Monday, 22 December 2014

When Jesus knocks on the door of our heart

As a Jesuit, of course, the heart is a central idea or theme in Pope Francis's teaching.  He is clearing drawing on the Ignatian spirituality of the heart, but he does in in a way which ensures that his message can be understood.  His theology is not at all academic, and is expressed in terms that we can  all understand.   This Advent he has made several observations about preparing our hearts for the birth of Christ. As we noted in the last blog, he called for us to give the Lord a repentant heart. in on Sunday the Pope gives another striking metaphor: a heart that is open and attentive to those times when Jesus knocks on the door of our heart.  Here is the report from Vatican Radio:

Pope Francis on Sunday invited the faithful to listen carefully when God knocks at their door. “Too often – he said – Jesus passes by in our lives, he sends an angel and we are so caught up in our thoughts and concerns we do not even notice”.

Speaking to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus Prayer, the Pope reflected on the liturgy of the last Sunday of Advent that tells of the  Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary and on how she simply, and humbly – with an attitude of total faith in the Lord – said “yes”. She said “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1, 38). Mary – Pope Francis said - did not know what had been laid out for her in the future, she did not know what pains and what risks she would be called to face. But she was aware that the Lord had asked something of her and she trusted in him completely. This – he said – is the faith of Mary!
Another aspect to take note of – Francis continued – is this capacity of Mary to “recognize the time of God”. Thanks to her the Incarnation of the Son of God was possible.  Mary teaches us – the Pope said – to be aware of the favorable moment in which Jesus passes in our lives asking for a ready and generous answer.

And Jesus – he said – does pass in our lives. At Christmas he knocks at the heart of every Christian and each of us is called to respond, like Mary, with a sincere and personal “yes”, putting ourselves at the disposal of God and of his mercy. How often – the Pope pointed out – we so caught up in our own thoughts and concerns, perhaps in these very days in our preparations for Christmas, that we do not even notice that he is knocking at the doors of our hearts, asking for a welcome, asking for a “yes”.
And recalling the words of a Saint who used to say “I am afraid that the Lord will pass me by” the Pope explained that he was really afraid that he would not notice the Lord’s presence and would not be ready to respond. This attitude – Francis said – and this fear that we feel in our hearts “is really the Lord knocking” and it makes us want to be better, to be close to others and to God. 
“If this is what you feel, stop” - the Pope said – “the Lord is there! Pray, go to confession, do some cleaning up… this is good. But remember: if you feel this wish to be better, it is He who is knocking. Don’t let him pass you by!”
And Pope Francis concluded his reflection recalling the silent, prayerful figure of Joseph, as he is portrayed in every nativity scene. The example of Mary and Joseph – he said – is an invitation to all of us to welcome Jesus openly; he comes to bring the gift of peace: “peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests” ((Luke 2, 14).
Just as the angels said to the shepherds – Pope Francis said – the precious gift of Christmas is peace, and Christ is our true peace: “Christ is knocking at the doors of our hearts go give us His peace. Let us open those doors to Christ!
Read Here.

Holman-Hunt's painting at Keeble - alongside one of Ian's icons
So Christmas is a time when Jesus is knocking on our hearts and asking to be let let in.  The devotion to the Sacred Heart, it seems to me, is all about that idea: Jesus has opened the doors to his heart to us.  He waits with infinite patience and kindness for the time when we are ready to open our heart to him.  We do not have to rush around tidying the place up: cleaning the floors and clearing away the mess.  Mary did not say to the Angel: 'sorry, you can't come in, I am not ready.  It is not the best time to talk about this at the moment!'   Angels always seem to call on the wrong day, and at the wrong time.  If only, like Mary, we could live our lives so that we are always ready to open the door!

The Pope's words are a timely reminder of how powerful the idea of Christ knocking on the door of our hearts has been over the centuries. The Pope's words on Sunday brought to my  mind the famous painting by William Holman-Hunt of Christ knocking on the door.  It is a great painting and is worth looking at in detail.  In its day, of course, the painting ( or rather paintings) was one of the most famous and celebrated religious images - and you still find it everywhere.  And quite rightly so.  ( The original is in  Keble College, Oxford. )  In it the artist uses the text from Revelation: “Here I stand knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20 -  to depict Christ- the light of the world - knocking on our heart.  Just one little point: when asked if he had made a mistake in not putting a doorknob on the outside, Holman-Hunt replied that as the door represents the human heart, there was only a doorknob on the inside.  Jesus cannot open the door from the outside, all he can do is knock.  It is a wonderful painting and a fitting image to use to reflect on the Pope's words.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

What shall we bring him?

