Thursday, 31 May 2012

David Richo's The Sacred Heart of the World (3) The Sacred Heart as a 'field'.

Richo's The Sacred Heart of the World gives us a concise description of the Sacred Heart  which enables us to make this old devotion more relevant and more central to our spiritual life in the 21st century and it clearly shows the influence of Teilhard on the author.  He  notes early on in the book that:

'The Sacred Heart does not refer to the physical heart or organ of Jesus  during his life in Nazareth.  It refers to the heart of the risen Christ, which is not an organ but a field of divine energy.  This field, as in gravitational or electrical fields, is both radial and magnetic, reaching out, drawing in.  In other words, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a metaphor for how God gives out and draws in love.  The Sacred Heart is thus a revelation of how God is love; that is, both reaching out all-inclusively and yearning to receive from all of us.' (p4)

This idea that we have to see the Sacred Heart less as an organ and more of a field of divine energy is what first grabbed me as we embarked upon the process of writing the icon.  Hence, right at the top of the icon we see the old creation - planetary systems showing their gravitational fields - being rolled up  in preparation for the New Creation in Christ.  Teilhard himself preferred to think of the Sacred Heart less as a 'devotion' than as an 'attraction': which is pulling us and drawing us to the core, 'the centre of all hearts'.   I think David is right to invite us to think about the Sacred Heart as this idea of field in order for us to restore, reclaim and re-centre the idea of the Heart of Jesus in our spiritual life.  My own reflection on this is that, in truth, I find it very had to let go and give way to this field.  I hold on to so much stuff in my life because I am rather afraid of the power and pull of ' placing all my trust' in love.  I think that when we consider all the many saints associated with the Sacred Heart they all have one thing in common: they let go, they did not hold on tight, they allowed themselves to be drawn into the divine milieu.  And yet, that is what we do, we hold on and hold back.  We don't give ourselves completely and wholly: we don't give our heart.  And yet as the great attractor, Christ is calling us to realise that human beings have to realise that our personal evolution as well as the evolution of our species is all about realising our potential for love of God and our fellow creatures.  We cannot truly progress without letting go and placing our trust in love for only then can we become fully human, and fully us.   Love completes us.

Although our devotion to the centre of all hearts must draw on the past, as water from a deep well, we must not hold on to the past: we have to go on and go deeper.  I think that was Teilhard's message, and as I read it, the message of David's book. Hence, as his book shows, we have to start with understanding   the truly universal symbol of the heart, and the universal language of the spirituality of the heart.  When we do this, we can appreciate why Teilhard believed that Sacred Heart - the divine centre - has to become a focus of convergence and dialogue between the spiritual traditions amongst homo sapiens.   As I read chapter one of  David's book I was reminded of a dear friend of mine, who was from Iraq. He was doing a Phd in civil engineering and sadly we have lost contact over the years.  We would often talk about Christianity and Islam, and he would often say that what matters is what is in your heart, and only God can see into your heart.  Or words to that effect.  And with other friends from the middle east we would swop quotes from the Rubaiyat  of Omar Khayyam, and speak of re-making the world closer to our hearts desire.  The fact is that the idea of or symbol of the heart is one which can provide a language in which human beings can engage in dialogue: the heart is an idea which Jews, Christians and Muslims can explore together.  But is is also, as David shows a powerful symbol which is common to so many spiritual traditions.  The language of the heart is indeed a point of convergence or attraction  in a world which  so often torn apart by divergence and difference.  As he observes:

'There is a collective consciousness of this image that resonates in people regardless of their religious affiliation.  A universal symbol like this is not only visible everywhere, it is in everyone's soul.' (p17)

As Teilhard believed, therefore, the Christianity of the future must be more and more centred on the spirituality of the heart: the great universal symbol.  In this way the Sacred Heart can become a symbol of ecumenism and not division and difference: but for this to happen we have revitalise our devotion to the 'sacred heart of the world'.  We really do have to place all our trust in that 'heart of the world's heart'.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

David Richo's The Sacred Heart of the World (2): 'minding the gap'

There are quite a few books which provide detailed  histories of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.  And a complicated story it is. Thankfully, David Richo gives us a very simple way of understanding what that history has been about.

