Thursday, 21 March 2013

Pope Francis, God's bricklayer.

As I heard the name of Francis announced last Wednesday night I felt, like many Catholics, I am sure, elated and deeply moved by the choice of the name of one of our most beloved saints, St. Francis of Assisi. The image that came into my mind was the famous picture by Giotto of St. Francis being told by Christ in the church of San Damiano to ‘repair my Church because it is falling into ruin’. Francis (the first) has, like his namesake, now taken on the job of ‘God’s bricklayer’.

At a time when the church is indeed in a poor state of repair, the new Pope has accepted the mission to repair and rebuild.  On the face of it a 76 -year-old man with one decent lung is hardly the kind of person that you would think would have the strength to undertake the task of tackling the mess that has proven too much for his predecessors.  Significantly, to do this he has wisely chosen to show that reforming the Catholic Church can only be done by harnessing one of the most empowering of all virtues (and the one that St. Francis exemplified): humility.

Like St. Francis, the new Pope has a reputation for humility and a love of the poor.  But St. Francis also realized that he could not repair San Damiano on his own.  Pope Francis will also need a good team of co-workers to stop the Church of the 21st century from falling into ruin. It may be, however, that because Pope Francis is an outside contractor from Latin America rather than a European bricklayer he will better able to get on with a job that was manifestly beyond the capacity of more local builders.  Without assembling a team of men and women (St. Francis had St. Clare!) with the necessary skills who share his commitment to repairing the Church, he is unlikely to get very far.  So the next few months will be a critical phase of his project management: recruiting a team of co-workers who are eager to get on with the job of laying new bricks and repairing the damage.

The choice of the name Francis sends the strongest possible message to the world that the repair and rebuilding which is so very necessary can only be accomplished through the exercise of humility: repairing the church can only come about by understanding the poverty of the Church and by placing the poverty of so much of the world at the very centre of the re-building process.  A Pope named Francis must embrace poverty of spirit as well as the poor of the world.  As he made it clear in his first press conference, he chose the name because St. Francis was:

‘..the man of the poor. The man of peace. The man who loved and cared for creation and in this moment we don't have such a great relationship with the creator. The man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man who wanted a poor church.’

A poor church must recognize that the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio demonstrates in a most dramatic fashion that Europe is no longer the centre of the Catholic world.  The Catholic Church in Europe must also learn humility and understand its own poverty and deficiencies.

The simple name ‘Francis’ is rich in meaning to Catholics all over the world.  It is a truly revolutionary name as it evokes not only St Francis’s humility and concern for the poor and social justice, but also, as the Pope noted at his first ‘press conference’, St. Francis’s love of nature and creation.  It is not just the Catholic church that is in need of repair: so is what Francis called (in the ‘Canticle of the Sun’) our ‘ sister, mother earth’.  The concern for social justice and human greed and materialism we find in St Francis is inextricably connected with environmental justice and the importance of respect for all creation.

There is another aspect of  ‘il Poverello d'Assisi’ that may serve as a guide to how the new Pope may conduct his pontificate: peace.   St. Francis, in his humility, was a man of peace: he is famously associated with a prayer about becoming a channel or instrument of peace.  In 1219, for example, whilst the Crusaders were laying siege to the camp of Sultan Malek – Kemal, St. Francis made the brave gesture of going to see the Sultan and explain the Christian faith to him. So, it may be that God’s new bricklayer will also see building a new relationship with Islam and breaking down some of the walls that keep faith communities and traditions apart as a central aspect of his pontificate. Bricklayers  - especially the great bridge-builder (‘Pontifex Maximus’) – must also build and repair bridges and not just Churches.

