Thursday, 28 February 2013

Benedict's departure: Making reparation for the sins of the Church

On this historic day when  Benedict XVI concludes his Pontificate  I think it is appropriate to recall that,   like many his predecessors, Benedict has been a Pope of the Sacred Heart.   We can only hope and pray that the Sacred Heart will be close to the heart of the next Pope.   In the light of the problems that have to be addressed by the new Pope, we should remember that a central aspect of the devotion is to seek to make reparation for our sins.  There are many who have made the Lord weep:  the Church, led by the new Pope, must make reparation for the grave sins committed by some of our leaders.  And this is what this crisis is about. It is a crisis of leadership, rather than one of faith.  Please God, that we will have a Pope with the strength and energy to give the Church the leadership the faithful so desire.  In all of this, we ask Sacred Heart to have mercy on us.  The Heart of the Saviour has been pierced and wounded by those who were charged with feeding his sheep.

So we can recall some of the words of Benedict on those most important devotion of the Church.

After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the 'image', through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2000, p61

In the Heart of Jesus, the center of Christianity is set before us. It expresses everything, all that is genuinely new and revolutionary in the New Covenant. This Heart calls to our heart. It invites us to step forth out of the futile attempt of self-preservation and, by joining in the task of love, by handing ourselves over to him and with him, to discover the fullness of love which alone is eternity and which alone sustains the world. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, (Behold the Pierced One, 1981)

In the pierced heart of the Crucified, God's own heart is opened up; here we see who God is and what he is like. Heaven is no longer locked up. God has stepped out of his hiddenness. That is why St John sums up both the meaning of the Cross and the nature of the new worship of God in the mysterious promise made through the prophet Zechariah (cf. 12:10). 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced' (Jn 19.37). Joseph Cardinal Ratizinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2000, p48


the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: only in this inexhaustible source of love will you be able to find the necessary energy for your mission.
The Church was born from the Heart of the Redeemer, from his pierced side, and she is ceaselessly renewed in the sacraments.
May it be your concern to draw spiritual nourishment from prayer and an intense sacramental life; deepen your personal knowledge of Christ and strive with all your might for the "high standard of ordinary Christian living" which is what holiness is, as our beloved John Paul II used to say.


To the Most Reverend Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
By encouraging devotion to the Heart of Jesus, the Encyclical Haurietis Aquas exhorted believers to open themselves to the mystery of God and of his love and to allow themselves to be transformed by it. After 50 years, it is still a fitting task for Christians to continue to deepen their relationship with the Heart of Jesus, in such a way as to revive their faith in the saving love of God and to welcome him ever better into their lives.
The Redeemer's pierced side is the source to which the Encyclical Haurietis Aquas refers us:  we must draw from this source to attain true knowledge of Jesus Christ and a deeper experience of his love.
Thus, we will be able to understand better what it means to know God's love in Jesus Christ, to experience him, keeping our gaze fixed on him to the point that we live entirely on the experience of his love, so that we can subsequently witness to it to others.
Indeed, to take up a saying of my venerable Predecessor John Paul II, "In the Heart of Christ, man's heart learns to know the genuine and unique meaning of his life and of his destiny, to understand the value of an authentically Christian life, to keep himself from certain perversions of the human heart, and to unite the filial love for God and the love of neighbour".
Thus:  "The true reparation asked by the Heart of the Saviour will come when the civilization of the Heart of Christ can be built upon the ruins heaped up by hatred and violence" (Letter to Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Society of Jesus for the Beatification of Bl. Claude de la Colombière, 5 Moreover, not only does this mystery of God's love for us constitute the content of the worship of and devotion to the Heart of Jesus, but in the same way it is likewise the content of all true spirituality and Christian devotion. It is consequently important to stress that the basis of the devotion is as old as Christianity itself.

The deepest meaning of this devotion to God's love is revealed solely through a more attentive consideration of its contribution not only to the knowledge, but also and especially to the personal experience of this love in trusting dedication to its service …
…When we practise this devotion, not only do we recognize God's love with gratitude but we continue to open ourselves to this love so that our lives are ever more closely patterned upon it. God, who poured out his love "into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (cf. Rom 5: 5), invites us tirelessly to accept his love. The main aim of the invitation to give ourselves entirely to the saving love of Christ and to consecrate ourselves to it (cf. Haurietis Aquas, n. 4) is, consequently, to bring about our relationship with God.
This explains why the devotion, which is totally oriented to the love of God who sacrificed himself for us, has an irreplaceable importance for our faith and for our life in love.