Stage one:  the early centuries AD, in which there emerges a focus on the the crucified and pierced Christ that draws on the Gospels - and especially St. John.  These writings from Origen and others were to inform the later medieval devotion to the pierced heart of Jesus.
Stage two: the seventeenth French tradition inspired by  St. Francis de Sales, St. Jane de Chantal, St John Eudes, and St Margaret Mary and many others. Whereas the first stage was largely biblical and mystical, the second stage was far more focused on sin and the idea of reparation.
Stage three: Is where we are now.  It is a stage which was initiated by Teilhard: it is a stage which has 'restored the biblical /mystical dimension and liberated us from the sin-centered, sentimentality, and superstition that unfortunately crept in during the seventeenth century onwards' (p8)

Of course, any attempt to provide a simplified history inevitably misses out a good deal, and my own journey has been far more messy and confusing than these three stages suggest.  That said, it is a useful guide to understanding the Sacred Heart.  There can be no doubt that stage two was responsible for much of the imagery which has, in my view, not helped the devotion in the twentieth century.  More than any other aspect of Catholicism, the Sacred Heart has been defined and distorted by the 'art' which has emerged since the 17th century.  If we are to rediscover the biblical and mystical dimension of the Sacred Heart, then we have to address the issue of the image: and that is what the icon set out to do.   What I have found is that the icon has served to focus my mind  - and heart- on rediscovering what happened in stage 1 and 2, all the better to understand what is necessary for stage 3.   I don't believe that it is a matter of  discounting stage 2, quite the opposite, but it does mean that we have to let the light of stage 1 shine through stage 2.   In many ways I think that David's 3 stage model has a more general applicability.  As I reflected on the three stages it occurred to me that the modern world - that is the world of after the enlightenment - has become progressively more and more detached from the medieval world.  We abandoned Aquinas for Nietzsche: so we now have abandoned our faith in science just as we 'killed God' in the 19th century. The Sacred Heart in stage 2 was - above all - a reaction against the violence of the enlightenment.  It was a devotion which emphasised the heart, and not the head.  Human progress, it asserted, was not about human beings becoming smarter, but human beings becoming more spiritual.  Progress was about harnessing our capacity to love, and not just our capacity for knowledge and power.

I think that if we are to advance in stage 3 we have to build on the earlier stages. That is what David's books shows us - well shows me at least.  It is really all about evolution, and not revolution.  In London some underground (metro) stations announce to travellers: 'Mind the Gap'.  That is, the gap between the platform (where you are) and the train (where you want to be).  Perhaps that is how we should read David's book- as a reminder to 'mind the gap' between stage 3 and 1. Some 'traditional' Catholics may read such ideas and be terribly offended by the idea that we should move beyond stage 2.  But that is not what this blog or David's book is saying:  those of us journeying towards the Sacred Heart  are  like travellers on the London underground.  David is telling us to 'mind the gap' and re-connect Heart of Jesus with its biblical and mystical past so as to move forward into the future.  That is really what Teilhard is saying as well: contra Nietzsche and his post-modern followers, we have to realise that progress - faith in the future - has to be built on both a faith in God ( as love) and on a faith in our capacity to know and understand His creation (science) .  That is what the Sacred Heart meant to Teilhard: that is stage 3.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

David Richo's The Sacred Heart of the World (1)

When I first decided to rediscover the Sacred Heart through the commissioning of an icon, I determined that it should be a journey which was not constrained, but flowed  and allowed the icon to do its work.  Actually that is not quite true, because initially I was all very instrumental and academic about it - and thankfully Ian put me right as soon as we began to think about the project.  At that point in the journey I realized that the way forward was not to read all that I could about the Sacred Heart, but let the meaning of the Heart of Jesus unfold in its own way.   That said, I did find that some books have been useful - like guide books on a journey.   One such guide books which I have found absolutely invaluable as a source of inspiration and reflection is David Richo's The Sacred Heart  of the World:  Restoring Mystical Devotion to Our Spiritual Life.  ** (See HERE )  David was kind enough a while ago to write and tell me that he was following the blog, and thus I think it is about time I explored the book in a more deliberate way.  So, this is the first of a series of blogs on the book.

