Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The icon as an 'interior castle'

In reading St. Teresa’s Interior Castle  (READ HERE ) with its idea of the soul as a crystal globe in the form of a castle which contains many rooms – seven mansions-  at the centre of which is the King of Glory illuminating the castle from its very core,  I now find myself looking at the icon rather differently.  It aims, of course,  to show Christ as King of the Universe- the Omega point we find in St. Paul – drawing all things towards Him and becoming all in all.  But St Teresa shows me another way to look at this Cosmic Christ: the Christ who lives and radiates his light in the centre of my soul, my interior castle – in my heart.   The journey to the Sacred Heart is a journey to our centre: the center and heart of our  ‘interior castle’.  We know ourselves when we know Christ.  That is, when my heart becomes like His: pure,  meek and humble.   I now can see the icon in this ‘interior’ as well as in a ‘cosmic way’: and I realize that they are just two ways of seeing the same thing.   God is not just up and ahead, he is within, and when we journey to find the Sacred Heart we undertake a journey to explore all the rooms of our life – our interior castle  - which we have been building day by day since we came into this world.   I have come to see the walls of the New Jerusalem that the angel is measuring in the icon as the walls of my interior castle, and there, deep in the centre  of centres, is Christ’s heart  illuminating my soul and calling to me to give my heart: calling me to be united with the divine energy that glows throughout the cosmos and also deep within my crystal globe.  I cannot travel the vast expanse of the universe: but, as St Teresa shows, the journey to the centre of  our interior castle is truly a cosmic journey. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Bethlehem: St. Teresa points the way

At the start of this year I decided to devote the year to the Sacred Heart by using an icon to help me on the journey.   And  as we are the first week of advent I  am now on  my way to Bethlehem: there to give my heart and to allow Christ to be re-born in my heart.   This seems a fitting end to the year.  However, I would not have imagined that at his stage in the journey I would be following so many wise men and women.  But then again, the Sacred Heart is, so the litany of the Sacred Heart says, the 'delight of all the Saints'!  As I journey to Bethlehem I now find that I will be sharing the journey with two Carmelites as well as my other constant companions - especially Teilhard.  I really do not know very much about the 'Carmelite way', but I am pleased that I am now getting to know St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  Back in January I would have been surprised to learn that I would be accompanied by these two great saints, but I think  they have much to tell us about the Sacred Heart.   I have been reading Prof John Welch's (O.Carm) book The Carmelite Way (  Gracewing,  1996) and I think it will be an excellent 'guide book' for the journey to the stable in Bethlehem.

It is clear to me at this stage that a devotion to the Sacred Heart involves a process of 'purifying' of the heart.  Like in the Welsh hymn, we pray for not wealth or riches but a 'Calon Lan': a pure heart.  The gift of someone who has no gold or myrrh to give and has no lamb to offer the new born King of the universe.

 As I set out I find Saint Teresa's idea of the soul as an 'interior castle' very appealing. Prof. Welch's book   describes   the way St. Teresa thought of the journey of a soul in  terms of responding to God's call:

Where is this call coming from ? From the center of one's life.  Teresa's image for the journey to and with God is the movement from periphery of a circle to its center.  We begin the pilgrimage living at the  periphery of our lives, locked into  many dissipating centres, and gradually, through prayer, we are de-centered and drawn to another Center.  The advantage of Teresa's image is that God is not in the distance to be reached by crossing rivers, passing through deserts, or climbing mountains. God is 'always already there' in the center of our existence.  If anyone is absent from the relationship it is the human being who is unaware of the friendship being continually offered. (Welch, p64-5)

The journey to the Sacred Heart in Bethlehem is therefore a journey to my own heart: the more I centre my life on the Sacred Heart  - the divine centre - the more I know my own center  -  re-centred on Christ.  I think that this is what a journey to the Sacred Heart is all about: you cannot find Christ in other people if you cannot find him in yourself.  The Sacred Heart is calling deep within my own heart.   Looking at the icon I am seeing the circles within circles in a different way now. I need to explore what St. Teresa is saying about finding the centre or heart of our inner castle.  At first thought I find it very evocative of Teilhard and of the icon.     I don't know if I understand her yet, and I pray that  I will find out more in the next few weeks. At at this stage, I can just ask St. Teresa to  pray for all those who are preparing to offer their hearts to the child in a manger.

 St Teresa, pray for us as we journey to Bethlehem.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

First Sunday of Advent

It has been fascinating and illuminating to have spent some time recently exploring the Sacred Heart through the Carmelite tradition and it seems that this tradition will give the advent season this year a new perspective: a new way of seeing Christmas.   Today, whilst reflecting on the words of St Teresa and St John of the Cross  my mind recalled the last verse of one of my favourite carols. And this has now provided a focus for this advent season.  The carol is ' In the Bleak Mid-Winter'  - (HERE )  words by Christina Rossetti-  and it was the last verse which came to mind at mass:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The purpose of advent is to prepare one's heart - to purify it - so as to make it a fitting place for Christ to be born.  At Christmas we give Him our heart, as the wise men gave their gifts and the shepherd's their lambs.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Presentation of the Virgin

On this day, which follows the Feast of Christ as the King of the Universe - as illustrated in our icon -  it is good to recall what Blessed John Paul says in ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE.

