Monday, 31 October 2011

Jean -Simon Berthélemy's Sacred Heart of Saint Sulpice

Berthélemy's Sacred Heart: click to enlarge.**
Reflecting on the painting by Jean -Simon Berthélemy  - dated 1784- in the Church of Saint-Sulpice which I encountered on a recent trip to Paris (SEE EARLIER POST) ,  it struck me that we need to focus on  the message of the painting -  which might  have been more apparent at the the time when it was fist displayed in the church prior to the French Revolution than to us now.  And that message?  On the left of the painting we see the world in adoration of the love of God as manifested in the humanity of Christ - as symbolised by His heart.   But then on the right hand side we move from adoration to ACTION.  We see St Michael as a channel for God's love using that energy to act upon the evils and wickedness of this world.  The Sacred Heart is not simply a a devotion, it is the source of an energy which humanity has to harness in order to bring about the Kingdom of God.   Thus, when we reflect on the history of the devotion it is noticeable that the communities that  have a special love of the Sacred Heart - such as  those established by St. Madeleine Sophie and St. Louise de Marillac-  have been active through prayer and charitable works  - in building what Bl. John Paul called a 'civilisation of love'. The Sacred Heart is calling for action and not just devotion: action, through prayer and charitable endeavours - to confront and challenge the existence of poverty of body, mind and spirit in our world ; action to create a just society; action to build a new earth.  And, in the context of the belief that reason alone is all we need to build a better world, the Sacred Heart was thus  the symbol of opposition to the religion  of reason promoted by the Revolution.   We need to see the Sacred Heart once again in these terms - as a symbol which challenges the marginalization of faith in our world.   Reason without faith in God as love - is always dangerous and ultimately destructive.  The Sacred Heart calls us to be active in  harnessing faith and reason and above all what Teilhard called the 'energy of love'.  Love - the ultimate and most powerful form of energy in the universe.   That is what St. Michael is using to protect the good and defeat evil!  The Sacred Heart in this picture is challenging us to join Michael in building a civilisation of love.

So... I have another way of reading the presence of St. Michael in our icon!

** The picture is the best I can do with a virtually black painting!! Sorry.   Although the basic structure and content of the painting is clear, it is impossible to get any more detail.  As to colours, if you look at other paintings by Berthélemy, you can get a sense of the colours underneath years of  dirt!   This picture can only be a very rough approximation.  His colours tended to be quite vivid and rich.  For other paintings by him see here.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Paris: (4) L'Art Saint Sulpice and the art of the Sacred Heart

From the sublime to to ridiculous!   Despite the desire to experience the love of the Sacred Heart as manifested in the lives in the lives of St. Madeleine-Sophie and St. Louise and their sisters, I knew there was somewhere else in Paris I had to visit: Place St Sulpice.  In many ways what had taken place in and around the area associated with the Church of St. Sulpice was just as important to the devotion to the Sacred Heart as the traditions and teachings of the church.  As a devotion, it has been very focused on an image.  The area was in its day in the 19th century responsible for the mass production of Catholic art.  It was from this part of Paris that all the plaster statues of the Sacred Heart were to be produced and where from  pictures and prayer cards were exported world-wide.  As Colleen McDannell shows in her book  Material Christianity ( Yale University Press, 1998): 'l'Art Saint-Sulpice became the international style of Catholic church art. From Ireland to Mexico to India or the United States, local art was replaced by goods either imported from France or copied from French standards.'  Teilhard was not alone in feeling that this kitsch art produced by the many businesses which surrounded the  church of St. Sulpice did the Sacred Heart no favours.  Indeed, the predominance of the Sulpicean images was not helpful to what he believed was necessary: an  evolution in the devotion.  And yet, he himself carried around with him an image which he treasured as something which in someway captured his sense of the Sacred Heart. (See here )  On the card he carried and which he gave as a gift to his friend Lucile Swan is the address of Art Catholique, 6 Place Saint Sulpice. So,  off  we went to find it.  And here it is - above right.

There are still a few shops around the Church selling pretty much the same kind of Sacred Heart merchandise that would have been sold over a hundred years ago.  We  then ventured inside the church. It is well worth a visit and it was especially relevant for my Sacred Heart journey.   The only thing I knew about the church was that it was famous for its organs  and organists: Widor played here for over 60 years! As we walked around it was noticeable that the most 'used' of many chapels was that the the Sacred Heart. I wanted to get in an have a really good look, but there was a family who were praying very intensively and I naturally did not want to disturb, so I carried on and discovered the marvellous paintings of Delacroix in the ' Chapel of the Holy Angels'.  I knew the first one: 'Jacob wrestling with the Angel'.  But did not know the ceiling painting of 'St. Michael Defeats the devil.'  Eventually I returned to the Sacred Heart  Chapel, and explored it in some detail.

