Thursday, 12 July 2012

Benedictines and the Sacred Heart

Yesterday was the feast of St. Benedict - whose rule provided a light in Europe during the dark ages.   Reflecting on the role of Benedictines in the propagation of the devotion to the Sacred Heart it struck me that it is something I had to blog about.  Perhaps the most important of the Benedictines associated with the  Sacred Heart are St. Gertrude the Great (of Helfta) (left) who lived between 1251-1302 and her sister in the order, Mechtilde ( or Matilda) of Hackeborn (1240 -1298).  Together the experiences of these saints were to provide instruction and guidance on the Sacred Heart to generations of Benedictines.   Rather than do a quick blog, it is best to read the pretty definitive accounts of St Gertrude and her teacher, Mechtilde,  given by Pope Benedict HERE  and HERE.  It is clear from Pope Benedict's accounts that these two Benedictines had an enormous influence on the development of the devotion within their order and throughout the church.

But perhaps for me, the Benedictines are most closely associated with the Sacred Heart due to their outstanding working in promoting the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  If St. Benedict was a light in the darkness of the middle ages, the sisters in Paris ( Sacré-Cœur),  London (Tyburn) and all over the world (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland)  are a great light in our present darkness.  To know that, at any time in the day or night, the sisters are kneeling in quiet contemplation and adoration is, for me, a profound comfort.  So mindful of the great work of the Benedictine sisters in maintaining a perpetual adoration of the Sacred Heart in the Blessed Sacrament I can only offer the prayer for the canonisation of the founder of the Tyburn convent: Marie Adele Garnier (1838- 1924).  Visit Tyburn and find out about their  inspiring work HERE.  For Tyburn monasteries elsewhere, go  HERE .  And  for the Parisian Benedictines in the  Sacré-Cœur,  ICI

FATHER, all-powerful & ever-living God,
we give you glory, praise and thanks
for the life and virtue
of your beloved daughter, Marie Adele Garnier.
Filled with the riches of your grace
and preferring nothing to the love
of the Heart of Jesus Christ,
she devoted her whole life
to the adoration, praise and glory
of your Name;
she sacrificed herself by prayer and penance
for the unity & holiness of your Church;
she loved her neighbour with a charity
full of humility and compassion.

Above all, she found the SUN of her life
in the Holy Mass,
and so was consumed with zeal
for liturgical worship
and eucharistic adoration,
and abandoned herself with all her heart
to your most Holy Will in all things.

In your mercy Lord, hearken to our prayer
"Glorify your Servant
Mother Marie Adele Garnier,
that your Servant
may glorify YOU".

We ask you this through our Lord
Jesus Christ,


May the Sacred Heart  in the Blessed Sacrament that is so beautifully adored by the Benedictine sisters be the SUN in our lives and in the life of a world in darkness.

Friday, 6 July 2012

First Friday and the Sacred Heart of Geneva

First Fridays are important days in the year for those who are devoted or attracted to the Sacred Heart. Today I reflected on the Sacred Heart in Geneva – no not the church in Rue du General-Dufor – but the one which has been in all the news this week, at CERN.  I have been fortunate in belonging to an institution which has had a long association with CERN and thus I was very much aware of the World Wide Web in its early days, and also the Hadron Collider project which has amazed the world with its (pretty certain) discovery of the Higgs Boson particle.  These two projects would have fascinated and excited Teilhard, and thus my mind kept thinking of the significance of what was announced this week.  I haven’t Googled ‘Higgs Boson particle jokes’, but I was told one years ago by a physicist trying to explain what it was all about: and I confess, mea cupla, that this joke kept coming into my head at mass!

A Higgs Boson particle visiting a parish one first Friday was spotted by the priest who was most upset.  ‘Get out of this church,’ he said, ‘I am not going to have a scientific hypothesis kneeling in a pew in this church.’  The particle was most upset. ‘The thing is, father, I am trying to complete my 9 first Fridays, and I only have one more to go..’ said the Higgs Boson.   But the priest would have none of it and insisted that it leave straight away.  As he left he turned and said: ‘ Ok father, but you know that if I go, you’ll have no mass.’

Higgs Boson is the particle that gives the universe mass. Without mass there would be no gravity and no force of attraction between all the stuff that composes creation.  It is the glue which holds all the universe together and stops everything moving around with the speed of light.  As I thought about the joke I wondered what Teilhard would have said.  First he would have laughed, because he enjoyed a joke and secondly he would have suggested that after mass I should re-read his essay on ‘ On looking at a Cyclotron’ written in 1953.  Teilhard saw love as the fundamental energy in the universe: God as the creator of all things is love and he envisages it as a kind of universal energy or force of attraction. God as the source of all love is therefore pulling us towards himself.  That love is the beginning of all things, the Alpha, and also the end of all things – the Omega.  When he saw a particle accelerator in America in the early 1950s he was excited and captivated by what it meant and its possibilities.  For him it was a window into the deep inner dynamics of the cosmos. So after mass I sat down and re-read his essay which records his feelings on looking at a cyclotron in Berkeley in 1953.