If it is the Father's plan to unite all things in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10), then the whole of the universe is in some way touched by the divine favour with which the Father looks upon Mary and makes her the Mother of his Son. The whole of humanity, in turn, is embraced by the fiat with which she readily agrees to the will of God.

Teilhard wants us to focus on precisely this aspect of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mary's response to Gabriel - who stands at the top of the icon - is an event which  touches the 'whole of the universe'.  The presentation of Mary as a child in the temple  thus represents a critical and defining moment in the evolution of the universe: Mary - the Immaculate Conception -   who will become a temple of  the living God,  is dedicated to God.    In the Eastern Orthodox tradition today is one of the 12  great feasts which celebrates the presentation of Mary in the Temple and her consecration to God by  St. Anne and St. Joachim.   It is also important to note here that in St. Margaret Mary's  original drawing of the Sacred Heart, (RIGHT->)  Joachim and Anne are included as a central aspect of the Sacred Heart.  It is well that we remember that today. *

  In the Catholic church we celebrate the dedication which ' Mary made to God from her very childhood under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who filled her with grace  at her Immaculate Conception'.   It is also a day which we pray for  the  work of the cloistered religious  - such as the Sisters in  the Tyburn Convent in London  and the Carmelites - who have dedicated their lives to the Sacred Heart and whose prayer energises the life of the Church. ( I continue to explore the Carmelite tradition in respect of the heart and I am finding it most illuminating. )

* As I have said before, this little drawing by the saint herself ought to be the focus of more reflection and  should be actively used to aid our devotion to the Sacred Heart.  It is what she herself recommended, after all!! The image is of special relevance today  given  that we are remembering  St Anne and St. Joachim, the Blessed Virgin's parents.   It is also interesting that the structure of the design is not unlike our icon.  Perhaps this picture influenced Ian in some way?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today, when we celebrate Christ as King of the Universe our icon comes very much into its own.  For it is, above all else, an icon of the Sacred Heart in terms of being the centre and focus of the universe.  And the reading for today from St Paul's letter to the Corinthians(15:20-26, 28) was a favourite text for Teilhard.   As we read St. Paul we can also read the icon  and reflect upon what St. Paul is saying and what the Sacred Heart - as a 'cosmic' symbol represents.

We see in our icon Adam as the first man from whom Eve was created.  And  we see the New Eve, who gave birth to the Second Adam - who points the way for humanity.  Christ is showing us what we are supposed to become: people who love God with their whole hearts and  their neighbour as themselves.  The icon shows Christ as the completion of the evolution of the universe: all is now under his feet so that 'God may be all in all'.  In the Preface of today's mass  we  acclaim God's glory with all  the 'Angels and Archangels'  and  with the 'Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven' which we see gathered around the figure of Christ in our icon.  We are also reminded in the icon that, as King of the universe,  Christ will look into our hearts and ask us did we see him in all things.  Were our hearts on fire with the love of God? (Matthew, 25:31-46. ) Did we love with our whole hearts?

Teilhard thought that the feast of Christ the King was an important step in the evolution of the Sacred Heart.  I blogged about this quite early on in the writing stage of the icon. (See HERE. ) He saw the 'Universal - Christ' as the Christ we find in St. Paul's letters and is here represented in the icon as the Omega point of the Cosmos as evolving from the  ' expansion of the heart of Jesus'.   The Sacred Heart as no longer as just a 'devotion' familiar to his mother and to French Catholics, but as much more that this: a symbol of a divine  cosmic love that gathers and pulls us into unity with his heart, and in doing so completes us as individuals and thereby brings the entire created order to its fullness and completion.   At that point Matthew's gospel tells us Christ, as King of the Universe, will ask us if we opened our hearts to God's love and did we allow that glowing fire of love to illuminate our world : did we see Christ in our fellow human beings?  Did we help the world to evolve in the direction marked by His cross being held aloft by St. Michael and St Gabriel in our icon.  Have we 'harnessed for God' the energy of love and  used its power to change the world and build a new  earth? Was our heart meek and humble as His heart? And, reflecting on the Carmelite tradition: was our heart pure?  Did we see the Lord in the faces of all those we have met ? ' 'Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God'.  And : Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Jesus in the faces of the least of his brothers and sisters.  Did we live our lives with a cold and hard heart or was our heart open to the love of God?  Such will be the questions of the King of the Universe.   As one hymn puts it: 'it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.'  So on this day we pray: 

Heart of Jesus, king and centre of all hearts: have mercy on us. 

Heart of Jesus, focus of the ultimate universal energy of love:  have mercy on us and unite us to yourself. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross.

Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross, 1951
There is another significant  connection between the  icon, the Carmelite tradition and my own faith journey which I have also been musing on (see  HERE  and HERE ).   In my old junior school (St. Cadoc's in Cardiff) there used to be a picture of Christ as you came into the school entrance. *  I loved that picture as a child and I looked at it every time I  came into the school.  It was so very striking and there was no other image of Christ like it.  When I first saw the image of the earth from the moon, I thought of this picture.  And I wonder if  this image 'primed' my mind to be very receptive to Teilhard in my teens: was this childhood image a defining image in my spiritual evolution? I think it was!     I discovered later on that it was painted by Dali in 1951.  I think it may have been my late brother-in-law Manuel, who told me.  Manolo was a Spanish artist  and he knew Dali's work very well.  The fact that it was by Dali took me completely by surprise at the time  because I always supposed it was just a good 'holy picture' of no particular importance.  And I was not much of a Dali fan - unlike Manuel.  I think I must have rather repressed my love of the painting thereafter!

That my reading of our icon could have brought me back to this painting which was so formative in my childhood is remarkably providential - as it was inspired, so I have discovered,  by a drawing by St. John of the Cross himself!  Read more about it HERE.

Dali's drawing based on St. John's drawing (below), 1950

St  John drew the image - below - when he  was chaplain at the Carmelite  monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, (between 1574 and 1577) after he received a vision of Christ.   In the general introduction to the Collected Works of St. John of the Cross - published by ICS press  (See HERE.) it is noted that: 
'The sketch is of Christ crucified, hanging in space, turned toward his people, and seen from a new perspective. The cross is erect. The body, lifeless and contorted, with the head bent over, hangs forward so that the arms are held only by the nails. Christ is seen from above, from the view of the Father. He is more worm than man, weighed down by the sins of human beings, leaning toward the world for which he died. John, who was to write so many cautions against visions and images, later gave the pen sketch to one of his devout penitents at the Incarnation, Ana María de Jesús. She guarded it until the time of her death in 1618, when she gave it to María Pinel who was later to become prioress.
Drawing  by St. John of the Cross that inspired Dali.
In 1641, at the time of Madre María's death, the drawing was placed in a small monstrance, elliptical in shape, where it was conserved until 1968. …. Now restored and provided with a new reliquary, it is once more available for all to see at the Incarnation in Avila. The French Carmelite biographer of St. John of the Cross, Bruno de Jésus-Marie, in 1945 and 1950 discussed the drawing with two renowned Spanish painters of the twentieth century, José María Sert and Salvador Dalí. …Dalí, in turn, was inspired to do a painting from a similar perspective, "The Christ of St. John of the Cross. " In Dalí's painting, in contrast to John's original drawing, the crucified body reminds one more of a Greek god than of the suffering servant. René Huyghe, once Conservator-in-Chief of the paintings in the Museum of the Louvre, wrote concerning the Spanish Carmelite's drawing:

Saint John of the Cross escapes right out of those visual habits by which all artists form a part of their period. He knows nothing of the rules and limitations of contemporary vision; he is not dependent on the manner of seeing current in his century; he is dependent on nothing but the object of his contemplation....The vertical perspective - bold, almost violent, emphasized by light and shade - in which he caught his Christ on the cross cannot be matched in contemporary art; in the context of that art it is hardly imaginable.'

Dali himself said this of the painting.  ".. in 1950, I had a 'cosmic dream' in which I saw this image in colour and which in my dream represented the 'nucleus of the atom.' This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it 'the very unity of the universe,' the Christ! In the second place, when, thanks to the instructions of Father Bruno, a Carmelite, I saw the Christ drawn by Saint John of the Cross, I worked out geometrically a triangle and a circle, which 'aesthetically' summarized all my previous experiments, and I inscribed my Christ in this triangle." 

Dali explained in a letter to Scottish Art Review (Vol. IV no. 1,1952):

 "One of the first objections to this painting came from the position of the Christ, that is, the angle of the vision and the tilting forward of the head. This objection from the religious point of view fails from the fact that my picture was inspired by the drawing made of the Crucifixion by St. John of the Cross himself. In my opinion, it is a drawing made by this saint after an Ecstasy as it is the only drawing ever made by him. …..My aesthetic ambition, in this picture, was completely the opposite of all the Christs painted by most of the modern painters, who have all interpreted Him in the expressionistic and contortionistic sense, thus obtaining emotion through ugliness. My principal preoccupation was that my Christ would be beautiful as the God that He is.'

The drawing by St. John  is clearly remarkable as René Huyghe (above )points out  and I think Dali's painting is a powerful interpretation of the saint's vision.  

In a  later painting -  The Ascension of Christ painted a few years later in 1958, Dali  reverses the perspective.  In the painting inspired by St. John we see Christ looking down on the world.   In his picture of the Ascension  now see Christ rising up, in full unity with the Father and Holy Spirit.    Christ is shown as holding out his arms as if to embrace all creation.  In the picture of Christ on the Cross Dali uses the geometry of a triangle - representing the Trinity we appear to have - as in Dante - three circles of light which also appear to suggest the Trinity.  (Perhaps we are meant to read the woman at the top of the picture as the Blessed Virgin.   It is actually his wife Gala.) 

