Friday, 26 April 2013

An icon by any other name

I gave a talk on the icon last night at my local parish  - talked way too much of course, so no change there!  But, many thanks to everyone who came and especially to the parish  priest who invited me to speak. ( He should have said 'briefly'!)

We have a word in Welsh which is both the verb to teach and to learn, ‘dysgu’. So to say ‘Rwy'n dysgu’ means both ‘I teach’ and ‘ I learn’.  I don’t know how many other languages share this peculiarity, but I have always thought it  is really quite profound.  Oftentimes it is only when we communicate ideas that, in a sense, we understand what we mean.  In explaining to others we explain to ourselves.  The first thing I learnt last was that, having begun this whole journey to rediscover the Sacred Heart, I now find myself very much back where I started, but this time just that little bit wiser.  Having said quite rude things about the traditional image  I realized that actually I had come to see it rather differently.  It is still not to my taste, but I suppose it is all a matter of ‘ what matters is what works’.  I think I am less hung up about the ‘Batoni’ type than I was at the start.  As Teilhard said, the Sacred Heart is ‘almost more than the mind can comprehend’, so no image can possibly capture what it means.   The greatest artist who ever lived could not possibly capture what the Heart of Jesus means.  All art is only a beginning, not an end.  Of course, I should have actually said that, but then again I should have said other things as well!  But as I was listening to some of the points the audience made it came to me that perhaps there is an icon which can serve as an important starting point for rediscovering the Sacred Heart: the Shroud of Turin.  It was interesting that Pope Francis on the eve of Easter  remarked that :

... we do not merely “look”, but rather we venerate by a prayerful gaze. I would go further: we are in fact looked upon upon ourselves. This face has eyes that are closed, it is the face of one who is dead, and yet mysteriously he is watching us, and in silence he speaks to us.
How is this possible? How is it that the faithful, like you, pause before this icon of a man scourged and crucified? It is because the Man of the Shroud invites us to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth. This image, impressed upon the cloth, speaks to our heart and moves us to climb the hill of Calvary, to look upon the wood of the Cross, and to immerse ourselves in the eloquent silence of love. Let us therefore allow ourselves to be reached by this look, which is directed not to our eyes but to our heart. In silence, let us listen to what he has to say to us from beyond death itself. By means of the Holy Shroud, the unique and supreme Word of God comes to us: Love made man, incarnate in our history; the merciful love of God who has taken upon himself all the evil of the world to free us from its power. This disfigured face resembles all those faces of men and women marred by a life which does not respect their dignity, by war and violence which afflict the weakest… And yet, at the same time, the face in the Shroud conveys a great peace; this tortured body expresses a sovereign majesty. It is as if it let a restrained but powerful energy within it shine through, as if to say: have faith, do not lose hope; the power of the love of God, the power of the Risen One overcomes all things. So, looking upon the Man of the Shroud, I make my own the prayer which Saint Francis of Assisi prayed before the Crucifix:
Most High, glorious God, enlighten the shadows of my heart, and grant me a right faith, a certain hope and perfect charity, sense and understanding, Lord, so that I may accomplish your holy and true command.

I think this is a very important statement.  The Pope invites us to contemplate the shroud as an icon. It is a window through which we can meditate on the pierced heart of Jesus -  and before which we can say the great prayer of Francis that  asks God to ‘enlighten the shadows of our heart’ so that we can ‘accomplish’ His and ‘true command’.

Of course, it would be wonderful if the shroud is indeed  Jesus’s very shroud.  But the Pope’s point is that whatever its authenticity  it can still serve as an icon.  An icon that we can use as a window to let in  Divine light to enlighten our hearts.  If you look at the shroud you can see that the victim was wounded in the side.  Perhaps it is the best image of the Sacred Heart?

So, perhaps I should have said that last night?

The other related point came to me for the first time when looking up at the giant slide of the icon was related to the prayer of St. Francis. ( I just can’t seem to stop him coming to my mind when reading this icon!)  We see a ‘cosmic' Christ seated in Glory and Majesty with all of the cosmos at his command – the Alpha and Omega. And yet it occurred to me that  there is one thing in the created order  represented in the icon that God cannot command - the human heart.   What came into my head was something Cardinal Manning said in his book  The Glories of the Sacred Heart, and I managed to find it eventually as I was beginning to think I  made it up.