The heart is never too far away from Pope Francis's thoughts and as we journey to  Bethlehem this Advent we should pay heed to his words at Santa Marta yesterday.  The past few weeks, for me, as many others has been dominated by what to give people for Christmas.  And of course, the most important gift is what to give to the infant Jesus.  In the carol, 'In the bleak mid-winter',  the shepherd boy brings his heart, but this year Pope Francis suggests that we should bring a repentant heart.   God does not want a unrepentant heart, like the hearts of the chief priests and elders in Matthew (21) which was the Gospel reading on the 16th December.  As the report by Linda Bordoni notes, Francis stressed that:

Humility saves man in God’s eyes, while pride is a loser. The key lies in the heart. The heart of a humble person is open, it knows repentance, it accepts correction and trusts in God. The heart of the proud person is the exact opposite: it is arrogant, closed, knows no shame, it is impervious to God's voice. The reading from the Book of the prophet Zephaniah and from the Gospel of the day guide Pope Francis in a parallel reflection. Both texts, he notes, speak of a "judgment" upon which salvation and condemnation depend. The situation described by the prophet Zephaniah is that of a rebellious city in which, however, there is a group of people who repent of their sins: this group, the Pope said, is the "people of God" possesses the "three characteristics" of "humility, poverty, and trust in the Lord." But in the city there are also those, Francis says, who "do not accept correction, they do not trust in the Lord." 

"If your heart is not a repentant heart, if you do not listen to the Lord, if you don’t accept correction and you do not trust in Him, your heart is unrepentant. These hypocrites who were scandalized by what Jesus said about the tax collectors and the prostitutes, but then secretly approached them to vent their passion or to do business - but all in secrecy - were pure! The Lord does not want them. "

No matter how 'religious' you are, no matter how much good you do, God wants a heart that is utterly open.  You may feel that you have a pure heart, but  God wants us to have a humble heart.  We have to have the courage to open our heart: give the Lord a list of your sins, says Francis.  We have to be able to say :

 'Lord, these are my sins – they are not his or hers, they are mine… They are mine. Take them and I will be saved'

The three Kings brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And we, what must we bring to the stable?  Francis suggests a humble repentant heart which has three characteristics :  it is  humble, poor in spirit, and trusts in the Lord.  So as we go through our Christmas list, we should be sure that, come the 25th December, we have another list to give the Lord, saying : ' Here  Lord, these are my sins. They are mine, all mine. Take them and I will be saved.'

Read the report here.

From the Cosmic Christ to the Christ in a crib.

As my local parish priest recently reminded us, Advent is a game of two halves  In the first two weeks the focus is very much on the second coming of Christ.  One could say that the icon is very much an image which draws our attention to Christ in Glory returning to bring all things together in his love.  Here we see the Lord of Hosts: Jesus coming with power, subduing all things to him.  We see John the Baptist preparing a way for the Lord ( Isaiah, 40; Mark 1.).  We see the day of the Lord in which all creation is coming to an end and a new creation emerging( Peter, 2, 3). But in the second half of Advent we begin to shift from the cosmic level towards what will happen in a humble crib.  Advent comes to an end as we focus our gaze on the Blessed Virgin and (above her in the icon) the Angel Gabriel.  She implores us to gaze upon the Son of the Most High,  the very Word of God who was made flesh in her womb.  Christ, King of the Universe, became a small vulnerable baby.  This is the great mystery of Christmas: that the Almighty God has a heart, formed in the Virgin Mary,  which was wounded for us. It should make us 'tremble, tremble, tremble', and ask for mercy and His grace'!

We can, in this spirit, pray with Pope Francis who recently invited us to pray in this fashion:

“..ask the Lord for the grace that our hearts might be simple, luminous with the truth that He gives us, and thus we might be able to be lovable, forgiving, understanding of others, [to have] a large heart with the people, to be merciful. Never to condemn, never to condemn.

