Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas week

The closing lines of Christina Rossetti’s poem (which I love to sing as carol) that  always come to the fore during this season – ever since I learnt it as a boy.  I am sure that I have prayed and sung these lines every Christmas since.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

But, of course, what giving ones heart mean?  Reading Hildebrand’s book (The Heart) over Advent has, I think, helped me answer that question.  What is ‘my heart’?  What does it mean to ‘give my heart’? Although idea of heart is central is the to the Judeo-Christian – and indeed other - religious traditions it is curious that the concept has not been examined in more philosophical depth.  A search through the KJV of the Bible  reveals, for example,  that ‘heart’ is referenced close on 900 times ! It is indeed a complex idea, but it has not been the subject of philosophical scrutiny.  Hence, Hilderbrand’s book is such an important contribution to our understanding.

 Hilderbrand argues that the heart is ‘our real self’.   It is within our ‘real self’ that we experience joy, sorrow, and  enthusiasm  - it is where we ‘feel’ and respond to the world ‘affectively’. However, of course, the heart tends to be seen in and portrayed sentimental terms: but the sense of ‘heart’ we encounter in scripture is not sentimental.  It is not a place for emotional self-indulgence.  We have to understand the heart as existing alongside the intellect and the will.  It is part of the ‘triad of spiritual centers  - intellect, will and heart – which are ordained to cooperate and to fecundate one another’ (p19) .  The heart is the very core of our affective being – just as the intellect is the core of our intellectual being. And Jesus uses this sense when he said that ‘where thy treasure is, there they heart also will be’ ( Mt 6: 21).   Thus : ‘ In this context ‘heart means the focal point of the affective sphere, that which is most crucially affected with respect to all else in that sphere.’  And in this sense , the heart may be understood as the ‘very centre of gravity of all affectivity’p(21) ++ . The heart is ‘where our the treasures of our life our stored’ and it is ‘in the heart that the secret of a person is to be found; it is here that the most intimate word is spoken’ (58) The heart is where all our joy , love and enthusiasm is located.

So if we reflect on ‘giving Jesus our heart’ and opening our heart so as to allow Christ to be born in us, we are saying something very profound. We are asking Jesus to become, as it were, our centre of gravity, and to become the treasure of our life.  In giving Jesus our heart  we are seeking to make Jesus our focal point - the centre of our life.  We are asking Jesus to speak to the most intimate part of ourselves. As we are reminded on the 27th December – the Feast day the ‘beloved apostle’, St. John, who listened to the heart of the Saviour and witnessed the pierced heart of Jesus flow with blood and water- Jesus, the Word of God made flesh gave His heart to us.   Christmas is a time when we, like the shepherds acknowledge our poverty and give our heart - ‘where our the treasures of our life our stored’- to Christ. And also like the wise men, bow low and give our intellects and will as well. When we give our heart we give all of ourselves - just as Jesus gave all of Himself. Christmas is a time for listening - like St John - to the intimate sound of the Heart of Christ.


++ I think the icon of the Sacred Heart captures this sense of the heart of Jesus as a 'centre of gravity' and 'focal point'  - the heart of Jesus as the centre of our centre very nicely.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Third week of Advent:the Sacred Heart and the Incarnation.

Sunday of the third week of Advent we went to hear a performance of Berlioz’s ‘L’enfance du Christ’.  The closing lines of the piece provided a good start to the week - even though it is about the flight into Egypt, rather than the nativity, per se.  The closing lines says it all really.

Ô mon âme, pour toi que reste-t-il à faire,
Qu’à briser ton orgueil devant un tel mystère?
Ô mon cœur, emplis-toi du grave et pur amour
Qui seul peut nous ouvrir le céleste séjour.

Before the great mystery of the Incarnation all we can do is rid ourselves of our pride, and humbly adore.  And, in so doing, open our hearts to the deep and pure love of God – as, in Jesus, He has opened His heart to us all. Berlioz himself had long abandoned his Christian faith when he composed this great work. Nevertheless, his words and music serve to illuminate the Incarnation.  I returned to Hildebrand’s book The Heart with a renewed interest in understanding what he has to say.

Although Von Hildebrand was  (very) antagonistic towards  Teilhard’s approach, he shared Teilhard’s deep devotion to the Sacred Heart.  And in so many respects they agreed that renewal of the devotion – oe what Teilhard called the attraction – to the Sacred Heart was vital for the future of  Christianity in the modern world.  Both though that the Sacred Heart had to be rescued from the sentimenalism  and aberrations which had  distorted the true meaning of the mysterty of  the heart of  Jesus. To do this Von Hildebrand argues that we have to first clarify the idea of  the heart in philosophical terms  ‘in an attempt to do full justice  to the depth and spiritual plenitude of this ‘centre of man’s soul’ which could provide the basis for a ‘deeper penetration into the ineffable mystery of the Sacred Heart’ so that our eyes may be opened to the inexhaustible riches  and glorious beauty of this mystery, for  as he argues:

“ It is perhaps  in the adoration of the Sacred heart that the mystery of the Incarnation and of God’s infinite charity manifests itself in the deepest manner. In the invocation ‘Heart of Jesus, wherein abides the fullness of the Godhead’  we find the tension that is immanent in the mystery of the Incarnation in its full , ineffable glory.  In saying Cor Jesu, we are touching on the deepest and noblest mark of human nature, to have a heart capable of love, a heart which can know anxiety and sorrow, which can be afflicted and moved, is the most specific characteristic of the human person.  The heart is the most tender,  the most inner, the most secret center in man, and it is in the heart of Jesus that the plenitude of Divinity dwells.”

The Sacred Heart, argues Von Hilderbrand,  expresses   the ‘great secret’ of every soul: ‘God’s infinite love for us in Christ – which is the source of our joy, our consolation, our hope in statu viae and our everlasting joy in eternity, shines forth in a specific way in the Sacred Heart.”

The devotion to the Heart of Jesus has, from earliest times has been implied in the adoration of the Sacred Humanity of Christ.  It developed form from the 18th century as a response to Jansenism and later the rationalism of the enlightenment which ignored the role of the heart and which focused on the head and the will. In the twentieth century Hildebrand wanted to awaken our attention to the critical role which the Sacred Heart has to play in combating the hatred directed at human dignity and personality.  The Sacred Heart  reminds us that God is love, and that God loves us in spite of all our disregard of  this infinite love.

“The centre of Christian revelation is the self-revelation of God in Christ.  The crowning of all Christian revelation is the epiphany of God in the Sacred Humanity of Christ.”

This is why we urgently need to renew our devotion to the Sacred Heart.  Those who have problems with the devotion fail to understand the ‘specific aspect of the divine mystery which the devotion to the Sacred Heart  discloses.’ The Sacred Heart  focuses our attention on one of the main marks of Christian morality: charity. ‘Whereas rectitude and justice are the core of natural morality, in Christian morality the specific centre in the goodness of charity’. We see this time and time again the  Gospels – as in the story of the Good Samaritan: we hear ‘the voice of the heart’.  We see in the Gospels how utterly superabundant is God’s love.  In the Gospels we see how a ‘transfigured affectivity permeates Christian morality’ ; we see how God’s love has no limits that discloses a ‘new and unheard-of-dimension of the heart’.

For Hildebrand ( as for Teilhard)  this is why the devotion is so very important to the contemporary world.