Whoever inwardly accepts God is moulded by him. The experience of God's love should be lived by men and women as a "calling" to which they must respond. Fixing our gaze on the Lord, who "took our infirmities and bore our diseases" (Mt 8: 17), helps us to become more attentive to the suffering and need of others.
Adoring contemplation of the side pierced by the spear makes us sensitive to God's salvific will. It enables us to entrust ourselves to his saving and merciful love, and at the same time strengthens us in the desire to take part in his work of salvation, becoming his instruments.
The gifts received from the open side, from which "blood and water" flowed (cf. Jn 19: 34), ensure that our lives will also become for others a source from which "rivers of living water" flow (Jn 7: 38; cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 7).
…Thus, looking at the "side pierced by the spear" from which shines forth God's boundless desire for our salvation cannot be considered a transitory form of worship or devotion:  the adoration of God's love, whose historical and devotional expression is found in the symbol of the "pierced heart", remains indispensable for a living relationship with God (cf. Haurietis Aquas, n. 62).
As I express the wish that the 50th anniversary will give rise to an ever more fervent response to love of the Heart of Christ in numerous hearts, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, Most Reverend Father, and to all the Religious of the Society of Jesus, who are still very active in promoting this fundamental devotion.

Given the importance of the Sacred Heart to Benedict,  his last 'tweet' is of some significance. Benedict  asks us to put Christ at the centre of our lives.   The whole of the devotion can be summed up in those few words.  The heart is a way of describing our very centre- our core.  In our devotion we strive to make the Heart of Christ dwell in our heart.   Which is why Benedict wisely called the devotion to the Sacred Heart a 'fundamental devotion'. When Christ is the centre of our life, He lives in our hearts. We experience joy.  On the other hand, when human beings put themselves at the centre of their lives, the result is inevitably a joyless existence.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Quo Vadis?: Manning, social justice and the Sacred Heart

As Catholics all over the world pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the choice of Benedict’s successor, I am minded once again to turn to Cardinal Manning (1808-1892) – someone whose reputation has been very much in the shadow of Newman.   Manning was, however, a highly respected and much loved man.  His funeral brought out one of the largest crowds ever recorded in London in the 19th century.  Manning was, of course, a deeply spiritual person, but he was also prepared to get involved in the big social and economic problems of his day.  He was always on the side of the underpaid, exploited and the poor and critical of the capitalist economic system of the day.  Indeed, he was an influential figure in the development of Catholic social teaching that was first expressed in Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.  He was passionate about the importance of fair pay and worker’s rights.  He had a defining impact on the thinking of Belloc and Chesterton and on their development of  the idea of ‘distributivism’.  ( An idea which is still of relevance today !)   What powered or energized this man?  Well, it is not so surprising that it was his devotion to the Sacred Heart.   In Manning we find how vital is this relationship between the ‘most perfect devotion’ of the Church and the challenge of building a 'civilization of Love'. Manning is an example of the kind of wisdom which is so necessary in the Church today: a concern for social justice which is founded and grounded in a devotion to the Sacred Heart.   The renewal of the Church in the face of all the internal problems and external threats  must come about through a re-discovery of the passion of Manning for  social justice which springs and flows from the Heart of the Saviour.

In the light of earlier posts, just a quote which I think is a perfect reflection to bring to this image of the Sacred Heart.

Throughout the whole world, from sunrise to sunset for in the Kingdom of Jesus the sun never goes down the Sacred Heart is worshipped day by day. When the tapers on the altar are lighted for the Holy Mass in our morning, in other regions of the world they are being kindled on the altar for the evening Benediction. And as the sun goes round the world, in the language of men, opening the day, the Holy Mass follows it, and Benediction comes after in its train. Everywhere  Jesus is upon the altar, in the tabernacle, under the  canopy of the world -wide Church; and there are  millions upon millions, and myriads of millions, adoring Him in perpetual worship, and saying, ' Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus ; Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth ; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. And that worship upon earth mingles with the  worship of heaven. For before the throne there are Saints and Martyrs, and Angels and Archangels,  and dominions and principalities and powers, and  virtues and thrones, and Cherubim and Seraphim ; and in the splendour of eternal glory all created  things are casting their crowns of gold before the  Sacred Heart of Jesus, saying, ‘ Worship and glory  and thanksgiving and wisdom and praise be unto  Him that sitteth upon the throne.' The Sacred Heart of Jesus to all eternity will be adored, in the glory of God the Father. 