God has an infinite power of command; but even the power of command in God Himself cannot make man love Him.  The infinite power of the word of God is such that when He said, ‘Let there be light’, there was light.  At His  word all creation sprang into existence; the command of God went forth, and it was done. But the command of God from the beginning has been saying, ‘ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart’; and we have not obeyed. (The Glories of the Sacred Heartpp63-4)

And when I said those words ( well some of them) last night it was as if I understood the icon for the first time!  We see Christ drawing all things to himself: all of creation by his command. AND yet He cannot command our hearts, we have to give him our heart, as He gave His. I did not quite get that until last night.

And so the prayer of St. Francis before the crucifix has a great resonance now every time a reflect on that Seraphim on the top left and gaze on the cross held by St Gabriel and St Michael:

Most High, glorious God, enlighten the shadows of my heart, and grant me a right faith, a certain hope and perfect charity, sense and understanding, Lord, so that I may accomplish your holy and true command.

Monday, 22 April 2013

RIP Mary Mckeone RSCJ

I learnt recently of the death of  Mary Mckeone, RSCJ.  I only met her once, but we did correspond and she took a real interest in the development of the icon. I met her when I gave a talk on Teilhard and the  Sacred Heart to the Alister Hardy Society when I first began to think seriously about the Sacred Heart.  I was feeling rather anxious about the talk, but it was truly providential that the first person I chatted to before the talk was Mary and she told me how must she was looking forward to it – being a member of the Society of the Sacred Heart!  Not for the first time in the process of writing and reading this icon I was struck by the providence of meeting her.  Given her great love of the Heart of Jesus I felt far more at ease with the talk. Thereafter we emailed and shared thoughts – she was a gifted poet and calligrapher. The last time we communicated was after I returned from a visit to Paris and I told her that much to my surprise, my journey to find out more about Henri Pinta (and his Sacred Heart that Teilhard admired so much) I discovered that the relics of the founder of her order, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat  were now resting in the church of St. Francis Xavier in Paris – in the Sacred Heart chapel  which contained the painting by Felix Ville which I think may have influenced Pinta.  How about that for a coincidence!?   She must have become ill shortly after as we did not have any more contact. But when I see Mary Magdalen  in the icon I often think of  Mary Mckeone and  the foundress of her great society.

But, fortunately we have her wonderful poetry (Read HERE)  and her beautiful calligraphy (HERE) .  In terms of the latter one strikes me as especially relevant to an  icon of the Sacred Heart: her illustration of the lines from St Macarius:

It seems to me that - as I think Sr. Mary understood-  the spirituality of the heart can be a place where the Catholic and Orthodox traditions can meet.  Reading St.Macarius's great book Fifty Spiritual Homilies' ( 15: 32-33) ( read Here )we find a profound reflection which gives all those who are devoted to the Heart of Christ  much insight.

"The heart contains an unfathomable depth. In it are reception-rooms, and bed chambers, doors, and porches, and many offices
and passages....Well, the heart is Christ's palace, and
it is full of all uncleanness, and of crowds of many wicked
spirits. It must be refounded and rebuilt, and its store-
chambers and bedrooms put in order ; for there Christ the
King, with the angels and holy spirits, comes to rest, and
to dwell, and to walk in it, and to set His kingdom."

Blessed John Paul, as Fr. Carl Moell SJ notes (in his preface to his commentary on the 'Litany of the Heart of Jesus')  that John Paul often referred to the use of the 'Jesus Prayer' or 'Prayer of the Heart' used in the Orthodox tradition ( HERE) in the context of the Sacred Heart: 'Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner'.    Fr. Moell suggests that perhaps we could use John Paul's favourite invocation : Cor Iesu, fons vitae et sanctitatis, miserere nobis. (Heart of Jesus, fountain of life and holiness, have mercy on me.’ ) 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Pope Francis and Luigi Guissani

There can be little doubt that Pope Francis’s approach to the spirituality of the heart owes much to the writings of Msgr Luigi (or Don) Giussani , the founder and intellectual driving force behind Communion and Liberation. HERE

Pope Francis made his debt to Don Giussani very clear in his presentation of the Spanish translation of The Religious Sense in November 1998.  Read Here and HERE He observes that  Giussani's writings have inspired and helped him reflect and pray: ‘they have taught me to be a better Christian’. The Religious Sense, he argues prompts us to face the problem of human beings ‘finding in themselves the mark God has made, so as to be able to meet with Him.’  He goes on to say :

'One of the difficulties of our supermarket culture …lies in giving voice to those questions of the heart.  This is the challenge.  Faced with the torpor of life, with this tranquillity offered at a low cost by the supermarket culture..the challenge consists in asking ourselves the real questions about human meaning, of our existence, and in answering those questions.'

