Sunday, 24 June 2012

Birth of John the Baptist

Some figures in the icon are reasonably self-explanatory.  The presence of the Blessed Virgin is a case in point: it can serve to remind the viewer of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and its relationship to the Sacred Heart - as when, following the feast of the Sacred Heart we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the following day. But the representation of the St. John the Baptist is not so obvious a connection with the Sacred Heart. Indeed, when people look at St. John they often assume it is St John, the beloved apostle, who stood at the foot of cross with the three Marys.  But today's feast gives us pause to think about John the Baptist through the lens of this icon.  I have commented on this elsewhere in the blog but today it struck me that John the Baptist does have really an important role to play in how we can read this image of the  Sacred Heart. First of all,  John presence reminds us that we use his words at mass when we pray in the Communion rite :  'Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world' and ask for mercy and peace. As Teilhard always reminds us, the eucharist is the Sacred Heart.  So John's presence in the icon focuses our mind on the relationship between the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Heart. Secondly, John the Baptist  in this icon is reminding us that a devotion to the Heart of Jesus is about (what Teilhard called ) the diminishment of our egos.  We pray that our heart - our very centre - becomes more like his, and that our heart becomes united with His heart.  For us to become fully us, we have to lose our selves.  Only the love of God can complete us and make us whole.   This requires us to become meek and humble of heart.  It requires us to learn from His heart.  And so as we say the 'Agnus Dei', we should also remember his words concerning his humility of knowing that he must decrease, and that Jesus must increase (John 3: 30).   If we are to be united with the Sacred Heart our egos have to diminish so that the Heart of Jesus can increase and expand in us. This is the core message of the Sacred Heart which John here is directing our gaze towards:  He must increase in your heart, and you must decrease.  Devotion to the Sacred Heart is essentially about decreasing and diminishment: the fire of the Sacred Heart can only shine and glow in a humble and  contrite heart.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Feast of the Sacred Heart

Reading David Richo's book has been an excellent way to prepare to celebrate the solemnity of  the Sacred Heart.  He shows how the heart is such a powerful archetype which needs to be re-discovered for our present century - despite the fact that it is so overshadowed by some of the excesses of the popular devotion of the past.  That said, the mass today was well-attended and one could not fail to be aware of how the devotion is still burning like an ember in the church.  It is as if it needs a great wind to fan it back into glowing, and vibrant life.  I was especially moved as we sang 'To Jesus', heart all burning' - words by Aloys Schlör  (1885-52) which has long been popular in its English translation.  (Listen HERE ) This hymn evoked deep memories of childhood for me, but  it also fired up  my belief that this devotion is not just a matter for spiritual nostalgia.  The people at mass were not engaging in just  sentimental nostalgia: their devotion was manifestly  alive and active.  Reflecting on this I turned to something which Blessed  John Paul said about the relevance of the Sacred Heart for us in the present century.  Speaking of the feast in 1994 in a general audience he argued:

It is important for the faithful to have deep sensitivity to the message it gives: in Christ's Heart the love of God has reached out to all humanity.  In our day this message has an extraordinary timeliness.  Contemporary men and women, in fact, are often confused, divided, as if lacking an inner principle to create unity and harmony in their being and acting.  Unfortunately rather widespread behavioural patterns intensify their rational and technological dimension, or on the contrary, the instinctual aspect. even though the core of the person is neither pure reason nor pure instinct.  A person's centre is what the Bible calls 'heart'.  At the end of the twentieth century, the long-dominant unbelief of the Enlightenment school now seems obsolete.  People feel an intense nostalgia for God, but they have lost their way to the inner sanctuary where his presence dwells:  that sanctuary is precisely the heart, where freedom and intellect encounter the love of the Father who is in heaven.  The Heart of Christ is the universal seat of communion with God the  Father; it is the seat of the Holy Spirit.  To know God, one must know Jesus and live in harmony with his Heart by loving God and neighbour as he does.......Today, devotion to Jesus's Heart offers an authentic and harmonious fullness, in the perspective of a hope that does not disappoint, to a one-dimensional humanity or to one even tempted to give in to forms of a certainly practical, if not theoretical nihilism.  About a century ago, a well-known thinker announced the 'death of God'.  Well, an unending spring of life, giving hope to every person, has streamed precisely from the Heart of God's Son, who died on the cross.  From the Heart of Christ crucified is born the new humanity redeemed from sin.  The man of the year 2000  needs Christ's Heart to know God and to know himself: he needs it to build the civilization of love.
( in C.J. Moell, (ed)  Pope John Paul:  Holy Father, Sacred Heart, Crossroads, New York.2004: pp187-8)