“Devotion to the Sacred Heart throws into relief the mystery of this holy affectivity of the Sacred Humanity of Christ, and does so with all the realism so characteristic of Christ’s revelation.  By this realism we mean the individual, concrete character of God’s revelation in Christ as opposed to any abstractionism that confuses authentic breadth with logical extension; it is opposed as well to any proud spiritualism which scorns matter… The fact that the devotion is extended to [the] bodily heart which has been pierced by the spear of the soldier, from which  his Sacred Blood dripped, gives to the entire devotion an implacable realism. The mysterious interpenetration of the physical heart and the heart as a spiritual centre of affectivity immerses us in the concrete reality of this blissful mystery.”

In this devotion, the Church makes explicit the Sacred Humanity of Christ and the unfathomable divine love which radiates from the heart.  It is, therefore, a devotion with deep and profound roots in the history of the Church, but was only made more explicit in more recent centuries. As he says: ‘ The Apostles were [themselves] under the spell of the Sacred Heart.’ Throughout the history of Christianity the Sacred Heart has been present in the life of the Church.  It has always been ‘deliciae sanctorum omnium’, and as a devotion it has grown ‘organically’.   But, along with development of the devotion has come an inevitable distortion and corruption : ‘Many devotional pictures of the Sacred Heart and especially many hymns..display a mawkish sentimentality, and portray the Sacred Heart not only stripped of supernatural mystery but, but even from the natural point of view, as insipid and mediocre’.

In many respects Teilhard and Hilderbrand take similar lines – even if they use very different kinds of language and approach.  For Hilderbrand the Sacred Heart had to be reinvigorated by a more philosophical perspective on the role of the heart and the Heart of Jesus.  For Teilhard, it also needed to be reinvigorated and re-instated – and this meant a far more mystical understanding of the Sacred Heart. For both the Sacred heart had to be liberated from the 'mawkish sentimentality' of the past   In this way what Teilhard says about the Sacred Heart, and what we find in Hildebrand are far more in harmony that they might first appear. In order to better understand the Incarnation which took place in Bethlehem, we must better understand the Heart of Jesus, and open our hearts in complete humility  to the babe born in a stable.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Second week of advent: traveling with a wise man

 It is fitting that at this stage in Advent, we read in the mass on Wednesday in the second week of Advent the lines from Matthew 11: 28- 30

Come to me, all you who labour and are overburden, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light’. 

This passage concludes a chapter that deals with how un-teachable the chosen people have been.  They refused to listen to John the Baptist, and they will refuse to listen to him.

To what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another,  ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent. ..At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him. (Matthew, 11: 16-27)

Jesus says, however, that if they want to know the Father, they should learn from his heart.  Why because, as the Litany says: the Heart of Jesus, [is] united substantially with the word of God. The Heart of Jesus, [is] the holy temple of God.  The Heart of Jesus, [is ] tabernacle of the Most High. It is  the  house of God and gate of heaven;  the  glowing furnace of charity, the vessel of justice and love;  it is the  full of goodness and love.    The Heart of Jesus, is an abyss of all virtues,  and most worthy of all praise; it is   king and center of all hearts.  Within the heart of Jesus are  are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

By learning from the heart of Jesus we can begin to understand  fullness of the Divinity which became flesh in the womb of Mary.

At Christmas we celebrate the moment when God ‘s word and wisdom became flesh: when a  Divine heart beat in Mary’s womb alongside a human heart.  We celebrate  God with us – our Emmanuel.   In seeking to journey to Bethlehem this year I have been travelling with a wise man – Dietrich Von Hildebrand (HERE) (1889 - 1977)  - whose work on the Sacred Heart has been rather neglected, but which is well worth reading.  Perhaps, given his opposition to Teilhard and his view that Teilhard did a lot of damage to the Catholic Church,  Hildebrand  is a rather odd companion for me. However, his book on the Sacred  Heart is, I believe, a truly inspiring work.  I am not convinced by his criticisms of Teilhard, but I am thankful for his book ( The Heart : An Analysis of Human and Divine Affectivity, St. Augustine press, 2007, first published 1965).

If, like the shepherds and the wise men,  we are to wonder at the mystery of the incarnation on Christmas day, we should, as Jesus tells, us learn from his heart.  Von Hilderbrand’s book  can help our understanding of that great mystery.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

First week of Advent.

 The readings at mass in the first week of Advent return us to the Litany of the Sacred Heart!  On the first Sunday of Advent we read that Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah. 2:1-5) describes the ‘Temple of the Lord’ towering above the mountains which will draw all the nations to it so that he may ‘teach us his ways’ so that we can walk in his paths and in his light.  The litany asks us to pray to the Heart of Jesus as the ‘ holy temple of God’! The Psalm ( Psalm 121) invites us to  ‘go to God’s House’ and the Litany asks us to pray to  the Sacred Heart as ‘the house of God’. On the first Monday of Advent  the readings (Isaiah, 4:2-6)tell us that the Lord will cleanse Jerusalem and will be a ‘flaring fire’ and the glory of the Lord will be a ‘canopy and a tent to give shade by day and heat by night’.  Again, the Litany calls us to pray to the Heart of Jesus as the tent (that is ‘tabernacle’)  of the Most High. We are also reminded in this context that Jesus is the Temple which was destined to be destroyed and rise  again in three days!   Isaiah also brings to mind  Matthew (11-28-29): ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’

Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for that moment when God came to live with us: to love us as God  incarnate.  At Christmas we draw hope from our humble God with a human heart asleep in the stable.

On the Tuesday of Advent we read in Isaiah that the Emmanuel  will have the spirit of  wisdom, counsel and knowledge.  Once again the Litany of the Sacred Heart reminds us that Jesus is the wisdom of God - in whose heart we find all the treasures  of wisdom and knowledge.  Later, we will hear of the ‘wise men’ who  have followed a star to find this great treasure.  Jesus tells us that we must learn from his heart. We do this when, like Mary, we open pour hearts to God.  On Wednesday – which was also the feast of the great defender of icons – St. John Damascene – we read Psalm 22, in which we pray to dwell in the Lord’s house for ever and ever.  And the Lord’s house is, of course, the Sacred Heart.

On Thursday on this first week of Advent we read from Isaiah ((26:1-6)  who calls us to ‘trust in the Lord’.  And, of course, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is all about precisely  this : ‘ Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in you.’  That is, as the Psalm (117) for the day says: trust in ‘ in a love that has no end.’   The Sacred heart  is the great symbol of the infinite nature of the love and mercy of God.  On Friday – the first Friday of December, and the feast of St. Nicholas – we are again reminded in the Psalm (26) that we have to take heart : and trust and hope in the love of God- our light and our salvation.   In other words, imitate the life of the Saint who is most closely associated with Christmas.  It is such a great pity that in so many countries – such as the UK – we rather neglect the saint. He is, of course, very important in the Orthodox tradition and is the patron saint of  Russia.  When you cut through all the stories told about him one thing is clear: he trusted in the Lord and had an open and giving heart to all in need.

On the last day of the first week of Advent  we reflect on hope. As the Litany says: the Heart of Jesus is the ‘hope of all who die in him’.  The reading from Isaiah (30) puts it a little differently, happy those who live in the Lord.  The Psalm (146) reminds that ‘ Happy are all who hope in the Lord’.   He will heal the ‘broken hearted’ raise up the lowly and humble’.   We wait for the child to be born who contains a ‘wisdom that can never be measured’.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Sacred Heart - an icon of the Wisdom of God.