Madonna with Mystical Rose, 1963 
Dali's Sacred Heart, 1962
 Dali's  picture of the Sacred Heart painted in 1962, is by comparison rather disappointing - leastways that's what I long thought.   Like Redon's  Sacred Heart we discussed earlier, Christ is not looking at us but appears to be directing our attention to His heart.  This is not a Christ of the universe as in the painting inspired by St. John of the Cross, so much as a Christ of power and energy.  His body is powerful and looks ready for action - as if he is rolling up his shirt to do a job of work with St. Joseph.

  This is the Sacred Heart as the 'zest of the world' as Teilhard described it.  The 'golden glow' that we see in the picture of the Ascension is there, but the heart is not part of the body so much as in a different space or dimension - outside His body.  As in all three images there are no wounds or blood.  No doubt this is in reaction to the rather gruesome images which abound in Spanish Catholicism.  He holds a small cross as if it is a twig which no longer has any power  to inflict death or pain. The cross becomes - I think -  more of a key - to unlock the mystery of God's love. The Sacred Heart looks like a door-way into another dimension and the cross is the key to that doorway.  The heart is an image, an icon, a symbol of Christ as as a kind of radiant energy contained by the heart.  He used this idea ( as I see it) in a later painting - 1963 - Madonna with Mystical Rose.  Here the heart is replaced by the symbol of a rose (which he uses a good many of his paintings ) and the eyes of the Virgin are again closed in contemplation.   In both pictures the heart appears to be wholly un-naturalistic as compared with the rest of the bodies.  It is really as if he sees them as windows or doorways into the mystery of God.  By placing them in a frame Dali is drawing attention to the symbolic meaning of the heart, rather than as a 'real' biological object. 

These religious paintings show how Dali's attitude towards the Catholic church changed as he grew older.   As a young man he was very anti-Catholic.  Indeed one of his most controversial pictures was his picture entitled 'Sometimes I spit with pleasure at a portrait of my mother.'  (1929) ( His mother was the Catholic!)    Significantly,  his mother is represented by a drawing of the Sacred Heart.    It shows how  central was the Sacred Heart at this time as 'the' Catholic symbol.  Thus his later picture of the Sacred Heart  is a sign of how, by the 1960s,  he was changing his mind about  Catholicism and the faith of his mother. 
 Perhaps it was his way of saying 'sorry' to his mother - and to the Sacred Heart!   His painting of the Ecumenical Council  (1960) also shows that he thought the election of John XXIII was  a sign of changes in the church which he welcomed.  By this time he was, it appears, influenced by Teilhard's books which were causing a good deal of controversy at the time.  (See HERE.)  Given his approach to the Christ of  St. John of the  Cross and the Ascension  it is easy to see how Dali would have found Teilhard interesting and relevant to his fascination in the relationship between science and religion  ( he called it 'Nuclear Mysticism!) .   Perhaps Teilhard helped a sinner to come to repentance and re-discover the Sacred Heart?  He received the last sacraments of the Church on his death bed in 1989. 

So, by following the icon to Mount Carmel, I have ended up seeing myself as an  eight or nine year old boy  looking up at a print of a Dali  in St Cadoc's school in Cardiff, Wales.  Thus my initial question about what would my old university chaplain would have said about the Saints of Wales led me to Carmelite spirituality, which led me to St. John of the Cross, which brought me back to my early years in school named after a Welsh saint!!  Another full circle! Perhaps that is where this journey to the Sacred Heart began - with a childhood fascination with this image?  But with Dali of all people?!:  you could not make it up!  But, the Lord moves in mysterious ways:  because of Dali I was actually exposed to a vision given to a great Carmelite.  And it was this vision of seeing Christ looking down on the world which appears to have influenced my way of thinking ever since.  I think I am being asked to look more carefully at what St. John of the Cross tells us about the the Heart  of Jesus.... I can take a hint. 

*  I just had to check this out to make sure  that I was not suffering from false memory syndrome!  The current head of the school informed that it was indeed the picture that impressed me as a child.   It has now been replaced by a mosaic of St. Cadoc which is very beautiful. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Sacred Heart and the Carmelite tradition.