 Having spent some time rediscovering the Sacred Heart I think it is now is about the right time to reflect a little on the journey others have taken.  At one stage I described the the process of reading and writing an icon was rather like a pilgrimage.  And I think that is an appropriate way to think about it.  In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales the pilgrims tell each other stories.  I have never been on a real pilgrimage myself - who knows one day, but I know from what people tell me who have done so is that meeting and sharing stories with fellow pilgrims is an important part of the whole experience.  So, I suppose here I can compare notes as it were with another pilgrim intent on 'restoring mystical devotion'  by means of the Sacred Heart.

Let us start at the very beginning, which is, as Sister Maria reminds us, is ' a very good place to start'.   I seem to recall that human beings are prone to what psychologists call 'inattentional blindness'  : we see but we don't see. We are so busy looking for something that we don't  realize that  we have actually seen something else.  It was only ( a few days ago)  when I picked up  Dr. Richo's book to read  in a more focused way  -  that is to read it from cover to cover -  that I actually noticed the quote of the first page  from  Blessed John XXIII. 'Now I think of myself as living solely for the Sacred Heart'.  I was rather amazed and shocked that I had not spotted this quote before.  Why? I  don't know, must ask one of my psychology colleagues!  I have, since a child,  always felt very close to John XXIII.  Indeed, when I went to up to university I took a whole pile of economic and political science textbooks, and yes, a copy his  Journal of A Soul.  Thus I had only just opened David's book  the other day when I had to close it again and look for my copy Journal of A Soul!   Re-reading a book which I had read constantly as a student I was so surprised that I had not taken notice of the extent to which the Sacred Heart was so central to John XXIII.  How on earth did I not get that? At the same time as I was reading Journal of a Soul I was also deeply influenced by Teilhard: and yet I did not get how important the Sacred Heart was to him, either.  So the extent of my 'inattentional blindness' in respect of the Sacred Heart was rather disturbing - and  so it was with a sense of shock I returned to David Richo's book.   It begins with his account of a personal experience in the woods of Mount Subasio near Assisi. Which made me think that the young man who had been so completely blind to the Sacred Heart  - even when it was shouting out of the page of closely read books - was only ready to answer the 'who am I  question?' when I was truly open : when my heart and not just my head was open.

Richo opens by explaining how the idea of the heart and the spirituality of the heart is common to so many of the great spiritual traditions: it is not exclusive to Christianity.   He notes that:

'The Sacred Heart is God's zeal for communion with the human world..[and that] the revelations of the Sacred Heart tell of a God who is no longer distant but who has come close, as close as our very  own 'within' ...Thus a devotion to the Sacred Heart  is a fully and richly mystical, experience.  It liberates us from dualism, God out there and we down here, and gives us  a unity that is abiding and that powerfully endures  within time and beyond it'. (p3)

Ah, that was it.  I was never really about 'mystical experiences' : for me religion was about faith and reason. 'Mystical devotion' was not my game.  Hence, I could never trouble myself to get past the sentimentalism and kitchness of those pictures and statutes: for they represented the kind of Catholicism that I believed was irrelevant to the modern world.   And yet, of course, a spiritual life without a mystical dimension is a rather shallow sort of spiritual life.  Indeed, I confess that my own spiritual life   was rather shallow without  this sense of the role of 'mystical devotion'. What Richo does in the first few pages is make the case for a restoration of the Sacred Heart  as a powerful point of entry - indeed the most powerful  point of entry - into a deeper  spiritual life.  But first we really do have to get past the saccharine  images which so many of us find does nothing for us - apart from turn us off.  It turned me off to the point where I actually could not see it: as far as the Sacred Heart was concerned I was truly  blind, and deaf!  Unlike David Richo, therefore, the Sacred Heart did not speak to me, or leastways, I was not listening.  But eventually I got it: not as a result of an intellectual process, but as a result of getting to a point in my life when I was finally meek and humbled enough to be open to God's grace. So, reading  The Sacred Heart of the World I feel rather like the workman who turns up very late  in the day, does five minutes labour and still gets paid for a full day.   David has spent 50 years listening to and puzzling over the Sacred Heart, and then finally figured out what to do.  This Johnny come lately David, on the other hand,  has spent a long time actively not listening and not troubling himself with the Sacred Heart, but here I am wrestling away - and sharing his passion for devotion which, I now more and more believe, is central to the Christianity of the future and to the spiritual evolution of mankind.