The wonderful thing about an icon is that it acts as a kind of doorway or window, that so often opens your mind and heart to thoughts and ideas which take one by surprise.  Early on in the life of the icon I remember Ian writing about ‘uncreated wisdom’.  In truth I confess to not really thinking or meditating on that, but recently this theme of wisdom has come more and more to the fore.  The Litany describes the Heart of Jesus as  containing ‘all the treasures wisdom and knowledge’ ( Cor Iesu, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae).  As I pondered over how the young man in Jersey was prepared to place all his trust in the Heart  of Jesus and allow his faith and science to unfold in their own time, I was reminded of what he wrote to his cousin, Marguerite Teillard-Chambon, in 1915.

'Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that may take a very long time. … Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves without due haste. Don’t try to ‘force’ them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you surely through the obscurity and ‘becoming’, and accept, for love of him, the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete'.

 The Making of Mind: letters of a soldier priest 1914-19, p57-8 

Teilhard is telling her to place her faith and hope in the loving  wisdom of God – and let this be her guide. Then it 'hit' me that the Sacred Heart is an icon of wisdom.  We have to trust in the love of God, and trust in the power and wisdom of God. Jesus is the ‘logos’ who was from the beginning and is now made flesh to live with us.  Just as wisdom ‘pitched’ her tent ( her tabernacle) in Israel in ancient times, so now wisdom is to be found in the very heart of Christ.  As the Litany says, Jesus is the ‘Tabernacle’ (or dwelling place) of the Most High.  The Heart of Jesus is the meeting place where humanity can encounter the divine wisdom.  The icon shows Christ’s Sacred Heart , rather than a book of scripture, since Jesus told us to learn from his meek and humble heart.  It is his heart which contains all wisdom and knowledge. We have to change our hearts - by trusting to the wisdom of God.

In this way, contemplating this heart of Christ as the great treasure of all wisdom and knowledge opens the window to allow the light of scripture to illuminate what the Litany means. Indeed, what putting all our trust in the heart of Christ means.  And what putting our trust in the slow work of God means.  Unlike the Orthodox tradition the Catholic tradition does not seem to have an iconic history of presenting wisdom – Sophia or Sapientiae.

In the Orthodox tradition we can find numerous representations of wisdom – Sophia- drawing on scriptural references.  In the Old  Testament:

"Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars…." (Proverbs, 9:1).
‘All wisdom comes from the Lord…Wisdom was created before everything..’ (Ecclesiasticus, 1, 1-4)

Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle, And he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect.  From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him. And so was I established in Zion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.
(Ecclesiasticus. 24- 1- 15)

And in the New Testament:

‘ as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was with him.’, Luke 2:49

‘and they found him in the Temple…and all who heard him were astounded in his intelligence…And Jesus increased in wisdom…’ (Luke 2 : 41-52)

Teilhard's approach to the Sacred Heart was wholly grounded in St Paul.  So, he must have known Paul's words well. Hence in the Luc Barbier picture in the Chapel at Paray - influenced by Teilhard's ideas - we see that he has placed St Paul  next to the Virgin.  Paul preached  ‘..a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God’ ( 1 Corinthians  1: 24) Paul encourages us to have knowledge of the mystery of  ‘Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3) in which are  hidden ‘ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians. 2, 3.)

The seat of wisdom, Lady Chapel: St Albans Cathedral. 
The Catholic and Orthodox traditions , however, do draw upon the idea of Mary as the seat of wisdom,  and Jesus as the  dwelling place of the wisdom of God. In the Orthodox images we find icons of 'the Virgin Enthroned' - Mary as the Temple which holds Christ - the wisdom of God. ( Often in  'akathistos' art . )  In the Catholic tradition the image of Mary as the Seat of Wisdom was popular from the middle ages.  In these we find Christ seated  as the power and wisdom of God on Mary's lap.

Icon by Fr.  Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ
Both the Catholic and Orthodox images serve to remind us that the Wisdom of God - the Logos that was with God and was God from the beginning ( John,1) - is now incarnate in the child born of Mary.  He is the beginning and the end: the heart which contains all wisdom and knowledge.  The heart that urges us to open our hearts to his loving wisdom.

Blessed John Paul says of this invocation - in his Angelus meditation , September 1985-  that it 'permits us to understand the necessity of going to the heart of Christ to enter the fullness of God':

'The knowledge referred to here is not the knowledge that ‘puffs up’ (1 Cor8:1), knowledge based on human ability. It is divine wisdom, a mystery hidden for centuries in the mind of God, creator of the universe ( Eph. 3.9).It is  anew knowledge, hidden from the wise and learned, but revealed to little ones, those who are rich in humility, simplicity and purity of heart.  This knowledge and wisdom consist in recognizing the mystery of the invisible God who calls men to share in his divine nature and admits
them into communion with himself.  We know these things because God himself has deigned to reveal them to us through his Son, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor1:24).  All things in heaven and on earth were created through him and for him (Col 1:16) … Knowing Jesus, we also know God. Whoever sees him sees the Father (John 14:9). With him the love of God has been poured into our hearts. (Rm 5.5) Human knowledge is like water from our wells: whoever drinks it will thirst again.  The wisdom and knowledge of Jesus, however, open the eyes of our mind, stir the heart in the depths of its being and arouse man to transcendent love…With the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus, we are rooted and grounded in charity (Eph 3:17).  A new interior man is created, one who puts God at the centre of his own life and himself at the service of his brothers.  This is the degree of perfection which Mary reaches, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, the only example of a new creature enriched with the fullness of grace and ready to do the will of God… For this reason we invoke her as ‘Seat of wisdom.’ '

In 2000 Blessed John Paul commissioned Fr.  Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ (above)  to design an icon of the seat of wisdom.

Benedict XVI his homily in December 2009 also drew attention to the importance of the image of the 'seat of wisdom' .

Seat of Wisdom, 1199,  Camaldolese abbey , Italy
"O Wisdom from the mouth of the Most High,  you fill the whole world. 
With strength and gentleness you order all things:  come to teach us the way of prudence"  (Liturgy of the Hours, Vespers of 17 December)."

