Monday, 6 February 2012

Live Jesus! The icon through the lens of the Salesian Tradition.

I am coming to the conclusion that in order to read this icon you have to both go back and understand the evolution of the image and the devotion , whilst always remembering to go forward and think about the future of the  image and the devotion.  I think that Teilhard enables us to think of the future direction, and that St. Francis de Sales is an important person to enable us to understand the history of the devotion, but also he points the way forward.   St. Francis de Sales occupies a central position in the story of the Heart of Jesus.  He drew upon the earlier traditions and teaching of the church, but he was – with St Jane Chantal to have a defining influence of the devotion as it emerged from France in the 17th century onwards and not just on St. Margaret Mary, but on many others, including St. John Eudes.  His influence on St Vincent de Paul and St Louise de Marillac and the Daughters of Charity should also be mentioned: but the spread of Salesian spirituality with its stress upon the heart is without doubt  one of the most significant aspects of the history of the Sacred Heart.  And yet, as I read through my little CTS booklet on the Sacred Heart I can’t find one reference.  This is a shame, because when you explore the Salesian tradition of the heart,  the meaning of the devotion  - and this icon - becomes much clearer.  Dr. Wendy Wright’s book  Heart Speaks to Heart  (see HERE) has been a real revelation and has opened the doors to me with respect to the profound relevance of St Francis de Sales to reading this icon.  Let me just quote a few passages.  She notes that the words we find in St Matthew (11:28-30) are central to St. Francis’s spiritual vision. It is here we learn that Jesus is ‘gentle and humble of heart’ and in whom we find rest.   Dr Wright explains that for St Francis:

Although in essence beyond human description, God can metaphorically be said to be possessed of a Heart that is the source of all love. God’s Heart is life giving, it is a womb, a fountain, a vital restless energy that breathes, pulses and beats..The Godhead itself is thus imagined as a relational dynamic.  In its fullness the Trinity, as it were, spills out of itself and overflows.  Indeed, creation itself is the intrinsic dynamic of Love  that spills out, that gives of itself in abundance.  In addition, the divine Heart imminent in creation acts relationally and dynamically.  As love gives it also receives and is intent on drawing to itself all that it has created.  Thus the Heart of God can be said to love human hearts and to long for union.  P 32

I have to say when I read that passage, I looked on the icon in a new light.  It lead me to explore the work and life of St Francis de Sales, and understand how his teachings had flowed into the devotion and how we need to follow these ideas back to their source in his writings.  Again, as Dr. Wright explains, it is important to remember that for:

Francis de Sales ‘heart’ does not connote merely sentiment, affection, or emotion. Instead it retains its biblical meaning as  the core or centre of the person. Thus ‘heart’ involves intellect and reason as well as affection and will. The human heart, created to know and love God is, like its divine counterpart, dynamic and relational.  It too breathes and beats.  Through inspiration it draws in love.  By aspiration it pours itself out towards its neighbour and its ultimate source.  The human heart, it might be said, is made to beat in rhythm with the heart of God… God’s eternal Heart and the created heart of humankind thus are designed for union. ‘ May God live in my heart for that is what it is made for’ , Francis was quoted as saying. P 33.

So from the perspective of the Salesian tradition we must contemplate the image of the Heart of Jesus as represented in this icon as with the words of Matthew 11: 28-30 always before us.  The heart we see glowing at the centre of a cosmos converging into unity with God’s love is a gentle and humble heart that calls us to be gentle and humble towards others, rather than seek power and domination over them.  Hence Dr Wright emphasizes that:

Salesian discipleship is thus first and foremost about an exchange of hearts.  It is about the practice of ‘living Jesus’ through the cultivation of the little relational virtues [ like gentleness and humility].  Discipleship is the lifelong opening of the heart to be transformed by and inhabited by Jesus’ own gentle heart. P33

St Francis de Sales calls us to ‘Live Jesus’ by allowing Christ to live in our hearts, and that in so doing our heart can become gentle and humble so that we can say, with St Paul, that it is no longer I that live, but  that  Christ lives in me.

As he prays in the Introduction to the Devout Life:

“LIVE JESUS. LIVE JESUS. Yes, Lord Jesus, live and reign in our hearts for ever and ever. Amen!”

This simple prayer perhaps sums up the whole message and meaning of the icon*.

* Just a thought: in the course of writing the icon Ian mentioned his own regard for St Francis de Sales.  Perhaps the influence of the Salesian tradition on the writing of the icon is more significant than I have supposed!

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