The chapel was far more important than I imagined.  It turns out that it was the first chapel in Paris ever to be dedicated to the Sacred Heart - in 1748.  It was the initiative of the then  pastor of the church, Jean-Babtiste Languet de Gergy  -  whose brother was an early  biographer of none other than Marguerite Marie herself.

The chapel  has a rather poor window depicting the Sacred Heart, AND the head is missing ! It has some impressive woodwork on the altar - dated 1841 and a  statue  by Emile  Thomas dated  1894.   What was surprising was that the statue of the Sacred Heart  had a golden heart rather than the more usual red on an open chest: and it is noticeable that this kind of statue is quite common in Churches in Paris - even in a Jesuit Church such as Saint Paul and St. Louis in the Marais.  But not the kind of image produced by L'Art Saint Sulpice! The kind of images produced en masse by the businesses around the church mainly opted for the lurid red, blood dripping variety.  The face is also strong and masculine without any trace of the rather feminine look which we associated with l'Art Saint Sulpice style.  What was  also interesting was the fact that it was surrounded by votive hearts made of what looks like brass: which presumably could have been purchased in one of the many shops around the church.

Around the base of the statue were contemporary equivalents: written prayers and thanks.  Thus the Sacred Heart still seems to be attracting the kind of devotion that was manifested in the past.  It just was not so aesthetic!  But I was moved by the number of people who would come to the chapel and light a candle or just sit and pray, and I would leave whenever someone came in to the chapel. Eventually I noticed a large painting on canvas on the left hand on the chapel.  It was black very dirty and it was difficult to make out what the painting was about.  So I took a few pictures.  It was only when I got home to London and  edited the pictures that the image became clear.

The artist of this picture which is described, but not shown in the guide is named as  Berthélemy (Jean-Simon)  and is dated as 1784.  In his day he was a very well known and highly respected artist.  See here.   It is a real shame that you can only see this picture after being edited and adjusted  on the computer.  The picture needs a good clean!

Berthélemy's Sacred Heart

However, although not very satisfactory, my photograph gives a good idea as to what the painting is about.  The guidebook simply says that it 'presents the adoration of the Sacred Heart by the world'.   This suggests to me that the person who wrote the entry had not really looked at picture.  It is,  I think, one of the more interesting Sacred Heart images I have come across.  

Our icon features St. Michael and the Sacred Heart, and to my knowledge the picture by Berthélemy  is the only Sacred Heart which also shows the symbol in relation to St. Michael.  He is shown defeating Satan. This seems to be accomplished by Michael harnessing the power of divine energy radiating from the heart.   Thus the painting is better described as the Adoration of the Sacred Heart by the world and the defeat of Satan through the power of the Sacred Heart! Although dated 1784 - that is 5 years before the revolution - the painting to me  has more of a post-revolutionary feel. Divine retribution for what had happened to the Church during the revolution?  Perhaps it is dated incorrectly?  Satan appears to be holding a statue - perhaps the statue of the Virgin by Bouchardon  that had been lost / stolen?  Pre or post revolutionary the painting still  conveys in no uncertain terms the strong  and growing devotion to the Sacred Heart as the saviour of France and the protector of the church.     One other point is that if we look at the painting by Delacroix in the chapel of the Angels done in the middle of the 19th century we find an echo  of Berthélemy's Sacred Heart in Delacroix's painting of  Saint Michael defeats the devil: especially with the discarded weapons on the left-hand side.

There are many issues suggested by Berthélemy's picture.  Here I will just raise one.  Given the location of this painting in the very centre of the French religious art industry,why was this image not more widely distributed?  I think the answer to that is straight-forward.  The  industry was overwhelmingly committed to selling a more homely or safe image of the Sacred Heart.  This kind of image would not sell.  But if we are to better understand the Sacred Heart, I think this image is an important one to explore. 

Friday, 28 October 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Paris: (3) The road to the rue du Bac

The sad thing about so many of the 'tourist trap' churches in Paris, especially Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur is the fact that they are over-run by tourists.  That is not so bad.   But it is a fact that so many tourists simply do not understand that they are walking on sacred ground.  They show no or little respect.  It is difficult to pray in such places. How different it is if one takes the road to the 'other Notre Dame ' in Paris hidden away in the rue du Bac: number 140, to be precise.   Unlike the tourist dominated and monumental Notre Dame, the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal is small, and if you did not know it is there, you might easily pass by! And although can be  VERY busy, it is one of the most prayerful  places in Paris.

