creation. But, in the growing light of Revelation, its arms, which at first were bare, show themselves to have put on Christ: Crux inuncta. At first sight the bleeding body may seem funereal to us. Is it not from the night that it shines forth? But if we go nearer we shall recognise the flaming Seraph of Alvernus whose passion and compassion are incendium mentis. The Christian is not asked to swoon in the shadow, but to climb in the light, of the Cross.

(Harper Row Edition,1960, p 102 ; 104.

The Sacred Heart is about light and energy and love and fire - as this icon makes clear. But it is also about pain and suffering: hence the centrality of the cross. In his (UTTERLY INSPIRING essay which I highly recommend as someone who took great comfort from it) ‘The Significance and Positive Value of Suffering’ he says this:

What a vast ocean of human suffering spreads over the entire earth at every moment ! Of what is this mass formed ? Of blackness, gaps and rejections? No, let me repeat, of potential energy. In suffering the ascending force of the world is concealed in a very intense form. The whole question is how to liberate it and give it a consciousness of its significance and potentialities. The world would leap high towards God if all the sick together were to turn their pain into a common desire that the kingdom of God should come to rapid fruition through the conquest and organization of the earth. All the sufferers of the earth joining their sufferings so that the world's pain might become a great and unique act of consciousness, elevation and union. "Would not this be one of the highest forms that the mysterious work of creation could take in our sight ? Could it not be precisely for this that the creation was completed in Christian eyes by the passion of Jesus ? On the cross, we are perhaps in danger of seeing only an individual suffering, a single act of expiation. The creative power of that death escapes us. Let us take a broader glance, and we shall see that the cross is the symbol and place of an action whose intensity is beyond expression. Even from the earthly point of view, the crucified Jesus, fully understood, is not rejected or conquered. It is on the contrary he who bears the weight and draws ever higher towards God the universal march of progress. Let us act like him, in order to be in our whole existence united with him.

In Human Energy,Collins, 1969:51-2

In the cross we see a symbol full of meaning for our understanding of evolution and of the Sacred Heart.

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