H. E. Manning. The Glories of the Sacred Heart, 1895,  pp162-3 READ HERE

More than ever before, this Lent the Church - from the very top to the very bottom-  needs to return with a sense of urgency to the devotion to the Sacred Heart and  humbly pray ' Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.' Now, with the church in crisis and  flux we must place ALL our  trust in the loving and merciful Heart of Jesus.  The Church must look outwards to the problems of a deeply materialistic and secular world and draw all its strength from energy of God's love that radiates from the very heart of God. 19th century London was fortunate in having a leader like Cardinal Manning who understood the problems of his day and also understood how solving those problems required us to be close to the Heart of Christ.  We so badly need people in the Church today  who have  - like Manning - a vision of the Sacred Heart at the heart of the Church's mission.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Praying with Icons in Richmond.

Yesterday in Wales it was  the feast  of St. Teilo (who was one of St. David’s monks at Mynyw - St David’s) - and St. Teilo's day proved to be an absolutely fascinating Saturday.  I spent a ‘quiet day’ praying with icons  at the very beautiful Church of St. John the Divine in Richmond.  (See HERE  )  In my last blog I mused about angels on the Northern Line, and I can now state that yesterday there were indeed angels on the Northern Line since I packed up the icon of the Sacred Heart to join some of Ian’s other icons in Richmond for this event.    One thing that you can only really appreciate when you live with an icon is how it captures and 'uses' light.  It becomes 'alive' in a way no other form of art I know does!  So, it was great to see it come alive in the light of a Church dedicated to St. John.

The icons were arranged as an iconstasis before  the altar, and then after some collective morning prayers, they were distributed around the church for people to spend time praying with the icons. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. ( Despite the fact that I missed most of the Wales-France rugby match ! )

 Ian gave a short (inspirational and informative)  talk to help us on our way, and then we were able to sit in silence and pray.  You can read the notes to Ian's talk HERE.

 I must confess that my immediate thoughts on such a cold wet day  were  ' how on earth did David and Teilo  pray in cold water?'  David was famous for praying up to his neck in cold water (in Welsh he is called ‘Dewi Ddyfrwr’, David the Water  drinker). Alas, I think I could never have made it as one of David’s monks as I was rather cold despite the golden glow of the icons! But after a while I warmed up and began to enter into the kind of silence and stillness that icons seem to generate or radiate.  In my experience icons have  this effect of  ‘ordering the world around it’ (did Ian say this?)  in a way that I am unable to explain.  In the home the icon creates and atmosphere of silence and peace  that is at times quite tangible.  An icon  - in my experience -  can perhaps be described as a spiritual tool which helps to create the silence  and peace necessary for prayer to work or happen.   It is as if you project all your noise and disquiet at them and they reflect them back to you as silence and peace.  (Rather like a heat pump or engine turns hot into cold and vice versa. ) Prayer requires us to be still and quiet and icons have a (strange) power to create a silence and a sense of peace  of a very special kind.  Later, in another talk,  Ian gave an illustration of the kind of power which icons can have  in the context of  his ( now famous) icon of ‘The Virgin Mother of the Church, or Our Lady of the Wall ) which he painted a few years ago in Palestine. ( ABOVE, left ) **  You can read about it HERE  

I think that icon’s show us that God orders the world in silence, and not with the kind of power we see exercised in our world.  Silence allows God into our lives and an icon helps us to cultivate the silence which is necessary if God’s power and grace is to enter into our lives.  An icon helps us to see  ( as Teilhard was fond of saying) Christ in all things.

My own experience of reading and living with this icon of the Sacred Heart has, I think, been about allowing the icon to work in ways that sometimes baffle me as it tends to send me off in directions which are not those I would naturally choose to take.  An example of this has been the way the icon has prompted me of late to think and reflect about humility of the heart ( Jesus tells us to learn from His meek and humble heart) and the role of angels.   Invariably when it does lead me all over the place it takes me to a point where things just come together.  It is just very disconcerting really.   So it was during the day at St . John the Divine.  I felt very closely drawn to praying with Ian’s utterly beautiful icon of St. Michael.  And, for the first time, I sensed the humility of Michael, and the importance of  humility in the battle against all the evils of this world - the most potent of which is pride.  Michael – ‘Who is like God?'  – reminds us that we are strong when we are wholly and completely open to God’s grace.  Pride makes us weak, and humility makes us strong.  I  picked up the helpful notes left by the icon, and there it was all explained to me.  How come I never got that before now!  And, reflecting on this insight naturally made me turn to the icon of the Virgin, who is full of grace, and especially to ‘ Our Lady of the Wall’ and that dreadful snake creeping along the wall.  And then you realize what powerful things icons can be!  God does indeed speak in the silence ( 1 Kings, 19: 18).