Whilst looking at the particle accelerator ( and the Hadron Collider in Geneva in the largest ever built)  Teilhard has a vision of the Sacred Heart of the universe: the divine centre of all things.  The divine centre which was both the beginning and end of the cosmos.  He says:

'Before my bewildered eyes the Berkeley cyclotron had  definitely vanished; and in its place my imagination saw the  entire noosphere, twisted back upon itself by the wind of  research, forming but one single vast cyclone, whose specific  effect was to produce, instead of and in place of nuclear energy,  psychic energy in a continually more reflective state: and that  is precisely the same as saying to produce the ultra-human.  Now, what was so remarkable was that confronted by this  gigantic reality which might have made my head reel, all I  experienced, on the contrary, was a feeling of peace and joy, a  fundamental peace and joy.  First, of peace: because precisely in virtue of its immensity  and in consequence of its security , the movement I saw came to me  as a reassurance for the terrified monad. The faster the whirl-pool the less danger there was that the grain of sand I represented might be lost in the universe. Contrary, then, to what existential writers have been dinning into our ears for the last twenty years, it is only a general view of evolution (and not an  ever more solitary introspection of the individual by the individual) that (as I experienced it once more in my own person) can save twentieth-century man from the anxious  questionings prompted by life. And of joy, too: for I saw then more clearly than ever  before that if we were to explain the presence in and around us  of a physical field sufficiently powerful to cause the totality of  the human mass to fold in on itself, we should have to do more than cite the collective pressure of untold numbers of elements  driven in the same direction by the need to survive. To create  the current that is to draw us, with increasing intensity and  probably for hundreds of centuries still to come, both towards  the above and the ahead, the repulsive (or negative) pole of a  death to be avoided must, by dynamic necessity, be matched  by a second, attractive (or positive) pole - the pole of a super- life to be attained: a pole capable of arousing and satisfying  ever more fully, with the passage of time, the two demands  characteristic of a reflective activity: the demand for irreversibility and the demand for total unity.  And it was thus that, the more I tried to extend into what lies  ahead, and to divine, the progress of the immense physico-psychic spiral in which I saw that I was involved by history, the more it seemed to me that what we still know by the too simple name of 'research’ became charged with, became tinted with, became warmed by, certain forces (faith, worship)  hitherto regarded as alien to science. For the more closely I looked at this research, the more I saw that it was forced, by an inner compulsion, ultimately to concentrate its efforts and its hopes in the direction of some divine centre'. In Activation of Energy, pp356-7

Like St Thomas Acquinas  Teilhard saw nothing revealed by science which undermined his belief in the existence of a ‘divine centre’.  The particle accelerator in Berkeley in 1953 only served to fuel his faith in God and in the future of man.   He did not see just a machine: he saw something of the power and energy which fills all things - love.  Higgs Boson shows us the glue which enables our universe to exist: the Sacred Heart shows us why it exists and where it is going.  The Hadron Collider at CERN is yet another way of seeing the Sacred Heart of matter: Christ in all things.

As Teilhard prayed in his Litany of the Sacred Heart:
Heart of Jesus, focus of ultimate and universal energy, unite me to yourself.
Heart of Jesus, the essence of all energy, unite me to yourself.
Heart of Jesus, heart of matter, unite me to yourself.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Doubting Thomas: first Saint of the Sacred Heart

Today we celebrate the saint for all who have doubts, and still believe: St. Thomas.  Thinking of this I am reminded of the great painting by Duccio in the Maesta Altarpiece in Siena - 'L'Incredulita di san Tommaso'. Seems like a lifetime ago when first saw this in Siena, and fell in love with Duccio.  It is this picture which forms my mental image of the episode relate in St. John's Gospel.   In the altarpiece Duccio brings out the contrast as between Jesus's request to St  Mary Magdalene not to touch Him, (below) and his later invitation to St. Thomas - who could not believe that Jesus was alive - to touch the wound made by the spear which pieced His heart.

St. John's Gospel is very much the gospel of the Sacred Heart: he gives the account  St. John resting on Christ's breast, of the spear piercing the heart, and the flow of blood and water, and he also relates the incident with Thomas.  And yet, when we reflect on the devotion to the Sacred Heart - and certainly the art work associated with the image, St Thomas does not figure very much - if at all. But when you think about  it St Thomas is really the first Saint of the Heart of Jesus. Only he was to touch the wound from which flowed the blood and water mentioned in the Gospel. Having said this, I can discern little in the history of the devotion which makes this association of the Heart of Christ and St. Thomas.  Even so, Pius XII in Haurietis  Acquas (1956)  reminds us that, if we are to better understand the Sacred Heart we must be mindful of the role of St Thomas, and what his response was to Christ's invitation to touch his wounded side: 'My Lord and my God'.

Thomas stands for modern man: we want proof.  We want evidence.  Perhaps we should remember that the devotion to the Sacred Heart in its modern form came about at a time when the 'enlightenment' was burning so fiercely in France.  It was the age of reason: the age of proof and evidence.  It was the age of Thomas. Into the middle of this revolution comes the devotion to the Sacred Heart: a reminder that faith and reason are not incompatible, but complementary. Jesus does not condemn Thomas for his lack of faith, on the contrary he says ' here touch my wounded heart.' Jesus understands that humanity is both a creature of faith and reason and together they form our heart- our inner self.  Jesus shows to Thomas the reality of his love for humanity: and in His heart we see our Lord and our God.  It seems to me that the revelation of the Sacred Heart is a kind of re-run of the incident with Thomas.  It is as if Christ is saying : you want proof? The proof is in the heart that so loves the world.  Christ is asking us to touch Him and open ourselves to experience the Love of God. 'Doubt no longer, but believe'.