This wonderful invocation is addressed to "Wisdom", the central figure in the Books of Proverbs, Wisdom and Sirach. These are in fact called the "Sapiential" Books, and in them the Christian tradition discerns a prefiguration of Christ. This invocation becomes truly stimulating and even provocative when we find ourselves before the Nativity scene that is, before the paradox of a Wisdom that "from the mouth of the Most High" comes to lie in swaddling cloths in a manger (cf. Luke 2: 7, 12, 16). Already we can anticipate the response to that initial question: the One born in Bethlehem is the Wisdom of God. St Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, uses the phrase: "a hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor 2: 7): in other words, a divine plan, which has long been kept hidden and that God himself has revealed in the history of salvation. .. The Christian paradox consists precisely in the identification of divine Wisdom, that is the eternal Logos, with the man Jesus of Nazareth and with his story. A solution to this paradox cannot be found if not in the word "Love", which naturally in this case is written with a capital "L", in reference to a Love that infinitely exceeds human and historical dimensions. Dear friends, a Christian professor, or a young Christian student, carries within him a passionate love for this Wisdom! He reads everything in her light; he finds Wisdom's imprints in the elementary particles and in the verses of poets; in juridical codes and in the events of history; in works of art and in mathematic formulas. Without Wisdom not anything was made that was made (cf. Jn 1: 3) and therefore in every created reality one can see Wisdom reflected, clearly visible in different ways and degrees. Everything understood by human intelligence can be grasped because in some sense and to a certain extent it participates in creative Wisdom. Herein lies, in the last analysis, the very potential of study, of research, of scientific dialogue in every field of knowledge.  [But] …. Let us ask ourselves: who was present on Christmas night at the grotto in Bethlehem? Who welcomed Wisdom when he was born? Who hurried to see him, to recognize him and adore him? They were not doctors of law, scribes or sages. There were Mary and Joseph, and then the shepherds. What does this mean? Jesus was one day to say: "Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (Mt 11: 26); you revealed your mystery to the little ones (cf. Mt 11: 25). But then is there no use in studying? Or is it even harmful counterproductive in understanding the truth? The two thousand-year-old history of Christianity excludes the latter hypothesis, and suggests to us the correct one: studying entails deepening one's knowledge while maintaining a spirit similar to the "little ones", an ever humble and simple spirit, like that of Mary, the "Seat of Wisdom". ... In that Child, born of the Virgin, the two came together: mankind's longing for eternal life softened the heart of God, who was not ashamed to assume the human condition.

Read full Text .

As Christmas approaches I will keep these thoughts on the incarnation of divine wisdom in the heart of a baby beating in the womb of his mother.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Bethlehem icon school

Ian's work in the Holy Land is remarkable and so important.  Recently he was featured on Palestinian TV.

View broadcast here.

Visit the school here.

All those concerned about the future of Christianity in the Holy Land should pray for the school. God Bless, Ian.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The delight of all the Saints

Yesterday was the feast of All Saints.  I attended mass (on the first Friday of the month) in a beautiful chapel designed by Pugin, St. Peters in Marlow.  During the mass it dawned on me that the feast is very much a feast of the Sacred Heart. Never thought of it as such 'till then.

The feast brings to mind the very last invocation ( 33) of the litany of the Sacred Heart: ‘ Heart of Jesus, Delight of all the Saints’.  The feast celebrates the joy of the saints in seeing God face-to face in the ‘beatific vision’.   In his reflections of this invocation Blessed John Paul asks us to meditate upon the heart of Christ as the

 ‘source of the life and love of the saints; in Christ and through him the blessed in heaven are loved by the Father, who unites them to himself in the bond of the spirit, divine Love; in Christ and through him they love the Father and all people, their brothers and sisters, and the love of the Spirit’.

He describes the beatific vision which is the delight of all Saints as:

‘the life giving space of the blessed, the place where they remain in love, deriving eternal and unlimited joy. The infinite thirst for love, the mysterious thirst which God has placed in the human heart, is satisfied in the divine heart of Christ’ 

(see  his meditations on the  Litany in Prayer and Service, October-Nov 1990, No. 4.  I don't think that the John Paul's meditations are on-line? It is available on Amazon..) 

So with such thoughts in mind I think we should ask for the prayers of all the saints to help us to deepen our devotion to the Heart of Jesus which they now behold in all its fullness.   And especially all the saints who are most closely associated with the devotion.  The image by Luc Barbier, that was inspired by Teilhard, is, I think, one of the few examples of the Sacred Heart surrounded by the 'delight of all the saints'. SEE here

The feast prompted me to recall in particular the role of St Bernard of Clairvaux (1070-1153) , one of the earliest saints to be associated with the devotion.  Significantly ( I think) Dante uses St Bernard to guide Dante at  the end of the Divine Comedy to his beatific vision of Divine Love symbolized by a rose – not a heart .  BUT, we should note that  in his great prayer sequence ‘ The Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members’,  St Bernard says this of the Sacred Heart:

Thou  Rose of wondrous fragrance, open wide, And bring my heart into Thy wounded Side, O sweet heart, open! Draw Thy loving bride, All panting with desires intensified, And satisfy her love unsatisfied.

See here for the complete text.

Dante himself uses this image of the abode of God – the Empyrean -  as a rose within whose very centre is an image of Christ.  He sees the delight of all the saints who behold the face of God! The rose as a symbol of the heart?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Feast of St. Margaret Mary

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque.  Her role in promoting the devotion to the Sacred Heart is sufficiently well known not to need repeating in this post.  At the start of this project we asked her to pray for us - and especially for Ian as he wrote the icon. On such a day it is well just to reflect on the significant role of women in spreading the devotion -  and it is a very long list indeed! When I reflect on the icon, the images of the Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene often prompt me to ask all holy women who have had a special devotion to the Heart of the Saviour to pray for us. A short list, would include:

Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us.
St Mary Magdalene, first to see the risen Christ, Pray for us. 
St. Clare of Assisi, Pray for us 
St. Mechthild of Magdeburg, Pray for us.
St. Mechthild of Hackeborn, Pray for us.
St. Gertrude the Great, Pray for us.
St. Catherine of Siena, Pray for us.
St. Teresa of Avila, Pray for us.
St. Jane Chantal, Pray for us.
St. Margaret Mary, Pray for us.
St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, Pray for us.
St. Louise de Marillac, Pray for us.
St. Faustina, Pray for us.
St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, Pray for us.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Pray for us. 
All holy women, Pray for us.

That is just my short list of women of the Sacred Heart who come to mind as I reflect on the images of the Virgin and St Mary Magdalene in the icon.

In reflecting on the 'women of the Sacred Heart', I think it is also important to pray for all women in the Church.  This was a very important issue for Teilhard who argued a long time ago, that the role of women and the 'feminine' in the Church was in need of urgent reform!!   And on this day, therefore, we should offer our prayers for Pope Francis who has put the issue of women high on the agenda - and about time too!  Recently, for example, whilst recalling the 25th anniversary of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, Francis reminded us that the role of women is critical to the future of the Church:

“ I would like to underline how the woman has a particular sensitivity for the ‘things of God’, above all in helping us to understand the mercy, tenderness and love that God has for us,” he said. “ And it pleases me to think that the Church is not ‘il Chiesa’ [‘the Church’, masculine]: it is ‘la Chiesa’ [feminine]. The Church is a woman! The Church is a mother! And that’s beautiful, eh? We have to think deeply about this....From here, we must restart that work of deepening and of promoting, for which I have already hoped many times. Even in the Church, it is important to ask oneself: what presence does the woman have? I suffer – speaking truthfully! – when I see in the Church or in some ecclesial organizations that the role of service that we all have, and that we must have - but that the role of service of the woman slips into a role of “servidumbre” [Spanish: servitude]. . . But when I see women that do things out of “servitude” and not out of service,” said Pope Francis. “And that it is not understood well what a woman ought to do. Can she be valued more? It is a reality that is close to my heart and for this I wanted to meet … and bless you and your commitment. Thank you, let us move this forward together! May most holy Mary – a great woman, eh? – the Mother of Jesus and of all God’s children, accompany us. '  Read here

Saint Margaret Mary, pray that the Church may once again be set alight by the power of the Sacred Heart, and that the role of women in the Church may be valued more and more.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Teilhard in Jersey

I suppose if I thought things through, I would have done some homework before going to Jersey, but since my return I have been refreshing my memory.  The young man who arrived in Jersey in 1902 was, quite normally for a young man, full of ideas and thoughts of what his life would be about. The previous year he had taken his first vows as a Jesuit in Laval.  Writing to his parents he told them;

Teilhard as a soldier, 1917
'..I want you to know just how happy I am that at last I belong entirely, through the Blessed Virgin, to the Sacred Heart.'  (cited in Mortier and Aboux, (eds) Teilhard de Chardin, Album, Collins, 1966, p 25)

So, first and foremost the young man who explored Jersey thought of himself first and foremost as 'belonging entirely' to the Sacred Heart.  This sense never left him - and indeed becomes stronger and deeper over the course of his life. But in Jersey he had to work out his relationship between his devotion and total dedication to the Sacred Heart and his growing interest in geology: he had to resolve the tension between his spiritual and scientific life. At first he was minded to give up on his passion for geology, but this was not to be.

