Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Teilhard’s Litany: (14) The Pyx

 For most of us the only time we see a pyx is when we are ill at home or in hospital and are unable to attend mass. So the third story 'The Pyx' (Read here in  The Hymn of the Universe)  has a strong personal resonance for all of us who have been incapacitated in one way or another.  But it also very personal to Teilhard.   We know from his letters that he frequently – like all priests in the army – would carry a pyx on him containing the Blessed Sacrament.   The story also contains explicit factual information that suggests that this story might be considered his thoughts as he was to go into battle himself.  The story tell us that his friend had been at Verdun and that he was due go to Douaumont to recapture the fort.  It concludes with the report that his friend in the battle – so perhaps Teilhard was musing on his own fate as he wrote this story.

It is a simple enough story about a priest who carrying a pyx finds himself  in a dug-out gives himself holy communion.  Teilhard then describes his ( friend’s?) thoughts and feelings about the experience.  So it is not as ‘vision’ as such  so much as a ‘more general impression’ which ‘affected his whole being’.

The story provides Teilhard with an opportunity to give a some concise statements about  his way thinking.   Again, these are early ‘impressions’ which are to be explored and enlarged in the years to come.

What the story conveys in the intensity of Teilhard’s belief in the real and true presence of Christ in the bread and wine.  He was to write a good deal about this.  More than anything else I would say that the icon has served to focus my thoughts and prayers on the Eucharist and how it is a powerful outward sign of the process in which Christ is uniting all things.  As is evident in his prayer in the `mass on the World’  for Teilhard it is in communion  with Christ in the Eucharist that we come closest to the Sacred Heart.  The story of the picture is about an image, the  story of the monstrance is about the diaphany of God, but the story of the pyx is about the experience of consuming and being consumed by the golden glow radiating from the heart of Jesus.

He begins my summarising what the previous two stories have told us about the universal processes at work in the Sacred Heart: ‘ a cosmos in which the dimensions of divine reality , of spirit and of matter were also intimately mingled’.   His heart, he tells us began to ‘burn’ with a ‘higher vision of things’.  He then proceeds to tell us the story of how a  priest  carrying the Blessed Sacrament becomes overwhelmed by the desire to possess, penetrate and assimilate ‘the wealth of the world’.  And yet, try though he may, he cannot pass through the invisible barrier  - ‘the thin , barely-formed film’ that separates Christ from himself.

In reflecting on the mystery of the Eucharist Teilhard declares himself a pantheist.   Now at this point critics of Teilhard will shout ‘got you!’  But of course, by a pantheist he means in the sense we find in St. Paul: En pasi panta theos – God all in all.  For Teilhard the Eucharist is a  pantheoetical  (can I say that -  is that a word?)  experience: that is its to say in the Eucharist we become one with God.  We consume and are consumed.  In the Eucharist humanity is being progressively assimilated into the mystical and cosmic body of Christ! 

I live at the heart of a single, unique Element, the Center of the universe and present in each part of it: personal Love and cosmic Power. To attain to him and become merged into his life I have before me the entire universe with its noble struggles, its impassioned quests, its myriads of souls to be healed and made perfect I can and I must throw myself into the thick of human endeavor, and with no stopping for breath. For the more fully I play my part and the more I bring my efforts to bear on the whole surf ace of reality, the more also will I attain to Christ and cling close to him.

God, who is eternal Being-in-itself, is, one might say, everywhere in process of formation for us.

And God is also the heart of everything; so much so that the vast setting of the universe might be engulfed or wither away or be taken from me by death without my joy being diminished. Were creation's dust, which is vitalized by a halo of energy and glory, to be swept away, the substantial Reality wherein every perfection is incorruptibly contained, and possessed would remain intact: the rays would be drawn back into their Source, and there I should still hold them all in a close embrace.

This wonderful passage reflects the way in which Teilhard was thinking about the Eucharist and the Mass.  The following year he wrote an essay called ‘The Priest’ which prefigures his great ‘Mass on the World’.

Teilhard saying mass before the battle for Douaumont, 1916
The story concludes with an inspiring statement from one who was just about to go off to a battle field.  It shows how the Eucharist had given him a strength and a courage that  ‘ even war’ does not ‘disconcert’ him – as one ‘instinctively in communion with life’.   He tells us that he will go with a religious spirit and that if he is not to return he would like his body to be remain in the clay of the fortifications of the fort in Douaumont  ‘ like a living cement thrown by God into the stone work of the New City’. 

The story serves to remind us that in all of the language he uses to describe the Sacred Heart, we must always remember that above all else, the Sacred Heart is to be experienced in the Eucharist. And, when we take communion what we consume and what we are being consumed by is the cosmic and universal energy described in the litany on his card.  (See HERE)

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