This morning I was on the rota to read at mass.   ( My turn comes around every month or so. )  To my surprise,  I had to read  Isaiah 6: 1- 2, 3-8)  which is all about the Lord of Hosts and the six winged seraphim ( the subject of a few recent blogs) and the humility of Isaiah before the Lord.  The next reading was about the humility of St Paul, ( 1 Corinthians, 15: 1-11)  and in the Gospel we encounter the humility of Peter:  ‘ Leave me Lord; for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5: 1-11).  I felt that, in some strange and unexpected way, my morning of praying with icons had just helped to clear up so many confusing thoughts and ideas. It shows what can happen if you shut up, stop thinking, and open your heart to the deep silence glowing from the icon.

I suppose that is why St. David and St Teilo found praying in cold water a way of becoming more open to God's Word and Will. The cold opened them to the silence of the divine.  Perhaps icons are a kind of cold water for the soul: they help us to be silent and help us to become more open and attentive to God's presence in the visible world? Yes , my quiet day in St John the Divine was so very worthwhile and as energizing as the cold black water of Mynyw!  Thank you so much to all those who made it possible. Must do it again sometime.

**Prayer to Our Lady who brings down walls:

Ian's icon of the Lady of the Wall 
Most Holy Mother of God, we pray to you as mother of the Church, mother of all Christians who suffer.  We beg you, through your ardent intercession, to bring down this wall, the walls of our hearts, and all the walls that generate hatred, violence, fear, and indifference between people and between nations.  You who crushed the ancient serpent by your feet, gather and unit us under your virginal cloak, protect us from all evil and open forever in our lives the gate of hope.  Bring to birth in us and in our world the civilisation of love that sprang forth from the Cross and Resurrection of your divine Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever.  AMEN

Friday, 1 February 2013

Looking for angels and finding a fire alarm

The working week began with the Feast of St Thomas Acquinas  ( 28th January).  The fact, of course, that he known the ‘ Angelic Doctor’ of the Church served to focus my attention once more on the angels in the icon.   His writings on angels are a major source of the Church’s teaching on the subject and so over the past few days I have read and reflected further on the topic and its relation to the Sacred Heart.  Acquinas discusses angels in Part one of the Summa, (questions 50 – 64).   Mulling over what he says is a good way to  cope with the delights of the London underground system – especially as you travel through Angel station ! ( So called after a pub on the site which was built in the early 17th century.)   Are there ‘angels’ on the Northern Line?  After reading Acquinas I had little doubt that there were indeed angels on the Northern Line.

More to the point, I thought, are there angels in the modern Church?  It is interesting that in my local Church that was built in the 1990s - to replace an earlier  structure which was beyond repair- I can’t find any angels ( well images of angels) at all!  Perhaps their absence in this modern building (I think that there was an angel or two in the old one) is indicative of the fact that angels no longer have the kind of place they had a generation or so ago.  Although we mention the angels in prayers and in the Mass, and read about them in scripture, we ( that is me) tend to put them to the back of our minds and not think about them.  But we should, as Catholics, renew our appreciation of their absolutely central role in our faith. The Catechism makes it clear enough:

350 Angels are spiritual creatures who glorify God without ceasing and who serve his saving plans for other creatures: "The angels work together for the benefit of us all" (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 114, 3, ad 3).

351 The angels surround Christ their Lord. They serve him especially in the accomplishment of his saving mission to men.

352 The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being.

I confess, however,  that I did not give them much thought until the icon came into my life.  And yet, when you consider scripture and the teachings of the Church, it is apparent that we should  and indeed must re-discover the importance of angels in our spiritual life.   Indeed,  as Benedict XVI  reminded us a few years ago (2nd October 2011, on the Feast of the Guardian Angels) : 'Dear friends, the Lord is always near and active in human history and follows us with the unique presence of his angels, that today the Church venerates as ‘guardian’; in other words, those who minister God’s care for every man. From the beginning until death human life is surrounded by their constant protection.’