'.. in Jersey, I seriously considered the possibility of completely
 giving up petrology, in which
Teilhard (centre) and his class , Jersey 1905) 
I was then  passionately interested, and devoting myself entirely to what are called 'supernatural' activities.  And, if I did not take  completely the wrong road at that time, I owe it to the robust good sense of Pere Troussard, the novice-master. In fact, all that Pere Troussard actually did was to assure me  that  the God of the Cross looked as much for the 'natural' development of my being  as for  its sanctification - without explaining to me how or why. But it was enough to enable me to see things in their proper perspective.  What he said, however, was enough to leave me with a firm grasp of both ends of the line.  And so I emerged  from that trial unscathed.'  ( The Heart of Matter, Collins, 1978, p 46)

Teilhard as a student in Jersey, circa 1902
As he explains, gradually he achieved a synthesis : and  the Heart of Jesus was to become the means by which this synthesis was to take place.  It was therefore in Jersey that he began his great  spiritual and intellectual journey with a 'firm grasp of both ends of the line'.  During his time in Jersey - residing in Maison St. Louis ( now the Hotel de France ) and Bon Secours ( now Highlands College)  - he spent, according to Barjon ' all his leisure and holidays in scientific excursions around the island ( cited in Mortier and Aboux, (eds) Teilhard de ChardinAlbum, Collins, 1966, p 30).  So, Teilhard must have known the island extremely well indeed. Michelle Le Morvan has provided a good outline of his work in her ' The geology of the Isle of Jersey' published in the Teilhard Newsletter (Here).

He returned to Jersey in 1919, just after the Great War. By this time he had spent three years in Egypt, been ordained a priest, (1911) and had served with great distinction in the medical corps during the war. And by the time of his visit in 1919 he had already began to develop his ideas on paper.  In Jersey in the summer of 1919 he wrote a beautiful and fascinating piece on the 'spiritual power of matter' which expresses how he must have felt and thought about his journey thus far.  In The Heart of Matter ( written in Paris in 1950)  which gives us the most important insight into his devotion to the Heart of Jesus he attaches this piece along with another piece - ' The picture'  which had written three years earlier in 1916 at Nant-le-Grand.  Evidently Teilhard thought that these two pieces express his 'state of mind' as it had evolved during the war.

During his time in Jersey the Sacred Heart was unquestionably a central idea and symbol : it was the central and seminal devotion of his life.  ( see Heart of Matter, p42) But for him it assumed an altogether more cosmic and evolutionary significance than just the rather limited form  associated with the devotion as practised by his beloved mother. He saw it as a symbol of a divine power of love : a 'fire with a power to penetrate all things'. It was a symbol of God at the heart of all things. During the war (in 1916) he had written three stories in the style of Benson (The picture, the monstrance and the pix) all of which explore in an imaginative and mystical way his understanding of the Sacred Heart. When he was demobilised he returned to Jersey for a retreat at St. Louis in August 1919.

Re-reading 'The spiritual power of matter' it strikes me now one can feel the influence of the island. It is inspired by the story (in Kings)  of Elijah being caught up in a whirlwind and taken up to heaven by a fiery  chariot (the Cherubim and the Ophanim!) He describes the whirlwind (as the'Thing')  as moving towards the man and his companion as the 'moving heart of an immeasurable pervasive subtlety' which 'penetrates into the narrow confines of his heart' and calls upon him to do battle with ' the fire that consumes and the water that overthrows'.

Perhaps on his return to Jersey he was reflecting on his battle to reconcile his priesthood and his passion for matter?  This conflict as a young man had at first resulted in a decision to give up geology, but he was fortunately encouraged to carry on  by Pere Troussard, the novice-master.  His life ever since had been an ongoing battle to reconcile the spiritual and the scientific.   He had spent the last few years literally in a battleground - and 'the Thing' smelt of battle.  But now in Jersey he did not feel despair or hopelessness, but the very opposite: he felt a zest of life and an excitement in how his struggles with the Sacred Heart - the heart of God at the heart of all creation - were unfolding.  He feels the joy of fighting and feeling his own strength - like a swimmer in the water.  He desires to plunge into the 'heart of the whirling cloud'.  He surrenders to the 'heart of the world' that was spreading its warmth not like a furnace, but like the warmth from a human body. In the 'spiritual power of matter' he is - like Elijah -  borne away by the fiery chariot, drawn into the heart of the world and heart of the world of the spirit. Like Elijah he leaves a son below on the desert sands.

La Corbière, Jersey

Is it not too fanciful to read this very complex mystical piece as about the young Teilhard and the older man.  Teilhard comes to Jersey  and must have encountered so many memories of his former self who was full of uncertainty as to how to love the heart of the saviour and the heart of the world - the heart of matter.  Now he leaves the young student priest to the past, and his contemplating the prospect of plunging into the heart of the matter.  He leaves his younger self on the island. Now he would see all things in Christ and the heart of Christ as that symbol of the divine energy seeking to draw all things into unity with the Creator.  Teilhard realises that the rest if his life would be a battle to let his centre become one with the divine milieu - 'the very heart of that which exists'.  It is not difficult to imagine Teilhard looking out on the Jersey coast that he knew rock by rock and listen to his hymn echo across the waves:

Blessed be you, harsh matter, barren soil, stubborn rock: you who yield only to violence, you who force us to work if we would eat.
‘Blessed be you, perilous matter, violent sea, untameable passion: you who unless we fetter you will devour us.
‘Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further and further in our pursuit of the truth.
‘Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards or measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God.
‘Blessed be you, impenetrable matter: you who, interposed between our minds and the world of essences, cause us to languish with the desire to pierce through the seamless veil of phenomena.
‘Blessed be you, mortal matter: you who one day will undergo the process of dissolution within us and will thereby take us forcibly into the very heart of that which exists.

For the full text go Here  ( chapter 3) 

Teilhard left Jersey, but I am sure it never, ever left him. Next time I am in Jersey I think I will read out his Hymn to Matter over the dramatic coast  at La Corbière  - hopefully when sea is passionate and violent and crashing against the  harsh and stubborn rocks.

