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.'