The real questions for Francis relate to the ‘restlessness of the heart’.  For:

‘The drama of the world today is the result not only of the absence of God but also and above all the absence of humankind, of the loss of the human physiognomy, of human destiny and identity, and of a certain capacity to explain the fundamental needs that dwell in the human heart.’

Drawing upon Guissani, Francis argues that the exercise of human reason depends upon realising the importance of ways and forms of knowing that involve more than just reasoning of a scientific or mathematical kind.  Faith in God therefore requires us to be open to reason and the reality of human experience.  We need to use our heads and our hearts – ratio et fides. * Francis argues that:

‘This is not reason understood as  a pre-established measure of reality but reason open  to reality in all its factors and whose starting point is this ontological foundation that awakens a restless heart.  It is not possible to raise the question of God calmly, with a tranquil heart, because this would be to give answer without a question. Reason that reflects on experience is a reason that uses as a criterion for judgment the measuring of everything against the heart – but ‘heart’ in the Biblical sense, that is the totality of the innate demands that everyone has, the need for love, for happiness, for truth, and for justice.   The heart is the core of the internal transcendent, where the roots of truth, beauty, goodness, and the unity that gives harmony to all are planted.’

Thus, human reason is not bounded or limited by the kind of rationalism we might find in a laboratory.  The great problem with modern society is that it has been focused on a very narrow understanding of rationality.  Faith cannot be reduced to simply ‘mere reasoning’: it involves ‘the harmony of all the human faculties.’   The problems which human beings confront : why is there pain, death, evil?  Is my life worth living?  Where am I going?  What does life mean , etc., involve a ‘total response’.

‘Human beings cannot be content with reductive or partial answers that force them to censor or neglect some aspect of reality. In fact, however, we do neglect some aspect of reality, and when we do so we are only running away from ourselves.  We need a total response that comprehends and saves the entire horizon of the self and our existence. We possess within us a yearning for the infinite, an infinite sadness, a nostalgia – the nostos algos  (home sickness) of Odysseus- which is satisfied only by an equally infinite response. The human heart proves to be the sign of a Mystery , that is, of something or someone who is an infinite response.  Outside the Mystery, the needs for happiness, love and justice never meet a response that filly satisfies the human heart.  Life would be an absurd desire if this response did not exist. Not only does the human heart present itself as a sign, but so does all reality.  The sign is something concrete, it point in a direction, it indicates something that can be seen, that reveals a meaning, that can be experienced, but that refers to another reality that cannot be seen; otherwise, the sign would be meaningless.’

'On the other hand, to interrogate oneself in the face of these signs one needs an extremely human capacity, the first one we have as men and women: the capacity  to be amazed, as Guissani calls it, in the last analysis, a child’s heart.  The beginning of every philosophy is wonder, and only wonder leads to knowledge.  Notice that  moral and cultural degradation tends to cancel,  weaken, or kill this capacity for wonder. '

The same year ( 1998)  - when the then Jorge Mario Bergoglio  made his plea for a capacity to be amazed, Don Giussani expressed the kind of ideas we find echoed in the homilies and writings of  Pope Francis:   “In the Simplicity of my Heart I have gladly given You everything”

‘Only Christ takes my humanity so completely to heart. …It was a simplicity of heart that made me feel and recognize Christ as exceptional, with that certain promptness that marks the unassailable and indestructible evidence of factors and moments of reality, which, on entering the horizon of our person, pierce us to the heart. So the acknowledgment of who Christ is in our lives invades the whole of our awareness of living: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). “Domine Deus, in simplicitate cordis mei laetus obtuli universa” (“Lord God, in the simplicity of my heart I have gladly given You everything”), ….. That precious text of the Ambrosian Liturgy concludes with these words: “Domine Deus, custodi hanc voluntatem cordis eorum” (“Lord God, keep safe this attitude of their heart”).
Infidelity always arises in our hearts even before the most beautiful and true things; the infidelity in which, before God’s humanity and man’s original simplicity, man can fall short, out of weakness and worldly preconception, like Judas and Peter. Even this personal experience of infidelity that always happens, revealing the imperfection of every human action, makes the memory of Christ more urgent. …. existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ.'  READ Full text, HERE

There is no better summary of what the Sacred Heart expresses : Christ begs for our heart, and we beg for His merciful, gentle and humble Heart.  He asks us to open our hearts like a child and see the wonder of God made man.