Friday, 4 October 2013

First Friday : The Sacred Heart in Jersey

On this first Friday in the month of October  I am minded to reflect on some time I recently spent in Jersey, one of the Channel islands.   It was in Jersey (1901-1905|) that the young Teilhard managed to fit two parts of his life together- his vocation to the priesthood and his vocation to become a scientist.  During the time he was there as a student he spent a good deal of his time investigating the geology of the island – which in due course resulted in a number of scientific papers.  By the time he left Jersey Teilhard had grown into a young man with a deep commitment to both his priesthood and to his scientific mission.  He regarded it as an island in which he experienced a ‘honeymoon’ with geology (cited in King, Teilhard de Chardin and Eastern Mysticism, p 379) : so Jersey is where we might say that he truly fell in love with the subject.  It is where he begins to really try and marry up, so to speak, the spiritual and scientific aspects of his life.  So, it was good to explore places that Teilhard must have known well.  He became excited by the idea of evolution not in Jersey, but later in Hastings.  It is clear however, that his geological experiences in Jersey must have provided him with a great deal of material to draw upon and was a lasting influence.  In Jersey he was a long way from his Omega point and the Sacred Heart as the complete expression of the love of God. As he put it in The Heart of Matter, ‘ a meeting of Centre with Centre, of Heart with Heart..were anticipated rather than realized’ (p40) at this time. In truth, I did not go to Jersey looking either for Teilhard or the Sacred Heart – we just wanted a relaxing break in the last of the summer sun before the onset of autumn and winter  - but they found me alright.

After settling in the hotel we walked down the road (Rouge Bouillon)  and within a few minutes passed
a sign for an old one-time orphanage, Sacré Coeur. (Which was established  when Teilhard was here, but in another  location.)  High on the top was a rather vivid statue of the Sacred Heart, complete with a large crow perched on its head.  Only a few steps down the road and a Sacred Heart had spotted me!  A short walk away, it turned out, was the place where Teilhard had studied and where he was encouraged to continue with his geological education, Maison St. Louis (see stamp above) -  which is now a hotel, the Hotel de France.  So, if  I was not thinking about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I realized that perhaps He was thinking about me!  A short while later – now rather lost in St Helier- we came across the Catholic ‘Cathedral’ of the Island, dedicated to St Thomas, with a magnificent piece of stone carving over the door showing St. Thomas touching the wounded Heart of the Saviour.  By then I got the feeling that this was going to be another journey into the mystery of the Heart of Jesus. The following day we found ourselves in St Aubin and, of course, there was a church of the Sacred Heart. And of course we popped in.

Karen Blampied's icon of the Sacred Heart 
At the back of the church – rather too high up I thought - was  a beautiful  icon of the Sacred Heart.  I have to admit I had to stand on a chair to have a closer look!  It took me a while to figure out that the figures on the either side of Jesus are two local saints, St. Aubin and St. Brelade.  The Church is in the village of St. Aubin in the Parish of St. Brelade. I liked the fact that the artist has chosen to connect the image – and what it represents – with the locality by using the parochial saints but also (it seems to me) evoking the local environment.  Jesus stands on the created order under which are what looks like waves of water and a piece of the local geology. The iconographer has also taken care to use of the key symbols associated with the pierced heart of the Saviour that are depicted on the altar of the church.

The icon therefore serves to bring together the local saints – who are depicted as receiving the radiating love of Christ’s heart- with the symbols in contained in the high altar under the image of the Sacred Heart.  The two angels point to the centre of the icon and are asking us to centre – like the saints - our lives on the Heart that loves us so much.  The iconographer, Karen Blampied has, I think, set out to place the Sacred Heart in the heart of the community and that is to be commended: she has not gone for the simple option of writing an icon of Christ with an exposed heart – as so many iconographers have tended to do.  Instead she has chosen to use a more symbolic  form of representation which (I think) evokes the early drawing of St. Margaret Mary.  ( For more about Karen, go HERE, and her Sacred Heart HERE ) This is an icon that is very much the Sacred Heart as a call for a community – a parish- to centre its life on the divine love and infinite mercy of the heart of the word of God.  It is a call for parishioners to be less self-centered and more and more centred on the loving and merciful heart of Jesus. Just as the saints depicted in the icon placed Christ at the centre of their lives, so the icon is calling those who worship in the church in a village named after one saint and a parish after another, to centre their lives on the centre of Christ.  We, in this time and in this place, have to open our hearts to the love of God. We, like the two saints in the icon have to follow the guidance of the angels and let our centre become Christ: he opens His heart to us and we are invited to open ours to His. In a sense Karen Blampied’s icon is complementary to Ian Knowles's  icon.  In Ian’s icon we see a depiction of Christ as a cosmic, universal centre: we see Him drawing all things to himself. But, of course, we must remember that the local is the universal.  We experience this great cosmic love described by Teilhard in a specific time and place.  We live in a cosmos, but experience our daily lives in the small, local world captured by this icon by Karen. Ian gives us the Sacred Heart as the centre of the cosmos, and Karen the Sacred Heart as the centre of the community.

A high point in our visit to Jersey was unquestionably La Hougue Bie (go HERE) : and it was there where, in my mind, the two icons came together, helped by a third.

 The site is, of course, world famous as a Neolithic site of great importance.  However, I came to the conclusion that it is also a place which captures the essence of what the Sacred Heart is all about and why it is more and more relevant for our troubled times.

As you walk around the site you have to remember that human beings have been here in their various stages of cultural evolution for over 6,000 years.  The ‘grave’ was constructed some 4000 years ago and covered with a great mound of earth.  It is a remarkable piece of civil engineering and organization which must have taken a massive effort of labour and vast material resources to construct.  As you contemplate this great human achievement you have to ask why?  The answer, of course, is that to our ancestors such constructs were a significant and vital aspect of their religious and material existence.  According to academic research, such buildings were constructed to serve as portals into another world- a world of the spirit.

Their lives in this material world required that they acknowledge their dependence on this other world of the non-material.  This apparently required some kind of journey deep into a space far removed from the world on which the sun and moon shone. A space was needed in which the sun could, at certain times of the year illuminate the inner core of this mysterious space.  At day time – when I crawled into the passage – it was possible to have light shining behind you: and on the way back there was light at the end of the tunnel. However, at night, it must have been very disconcerting, to say the least.  It is not a long tunnel. I sensed that the real journey was the journey inside your own mind and (yes) heart.  Our ancestors made a space out of stone and earth which was designed to enable them to experience a world beyond matter.  In a way they were (in Teilhard's sense) spiritualizing matter.  They would travel deep into the heart of this material world in order to encounter the spiritual world.  Well, with thoughts such as these I was glad to get out, stretch and feel fresh air and sun on my skin.

When Christianity arrived on the island the mound represented the pagan world and to show the superiority of the new religion over the old primitive ways they built a church on the top.  We climbed the mound to discover a small chapel in which some taped ‘religious’ music was being played.  It was dedicated to ‘Notre Dame de la Clarte’ ( Our Lady of Light): which given the function of the Neolithic structure  underneath was appropriate enough.  To our surprise on the altar was another icon which, we later discovered was also by Karen Blampied.  Her icon beautifully illuminated and sanctified the little chapel. (See HERE)  It made me think of Teilhard’s writings on the Virgin Mary and the role of the feminine.

Karen Blampied's icon of Our Lady of Light 
Such thoughts were quickly dispelled as we looked down and remembered that down there, deep in the earth, was another place of darkness, which marked out yet another stage in the human story: the German bunkers, constructed during the occupation of Jersey in the second world war, are now a memorial to the thousands of people forced to work for the German war machine.