**"The Sacred Heart of the World" renews our devotion to the Sacred Heart by attending to its scriptural and mystical origins, and expanding our spirituality to embrace universal compassion. It is the first book to tackle the issue of devotedness to the Heart of Jesus that is intelligible and appealing to people of the twenty-first century. Based on a combination of extensive research and the author's own personal devotion to the Sacred Heart - a lost treasure from our Catholic past - and his interest in mysticism, "The Sacred Heart of the World" unlocks a new future of vibrant and conscious faith. The book has a threefold purpose: to inspire devotion to the Sacred Heart, to rekindle spiritual devotion, and to center the Sacred Heart into the new cosmological realizations that will appeal both to Catholics and people from a variety of religious traditions. The book explores the symbolism of the heart in world religious traditions, and then traces the historical thread of the devotion into modern times. It draws significant links to the philosophy and theology of Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner and their links with Ignatian spirituality.'

Thursday, 24 May 2012

C.S. Lewis and the broken heart

 It is great to see people reading C.S. Lewis again.  Bookshops all seem to have copies of his books nowadays.  Reading The Four Loves recently, it seems to me, that when you cut through all the philosophy and theology, Lewis perfectly expresses what the Sacred Heart is all about: Jesus  shows us that God loves us so much  that  He became utterly and totally vulnerable and open.  His heart is open to us and is open to the pain and wounds of love. When we meditate on the Sacred Heart, we being called to live a life of loving God and trusting in and being open to that that love, and loving and trusting and being open to our neighbour.  And as Lewis reminds us, that hurts:

'To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.'  C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

Christ calls humanity to live with an open and tender heart.  We must live a life with a heart that is open, vulnerable and selfless. Christ's heart, like the bread at the last supper, is broken for us.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Thoughts from a pew in Maiden Lane

My visit to the Corpus Christi church in Maiden Lane, London really got me thinking...Slowly, very slowly, the icon seems to have drawn me into reflecting on St. Thomas Acquinas.  This began as I started to think about the line in the Litany of the Sacred Heart which refers to the Heart of Jesus as the ‘abyss of all virtues’. And, of course, the moment you stop to think about the virtues you have necessarily to go to Acquinas.  The greatest of all the virtues is love, as St. Paul reminds us.  So there, in the centre of the icon is that heart the endless source of love, burning at the heart of all things and which desires to burn within us and shine out of us.   It is this great virtue – together with faith and hope which  informs all other moral virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. So when the Church, in the Litany of the Sacred Heart, describes the heart of Jesus as the ‘abyss of all virtue’, it is inviting us to reflect on the great virtue of love (Caritas)  - the love of God and our neighbour as ourselves – and its relationship to all other virtues. Benedict XVI reminds us that although the virtues provide a significant way of achieving a dialogue with other religions, for us as Christians, the true source of the virtues  is the person of Jesus who’ fully discloses the human potential for virtue and goodness’ ( The Virtues, Our Sunday Visitor, Indiana, 2010: 21) So, with all the talk in recent years of the importance of virtue ethics, and the philosophy of Aristotle and Acquinas, we should as Catholics keep the image  of the Sacred Heart ever before us as a symbol of  Jesus as showing us the source of all virtue and the potential that we have as human beings to become virtuous and good.  The more I entered into such thoughts, the more did I  realize that the presence of angels in this icon is also immensely significant.  Think of angels, you just have to think about Acquinas – known as the ‘Angelic doctor’ because of his writings on angels!  One authority notes that:

Angelic power is truly cosmic in its range according to the Thomistic account. On every level in the hierarchy of created being, angelic agency has a proper function to fulfill in accordance with the designs of divine wisdom. Although creativity cannot belong to them [since only God can create from nothing] angels are nevertheless the chief ministers employed by God in the governance of the universe, in securing His own glory and in distributing His goodness to all creation.    Read here

Thus the angels in the icon give a cosmic or universal feel to the Sacred Heart which is very much in keeping with a Thomist perspective on the ‘abyss of virtues’. Good...