St. John the Baptist
"A well-known quote from Teilhard is  that 'Tout ce qui monte converge'  - all that rises converges.  And, so often in the process of writing and reading this   icon this seems to have been the case.  Reading the icon takes me off into a new direction, but then this new line of reflection seems to curve around and converge with other ideas and aspects and times of my life.  The last post a while ago (see HERE )  took me by surprise in the way that I was drawn to thinking about a person who was important influence  back in the 1970s! It struck me that if I had asked him then what did David and the other Welsh saints 'have' he would have replied in Welsh, that they had pure hearts - Calon lan.  This in turn took me on a journey to explore where he was coming from: that is the Carmelite tradition.  I knew a little about the Carmelites, but not that much and so off I went to Mount Carmel!  ( READ MORE ABOUT THE CARMELITES HERE) .  Of course I have not physically been to Carmel - unlike Paris - but none the less if you want to discover the Carmelite tradition  that is where you have to start.  The converging began straight away!   Mount Carmel is, of course, the site closely associated with Elijah - or  ELIAS.   This is the name Ian chose  for his studio.  The presence of St.John the Baptist immediately took on a new dimension.  John the Baptist    in the gospels is proclaimed by some as Elijah returned : the sign of the coming of the Messiah.  John is not Elijah, but, as the Angel Gabriel tells Zachariah in St Luke's gospel,  he came in the 'spirit and power' of Elijah.   I think that just as the Seraphim on the upper left of the icon is a window or doorway into the Franciscan tradition   - which  is very relevant to understanding Teilhard - so John the Baptist in our icon now provides a similar  door-way into the Sacred Heart in the Carmelite tradition.  And it is a very long, deep and rich tradition which has - for many hundreds of years - focused on the 'heart'.   I have been reading  about the Carmelite's and the Sacred Heart  and  I soon discovered that  a central idea in this tradition is a 'pure heart'.   So, when I supposed what my old Chaplain Fr. Fitz O.Carm would have said, I had providentially come to the right answer!  He would have said  -like a good Carmelite - they have pure hearts!  There is so much to say about this that it would be just plain silly to try and sum-up what I am learning.  Fortunately there is a really excellent piece by a lay Carmelite  (Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C. ) which does a helpful job in providing and introduction to the topic. Please read it HERE.  He notes, for example  that:
Carmelite Scapular Medal showing Our Lady of Mount Carmel and  the Sacred Heart

'Exponents of Carmelite spirituality tell us that ‘the Carmelite tradition begins in searching hearts ..and they speak of the relationship between Carmelites and Jesus Christ as Seasons of the Heart. The dynamic at the root of the Carmelite quest is a longing for God deep in the heart. The Carmelite journey is a pilgrimage to the heart of God whom we eventually discover has been dwelling deep within our own hearts all the time. It is therefore not surprising that Carmelites have often given prominent place to the notion of ‘the heart’, including the Sacred Heart of Jesus…… Devotion to the Sacred Heart is therefore especially appropriate for the Carmelite, because it encourages us to reflect on Jesus in his humanity. In the years following Teresa’s reform of the Order, her sisters in France further developed devotion to the Sacred Heart, notably Venerable Mother Madeleine of Saint-Joseph (1578-1637), Blessed Marie of the Incarnation (Madame Acarie, 1566-1618), and her daughter the Venerable Marguerite of the Blessed Sacrament (1619-48). To these, and later Carmelites, the word ‘heart’ awakens an image of that vital organ which throbs within us. We know that it sustains our physical existence, but we also speak of the heart as that place deep within that gives rise to our emotions and desires. We talk about giving our heart to someone or something, we speak of opening our heart to others, and we are afraid of having a broken heart. We know from John’s account of the Gospel that Jesus’ heart was broken, but devotion to the Sacred Heart is not only about Christ’s anatomy but rather about the emotions and feelings he has for us: tenderness, forgiveness, and love….. In the Carmelite tradition we revere Mary as the woman of pure heart, a title ascribed to her since the Middle Ages. Like her we are meant to cultivate detachment so that we enjoy purity of heart (puritas cordis), given over to the one true God and not distracted by false idols. With her we strive to serve Jesus ‘faithfully from a pure heart and a good conscience’ (Rule of Saint Albert, Ch. 2)…… In recent years other Carmelite nuns have placed their confidence in the heart of Jesus that loves us even in our feebleness. Congregations have been founded within the Carmelite Family that take their name from devotion to the Sacred Heart, such as the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart, and the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. By forming praying communities at the service of God’s people, such Carmelites cultivate hearts open to those around them.'

So there is much to discover about the Sacred Heart from the perspective of  the Carmelite tradition!  Prof. John Welch O. Carm has written an inspiring account of  what Carmelites  understand by  'Seasons of the Heart', you can read it HERE.  I  am currently reading his book  The Carmelite Way,  (HERE ) which is very good introduction to the  tradition and some of the saints who have inspired this 800 year old religious community. 

And the connections with Teilhard are also quite interesting.  The first is that Teilhard wrote a piece (Hymn to Matter ) about Elias/ Elijah being taken up to heaven which I blogged about some time ago.  Go HERE The second connection is that  ' The Mystical Milieu', written in 1917  shows clear signs of being influenced by  St Teresa of Avila's  Interior Castle. And the third is that, as de Lubac  notes, Teilhard thought of St John of the Cross  and St Francis as amongst  'the most authoritative representatives'  of a 'cosmic' sense in Christianity! (The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin., p143)  So, the fact that our icon - inspired by Teilhard - provides us with a window into the Carmelite tradition of the heart is a real joy. 