Let us ask the Lord for the grace that He might give us this interior light, that convinces us that the rock is Him alone, and not so many stories we make as if they were important things; and that He might tell us – that He might tell us! – the path, that He might accompany us on the path, that He might enlarge our hearts, so that they can enter into the problems of so many people, and that He might give us the grace that these people did not have: the grace to feel that we are sinners.”

Read here.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Advent and the humble heart.

Two things Pope Francis has said recently gives us food for thought.  The first was his comment about Raphael's famous fresco of the School of Athens.  In his impressive speech to the European Parliament  he made the observation that:

One of the most celebrated frescoes of Raphael is found in the Vatican and depicts the so-called “School of Athens”.  Plato and Aristotle are in the centre.  Plato’s finger is pointed upward, to the world of ideas, to the sky, to heaven as we might say.  Aristotle holds his hand out before him, towards the viewer, towards the world, concrete reality. 

He suggested to the Parliament that they might reflect upon this fresco in order to rejuvenate the European project ( Read Here ) .

It struck me that  whilst the philosophers - the lovers of wisdom - suggested we look to the heavens or the world for the truth and the way, Jesus points elsewhere.  He points to his heart!   As the Litany of the Sacred Heart expresses it:

Cor Iesu, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae.

Yes, it is in the heart of Jesus, that is the Love of God, that we will find all the great treasures of  wisdom and knowledge.

Jesus tells us to learn from his humble and gentle heart.  That is our great school, his heart, not Athenian cleverness !

The other  related comment by the Pope was about the importance of humility.   Now humility was not exactly seen as a virtue by Plato and Aristotle. Quite the opposite - for Aristotle 'greatness of soul' (megalopsychia) was considered to be the ultimate virtue.  But Jesus placed humility at the very core of his teaching.  We have to learn from his humble heart.

During his homily ( on the 2nd December ) the Pope spoke about the Gospel of St Luke

"He makes us know the Father, introduces us to this inner life that He has. And to whom does the Father reveal this? To whom does he give this grace? 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little ones'. Only those whose hearts are like the young are capable of receiving this revelation, the humble of heart, the meek, who feel the need to pray, to open up to God, who feel poor; only he who goes forward with the first Beatitude: the poor in spirit. "

Therefore, poverty is a privileged gift that opens the door to the mystery of God. A gift that sometimes, noted Pope Francis, that may be lacking in those dedicated to a life of study.

"Many may know the science, theology well, so many! But if they do not practice this theology on their knees, humbly, like children, they will not understand anything. It will tell them many things, but they will not understand anything. Only with this poverty is one capable of receiving the revelation that the Father gives through Jesus, through Jesus. Jesus is, not like a captain, an army general, a powerful ruler, no, no. He is like a bud. Just like we heard in the First Reading: 'On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse'. He is a bud that is humble, mild, and came to the humble, and to the meek, to bring salvation to the sick, the poor, the oppressed.”

Read here.

If we wish to have knowledge of God - Theology- we must have a humble heart.  Why?  Because what we learn about God from the Word of God made flesh is that God is all powerful, but also humble. This is such a profound mystery that it is utterly bewildering.  Paradoxically, God, the Creator of all things, has a humble Heart.  And God - as a Trinity - is love.  Therefore God is humble. Indeed, humility is the  essence of God - the heart of God. The devotion to the heart of the Lamb of God is, in truth, all about a journey to humility.

Advent, it seems to me, is about a journey towards humility.  It is about a journey to the Word of God incarnate in a baby in a stable.  Adam and Mary Magdalene in the icon remind us that we have to practice our theology on our knees.  We can only move slowly towards Bethlehem by learning from the heart of the Saviour born of Mary. Without a humble and contrite heart we can never really know the truth, the way and the life.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Feast of Christ the King - of the Universe

The icon may be read an an icon of Christ as King of the Universe. ( As Christ Pantocrator . ) We have blogged about this before, Here, and Here.

It is a very important feast  - just wish we could make more of it!  Pope Francis had this to say  today.