 The  Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous medal was originally dedicated to the Sacred Heart (1815)  and subsequently re-named after the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to Saint Catherine Laboure in 1830.  A visit to the chapel was a must for this trip for so many reasons - not least because of the close associations with the the Chapel,  the Daughters of Charity and the medal with the Sacred Heart.   You can find out all about the Chapel and the Medal and the Daughters of Charity by visiting their website : here.

For now I can only note that I found the Chapel very moving and inspiring.   It gave me a renewed sense of what the medal is all about : the mystery of salvation and the role of Mary - the Immaculate Conception -  in the redemption of the human race.  If the Sacred Heart is the summa of our faith, and the Rosary is the 'doorway' into the Heart of Christ,   then it seems to me that the medal is a summary of God's plan for mankind and the central role of Mary in this plan. To wear it is to be constantly aware of God's plan, and its message of hope.  In promoting this constant awareness of the fact that we are children of God the little medal is truly miraculous!   And, in terms of the Sacred Heart on the back of the medal  in particular, it provides a powerful symbol of the Alliance of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The original seal used by St. Louise de Marillac.
I think that the medal, in conjunction with the seal of the Daughter's of Charity  (see HERE) which states that 'La Charitie de Jesus Crucifie Nous Presse' - The Charity of the Crucified Jesus  urges us.' * gives us a most profound insight into the meaning the Sacred Heart should have for how we are called to live our lives.  It should energise, activate and drive, push and urge us on.  To devote ones life to the Sacred Heart is -  it seems to me now -  to live a life  energised and vitalised by the love of God.  We can see what this can look like when we reflect on the history of the Daughters of Charity established by St. Louise and the Society founded by St. Madeleine-Sophie in Paris all those years ago.  


* Sometimes the Latin form is used by the Daughters of Charity: 'Caritas Christi Urget Nos' .  Which is, of course, St. Paul, Corinthians 2.  5:14

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Paris: (2) St Madeleine-Sophie and the Sacred Heart of Félix Villé and Henri Pinta.

Following the performance of 'Quelque Jour' at Notre Dame, (See here) and with the prospects of another performance at the Madeleine we decided to walk to the church of  Saint François- Xavier which is on the other side of the Seine  - in  Paris VII.  (Visit church HERE)   I thought this appropriate for several reasons.  The first is that I had discovered – the previous day  - that the body of St. Madeleine-Sophie Barat, (1779-1865) -the foundress of the Societe du Sacre-Coeur-de Jesus (SSCJ) had recently (2009) been re-located to the church.  I had met a member of the Society (Sister Mary) in 2010 at a talk  I gave on Teilhard and the Sacred Heart in London , and the history and dedication of the Society served as a source of inspiration for me  to dedicate 2011 to the Sacred Heart.  So, it seemed right to follow in the direction marked out by a Madeleine! It was truly providential that St. Madeleine-Sophie should now be at rest in the same church in which the artist who had painted the image of the Sacred Heart that Teilhard loved so much – Henri Pinta – also did some of his best work. ( Read about the Society and St. Madeleine-Sophie HERE. Go here for information on Pinta.)

St. Madeleine-Sophie's remains now reside in a large chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart  to the right as you enter the church of Saint François- Xavier. It  is a beautiful church to visit - and a lively parish.  She did such remarkable work in Paris it is so good that she now rests in this church in Paris.  To find out more about the transportation and reception of her body go HERE.  It was a big day!

One biographer notes of  that  her  ' spiritual insight was born in the midst of years of turmoil and violence, unleashed by the French Revolution. Her initiative was in direct response to the devastation she experienced all around her, particularly in Paris, and from 1800 she committed herself to the restoration and renewal of her broken world. The spiritual energy for such a vast project came from Sophie's insight into the love of God revealed in the Heart of Christ wounded on Calvary. The ultimate range of her vision was the transformation of her world, into a multitude of adorers, in spirit and in truth."  

(Madeleine Sophie Barat - A Life, Phil Kilroy, RSCJ,  SEE HERE

In the chapel of the Sacred Heart one of her most favourite prayers comes to mind:

Oh Sacred Heart of Jesus, give me a heart that is one with your own; a humble heart that knows and loves its nothingness; a gentle heart that holds and calms its own anxieties; a loving heart that has compassion for the suffering of others; a pure heart that recoils even at the appearance of evil; a detached heart that longs for nothing other than the goodness of heaven; a heart detached from self-love and embraced by the love of God, its attention focused on God, its goodness is its only treasure in time and in eternity.