However, it was then that it struck me that,   despite the medieval feel of the icon it is very definitely not a representation of a medieval world view.  What Ian had captured here, using a very ancient language was in fact a very modern world view: it has a sense of a dynamic, changing and evolving cosmos.
Acquinas accepted a static geo-centric Aristotelian view of the world and its place in the universe.  It is  precisely this medieval view of creation which Aquinas advances which Teilhard is seeking to move us  beyond.  A new cosmology requires a new Christology in which the universe itself is understood as centred on Christ as the Alpha and Omega.

In many ways Teilhard is seeking to do in the twentieth century what Acquinas had done in the thirteenth.  Acquinas brilliantly demonstrated how the Christian religion could integrate into its teachings  the knowledge of the ancients, especially Aristotle (‘the philosopher’) as well as the new sources of knowledge.  He showed how faith and reason, science and Christianity could be reconciled.  The genius of Acquinas was that he gave the Church a way of thinking and talking about the gospel which was relevant to the medieval world.    However, as the static  - Aristotelian - view of creation was challenged, so the position of the Church in relation to faith and reason, science and Christianity  was eroded and became less and less relevant.   Wildiers put it nicely in his book on Teilhard when he draws attention to the Teilhard’s belief that :

Theology remain true to a centuries-old tradition by expressing Christian doctrine in a language likely to be understood by men and women of today.  St Augustine proclaimed  the Christian  revelation in the language of his century, against a background of  the Platonism prevailing at that time.  St Thomas Acquinas formulated the dogmas of Christianity within the framework  of the resurgent Aristotlean  science and philosophy.  In each century  theology has known how to talk the language required to enable her message to be understood… in earlier centuries the only way  in which theologians could think of  and represent God’s becoming man was within the framework  of a static view of the world. Now that it is evident to every thinking person that we live in an organically  evolving world, the  believer can only  conceive of the Incarnation in the setting of this new world view..(N.M. Wildiers, An Introduction to Teilhard de Chardin, Fontana,1968:122) 

Teilhard was no theologian.  But, of course, he had been well-schooled in Acquinas, and the world view that he was seeking to bring about was, without doubt, a direct challenge to the static Thomist  view of creation which Acquinas had borrowed from Aristotle.  (In his day, the last word on cosmology.)  BUT,   Teilhard’s aim, was  as Wildiers  argues,  not to construct an original ‘theology’, but merely to provide some bricks  which in his view could be of use for  constructing a theology for the future and without which  no adequate theology was in future going to be possible’.

I think this is the point.  Teilhard is not asking us to adopt a new theology.  On the contrary: he wants us to think about  theology in a way which takes account of what we know now about the universe.  Like Acquinas, Teilhard believed that because the universe is God’s creation nothing – absolutely nothing – that we discover about God’s creation can serve to subvert our belief in God.  Indeed, science reveals the wonder of creation in a way which goes far beyond Aristotle and Acquinas.  At the time he was writing many were concerned that evolution was wholly incompatible with scripture.  Of course, some like Blessed John Newman were not the least bit troubled by what evolution implied: but many were  and still are ( for some strange reason).

As a scientist he believed that faith and reason had to march on hand in hand with one another.  Science should serve to enlarge our idea of Christ: if Christ is the ‘way the truth and the light’, then  he must be so on a cosmic scale.   Christ is either cosmic or he his nothing.  Science can enable us to see Jesus not in a Mediterranean  context, but in a cosmic context.  Our God is a God of evolution: that is what the Sacred Heart was for Teilhard, and it is what the icon is helping us explore.  The body of Christ – Corpus Christi – is truly a  dynamic cosmic process: hence like Acquinas, Teilhard had an intense devotion to and belief in the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  And that reality has to be seen in the context of what we know about the universe – just as Acquinas believed that the Eucharist had to be seen in the context of what was known about the universe in his time.  And this is why Teilhard took the most important of all Catholic devotions which is deeply Eucharistic – the Sacred Heart - and says: look at it in the context of a world view which takes account of what we know about the cosmos and of evolution now, rather than what we knew about it in the middle ages or in the 17th century.   He wants to see the Sacred Heart as a centre-piece of a Christianity which expresses itself in the language of its time – as Acquinas did in his of age.