“Today’s liturgy, invites us to fix our gaze on Christ, the King of the Universe. ...
Our Lord brought about His Kingdom through His closeness and tenderness, as the Shepherd of His flock. Pastors in the Church, the Pope said, cannot stray from Christ’s example if they do not want to become “hirelings.” “The People of God have an unerring sense for recognizing good shepherds and distinguishing them from hirelings.”After His Resurrection, Pope Francis continued, the Kingdom of Jesus advances as “the Father, little by little, subjects all things to Jesus." In the end, when all things are under the sovereignty of Christ, Christ will consign His Kingdom to the Father so that “God will be all in all.”Finally, Jesus’ Kingdom requires us to imitate Jesus’ works of mercy through which He brought about His Kingdom. The great Gospel parable of the Final Judgement “reminds us that closeness and tenderness are the rule of life for us also, and on this basis we will be judged.” Through His victory over sin and death, “Jesus has opened to us his kingdom,” the Pope said. “But it is for us to enter into it, beginning with our life now, by being close in concrete ways to our brothers and sisters who ask for bread, clothing, acceptance, solidarity. If we truly love them, we will be willing to share with them what is most precious to us, Jesus Himself and His Gospel.”

The reading today from Paul's letter to the Corinthians (1 15,  20-28) was a special favourite of Teilhard.

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

It is a reading which readily comes to mind when I look at the icon.  There is Christ in all his glory and power - the Second Adam. There is the first Adam on the left hand corner. Christ is shown with the created order ( the square) - all things  under his feet.  The love of God is drawing everything towards the centre of the heart of Christ - King of the universe.

Teilhard was himself delighted with by the inauguration of the feast in 1925 by Pius XI ( read Here )  But he just felt that it did not go far enough.  As we read in St Paul today, Christ is King of all creation ( all things' )  - and not just planet earth.  Significantly, Paul VI  later in the late 1960s did indeed enlarge the idea of 'Kingship' to include all the universe and it is this title Pope Francis used today.  Paul VI, was known to be sympathetic to Henri de Lubac, Teilhard's great defender and advocate. Perhaps his 1969 motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis, in which Paul VI gave the celebration a new title: "D. N. Iesu Christi universorum Regis" (Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe) reflects his sympathy for Teilhard's sense of what the feast was about?

For Teilhard the Sacred Heart was the great point of entry into the great mystery of God's love and the purpose of the cosmos itself.  He therefore saw the Sacred Heart as central to the future of Christianity. Christ ultimately will unite all things in himself. This is our faith. Christ as the centre of the cosmos who calls us to a life of love by placing Him at the centre of our lives.  As we approach advent, we pray for mercy and  forgiveness for all the times we have been ruled  by the powers of this world.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Feast of St Gertrude the Great

17th C painting in Cistercian Monastery in Tarragona,
  “You will find me in the heart of Gertrude.”
Today is truly a day upon which to renew and refresh our devotion to the heart of Jesus, for we celebrate the life of St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) .  Gertrude was a remarkable woman - and rightly deserves the title of great.  She appeals to me for a few reasons - the first is that she was someone whose love for the heart of Jesus demonstrates how deep seated is the devotion in the history of the Catholic Church. Hence, in images of her she is generally shown holding the heart of Jesus close to her own heart. She understood how important the Sacred Heart is to the Church - and we so urgently need to rediscover it today. So we ask for her prayers that the heart of Jesus may once again become central to the spiritual life of Christians.

She wrote many prayers to the Sacred Heart- including this one:

O most loving Jesus by the pierced Heart, I pray thee wound my heart with that arrow of love; so that nothing of earth may abide in it more but that it may be filled with thy  glowing love alone forever. 

If anyone wants to get closer to the mystery of the heart of Jesus, there is no better guide than her writings and prayers. 