Later 2001, when introducing the Spanish translation of Giussani’s  The Attractive of Jesus - El atractivo de Jesucristo, Francis states that he agreed to present the book for two reasons:

‘The first and more personal one is the good that this man has done me, in my life as a priest, through the reading of his books and articles. The second reason is that I am convinced that his thought is profoundly human and reaches man’s innermost longings. I dare say that this is the most profound, and at the same time understandable, phenomenology of nostalgia as a transcendental fact. There is a phenomenology of nostalgia, nóstos algos, feeling called home, the experience of feeling attracted to what is most proper for us, most consonant with our being’

For Francis, as for Giussani, the heart of Christ is an ‘attraction’- calling us forward:

‘Jesus Christ, always primerea, goes ahead of us. When we arrive, He is already there waiting. He who encounters Jesus Christ feels the impulse to witness Him or to give witness of what he has encountered, and this is the Christian calling. To go and give witness. You can’t convince anybody. The encounter occurs. You can prove that God exists, but you will never be able, using the force of persuasion, to make anyone encounter God. This is pure grace. Pure grace. In history, from its very beginning until today, grace always primerea, grace always comes first, then comes all the rest.’
Read  text HERE. 

What we find, therefore, is that for Don Giussani, as for Pope Francis, what matters is our personal encounter with Christ: when heart speaks to heart.   The Heart of Jesus - our home - is always ahead of us! With God's grace and mercy we can find our way home.

*I have to confess that reading Francis on this , I immediately thought of Pascal’s famous observation in his Pensées (1669): ‘Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. On le sent en mille choses. C'est le cœur qui sent Dieu, et non la raison. Voilà ce que c'est que la foi parfaite, Dieu sensible au cœur.’ (The heart has its reasons, which Reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart which feels God, and not Reason. This, then, is perfect faith: God felt in the heart.)
And that is it really: 'C'est le cœur qui sent Dieu, et non la raison'. It is the heart which feels God, and not Reason!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Pope Francis and the human heart of the Church

The relationship of Pope Francis to the Heart of Christ continues to fascinate me – especially with regard to the importance of the Sacred Heart to the Jesuit order.  A recent piece by ALEJANDRO BERMUDEZ, in the  National Catholic Register (HERE)  took up the theme. Bermundez comments that:

"for Pope Francis, the heart of the Church is, well, the heart. That is, the human heart and its transformative relationship with God’s heart. The heart in Jesuit spirituality is a crucial concept. The Jesuits were the first to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus around the world. Initially, they were accused of heresy for promoting the concept that the human heart of Jesus was a permanent living source of mercy, as revealed by God to St. Marguerite Marie Alacoque in the 17th century. Unlike the modern reduction of the heart to the experience of feelings, which are to be followed at the expense of our brains, in the Jesuit tradition, the heart is the core of the human person, the place of the soul, where the encounter between God and man takes place. The heart is, in fact, not only the most inner sanctum of the human person, but also the root of the human will. According to the Jesuit understanding, the heart is the source of human action and endurance. Therefore, both personal conversion and solidarity begin with the human heart.

This is the concept of heart that has formed Pope Francis. In 10 years of written homilies, speeches and pastoral letters, the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires has mentioned the heart from this perspective an average of four times per occasion. In some documents, like one of his Lenten pastoral letters, the human heart is mentioned as much as 26 times…. In another homily, teachers from Catholic schools in the Buenos Aires Archdiocese, he said: “To those who lead these institutes, I ask for your courage, the courage to assume the responsibility of forming Christian hearts, hearts that know they have encountered Jesus Christ.” The centrality of the human heart modeled according to the heart of Jesus has not only been an issue frequently mentioned by Pope Francis in these first weeks of his papacy. It has also been at the heart (pun intended) of his message. And it is a message he believes can be shared with other religious traditions; in fact, also in 2004, Cardinal Bergoglio was invited by the Buenos Aires Jewish community — one of the world's largest — to deliver the comment after the reading of the Scripture during the feast of Rosh Hashanah. Commented Cardinal Bergoglio: “‘And these words, which I instruct to you this day, shall be in your heart. And you shall explain them to your sons. And you shall meditate upon them sitting in your house and walking on a journey, when lying down and when rising up’ (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). This is our memory. We cannot lose it. The fascination with idols leads us to a weakening of the memory of us all, each and every day of our lives.”….most importantly, he believes that if there are no changed hearts, there will be no eyes with which to praise God at the sight of elegant liturgical vestments; no families to enjoy the true definition of marriage; no person to receive with love a newborn baby.   Or, in his own words, which we are challenged to take personally: “This is the Lord’s commandment: Surrender our hearts.   Open them and believe in the Gospel of truth; not in the Gospel we’ve concocted, not in a light Gospel, not in a distilled Gospel, but in the Gospel of truth.”