Thinking about that  as we walked down the mound, the Medieval legend surrounding the mound came to mind.  It was a story of how a knight came to the area and promised to rid the people of a dragon: in due course he killed the dragon, but his squire killed him and dressed up in his armour to take the credit for his master’s bravery.  The deed was discovered, the squire punished, and the body of the knight was buried under a great mound under the orders of the Lady of Hambye.  The story thus captured the essence of the matter : the great conflict between  the light of Christianity and the darkness of paganism.  And there, all around us, we saw the remnants of the ongoing battle between light and darkness.

The German army had cut into the mound to create a bunker.  Entering this darkness was, however, far more disconcerting than that I experienced  in the ancient grave.  The Neolithic darkness  had a sacred and spiritual purpose.  The tunnels dug by the German army using starving slave labour were built not for some quest for spiritual enlightenment, but for conquest, power and the exercise of evil.  The Gospel of love proclaimed by Jesus was, in these earthworks confronted by a profound and utter darkness.  A darkness darker than any Neolithic cave.

WW 2 Communications bunker - now memorial to  forced workers
Lighthouse built to save life, German  observation tower, built to destroy life.
 As you take in the full horror of how the people who built all the miles and tons of constructions all over the island were treated, all one could do was reflect on the evolution of our species.  How could a civilized country have produced an army capable of such calculated and hard-hearted behaviour towards their fellow human beings?  How did they compare to the people who built the mound 4,000 years ago?  How did they emerge from a Christian world that had been so confidently marked out by the chapel on the top of the mound.   Yet, here we were 1,900 years after Christ, plunged back into a darkness much darker and deeper than anything our Neolithic ancestors could have conceived?

As Teilhard understood, evolution is not a simple story of human progress.  Evolution does not move in neat straight lines: it is a struggle. Human evolution is in our hands: we have to choose good over evil, and love over hate. Evolution is the cross we must carry. The story of human evolution is the story of  how humanity harnesses the energies of the material world to create a civilization of love, or a civilization of hate. Humanity has to struggle constantly to realize a civilization of love and light against all the forces sin, hate and darkness.  The struggle in Jersey, as elsewhere today, is different to that in the Second World War, but it is still the same old struggle to find the light and love of God in a world in which there are so many evil dragons and so much darkness caused by the sinfulness of humanity .  It is still a struggle to allow the human heart to become a place where the love of God flames, and which is not overwhelmed by the darkness and the capacity of human beings to choose sin.

The Sacred Heart is a wonderful  expression of the love of God for us, and the desire of a God (who is love) to penetrate into the deepest part of ourselves: our very heart.  And yet, we close our hearts, and harden them.  And when we do this we are on a very dangerous journey into a form of darkness  that is far more impenetrable than that we might experience in  the centre of La Hougue Bie.  When we harden our hearts and close ourselves off from the light and fire of His love we can end up doing the most terrible and most evil of things.  Ultimately we can do the kind of immoral acts like some of  the German soldiers did in Jersey - as recorded deep underground  in the memorial exhibition. As an image the Sacred Heart is a powerful reminder that God is love, and He desires us to love Him and our fellow creatures as ourselves.  In Teilhard (and Dante’s) sense this is the love that drives the universe and pulls us towards His very core - if only we would let go of our egos and give up our sinful ways.  If only we can become less self-centred and more centred on love and the challenge of harnessing this great energy to advance human progress.  And the icon of Mary – Our Lady of Light – reminds us that she - the 'eternal feminine' - shows us the way, and tells us (as at the Marriage feast at Cana)  simply and gently to do what her son has told us to do.  When human beings fail to live with a heart open to the love and light that radiate from God, we are easy prey to the powers of hate and darkness.  That is what I saw from the top of La Hougue Bie: a Sacred Heart deeply wounded by human sin, greed and hate, but still flaming with love and mercy.  The image of the Sacred Heart is an image of hope and faith in the future. We are loved by a merciful creator.

It is, therefore appropriate that today is also the feast day of  St. Francis.  The Franciscans have made a great contribution to the spirituality of the heart and to the development of the devotion to the Sacred Heart.  At mass today I was called to read  from Baruch, 1: 15-22. It reminds us about the dangers of  what can happen when we are not open to the voice of God and choose instead to follow the 'dictates of our evil hearts' and worshipping other gods. The Gospel acclamation (drawn from Psalm 144) calls us not to 'harden our hearts'.  Pope Francis has made this very much a theme of his Papacy thus far and I believe that (as other Jesuits like Teilhard argued) the Sacred Heart is a doorway into the most profound truths of our faith. As we have noted elsewhere, Blessed John Paul makes this point in his reflections on the Litany of the Sacred Heart.(read HERE)  What we encounter in those bunkers all over  Jersey is precisely what human beings can do when they harden their hearts, and what amazing things people can do when they open their hearts and give up their liberty and ultimately their lives to help another human being. Once gain, I think Teilhard expressed it perfectly.   What we see in  Jersey is an example of how a clever and talented people were capable of harnessing their cleverness for hate and destruction.  The Sacred Heart is urging us to do precisely the opposite. As he famously put it:

'Quelque jour, après l’espace, les vents, les marées, la gravitation, nous capterons, pour Dieu, les énergies de l’amour.- Et alors, une deuxième fois dans l’histoire du Monde, l’Homme aura trouvé le Feu.' Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 'L’Évolution de la Chasteté', ( in  Les Directions de L’Avenir, Éditions du Seul, Paris1973, p92)

'The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.'

Our ancestors believed that there was a secret deep within creation, and La Hougue Bie was a kind of portal into this great mystery.  Teilhard too, as a lover of rocks and earth, believed that there was a profound mystery in creation. His faith - and our faith -  tells us exactly what it is.

'The great secret, the great mystery, is this: there is a heart of the world..and this heart is the heart of Christ.'

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Harry Clarke's Sacred Heart

Last summer I discovered a wonderful stained glass window of the Sacred Heart by a Benedictine artist Dom. Theodore Bailey in a Church in Pembrokeshire, Wales (see HERE) .  It had a great impact on me.  I still think it is very beautiful  and should be far better known.   This summer one of my great discoveries was a stained glass window of the Sacred  Heart by the Irish artist Harry Clarke (1889-1931). Read about him here.

 I wish I could say that I saw it in an Irish church, but no- it was in the Victoria and Albert (or V&A). I have to admit that I was not looking for it- as I have long ago given up finding an image of the Sacred Heart in an art gallery or museum - leastways in the UK.  I was aware of Clarke's work as a book illustrator, but wholly ignorant of his stained glass.

  However, an excellent book by Lucy Costigan and Michael Cullen ( Strangest Genius: The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke ) has shown me what an exciting and important artist he is!    Indeed, he is generally recognised as one of the most influential stained glass artists of his generation.  Must look at some of his other Sacred Heart windows!

The window in the V&A was designed in 1918 and made in 1927.  The design was, apparently done as a preparatory work  for a commission from the Arch-Fraternity of the Sacred Heart  of a Vincentian church in Phibsborough in Dublin which was installed in 1919. This design was subsequently used by Clarke and his studio in other commissions.  Given his acknowledged pre-eminence there can be little doubt that the image must have been influential on other artists - so it may be that the design in the V&A has had a significant impact on how the Sacred Heart was represented in later decades?  See the V & A page here.