F.C. Copleston S.J.
Just as in St. Juliana’s vision of the position of  Corpus Christi in the church as a missing piece in the moon (above) , so Teilhard saw the Eucharist   and the Sacred Heart as a missing piece in our understanding of the entire cosmos.  The Sacred Heart had to be placed in an absolutely central place in the Church of the future.   That was Teilhard’s vision: not of the moon, but of a Cosmic Christ at the heart of the Church: that was the hole that had to be filled in our age.  With such thoughts turning over in my head I picked up a copy of an old book I had first  read as an undergraduate by F.C. Copleston (right)  when I was  studying medieval political thought.  I am pleased to see that it is in print today and is still acknowledged as an important contribution to the study of Acquinas.  Copleston notes that Acquinas’s argument is that:

… coperation on the part of heterogeneous  material things clearly points to the existence of an extrinsic author of this cooperation, who operates with and end in view. If Acquinas had lived in the days of the evolutionary hypothesis, he would doubtless have argued that this hypothesis  supports rather than invalidates the conclusion of [his] argument. F.C. Copleston, Acquinas, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1961 (122) 

Teilhard does not in any way abandon the view that creation has a direction –he is, like Acquinas, wholly teleological.  The universe has a point, a direction, and a purpose. Hence, Copleston argues that Acquinas would have been quite at home adopting an evolutionary position.  In this sense, I think it is correct and entirely plausible to argue that Teilhard although abandoning the literal reading of Genesis ( and that has theological implications) and the Aristolean view of the universe, he is actually showing us that we do not need to abandon Acquinas, so much as up-date his cosmology.  We need to fill in the missing piece of that moon. The Body and Heart of Christ have to be understood in a new and far less static / earth-bound way.

The more I thought of it, the more remarkable is the statement by Prof. F. C. Copleston S.J.  The author was himself a Jesuit  priest and one of the best known philosophers / theologians of his day – famed for his debate with Bertrand Russell on the existence of God on the BBC in 1948.  Indeed, for many years he was Professor of Philosophy at Heythrop College.  His book on Acquinas came out in 1955 – just a few years after the encyclical Humani Generis (1950) which had criticized those in the church who were talking about evolution and were seen (as Teilhard) anti-Thomist.   This statement by one of the leading Catholic scholars  on Acquinas makes it very clear that he did not see a problem with evolution and Acquinas. This was, of course, contrary to the position of one of Teilhard’s great critics and opponents,  the formidable Dominican  theologian Garrigou-Lagrange who was the Vatican’s favoured authority on Acquinas!  Garrigou-Lagrange was Teilhard’s great tormentor: he once remarked that the Dominican wanted to ‘burn’ him!  And there can be little doubt that the Vatican read Teilhard as wholly incompatible with Acquinas. It is a while since I read Copleston's  multi-volumed history of philosophy, but I seem to recall it gives a substantial and sympathetic (although critical)  reading of Teilhard's attempt to advance a new world view for Christianity which is enthusiastic about evolution and what it means for the future of Christianity.  Must see if I can re-read the sections on Teilhard.

Teilhard may well be read as being anti-Thomist in terms of what he has to say about original sin and evolution, and in his own time that was how many - like Garrigou-Lagrange - did read him, but one thing is not in doubt: Teilhard shared with St. Thomas and St Bonaventure and Saint Clare of Assisi and St Juliana of Liege who all feature in the window to be found  in Corpus Christi a deep love and devotion to the Eucharist and to the Body of Christ as manifested in the Blessed Sacrament.   With them he shared a belief in the true and real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Of that there can be no doubt. Indeed, such was his belief in real presence of Christ in the bread and wine which are transformed in the mass that he realised that it must be understood  and could only be  understood, as a profoundly cosmic event. If it is not, then the Blessed Sacrament is nothing.  But for Teilhard the Body of Christ was everything.