If all of this sounds a very big contract for a 76 -year -old Argentine bricklayer, we should reflect that a previous Pope, John XXIII (1958-1963), was 77 when he took the job on! And John set out an agenda that has had the most wide-ranging impact on the Church.  (He was expected to be more of a ‘caretaker’ than a bricklayer. ) Pope Francis, by virtue of a name that is so closely associated with humility, poverty, social justice, the natural world and peace, may well be able to lay a more level, firmer and stronger foundation for a Church poor in spirit in the 21st century than a Pope by any other name.  Few Popes in history have begun their pontificate with such high expectations, and few have had a name that is so universally loved and which evokes such a powerful critique of the materialism of modern society.  All this means that the new Pope has provided a clear criteria or bench mark by which we may judge his papacy: ‘how true is his work to the spirit level of ‘il Poverello d'Assisi’?’  That is quite a name to have chosen!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Pope Francis and the the Sacred Heart

The news of the election of a new Holy Father has generated a real sense of hope and anticipation that the Church can now move ahead.  It is clear that Francis intended that the way ahead must be walked humbly with our God.  This theme of humility, which seems to have come ever more to the surface in reading this icon, is evidently to be the central theme of the new Papacy, and we have to thank God for this.  Now, more than ever the Church must seek to become humble of heart in the face of the sins committed in the Catholic Church at all levels.  Will Francis be a Pope of the Sacred Heart- like his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI?  My guess is that he will be a Pope who will direct our attention to the importance of the devotion for the renewal of the Church.  As a Jesuit he will, of course, have a special love of the Sacred Heart.  But he has also chosen the name of Francis - and St Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan spiritual tradition has also played a very important role in the history of the devotion. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the Jesuits and the Franciscans have done more than most religious orders to promote the devotion.  So, a Jesuit pope, with the name of Francis must surely be someone with a great love of the Sacred Heart.  I have yet to get to grips with what Francis has had to say about the Sacred Heart, but it will be interesting to find out.  So, the Seraphim in the top left hand corner has yet another layer of meaning now!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Manning : a Cardinal for troubling times.

So much in the news of late about the comings and goings of Cardinals, that it is fortunate I seem to have spent more and more time this Lent  reflecting on Cardinal Henry Manning and reading his book on the Glories of the Sacred Heart.  It is good to remind ourselves of the contribution which some truly great Cardinals - like Manning - have made to the life of the Church at a time when the standing of some is, to say the least, questionable.

The absolutely centrality of the relationship between the Sacred Heart and the social teaching of the Church  may grasped in Manning's observations on the life of St. Vincent de Paul ( made in 1861).

Look at the condition of the classes of England; the  separation of the rich from the poor ; at the unequal  distribution of wealth ; at the unwieldy miseries and  irremediable distresses of our millions. Private charity -  is exhausted ; public relief breaks down ; and pauperism  and hunger gain head against all we do. We were told  the other day, that every week one person at least dies  of actual starvation in London. Whether that be so or  not, I cannot tell ; it is a statement put forward by those  who ought to know. With all our wealth and skill and  pride of government, the political powers of the world  are incapable of redressing evils such as these, which are  the degradations of barbarism, not the maladies of  Christian society. There is only one power that can  redress these social evils, that is, the supernatural power of charity. There is nothing for us but the revolution  of charity — the action of God: — the return of God and His kingdom into this land, that can preserve us from  the scourge which threatens us now.  And who can accomplish this revolution of charity ? …What power  can do so ? Only that one so long despised. Charity  is no abstraction. It has its presence and its form on earth. It was first organised in the Catholic Church on  the day of Pentecost, and has wrought throughout the  world from that day to this. It has borne its fruits-  in a thousand Saints like Vincent of Paul, and contains  in itself the ever-fresh and inexhaustible vigour of its-  youth in every land and age. ..But just as France was organised by the charity and zeal of Vincent and his companions, who spread all over France a network, as it were, of charities, so the one  only power which can ever reunite the classes of England  in bonds of mutual submission and benevolence, is the  universal action of the same supernatural charity which springs from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and is applied  by the equal operation and the divine unity of the Church of God. (Ecclesiastical Sermons, Vol. I., p. 89, my emphasis)

Manning at the ceremony in Kensington prior to the departure to France.
Twelve year later, in 1873, Manning was to lead a memorable pilgrimage to the shrine at Paray-le Monial.  And subsequently ( in 1876) , as a response to the critical reception to the pilgrimage, he was to publish a book – The Glories of the Sacred Heart - which set out to tackle the objections of those (especially from the Anglican Church) who expressed antipathy towards the devotion.