It would be so nice if the church could make this prayer available in  several languages so that those who pray there could use her very words to pray to the Sacred Heart, in the heart of Paris. It is a great prayer.

The saint lies with her feet pointing towards a painting of  'The Communion of the Apostles'  by Henri Lerolle (1848-1929)  dated 1878,  and her head pointing towards the  image of the Sacred Heart painted by Félix Villé (1819-1907) of the Sacred Heart, dated 1895 and a statue of the Sacred Heart which was made in the same period.  The latter is a fairly typical example of a Sacred Heart  but the Félix Villé painting is far more unusual.

Thus positioned the saint serves to act as a link or bridge  between the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Heart.  Again, it would be good if there could be something there which visitors could use to reflect on her life and the relationship between the Eucharist depicted by Lerolle and the Sacred Heart by Villé.

Félix Villé's Sacred Heart
For me what was most interesting about Villé’s Sacred Heart is the representation of the heart itself.  It is  - as Teilhard would later put it – a ‘golden glow’ and not a heart of the standard or traditional type.   Pinta would have seen this image many times.  After all, he had painted the picture of the Death of St. Joseph  in 1915 which is in the chapel of St Joseph on the direct opposite left hand side of the church.  He had also painted some years later the ‘Hommage aux morts de la guerre de 1914-1918’, completed in 1921.  Around the same time he also painted the Sacred Heart.  Perhaps this image by Félix Villé gave Pinta an idea for his picture?  It is not an unreasonable assumption to make. 

The painting interestingly enough shows the Seraphim at the top of the picture.  They are not very clear and must have faded over time.  But one thing is very clear and that is the golden glow of the heart and the golden glow surrounding  the body of Christ.  This appears as a heavenly energy which is radiating from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  There is a shape at the top which appears to be a hand, or possibly a dove? It is the protective cover of this divine glow which those who are shown at the foot of the painting are praying for .  In the words of the quote from Archbishop Guibert – the driving force behind the project - written under the picture:Christians are convinced that the national homage offered to the divine Heart of Jesus will be the salvation of France’.

As to Félix Villé, the guide to the Church guide tells us that he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and that he has other paintings in several places in France – but I have not been able to locate any more information than his date of birth!  Henri Lerolle, on the other hand is well documented and his paintings may be viewed in many museums.  See Here.

The other reason for coming to this Church was, of course, to see  at  first hand Henri Pinta's work: his Death of St Joseph in the chapel of St Joseph - on the immediate left hand side as you enter the church, and the 'chapelle des morts', on the first right as you go in.   They are impressive, and especially moving when we reflect that whilst painting these pictures he must have been in mourning for  the loss of two sons during the war.   Their names are listed on the memorial, which suggests that this was their parish church or that there was some close connection.  The powerful paintings in the chapel show two dead soldiers.  If they are not actual portraits of his sons Andre and Pierre, I am sure that they were in his heart and mind as he painted them.

The image which Teilhard treasured as - for him - the best representation of the Sacred Heart may well have been conceived in this Church.  I find the face of Christ in the death of Saint Joseph very evocative of the image on the simple holy card produced at 6 Place St Sulpice.  The central metaphor of the piece is light:  we see that the lamp on the small shelf is now extinguished, and the wick is smoking.  But, St Joseph is now surrounded by the light of Christ.  Again, in Pinta's Sacred Heart we are drawn to the light glowing from the heart: the light of the world.  And when I came out of the chapelle des morts and looked right the first thing I saw was the glow of the Villés Sacred Heart in the next chapel.  And so would have Pinta.  There can be no doubt about that.

I left the Church with a sense of  a circle having been completed, and another having begun.   I had prayed in a chapel of the Sacred Heart containing the earthly remains of one of the greatest promotors of the devotion to the Sacred Heart and whose life is an inspiration to us all.  At  the same time, I felt closer to understanding the approach to the Sacred Heart taken by Pinta.   Having lost two sons and having mourned and prayed for them in this very Church of Saint François-Xavier, he paints a  picture of the Sacred Heart  in 1921  - the same year as the paintings in the chapelle des morts - which does not dwell on the wounded physical heart of Jesus , but like Félix Villé-  asks us to focus on the  heart as a source of light and energy which illuminates and gives life.  It is a heart, which in the words of the great woman who now lies with his paintings, is ' a humble heart that knows and loves its nothingness; a gentle heart that holds and calms its own anxieties; a loving heart that has compassion for the suffering of others; a pure heart that recoils even at the appearance of evil; a detached heart that longs for nothing other than the goodness of heaven; a heart detached from self-love and embraced by the love of God, its attention focused on God, its goodness is its only treasure in time and in eternity.' 