Unlike Bailey he did not actually study in Paris, but he did tour Europe to study stained glass.  Thus we see both the influence of symbolism and art -deco but also of medieval art and colour.  It is a very fine piece of work, but also an image which is rich in theological symbolism: this is not a sentimental kitsch Christ, but a powerful, prayerful and thought-provoking work of art.

At the top we see Christ crucified, and underneath him two angels collect His precious blood and water.  The 'cosmic' sense of the piece is strong as it uses the sun and moon and above dark blue heavens.  In the centre we see Christ showing us His Sacred Heart on fire and glowing with love for humanity. On either side are symbols of the Eucharist, water - it looks like the Ark of Noah , and a Chalice ( marked IHS)  with a host.  We also find other symbols, the Lamb of God, a pelican feeding her young  and loaves and fish. The two right at the top I really could not make out!

The lower part of the window (above)  is perhaps the most interesting. We see Christ ascending to the Father and as he does so he leaves His footprints on the earth below: footsteps that we are called to follow.

  We also see the outstretched arms of the Risen Christ.  The heart is now more of a burst of fire or energy and all around there are spirals  which both evoke Celtic art, but also a sense of what Teilhard terms the 'cosmic Christ' uniting all things to himself.

Thus what is so fascinating about the window is that it literally does provide us with three windows through which to understand the Sacred Heart.  At the top, we contemplate the 'Pierced One', whose sacrifice on the cross has redeemed the world.  In the middle we see the Sacred Heart as the most complete expression of the perfect and infinite love of God for humanity, and the Sacred Heart as the Eucharist.  And at the bottom we see the Cosmic Christ we find in St. Paul drawing all things to Himself!  Here we see express what Dante describes as the 'Love which moves the sun and the other stars'!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Music and the Sacred Heart

I have been meaning for some time to write about the music associated with the Sacred Heart, and recently Monsignor Philip Whitmore gave a interesting talk on Vatican Radio on the subject.  It is well-worth listening to. Go here.  It is a good starting point for thinking about the hymns associated with the Sacred Heart.  What a pity that one rarely gets an opportunity to sing them nowadays! Fr. Whitmore discusses a few of the most famous ones, but the hymns which focus on the Heart of Jesus and the spirituality of the heart are really quite extensive. Listening to the programme makes me think that I ought to post something on these songs of the heart.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Pope Francis's Angelus message on the Sacred Heart

Today, at the Sunday Angelus prayers, Pope Francis emphasised the importance of the devotion.  The Sacred Heart, he says, ' is the highest human expression of divine love' and the 'ultimate symbol of God's mercy'.  It is a symbol, but also a 'real symbol'.  He tells us  that we should not be afraid to approach Jesus for : ' He has a merciful heart!'  As he shows us his wounds, Francis reminds us that the Lord  asks us to show our wounds, since: ' If we show our inner wounds, our sins, He always forgives us. He is pure mercy! Let us never forget this: He is pure mercy! Let us go to Jesus! '. 

The text of his message.

"The month of June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the highest human expression of divine love. Just this past Friday, in fact, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: the feast that sets the tone for the whole month. Popular piety highly prizes symbols, and the Heart of Jesus is the ultimate symbol of God's mercy but it is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth.

In the Gospels we find several references to the Heart of Jesus, for example, in the passage where Christ says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. (Mt 11:28-29)” Then there is the key story of the death of Christ according to John. This evangelist in fact testifies to what he saw on Calvary: that a soldier, when Jesus was already dead, pierced his side with a spear, and from the wound flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19.33-34). John recognized in that – apparently random – sign, the fulfillment of prophecies: from the heart of Jesus, the Lamb slain on the cross, flow forgiveness and life for all men.

But the mercy of Jesus is not just sentiment: indeed it is a force that gives life, that raises man up! [This Sunday]’s Gospel tells us this as well, in the episode of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus, with his disciples, is just arrived in Nain, a village in Galilee, at the very moment in which a funeral is taking place. a boy is buried, the only son of a widow. Jesus’ gaze immediately fixes itself on the weeping mother. The evangelist Luke says: “Seeing her, the Lord was moved with great compassion for her (v. 13).” This “compassion” is the love of God for man, it is mercy, i.e. the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our poverty, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls the maternal viscera: a mother, in fact, experiences a reaction all her own, to the pain of her children. In this way does God love us, the Scripture says.

And what is the fruit of this love? It is life! Jesus said to the widow of Nain, “Do not weep,” and then called the dead boy and awoke him as from a sleep (cf. vv. 13-15). The mercy of God gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. The Lord is always watching us with mercy, [always] awaits us with mercy. Let us be not afraid to approach him! He has a merciful heart! If we show our inner wounds, our sins, He always forgives us. He is pure mercy! Let us never forget this: He is pure mercy! Let us go to Jesus! 

Let us turn to the Virgin Mary: her immaculate heart – a mother’s heart – has shared the “compassion” of God to the full, especially at the hour of the passion and death of Jesus. May Mary help us to be meek, humble and compassionate with our brethren." 

Read Text HERE

Friday, 7 June 2013

First Friday, Feast of the Sacred Heart

We have noted elsewhere on this blog that Pope Francis is a Pope of the Heart of Christ. So it is good to note that Pope Francis referred to the solemnity of the Sacred Heart this morning as “the feast of love” of a “heart that loved so much”. As a Jesuit it was not surprising that he should refer to  St. Ignatius who observed that  Jesus's love  "manifests itself more in deeds than in words" and  "more [in] giving than receiving." These these 'two criteria are like the pillars of true love" and the Good Shepherd above all else represents the love of God. He knows His sheep by name, "because His is not an abstract or general love: it is love towards everyone ".

"A God who draws near out of love, walks with His people, and this walk comes to an unimaginable point. We could never have imagined that the same Lord would become one of us and walk with us, be present with us, present in His Church, present in the Eucharist, present in His Word, present in the poor, He is present, walking with us. And this is closeness: the shepherd close to his flock, close to his sheep, whom he knows, one by one. "

His homily, focusing on the reading from Ezekiel (34: 11-16),  highlighted another aspect of God's love: caring for the lost, the wounded and the sick sheep:

"Tenderness! But the Lord loves us tenderly. The Lord knows that beautiful science of caresses, the tenderness of God. He does not love us with words. He comes close - closeness - and gives us His love with tenderness. Closeness and tenderness! The Lord loves us in these two ways, He draws near and gives all His love even in the smallest things: with tenderness. And this is a powerful love, because closeness and tenderness reveal the strength of God’s love”.

"But do you love each other as I have loved you?" Pope Francis asked this question of those present, emphasizing how love is "being close to others”, is "like that of the Good Samaritan" and in particular , in the sign of "closeness and tenderness". He also asked: How can we return all this love to the Lord? By "loving", by being "closer to Him," by being "tender with Him”, but this alone, he said, “is not enough”:

"This may sound like heresy, but it is the greatest truth! It is more difficult to let God love us, than to love Him! The best way to love Him in return is to open our hearts and let Him love us. Let Him draw close to us and feel Him close to us. This is really very difficult: letting ourselves be loved by Him. And that is perhaps what we need to ask today in the Mass: 'Lord, I want to love You, but teach me the difficult science, the difficult habit of let ting myself be loved by You, to feel You close and feel Your tenderness ! May the Lord give us this grace. "

Text from  the Vatican Radio website HERE