It is very apparent when we read his thoughts on  the social questions of his day that Manning believed that the Sacred Heart was the very source of the love which he saw as the only way in which a true ‘revolution’ that could redress ‘social evil’ could come about.  The social teaching of the Catholic Church as it was to develop from Rerum Novarum onwards springs – from his perspective - from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  His  commitment to social improvement and social justice and his passionate love of the Sacred Heart were one and the same burning flame that illuminated and informed his life and work as a whole.  Indeed, it is only when human beings harness the love of God which radiates from the heart of the Saviour can we really revolutionise and turn the world upside down. For Manning, the Sacred Heart was a private devotion which powered our efforts to apply the Gospel to political, economic and social problems.  Hence, the much publicised pilgrimage to the Paray-le Monial in 1873  was both a profoundly personal journey, but also an essentially public demonstration of faith.  Manning was bringing the Sacred Heart into the centre of the public square, just as he was bringing Catholic teaching into political economy of his day.

Manning himself had made a study of political economy as a young man – prior to his decision to become a priest.  He certainly knew the literature, as well as several leading political economists.  He was a friend of John Ruskin and was  evidently influenced  by his essays on political economy - such as Unto this Last.   Manning believed that (in a sense) the heart or the religious/moral/ ethical dimensions had been removed from the subject.  Political economy had ( as Ruskin argued) wholly distorted the role of human selfishness and was narrowly focused on physical capital, money wealth,  profit and loss and largely neglected the understanding and appreciation of the social economy, and sacredness of human relationships and human dignity.  Thus pre-occupied, political economy was concerned with seeing to the lower level of human instincts rather than address the way in which 'the economy' involved a moral dimension.

For Manning  political economy had become heartless and inhuman by the way it had removed considerations of ethics and by its over-preoccupation with  self-interested human behaviour.  From being about the home: the health, morals and welfare of families, ‘economics’ had become driven purely by considerations of the operations of profit and loss.  For Manning consideration had to be given to the way in which capitalism gives rise to public misery and evils. For him, the alternative was not letting the free market just rip or abolishing capitalism: the alternative was a moral order which can be found in the Christian gospel. Thus the solution to the social evils of poverty, low wages, ill-health, inadequate housing and the rest, ultimately sprung from the Sacred Heart.

What Manning is saying is that  a real revolution in society involves a revolution in the minds and hearts of individuals.  A Christian revolution begins in the heart and then expresses itself in social action.  We have to love God with our whole heart first, and then we will love our neighbour as ourself.  Without receiving Christ in our heart, we cannot change the world. Devotion to the Sacred Heart was, therefore, a necessary pre-condtion for the theory and practice of the social, economic and political dimensions of Christian life. Hence, this great advocate of Catholic social teaching, was also a great advocate of devotion to the Sacred Heart.  St Vincent is his model for this relationship between the glowing flame of love represented in the Sacred Heart, and the practice of charity in the world. We cannot hope to assist in giving birth to a new society if Christ has not first been born in our hearts. We cannot set the world aflame if our hearts are cold.

A civilisation  of love could not be built in conditions in which a small proportion of society exercised power and domination over the vast majority.  It could not be built in a society that was unjust and failed to recognise the dignity and worth of all human beings.  A society informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ must necessarily involve acknowledging the rights of workers and the right to be treated with the same dignity as those with power and wealth would want to be treated.  The rights of the great  wealthy families and of Capital should not exceed and exclude those of the families of the  poor and Labour.  The weak should not be left at the mercy of the strong: government must strive to ensure, through law and legislation,  that human dignity and liberty is for the many not the few. Economics was about human dignity, an a sense of the common good not just wealth measured by money.

For Manning the gospel message of loving our neighbours as ourselves had to be preached in the very heart of  public life.  And thus his social teaching and his promotion of devotion to the Sacred Heart were essentially two dimensions of the same  mission to proclaim the gospel in an age which was becoming increasingly materialistic, utilitarian and indifferent and hostile to Christianity.  In this he has much in common with Leo XIII. Despite the significance of Rerum Novarum, Leo maintained that it was his decision to dedicate the whole world to the Sacred Heart  which was the most important act of his whole pontificate.  Annum Sacrum (1899) makes the linkage between social teaching and the Sacred Heart quite explicit.