As I left the church I asked St Madeleine Sophie to pray for us to be ever open to that goodness and love  that radiates from the Sacred Heart. A heart, like St Marie Madeleine's heart, which is deeply sorry for all the times we have chosen to live our lives in darkness rather than in the light.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Paris: (1) The icon set to music.

Notre Dame
When I set out on this journey to explore the Sacred Heart through an icon I was determined just to allow the  process of writing and  reading the icon to unfold , rather than imposing an agenda on it.   I took Ian's advice that the icon had to be 'allowed to work' as my guiding principle.  And, as this is a year which I have dedicated to the Sacred Heart, it was fitting that I should put all my trust in the Sacred Heart and just allow things to happen.  And last week the icon took me to Paris!  One of my sons is a director of a choir and he kindly offered to write a piece of music (called 'Quelque jour') which could explore the central theme of the icon, and of Teilhard's work: love.  To this end he composed a wonderful piece which sets Teilhard's famous words to music for female voices.  Here is the text.

La Madeleine

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.

The Cathedral of Chartres

Given Teilhard's views on the role of  the 'eternal feminine' it was most appropriate that it 
was performed by female voices, in Notre Dame -  Our Lady, who is on the left in our icon.  'Quelque jour' had its premiere in a concert given on the high altar in the Cathedral of Notre Dame  on the 21st October, 2011, and later on in the afternoon of the same day it was also performed on the altar of the church of the Madeleine, and the following day (the 22nd October)  the piece was performed in the magnificent surroundings of Chartres Cathedral.  It does not get better than that!  My wife and I attended the first two performances in Paris. Naturally, we thought it was very beautiful, and I am delighted to report that this was also clearly the view of the audiences!   I made a few  recordings, but sadly they do not do the performance justice, so I hope that we may have a proper recording in time. 

 It was again so appropriate that the second performance of  'Quelque jour'  was given at a Church dedicated to Mary Magdalene - as she also features on the icon.  This in turn directed my thoughts to exploring the importance of the BV Mary and Mary Magdalene in our icon.  By following these two women I thought I could get closer to understanding the Sacred Heart.  And this proved to be the case.   ( It was also nice to see Gabriel and Michael as well as  Mary Magdalene on the front of  La Madeleine! )

Monday, 17 October 2011

Feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Today is the feast of St. Margaret Mary - although it was actually celebrated yesterday, the 16th.  At the outset of this project we asked for her patronage, and I feel that she has indeed been watching over the writing and reading of this icon.   As I have said elsewhere in this blog, I rather like the drawing she actually made to serve as an aid to the devotion of the Sacred Heart.  It has far more in common with our icon than subsequent images as it tries to convey a sense of the theological or biblical context of the Sacred Heart. I find it very touching as it was this image and not the kind of image that became popular which she herself recommended.

Oftentimes people tend to associate the Sacred Heart  too closely with her experiences - as important as they were -  and not understand or explore the wider and deeper meaning of the devotion within the teaching and tradition of the Church. ( That is what this blog  and the icon has tried to do. ) The encyclical Haurietis Acquas by Pius XII in 1956 thus pointed out that :

.. it is clear that the revelations made to St. Margaret Mary brought nothing new into Catholic doctrine. Their importance lay in this that Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God's merciful love for the human race. In this special manifestation Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.  In addition, that this devotion flows from the very foundations of Christian teaching is clearly shown by the fact that the Apostolic See approved the liturgical feast before it approved the writings of St. Margaret Mary.. 

St Margaret Mary must be honoured and celebrated as someone who, perhaps more than any one else, championed the cause of the devotion, and for this we must be thankful.

Dear St Margaret Mary pray for us as we place all our trust in the Sacred Heart.  And we pray with your own words  saying:

May the loving Heart of Jesus consume our hearts in the pure flames of His holy love, so that they may live and breathe only to love, honour and glorify Him.  Amen

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Teilhard's Litany of the Sacred Heart: ( 15 ) The activant of Christianity

Reflecting on Sr. Johanna's stained glass window (below, left)  mentioned in  the previous blog, and how she represents 'Heart Speaks to Heart' reminds me of the dynamic quality of God's love and how Teilhard in his litany (HERE) refers to the Sacred Heart as ' the activant  of Christianity'.

Dante &Beatrice's vision of the divine. (Dore) 
Cor ad Cor Locquitur, by Sr Johanna Szalachy FSO 
When we open our hearts to God we are energized.  Sr. Johanna shows this so beautifully through the use of circles which radiate in waves from the centre of the two hearts and beams of light bursting from the centre of the design.