Finally, an interesting footnote and connection.  When Ian was trying to explain the difference as between an icon and other forms of religious image he suggested I compare Bernini's 'The Ecstacy of St. Teresa and an  icon of Elias (above, left ) from St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai!  See HERE! 

St Teresa gave this account of her experience as depicted in Bernini's sculpture (left):

"I saw in [the angel's] hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying." 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Feast of All Saints of Wales and Memorial Bl. John Duns Scotus

 I have spent the past few days on my return from France preparing for today which in Wales and Scotland are celebrated as the feast days for all Saints of Wales (in Wales) and  Bl. John Duns Scotus (in Scotland).     So many thoughts came to mind and once again I found that the Sacred Heart provides a very powerful  way to focus on what this day means to me.

Fr. John FitzGerald OM. 
Today  at mass a number of ideas came to the surface.  The first was that meditating on all the saints of Wales  was difficult and so I let my mind wander.  It soon rested on the memory of someone who was VERY important to me as as student - the Catholic chaplain.  This was inevitably  a time of questions and doubts.   But fortunately, the chaplain at my college was  a truly  remarkable man and was a real inspiration both intellectually and spiritually.  ( I think I also learnt a lot on how speak and lecture from him as well. )  Not many Catholic priests get obituaries in national newspapers, but Father John FitzGerald O.Carm. was one of them.  He was a Carmelite friar, priest, poet, philosopher, teacher and translator.  In his sermons and general chat he would illuminate the contribution of Celtic Christianity and above all the Christian tradition in Wales.  Read about him HERE.   As I thought about the Welsh saints  I imagined what Fr. 'Fitz' would have said.  First he would have quoted a few Welsh poems and something appropriate in  Greek or Latin or several other languages, from which he would distill a simple message.  I imagined he would have said something like, pray that  you could have a heart as open, humble, brave and pure as theirs.  I remember his  lucid and elegant accounts of complex theological arguments and no-body  ever came close to his exploration of the readings from scripture at mass.   Sadly, I don't think he ever wrote them down.  Such a loss.  He was also someone who demonstrated that - as Christians  - we had to use our heads and our hearts to praise God.  Both the head and the heart had to be open to the world.  He also gave me a sense of the importance of language in thinking and feeling.  I am sure he would have quoted a well-known saying in Wales often : 'Cenedl heb iaith yw cenedl heb galon.' ( A nation without a language is without a heart. )  In a sense prayer is the language of the heart - the language of love.  To pray is to raise the mind and the heart  to God.  And, as I reflected on the lives of our saints from way back in the 5th century  through the persecutions of later centuries and to the saints of our own time ( like Fr. Fitz!)  their holiness which serves as a model for our own lives is to be seen in how they spoke the language of love.  And, as they spoke from the heart and not just the head the people of their day listened and understood.  With that in mind I naturally thought of a great Welsh hymn which Fr. Fitz  would have quoted at the drop of a hat and the twinkling of an eye.  

Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,
Aur y byd na’i berlau mân:
Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,
Calon onest, calon lân.
Calon lân yn llawn daioni,
Tecach yw na’r lili dlos:
Dim ond calon lân all ganu –
Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nos.
Pe dymunwn olud bydol,
Chwim adenydd iddo sydd;
Golud calon lân, rinweddol,
Yn dwyn bythol elw fydd.
Hwyr a bore fy nymuniad
Esgyn ar adenydd cân
Ar i Dduw, er mwyn fy Ngheidwad,
Roddi i mi galon lân.

And the translation

I don’t ask for a luxurious life,
the world’s gold or its fine pearls:
I ask for a happy heart,an honest heart, a pure heart. 
A pure heart is full of goodness,
More lovely than the pretty lily:
Only a pure heart can sing -
Sing day and night. (CHORUS) 
If I wished worldly wealth,
He has a swift seed;
The riches of a virtuous, pure heart,
Will be a perpetual profit.
Late and early, my wish
Rises on the wing of song,
For God, for the sake of my Saviour,
To give me a pure heart.  ***
And that - as Fr. Fitz would have said - sums it all up very nicely.  That  is what our  Welsh saints had, a pure heart.  As Fr. Fitz would have also said: ' Beati mundo corde quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt '.  (Matt, 5.8)  'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. '  When we pray to the Sacred Heart that is what we are praying for - what the saints have achieved: to see God.  And, if we are to see God   -in all things - we must not allow ourselves to love what the world counts as valuable and desirable.  First and foremost we must  ask for the grace of a pure heart. It is only when we have a pure heart can we see God in the world around us and in the people we meet.

As I reflected on this I suddenly realized that as a Carmelite Fr. Fitz would have had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart!  How could I not have thought about this before!  The phrase idiot comes to mind.