'At every moment the Eucharistic Christ controls, from the point of view of the organization of the Pleroma..the whole movement of the universe..' The Divine Milieu. 

'Across the enormity of time and  the disconcerting multiplicity of individuals, one operation is going on - the incorporation of the elect in Christ; one thing is being made - the Mystical Body of Christ -from all the spiritual powers scattered around the world.' The Divine Milieu. 

'Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the whole universe'. Cosmic life.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Return to Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane

Readers of this blog must have observed that it is all rather convoluted: it wanders all over the place and turns back on itself, and goes off in another seemingly unrelated direction.  I was happy to allow my search for the Sacred Heart to lead where-ever it was minded  - or guided - to go.  I think that is what putting all ones trust in the Sacred Heart involves.  It began as a journey of exploration of an idea through an  image, which took me to commissioning this beautiful icon from Elias Icons and has since  July 2011 involved ‘reading’ the icon and allowing it to do its work (as Ian expressed it).   The most recent reading has involved reflecting on the Sacred Heart through the Dominican tradition.  With this in mind I paid another visit - this time with my wife - to Corpus Christi church - near Covent Garden in London-  ( see HERE) to think a little more about the relationship between (amongst other things) the Sacred Heart and the Body of Christ - which the church emphasises by a statue of the Sacred Heart as you enter and a chapel to the Sacred Heart.

Window, Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, London
The window in Corpus Christi serves to remind us of the  centrality of the Eucharist for the future of Christianity, and not just to prompt us to reflect on its place in the Church in the past.    In the Eucharist we encounter the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine: and that it what the feast of Corpus Christi celebrates.

The two figures on the top represent St Thomas Acquinas (left) and St. Bonaventure (right): both of whom are closely associated with Corpus Christi. They were both invited by Urban IV (1264) to write a hymn to be used in the celebration and devotion to the body of Christ.  Acquinas read his out, and when it came to St Bonaventure’s turn, the Seraphic doctor tore his own effort up, saying that Acquinas’s words were far superior to his own.  And so it is that Pange Lingua by St Acquinas is still used today: but it is nice that the window also asks us to reflect on the humility of St Bonaventure.  We remember 'Dr. Seraphicus' not for what he wrote, but for his humility and meekness of heart  he showed in  acknowledging the gifts of Acquinas.  And appropriately, underneath  St. Bonaventure we see  ( leastways I think that we see) the ‘seraphic’ St Clare of Assisi who is shown holding up the Blessed Sacrament in a ciborium. This recalls the episode  in 1234, when the army of Frederick II scaled the walls of San Damiano at night. Clare took  the ciborium from the chapel adjoining her cell and bravely faced the invaders by raising the Blessed Sacrament on high.  Dazzled by the Blessed Sacrament  the soldiers fled. Next to her is Saint Juliana of Liege ( or Mount Cornillon) (1193–1252).  She had only been canonized in 1869 by Pius IX  just a few years before  Corpus Christi church was built.  Like St Clare, she is also often represented holding a monstrance.  But I think St Juliana is directly underneath St Acquinas, as the other figure appears to be dressed in the habit of the 'poor Clares'.   St. Juliana has an important  role in the history of Eucharistic devotion through her vision she had of the Church – as represented by the moon having a dark spot to signify the absence of a special feast to the devotion of the body of Christ in the Eucharist.  This is shown in the centre of the widow.  St Juliana had an intense devotion to the Eucharist and was a great advocate for instituting a feast for the Sacred Heart in Liege (1246) and later in 1264 Urban IV – a former archbishop of Liege – instituted it for the whole church. (Hence the hymn writing competition.) In 1312 it was conformed as general feast of the Church

Thus the window provides a fascinating aid to meditating on the centrality of the Eucharist – as the body of Christ - in the life of the Church.   Given this, it is wonderful to think that Fr. Francis Stanfield must have been inspired by the devotion of these saints - and especially by the hymns of St Thomas Acquinas ( Pange Lingua and Adoro te Devote) to compose O Sacred Heart and Sweet Sacrament Divine which so beautifully express what this church located in the very heart of London is really  all about.