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Pope Francis : a Pope for the heart of Christ.

In the history of the Sacred Heart two traditions have been extremely important: the Franciscan and the Ignatian.   So, a Jesuit Pope called Francis,  I would think, will be someone who one might well expect
to be very focused on the spirituality of the heart.  And from his various statements thus far it appears that Pope Francis will indeed prove be a Pope who will ask us to think about our spiritual lives in terms of the heart.

As we have noted elsewhere in this blog, Franciscans  were amongst the first to focus on the heart of the Saviour.  In particular we have noted that St. Bonaventure – known as the Seraphic Doctor of the Church- was especially important in the development of the devotion.  Hence the seraph in the top left of the icon provides a window ( an icon) through which to reflect on the Franciscan tradition.   However, the icon is also informed by the Ignatian tradition which was so central to Teilhard.  Hence it was fitting that the icon was actually delivered by Ian on the feast day of St Ignatius – 31st July - which was, to say the least a remarkable coincidence!

On the matter of Ignatian spirituality and the central role of the Heart of  Christ I cannot do any better than to quote from the words of  Fr. David Fleming S.J.  The whole point he argues of the ‘Spiritual exercises’ of St. Ignatius was to promote a  ‘response of the heart’. As Fr. Fleming argues in his excellent  book What is Ignatian Spiritality?’ :

“Heart” does not mean the emotions (though it includes our emotions). It refers to our inner orientation, the core of our being. This kind of “heart” is what Jesus was referring to when he told us to store up treasures in heaven instead of on earth, “for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Matthew 6:21) This is the “heart” Jesus was worried about when he said “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.” (Matthew 15:19) Jesus observed that our heart can get untethered from our actions: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) Heart in this sense—the totality of our response—is the concern of the Spiritual Exercises. This heart response is a cornerstone of the Spiritual Exercises. Creation is a flow of God’s gifts, with a human response being the link that allows the flow to return to God. The human response is a free choice to allow God’s creation to speak. Creation helps us to know and love God and to want to live with God forever. Early in the Exercises, Ignatius asks the retreatant to pray before Jesus Christ on the cross. He identifies Christ as creator, the God of the Principle and Foundation. “Talk to him about how he creates because he loves,” Ignatius seems to say. This is no abstract God of reason, but a loving God seen in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the Pauline Christ of Colossians and Ephesians. It is the Christ of the Prologue to John’s Gospel: the Word “in whom all things were created.”  This is the Son of God, the Alpha and Omega of John’s Apocalypse. Our spiritual journey is an attempt to answer the question, “What is life all about?” Here is Ignatius’s answer: a vision of God for our hearts, not our minds. It is a depiction of the Creator as a superabundant giver. He gives gifts that call forth a response on our part, a free choice to return ourselves to him in grateful thanks and love. It is a vision that only a heart can respond to". Read more  Here

As Fr. Fleming notes, St. Ignatius does not include any novenas, offices or devotions in his spiritual exercises.  The only exception in the Ignatian tradition is the central place of the Sacred Heart as it was promoted in the 17th century by St. Claude de la Colombiere. The core theme of Ignatian spirituality Fr. Fleming observes is, therefore,  that  ‘Jesus is all heart’.

As a Jesuit Pope Francis will naturally be  totally imbued with this tradition.  So, it is not so surprising that the theme of  the heart has been at the very heart of his words thus far!  In no particular order, for example, in his comment on what he called the ‘icon’ of the Turin Shroud, Pope Francis calls us to ‘…allow ourselves to be reached by this look, which is directed not to our eyes but to our heart.’

In his Regina Caeli address, he observes that:

everything passes through the human heart: if I allow myself to be reached by the grace of the risen Christ, if I let that grace change for the better whatever is not good in me, [to change whatever] might do harm to me and to others, then I allow the victory of Christ to affirm itself in in my life, to broaden its beneficial action. This is the power of grace! Without grace we can do nothing – without grace we can do nothing! And with the grace of Baptism and Holy Communion can become an instrument of God’s mercy – that beautiful mercy of God.

In his Urbi et Orbi message:

Most of all, I would like it to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious!

In his homily at the Chrism Mass:

Dear lay faithful, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God's heart.

And in his address to religious leaders he asks them to pray for him with the words:

And I ask you for a special prayer for me so that I can be a pastor according to the heart of Christ.

Pope Francis, it is clear, will be a Pope ‘according to the heart of Christ'.