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." 

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