Evenso, as I left the church last Saturday to join the masses of tourists and other travellers  from all over the world in the streets outside - some of whom had come in and prayed and lit a candle - it was the image of St. Acquinas and that moon which made me realise I had to re-read Acquinas if I was to make any further progress on my journey of reading this icon.  I had the feeling I was missing something.

Friday, 4 May 2012

First Friday at Corpus Christi, London

Corpus Christi in London is a church I have always meant to visit, but some-how over the years I have never got around to it, until today. And I was so glad I did finally pay a visit.  In terms of the devotion to the Sacred Heart I think it can rightly be considered to be one of the most important in Britain and Ireland for a number of reasons.  So I made a  visit to attend the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Mass this first Friday of May.

Corpus Christi is situated in Maiden Street close to Covent Garden. HOW to get there? See  HERE.

The  church was the first to be dedicated to the Body of Christ in Britain since before the reformation.  When it was opened in 1874 it was with the intention of being specifically devoted to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  And as a result it  naturally became closely associated with the Sacred Heart.

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Perhaps the most notable aspect of its association with the Sacred Heart was that the parish priest in the 1880s was none-other than Fr. Francis Stanfield (1835-1914) who wrote the words to one of the most well-known of all hymns to the Sacred Heart in the English language- 'O Sacred Heart'. Listen HERE.  He also wrote the words and music to another great hymn associated with the Blessed Sacrament, 'Sweet Sacrament Divine'.  Listen HERE. ( He wrote several other hymns as well. )

 I thought it would be good to reflect on and pray these hymns during the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and during the mass.  I have to say it was something quite special to say these words in the very church where they must have been first sung.  As I said the words my attention strayed to thinking of a homeless man who had made himself comfortable in the back of the church. When Fr. Stanfield wrote these great hymns the streets around the church must  have been very similar  to the London of today in some respects.

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London then, as now,  was full of migrants and homeless people. Then, as now, migrants who are far from home come into the church to pray and light a candle. And no doubt the homeless occupied seats at the back of the church.  It was then that the word 'home' struck me as so important to both hymns: the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament are described as being a 'home' of 'exiles' and a 'Dear home for every heart'.  Then, (as in 1874)  as now (in 2012) , people come into the church and feel at home in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  And me: although I have a house to live in, I am like all those exiles and homeless people who have been comforted in Corpus Christi: I too am yearning for a home and like them I seek it in the Sacred Heart.  We come to (what Teilhard refers to as)  the Sacred Heart as a 'foyer' - a hearth or fireplace around which we gather as a family.

I was hoping that the Parish priest - Fr. Robinson - would have a photograph or portrait of Fr. Stanfield, but, alas,  the church does not possess one.   So, I will see if I can locate something! Before coming to Corpus Christi Fr. Stanfield had succeeded Fr., later, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan as parish priest of  the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph in Hertford  - where he spent 19 years from 1861.  So, perhaps this church might have a picture?

One personal note for me was that in the chapel of the Sacred Heart there was a picture of St. Claude de la Colombiere -  to whom we dedicated the icon early on during the 'writing' stage. St. Claude, of course, was the person who first brought the devotion to the Sacred Heart (in its 'Paray' form) to this city.  Underneath is a picture of St. Josemaria Escriva , whose writings have been such an inspiration and comfort to me  over the past few years. So, it was nice to see them together in the chapel! It was also - given other posts to this blog - good to see St Thomas Acquinas and St Bonaventure looking down on me from the window above the altar!

From now on whenever or wherever I sing or read  those hymns I will think of the 'hidden gem' near Covent Garden. And from now on, whenever I am in that part of London, I will be making myself at home with all the other exiles.

This is is an important church for all who are (like Teilhard) devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Heart  and could do with help ( that is money!) to restore it to its former glory.  If you feel you can help by making a donation, go Here.  ANYWAY, If you are in London, please pay a visit and ideally spend some time with the Blessed Sacrament: the 'dear home of every heart'.

Visit their website Here to learn more about the fascinating history of Corpus Christi church.