I also reflected today on Bl.John  Duns Scotus.  The Seraphim on the upper left of the icon has become the doorway for meditating on him and the Franciscan tradition.   I find it a joy to read the account in Bl. Gabriel Allegra's book how Teilhard was surprised and delighted by finding out more about Duns Scotus' work.  I think I will re-read that part of the book later today!  Meanwhile, thanks to my old Chaplain,Fr. Fitz (OM),  I now have to explore the Carmelite tradition of the heart.  What a fitting a new direction to have emerged on  this day!


***  So many recordings to choose from but the one I like is by a young choir who do a great job in singing what is in effect our second national anthem.   Isn't it the BEST national anthem!? And the very  best anthem for young people in a old materialistic world.  GO HERE
 The recording by  Bryn Terfel is also quite good.  Go Here

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Paris: (6) St Mary Magdalen and the Sacred Heart

I was so pleased that Ian included St. Mary Magdalen on our  the icon of the Sacred Heart.  (Read, for example, here.) Spending some time in Paris gave me the opportunity to reflect on her relationship to the devotion.  Whilst in  Paris we attended the 'Madeleine' twice; once for the concert and then for Sunday mass.  I found the image of the icon kept popping into my head and enabled me to  think about her from so many different perspectives.  Is this what an icon is supposed to do?  It seems to me that is precisely what it can facilitate!

In the icon she is located on the right hand side, directly opposite Adam.  And the thought that occurred to me in the Madeleine - and was reinforced by looking at (so many!) works of art in the Louvre and the museum of the Moyen Age is that we are right to reflect on the relation between Adam and St Mary Magdalen.   The link it seems to me is the cross at the top of the icon.  For Christians the cross is the 'Tree of Life' on which the second Adam redeemed the world.  Mary Magdalene was at the foot of this cross as one who loved Christ with all her heart and was forgiven much  and loved much by Christ.  She points the way to the meaning of the cross as a symbol of God's love and mercy and calls us to open our hearts to that love and mercy as she opened hers.  Love was her choice. love was her way.  Adam on the other hand and other side of the icon chooses differently.  Adam wants knowledge: and so become like God. Adam desires KNOWLEDGE of the tree in the Garden of Eden.  St. Mary Magdalen desires only LOVE and MERCY from the tree on which hangs the saviour of the world on Golgotha.
Lorenzo Monaco's crucifixion, in the Louvre

As I reflected on this in the Madeleine it struck me that the whole history of the building reflected the different paths of Adam and Mary Magdalen. In brief: the church was originally a confiscated synagogue (1182) consecrated to the saint.  In the 18th century a new church was proposed and then during the French Revolution and the reign of Napoleon other (non religious uses) were suggested.   It was not until 1842 that the building was finally consecrated as a church.  It was thought that St Marie Madeleine was an appropriate saint for a church which would symbolise repentance and reparation for the terrible things done during the revolution, and also to symbolise national reconciliation: forgiveness and mercy.   The revolution, as we noted in a previous post, was  an utterly  merciless revolution designed to bring into being a new world based on reason and knowledge rather than Christianity.   It was a revolution in which Churches were turned into temples in which reason would be the object of worship.   The revolution was, in so many senses, heir to Adam's choice: the desire for knowledge and power so as to become like God.   The church of the Madeleine, however, can be read as a symbol of repentance and the recognition of how dangerous and misguided this view was then and remains today.  St. Mary Magdalen is therefore a reminder of  how, as human beings,  we have been created for love.  And, whenever and where-ever we loose sight  (as individuals or as societies ) of this we need to repent of our sinfulness in rejecting a life of love and building a civilization of hate, greed and fear rather than self-less love for God and our neighbour.    And when we repent  of our failure to love and when we open our hearts to that divine energy of love wholly and completely - as did Mary of Magdala - we see the other side of the cross ( as Teilhard put it).  We see the radiance of the risen Christ drawing all human beings  towards their completion in  Him.  We see the way, the truth and the light.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Paris: (5) Climbing the hill to Sacre Coeur

If you follow the Sacred Heart to Paris, then it is inevitable that you end up in Sacre Coeur. For me it is a place full of memories  as I think of  what has happened to me - and to Montmatre - over the many years I have been coming to Paris.  (See , for example: here.)  It was a cold morning when we walked up the 'butte Montmatre' and I could not help thinking that it was all very sad, tired and dirty.  That is to say, more tired and sad and dirty than I remember it from the last time.  As you spiral upwards physically, mentally and spiritually you spiral downwards! 

 Montmatre itself has lost what little charm it had left!  Having said that, I was reminded of someone many years ago talking about Charles Aznavour's song ( La Boheme hear  HERE ) in which he was moaning about the decline of the place back in the 1960s.   As usual the basilica was full of tourists, doing the circuit and then out. So sad.  What they get out of it, I fail to see.  We knelt down in front of the altar and tried to pray - but it is so difficult.  I spent some time just looking at the great mosaic  which was the subject of early posts to this blog.  Later, I had a chat with a very kind Benedictine sister in the bookshop whose suggested some things to read.  And then, we left.   So many thoughts were going around my head, and the more they went around - like tourists around the basilica - the sadder I became.   It was as if I had followed the Sacred Heart to the Sacred Heart, and yet somehow in all the crowds we had failed to meet up! And yet the basilica is, in so many ways, the great statement and monument to the Sacred Heart.  The basilica is the great votive offering of a country - la belle France.