  When we look at our icon we see a similar response to the Sacred Heart: as the source of a dynamic energy called love.  Beginning at the very centre we have a spiral shape inside the glowing heart.  This is surrounded by the Omega symbol which is surrounded by another circle. Then another circle of fire, then a great swirl of red surrounded in turn by four other circles.  Then, at the bottom of the icon we have the Cherubim and the Ophanim  - the wheels within wheels.  Like Sr. Johanna, Ian has beams of light  radiating from the centre.  These serve almost as spokes of a great cosmic wheel.  At the top we also see the great waves of gravitational forces which hold the cosmos together.  At the same time we cannot help but being reminded of Dante's description of God's love as the energy which drives all creation.  A ' love that moves the sun and the other stars.'  And circles within circles feature in Dante's description of God.  For Teilhard Christ  - as 'le Grand' 'universal Christ' we see here in the icon - was, as he explained to Blessed Gabriel Allegra:  'the source of  light and fire'.   To which Allegra replied  that this reminded him of an expression of St. Francis ' ignita et melliflua vis amoris Dei'   - 'the ' fiery sweet force of the love of God'.  Which Allegra says ' is very appropriate to the Heart of Jesus and the Holy Spirit'.

The Sacred Heart as a symbol of the sweet light and fire of God's love  - as a force and energy -  is for Teilhard the very  'activant' of Christianity.   The Sacred Heart  is a powerful devotion - or 'attraction ' as Teilhard preferred to say - because it can, when we are open to it  ( as the summary of our faith),    activate and energize human creativity.  It can pull us forward towards a fuller realization of our individuality and our potentialites.  A devotion to the Sacred Heart is the most powerful way of activating our spiritual energy.  That is why Teilhard saw it as being so important for the Christianity of the future.  It gives ZEST to Christianity.  It excites , it gets us going.  The Sacred Heart has the capacity to animate us.  If only we would open up to this love as did Francis and other saints.  The Sacred Heart gives us, above all, a spiritual dynamism: a will to act and build the Kingdom of God.  It seems to me, that if the Church is  itself to evolve and face the challenges of this millennium it has to open itself up to this activant: the 'fiery sweet love of God'.  And when 'Heart speaks to Heart ' we see all things in Christ and then the wheels starting turning and God's love is creative and active in us and drives us forward.  It gives us a sense of urgency.

The  urgent need in our times for activating a renewed devotion to the Sacred Heart was made explicit by Blessed John Paul when he expressed his:

...approval and encouragement to all who in any way continue to foster, study and promote devotion to the Heart of Christ in the Church with language and forms adapted to our times, so that it may be transmitted to future generations in the spirit which has always animated it. The faithful still need to be guided to contemplate adoringly the mystery of Christ, the God-Man, in order to become men and women of interior life, people who feel and live the call to new life, to holiness, to reparation which is apostolic cooperation in the salvation of the world, people who prepare themselves for the new evangelization, recognizing the Heart of Christ as the heart of the Church: it is urgent for the world to understand that Christianity is the religion of love.  *

The re-discovery of the Sacred Heart  as the summa of Christian faith is, therefore, a matter of some urgency.  We need to be activated !   The Sacred Heart is, as Teilhard described it,  the activant of Christianity. Blessed  John Paul therefore encourages us all to  foster, study and promote devotion to the Heart of Christ in the Church with language and forms adapted to our times, so that it may be transmitted to future generations in the spirit which has always animated it.'  I think that, in  its own very very small way, this icon is doing that: helping to promote  a devotion to the  Heart of Jesus which is  expressed in a language and in a form which is relevant to activating and re-animating a devotion to the Sacred Heart in our much troubled world.  

*Letter on the 100th anniversary of the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart.  See Here.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Feast of Blessed John Henry Newman

The feast of Blessed John Henry Newman falls on a Sunday this year, and was therefore not celebrated at mass.  Newman is very much a saint for our age.   What always appealed to me about him is how robust he was in exploring the relationship between faith and reason.  I have yet to read anything which in anyway dents his argument contained in the Grammar of Assent. (READ HERE)   Characteristically, when everyone else in the church was running around like headless chickens after Darwin's bombshell, Newman calmly observed that evolution in no way undermined a belief in God.   Science could only serve to enlarge our understanding of  God's creation.  Faith must be informed by reason and reason by faith.  End of story.  Teilhard, of course, had enormous respect for the great Cardinal.  And, I have no doubt that Newman would have been a sympathetic reader of Teilhard.   Like Teilhard,  Blessed John Henry's  spirituality had an intense focus on the Sacred Heart. +  His motto Cor ad Cor Locquitur  ( 'Heart speaks to Heart' ) says it all really but there are two prayers which encapsulates his thoughts on the Sacred Heart.  I reproduce them below.