10. Such an act of consecration, since it can establish or draw tighter the bonds which naturally connect public affairs with God, gives to States a hope of better things. In these latter times especially, a policy has been followed which has resulted in a sort of wall being raised between the Church and civil society. In the constitution and administration of States the authority of sacred and divine law is utterly disregarded, with a view to the exclusion of religion from having any constant part in public life. This policy almost tends to the removal of the Christian faith from our midst, and, if that were possible, of the banishment of God Himself from the earth. When men's minds are raised to such a height of insolent pride, what wonder is it that the greater part of the human race should have fallen into such disquiet of mind and be buffeted by waves so rough that no one is suffered to be free from anxiety and peril? When religion is once discarded it follows of necessity that the surest foundations of the public welfare must give way, whilst God, to inflict on His enemies the punishment they so richly deserve, has left them the prey of their own evil desires, so that they give themselves up to their passions and finally wear themselves out by excess of liberty.

By the time of Annum Sacrum Manning himself had died (in 1892).  But it seems to me that, as with case of the ideas which informed Rerum Novarum, the approach of Annum Sacrum was anticipated by Manning.   It is evident that Manning had made the link between social justice and the Sacred Heart back in the 1860s - as his observations on St. Vincent show.  He also was keen to put the Sacred Heart very much into the public square: hence his robust defence of the pilgrimage of 1873.  Leo's dedication of the whole world to the Sacred Heart in relation to the place of the Gospel in public life in many ways is anticipated by Manning.  He wanted to see the Sacred Heart as THE symbol of Christianity in a materialistic and secular world.   This idea is set out quite explicitly in Annum Sacrum in a way that Manning would have endorsed.  Leo argues

12. When the Church, in the days immediately succeeding her institution, was oppressed beneath the yoke of the Caesars, a young Emperor saw in the heavens a cross, which became at once the happy omen and cause of the glorious victory that soon followed. And now, to-day, behold another blessed and heavenly token is offered to our sight-the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a cross rising from it and shining forth with dazzling splendor amidst flames of love. In that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.

The Sacred Heart, therefore, as the symbol of Christianity in the modern age.  It is in this heart that 'all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.'  As the Church faces up to a difficult and challenging period in its long history, we should keep Leo's hopes at the forefront of our thoughts and prayers.

Friday, 1 March 2013

St David's Day

St Non's well. 
With the thoughts of Benedict's last tweet  still very much in my mind St. David's day  takes on a  new immediacy and relevance for the 21st century.  It seems to me that a saint is a human being who is - through the Grace of God- able to put Christ at the very centre of their whole life.  When Benedict asks us to put Christ at the centre of our lives he is asking us to learn from the saints who did exactly that.   And when that happens human beings can experience true joy.  This reminded me of St David's last words which urged  his followers to be joyful in their faith.  Related to this is a key symbol in the life of David, and in the devotion to the Heart of Christ: water.  Benedict in his letter to  Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. in 2006 , observes that ' 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)' .  In this, as in other respects, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is, as he argues, as 'old as Christianity itself'.   Legend has it that when David was born (circa 598-601 AD)  a stream of water came gushing out of the ground.  The resulting well - St Non's well - has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries- and when I was there last there was group of people from Brittany who blessed themselves with the water and left  flowers by the well and in St Non's Chapel.

St Non's Chapel
I have some  water drawn from the well last summer and I was able to bless myself with it today. Deo Gratias.  All over Wales there are holy wells which are associated with saints. It is not too difficult to understand why.  Given that a saint has Christ alive and flaming in their hearts, it is not so surprising that people associated someone who was full of the Holy Spirit with flowing water.  They were channels of  the love of God and the fullness of God's love literally bursts out of the earth as a symbol of the living water that flowed from the heart of Christ.  My ancestors who revered these wells did so because they saw all things in Christ. Water, a powerful symbol of the Holy Spirit, was therefore a central aspect of their Christian spirituality.  Sadly, with the Reformation, the people of Wales were to lose contact with this important aspect of their Catholic inheritance. We can only hope and pray that the joyful faith of David the 'waterman' will continue to flow into the life of the nation.