The Sacred Heart is about God’s desire to have a personal relationship – a heart to heart relationship – with us as individuals.  Jesus is ‘God with us’, Emmanuel.  The  presence of the angels in the icon serves to remind us that God is near us, and walks with us: hence we all have a kind of messaging or communications system we call our ‘guardian angels’.    Sitting on the underground it is amusing to see practically everyone playing with their phones and tablets. I plead guilty to this addiction. And there is something really annoying about not being able to send and receive emails and texts and all the rest of it deep underground.  But angels go where wifi is unable to tread.  My phone does not work on the underground, but my angel does – if only I am open to his messages, as the ‘texts’ that God is sending us. I should check my angelic texts and emails as much as I do my electronic messages.  I should be as aware ( actually, of course, more aware) of heavenly space as I am cyberspace!

Dore's illustration of Dante and the love which 'moves the sun and the other stars'
 Angels, it seems to me, are ways of understanding how close and personal God really wants to be: if only we are open to His message and His Word.  God's love fills and pulls all creation: and yet He wants a deeply personal relationship with us, as individuals.   God is cosmic and yet personal. Infinite and yet humble enough to enter into His creation as a baby. God’s Word is always available, however deep in the earth or how high in the sky we are! If we are not getting the message it is because we are not open and listening.  The love of God energises all creation: in Dante's words it 'moves the sun and all the other stars'.  Thus when we pray we join with the angels who are working throughout this creation.  When we are open to the Word, and the Word is in our hearts, we become messengers, like the Angels.  We walk with the Lord.  We walk in the presence of the Lord of Hosts.  The angels of special relevance for the Sacred Heart are the Seraphim and Cherubim: they are the angels closest to the Sacred Heart of Jesus seated on the throne of God.  As I have noted elsewhere on this blog, it is odd that, despite the prominence of the Seraphim in St. Margaret Mary’s account of her experiences, they hardly ever feature in representations of the Sacred Heart. Go HERE   and  HERE .

Saint Margaret Mary – in her autobiography - writes about forming an association with the Seraphim so that together they might perpetually praise the Divine Heart.  Thus, as we share in the body and blood of Christ and as we kneel in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament we must think of how we are actually joining with the angels closest to the ‘Sacred temple of God’, the ‘ tabernacle of the Most High’ and the ‘burning furnace of  charity’  ( as the Litany describes the Sacred Heart). In praying to the Sacred Heart we join with the ‘Burning ones’ aflame with the Love of God, in singing ‘Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus’ *  The devotion to the Sacred Heart is therefore a kind of association with the burning ones. In living a life in which the Sacred Heart is the centre of our existence, we walk with the angels, and they with us.  We share the same purpose: to set creation on fire with the Love of God.

So, looking for angels this morning – the first Friday of the month-  I found I was more open to their presence as a result of meditating on the angels in the icon.  Angels in scripture often appear – like Raphael – in an unexpected form.   As I  looked at the wooden statue of the Sacred Heart in my church this morning I did not see the Seraphim, but I did notice that alongside is a fire-alarm!  I wonder if that was intentional?  We pray that our hearts will be set  aflame with the love of God and to be consumed by this love.  From now on I have a feeling that the fire alarm will serve to remind me that (like St, Margaret Mary)  we offer our prayers to the Heart of the Saviour  in association with ‘the burning ones’.   Thus it it has been a working week which was about looking for angels, but instead, surprise, surprise,  what I actually found was  a fire alarm.  Or does it just look like a fire-alarm?

* Acquinas in the Summa notes: (in the First Part,  5th article.)

"The name 'Seraphim' does not come from charity only, but from the excess of charity, expressed by the word ardor or fire. Hence Dionysius .. expounds the name 'Seraphim' according to the properties of fire, containing an excess of heat. Now in fire we may consider three things. "First, the movement which is upwards and continuous. This signifies that they are borne inflexibly towards God. "Secondly, the active force which is 'heat,' which is not found in fire simply, but exists with a certain sharpness, as being of most penetrating action, and reaching even to the smallest things, and as it were, with superabundant fervor; whereby is signified the action of these angels, exercised powerfully upon those who are subject to them, rousing them to a like fervor, and cleansing them wholly by their heat.
"Thirdly we consider in fire the quality of clarity, or brightness; which signifies that these angels have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others."