( I must do I blog on 'Cor ad Cor Locquitur 'because it contains important insights into the Sacred Heart and is a light to illuminate our reading of this icon.)

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I adore Thee in the oneness of the Personality of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Whatever belongs to the Person of Jesus, belongs therefore to God, and is to be worshipped with that one and the same worship which we pay to Jesus. He did not take on Him His human nature, as something distinct and separate from Himself, but as simply, absolutely, eternally His, so as to be included by us in the very thought of Him. I worship Thee, O Heart of Jesus, as being Jesus Himself, as being that Eternal Word in human nature which He took wholly and lives in wholly, and therefore in Thee. Thou art the Heart of the Most High made man. In worshipping Thee, I worship my Incarnate God, Emmanuel. I worship Thee, as bearing a part in that Passion which is my life, for Thou didst burst and break, through agony, in the garden of Gethsemani, and Thy precious contents trickled out, through the veins and pores of the skin, upon the earth. And again, Thou hadst been drained all but dry upon the Cross; and then, after death, Thou wast pierced by the lance, and gavest out the small remains of that inestimable treasure, which is our redemption. *

O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still. Now as then Thou sayest, Desidero desideravi With desire I have desired’. ­ I worship Thee then with all my best love and awe, with my fervent affection, with my most subdued, most resolved will. O my God, when Thou dost condescend to suffer me to receive Thee, to eat and drink Thee, and Thou for a while takest up Thy abode within me, O make my heart beat with Thy Heart. Purify it of all that is earthly, all that is proud and sensual, all that is hard and cruel, of all perversity, of all disorder, of all deadness. So fill it with Thee, that neither the events of the day nor the circumstances of the time may have power to ruffle it, but that in Thy love and Thy fear it may have peace.*

Cor ad Cor Locquitur, by Sr Johanna Szalachy FSO 

A while ago my wife visited Ambrose Cottage in Littlemore, Oxford and brought me back a postcard of a  most beautiful stained glass window in the cottage  designed by Sr. Johanna Szalachy FSO  -  entitled Cor ad Cor Locquitur.   I was going to send a copy to Ian, but thought it best not to interfere too much by suggesting designs.  I liked the way Sr. Johanna had used circles  within circles and hearts within hearts to express in artistic terms what Blessed John Henry says in his motto.  ( But, as you can see, Ian's design is also using the 'circle within circles' idea as a way of  representing the idea of the Sacred Heart. )  In Sr Johanna's design the Sacred Heart  is  the Heart of Jesus speaking to our heart.  When our heart is open to God's Heart  we are no longer self-centred.  When Heart speaks to Heart, we are re-centred in and on God.  And that love ripples and spreads like a stone dropped into water.  We are drawn into the vortex of God's divine energy of love.   When that happens the light shines in and through us and illuminates our world.

As Blessed John Henry expresses it in a poem on the Transfiguration:
Light of the anxious heart,
Jesus, Thou dost appear,
To bid the gloom of guilt depart,
And shed Thy sweetness here.*

To visit Littlemore - the place where he was received into full communion with the Catholic Church -  see HERE.

+ And to the  Immaculate Heart of Mary.  See, for example, his 'Litany of the Immaculate Heart of Mary': 'Heart , after God's own Heart; Heart , in union  with the Heart of Jesus...etc.' * Read HERE.

 *All are to be found in John Henry Newman, Prayers, Verses and Devotions, Ignatian Press, 2000

Friday, 7 October 2011

Our Lady of the Rosary

It is, fortunately, the first  Friday of the month as well the day we remember ' Our Lady of the Rosary'.  It is also a day when I recall that  Ian has also used Byzantine art to illuminate another Catholic devotion with 'light from the east'; the Holy Rosary.    You can read about his  Icons of the Holy Rosary for the Shrine of our Lady  of Mount in Anjara, Jordan HERE And  read his fascinating blog HERE.  They are really magnificent!  The devotion to the Rosary and to the Sacred Heart are closely related as can be seen in Blessed John Paul's statements on the Rosary especially Marialis Cultus (READ HERE)  and  RosariumVirginis Mariae (READ HERE),

If the Sacred Heart is the summary of the Christian faith, then as Pius XII and Blessed John Paul remind us, the Holy Rosary is the  complete 'compendium of the Gospels'!  John Paul says that the Rosary  has all the 'depth of the Gospel message in its entirety' !