As we sang 'To Jesus, heart all burning' to celebrate this great feast  I think that we all felt that John Paul's message - that 21st century men and women need the Sacred Heart to know God and to know themselves - is one which has a profound relevance for our times.

 I believe that this is also is the message of David's book and is precisely what Teilhard was saying:  the Sacred Heart is not just a sentimental devotion of which belongs in the past. We urgently need it today so as to know God and know ourselves.  We need this powerful archetypal symbol to enable us to  evolve  spiritually as individuals and a species.  We need it to build a civilisation of love.   That is the message this very important feast. The Sacred Heart is the ultimate response to the despair and nihilism expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche and his ilk: it is the answer to the malaise which infects post-modern societies.

Monday, 11 June 2012

David Richo's The Sacred Heart of the World (4) The wounded and open heart

Important day.  It was two years ago today that I realised that somehow I had to figure out what the Sacred heart was really all about.  Strangely it took me quite a while to come to terms with the fact that it is about suffering, pain, being wounded and being open.  That this came through Teilhard, rather than the more traditional route is surprising.  David Richo's chapter on this theme says more than I can possibly say in a short post - so I can only recommend reading it and taking his advice on how to put the Sacred Heart into practice. In economics we are fond of reminding ourselves that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  The Sacred Heart is also there to remind us that there is no such thing as an easy way to let go our your self and open up to love.  Evolution is painful, evolution is a cross- and so is our own spiritual evolution.  That hurts.  Opening up hurts.  Which is why we spend so much of our time building a protective wall or shell around ourselves: protecting our precious ego from ourselves as much as other people.  Richo shows that we have to work at pulling down the walls we invest so much time in building up, because unless we do the work - and open ourselves to God's grace - we will never become truly and fully ourselves.  We will never see the diaphany ( as Teilhard liked to call it) of God's  radiant love if we do not work on opening our heart.  We can only evolve spiritually if we put the work in.  That is what we see so vividly in the lives of the Saints associated with the Sacred Heart.  This involves spiritual action, but also social action.  The kingdom of heaven is within us - in our hearts, but it is also 'out there' in the suffering of our fellow human beings.   'Thy Kingdom come'  means being open to the evolution of the cosmos itself.  It means to see Christ in all things: the alpha and omega.  Richo's point, and it one which is central to Teilhard's message is that :' The danger we fell into in the past was to make devotion to the Sacred  Heart a Jesus-and-I relationship  with the accent on 'he will be sure to save me if I receive communion on nine first Fridays.'  But a 21st century devotion has to be more than this: much more. As Richo puts it :' Our new devotion is about how the whole world can be saved not just our individual selves'. ( p34-5)

' Pope John Paul II preached to the pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square: ' Devotion  to the Sacred Heart deals with matters of the heart which call us to a deeper commitment to Christ and to others.  Christ's love becomes our love. His mission, the work of redemption'.   The openness of the Sacred Heart of Christ and of all the saints has always been a yes to wounds, a yes to compassion, a yes to receiving love, a yes to bringing peace no matter what the assaults or dangers..' ( pp 37-8)

It is good to keep these thoughts before us as we approach the feast of the Sacred Heart this coming Friday (15th June).