The first thing that came to mind, however,  was the Convent at Tyburn in London. ( I blogged about this. Here).  Back in 1898 Rev Mother Mary Adele Garnier had founded the 'Congregation of the Adorers of the Sacred of Heart, Montmatre.'   In 1901 - due to laws against religious orders - the congregation was moved to London.  And from there it has spread all over the world: but they have no convent in Montmatre  - the mount of martyrs.  Of course, the basilica has maintained a perpetual adoration of the Sacred Heart in the Blessed Sacrament for 125 years! And it was this thought which revived me - as well as a cup of hot chocolate.

The basilica in a sense is a gigantic metaphor for the Sacred Heart itself.  When you just look at the outside of things, it is difficult to find God anywhere in the sheer mass of humanity which swarms around and inside.   To experience the Sacred Heart you have to go beyond  the outside of things. (The physical heart.)  And ( what Teilhard called ) the within of things in the basilica  cannot be experienced as a 'tourist'.  You cannot be a tourist to the Sacred Heart.   You are not a tourist in your own house or home.  And to experience the Sacred Heart, I realized,  it has to become your home: your place of security, rest and comfort.   Thus the heart of the basilica is to be found  precisely where the banner outside tells us: in prayerful adoration of the divine centre of all creation.   Sadly, as a visitor and a tourist, I was not able to experience this real heart within the basilica.   However, if you contact the basilica it is possible to do precisely that, after the doors have closed (at 10.30pm).   See HERE.  Perhaps the next time I visit I will not do so as a tourist, but as a pilgrim coming home.  So, I will stay the night!  As the words of a well-known hymn expresses it: ' O Sacred Heart my home lies deep in you.'  HEAR here.)  And home, of course,  is where the heart is!

The trouble is what we see high upon the hill of Montmatre is a massive and imposing political statement: and yet deep inside this monumental structure is a spiritual 'within'.  And we can only really encounter the Sacred Heart in Montmatre when we understand the relationship between the within and the without of the building.  The within of the building - its core -  is the devotion to the Sacred Heart as the symbol of the love and word  of God made flesh.  The Sacred Heart - the temple of the Trinity.  The Sacred Heart, the dynamic energy of love which is pulling the universe towards its completion when Christ will be all in all.  The Sacred Heart - all that the great litany of the Sacred Heart embodies and which is expressed in another way in Teilhard's litany.  But the without is a symbol of a religious and a political kind.  It is fundamentally a political symbol :  it reminds us of how, in the past,  the Sacred Heart was a symbol of resistance and opposition to the belief that human beings can only advance through revolution and violence exercised in the name of reason.  And because of this, the building stands as an important statement which is relevant to us in the 21st century.  The Sacred Heart stands as a monument to those who suffered - on all sides - as a result of the defective belief that  'enlightenment' was only to be had through REASON.  It is a monument to the belief that humanity is just a collection of nation states.  (It was built after the Franco- Prussian war. )   Indeed, on this hill during the revolution St. Peter's church was proclaimed a 'temple of reason.'   For all its faults, the voice of the Church then, as now, was unequivocal: real enlightenment comes when we seek to change society not through revolutionary violence and through the exercise of state power and armed force, but through an evolutionary process which seeks to harness the capacity which humanity has for love.   It is therefore, so very appropriate that the basilica of Sacre Coeur is one of the great buildings of the world.  It should remind us of the dangers of believing that humanity advances only by using  the 'head'  - the very part of the body the revolutionaries liked to remove.  When I see the building it is as a reminder of how humanity has to evolve through combining the head and the heart.  Reason and faith. Logic and love.   Whenever human beings forget this link between these capacities that must be harnessed like two powerful horses ( in front of the building!)  humanity is prone to do stupid and evil things.   Sacre Coeur is a monument to so much of the stupidity and wickedness which we find in the history of France, but also in the story of every nation on God's earth.   At the same time, it is also a sign that we must have faith in the future of our planet and our capacity to 'build the earth' and realize that ( as Teilhard said) the 'age of nations is past.'  This faith should be rooted in what is contained in the within of the controversial structure which sits on the 'butte': human history and evolution has a point, a direction and a purpose.  We call this point towards which we are moving and evolving, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The 'foyer' or the point - the divine centre-  at which all creation will converge. 

As we descended down the steps of the rue Foyatier and looked back up at the basilica still enveloped in the misty cold air, it was this thought of a divine centre and  a heart on fire with love for us and for every single human being in Montmatre that warmed our hearts that morning.