Here are a few extracts from Rosarium Virginis Mariae:

Against the background of the words Ave Maria the principal events of the life of Jesus Christ pass before the eyes of the soul. They take shape in the complete series of the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries, and they put us in living communion with Jesus through – we might say – the heart of his Mother.

To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.

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.

To pray the rosary is to hand over our burdens to the merciful hearts of Christ and his Mother

The Rosary's place within Christian spirituality is therefore  ' as a true doorway to the depths of the Heart of Christ, ocean of joy and of light, of suffering and of glory.'
Ian's Joyful Mysteries , Anjara
(To really appreciate them, look at the close up pictures on his blog!)
As we contemplate and pray with the aid of an icon of the Sacred Heart, we have to remember this: the Rosary  is the doorway to the 'depths of the Heart of Christ.'  Saying the Rosary whilst contemplating an icon of the Sacred Heart is consequently a powerful experience as we are using both the summary of our faith and a compendium of the gospels!

Teilhard constantly referred to the idea that Christ is a point of cosmic convergence: all things are being pulled towards Him and everything in creation as leading to Him.  This is what we see in our icon.   Blessed John Paul reminds of the same idea when he observes in RosariumVirginis Mariae  that :

the first thing to note is the way the beads converge upon the Crucifix, which both opens and closes the unfolding sequence of prayer. The life and prayer of believers is centred upon Christ. Everything begins from him, everything leads towards him, everything, through him, in the Holy Spirit, attains to the Father.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Feast of St.Francis of Assisi

The crucifix of San Damiano*.

On this day when we celebrate the life of St. Francis I am so pleased to recall what Teilhard said about this great Saint (in a conversation with Blessed Gabriel Allegra) who saw all creation as a brother or a sister.

'Francis is so dear and close to me! I believe he assists me in my difficulties and blesses my work. In him one can feel the presence of God the Father and the refreshing perfume of the house of Nazareth'.

St. Francis by Cimabue
I can feel the presence of Francis in so much of Teilhard - especially in his 'Hymn to Matter'. This forms the concluding part of his 'Spiritual Power of Matter'  which explores the experience of Elias ( In the Book of Kings) being caught up in a whirlwind of a fiery chariot.   He describes the whirlwind as  a 'moving heart' of  'an immeasurable pervasive subtlety'.  It is a wonderful piece of writing which conveys the sense of the power of God's creation.  No wonder he thought that Francis blessed his work.   The more I reflect on his love of Francis and the more do I read Teilhard through the lens ( as it were) of the saint, the more do  I understand the mysticism of the scientist.  And, the more I reflect on Teilhard through the prayers  of  St. Francis, the more do I appreciate what Francis has to say to us here in the 21st century.

Compare, for example,   St. Francis's  'Canticle of the Sun' : 

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
 All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful. Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance. Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong. Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs. Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned. Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
 Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
 The second death can do no harm to them. Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

With Teilhard's  opening lines in his 'Hymn to Matter': 

Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards or measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God. Blessed be you, impenetrable matter: you who, interposed between our minds and the world of essences, cause us to languish with the desire to pierce through the seamless veil of phenomena.

On this special day I  have reflected on what I think of as the Franciscan corner of the icon (top left) which contains our  Seraphim.  (READ BLOG  HERE) But I also remember the 'fiery wheels' (Ophanim, see post for 26th September 2011)  which Teilhard refers to in his 'Spiritual Power of Matter'   and which are bearing the throne of Christ Omega.

Giotto - Miracle of the Crucifix *

Let's close with one of St. Francis's prayers - said before a crucifix.  I am sure it would have been known to Teilhard.  I think it is very much a 'Sacred Heart' prayer - and draws our mind once again to the central position of the cross in our icon.  It seems to me an appropriate prayer for contemplating this element of  the icon.

Most high, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness
of my heart and give me Lord,
a correct faith, a certain hope,
a perfect charity, sense and knowledge,
so that I may carry out
Your holy and true command. 

To find out more about this prayer  go HERE.

So let us pray : Sacred Heart of Jesus, enlighten the darkness of  our hearts.  St. Francis, pray for us. 


*Whilst praying in the ruins of the church of St. Damiano,  Francis experienced a vision of Christ telling him to: "Go and repair My Church, which as you can see, is in ruins."  It seems to me  that this is a command which applies as much to followers of Christ today as in St.  Francis's time.  Teilhard thought that a deeper understanding of the  Sacred Heart  - as the universal Christ - was central to this process of re-building a Church fit for the future.  This journey to the Sacred Heart is above all else,  leading me  to the realization of how relevant Teilhard is to the Church of today which - like the church of  St. Damiano - is in urgent need of repair!