The other reason she appeals to me is that she was a considerable scholar: as Benedict XVI observes, she was an 'extraordinary student', full of passion for her studies in secular knowledge.  Read here.  It is always exciting to be with someone who has a passion for their subject, whether it is trilobites or medieval poetry.  Reading about her, you feel she would have over flowed with her interest in literature, painting music, and Latin and all her other passions.  And yet, in her 'twenties she realised that knowledge of this kind was not enough: she had pursued knowledge of the world and had neglected to search for wisdom. And where did she find that wisdom ?  Gertrude found true wisdom in an intense relationship with the heart of Jesus - the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge.  She was given the grace of profound mystical experiences of the Sacred Heart.  The extraordinary scholar thus found the source of all the wisdom and knowledge she desired flowing from the loving heart of  Jesus. We live in an age in which information and knowledge overflows our lives: indeed sometimes I think we seem to be drowning in information and knowledge! We think that we can solve all the world's problems by getting smarter and smarter.  And this is the great delusion - as St Gertrude  came to understand.  We need the wisdom of God.  Today, we pray that we, like this great saint, may be filled with the glowing love of God.  We need the Sacred Heart.

St Gertrude, pray for us. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

An icon of the Sacred Heart for our times?

Walking around a street market in Cardiff yesterday I came across a rather disconcerting scene : one that summed up the modern neglect of the Sacred Heart.  In a stall selling assorted bits and pieces I saw a battered old statue of the Sacred Heart (whose hands were missing ) amidst other goods for sale.  I could only reflect on how, once upon a time, it had been reverenced and used as a focus for prayer.  And now, here it was on the floor with  an old advertisement for champagne, some swords, a typewriter and other odds and sods.  Perhaps, I thought, a photograph of this sad sight would be a more fitting icon of the Sacred Heart.  This is how the world sees the Heart of Jesus.  Perhaps, this is how many Catholics see the Sacred Heart?  I could only pray, 'Forgive us Lord, have mercy on us - we do not know what we are doing.' This is how we reject God's love today - we just treat it as little more than junk.  The Sacred Heart is now just an irrelevant, broken, worn-out  bit of the past.

Next to the statue is a picture of a women inviting us to drink champagne, as opposed to the living water which flows from the heart of the Saviour ! And when reflecting on this photograph later in the day some words of Saint John Paul came to mind.  He described the Sacred Heart as ‘the most perfect revelation of the paternal love of God.’ In his address on the Sacred Heart in 1999 he focused on the pierced heart of Jesus as ' the fount of life and holiness'.

Everything that God wanted to tell us about himself and about his love he placed in the Heart of Jesus, and by means of that Heart he has told us everything. We find ourselves before an inscrutable mystery. In Jesus’ Heart we read the eternal divine plan of the world’s salvation. It is a plan of love.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is the source of life, since by means of it victory over death was achieved. It is also the source of holiness, since in it sin — the enemy of man’s spiritual development — is defeated. The Heart of the Lord Jesus is the starting-point of the holiness of each one of us. From the Heart of the Lord Jesus let us learn the love of God and understanding of the mystery of sin — mysterium iniquitatis.

Let us make acts of reparation to the Divine Heart for the sins committed by us and by our fellow men. Let us make reparation for rejecting God’s goodness and love.

Let us draw close each day to this fount from which flow springs of living water. Let us cry out with the Samaritan woman “Give us this water”, for it wells up to eternal life.

Heart of Jesus, burning flame of love, 
Heart of Jesus, fount of life and holiness, 
Heart of Jesus, expiation for our sins 
— have mercy on us. Amen.

Read the full text,  HERE. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Feast of St Frances Xavier Cabrini

Today we remember a Saint for whom the Sacred Heart was at the centre of her life: Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, M.S.C.  She was the first naturalised American ( she was born in Italy) to be made a saint (in 1945). Read about her here.  And about the order she established - Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus  here.

Today I just want to reflect upon some of her words:

“If you invoke the Holy Spirit with a humble and trusting heart, filled with good desires, He will come and penetrate into the very centre of your heart. He will purify it, change it, enlighten it,  inflame it, and consume it with the flames of His holy and divine love.”

When I look at the icon these inspiring words often come to mind.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Cor Iesu, templum Dei sanctum: Feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica.

Today's feast brought me back to reflect upon the how the icon may be read as an aid to contemplate the Sacred Heart as the 'temple of God' - Cor Iesu, templum Dei sanctum . The first reading at mass was from Ezekiel (47: 1-2, 8-9, 12). Here we read about the healing life-giving waters that flow from the side of God's Holy temple.  In the Gospel of John we read about how Jesus made a whip out of some cord and scattered the money changers and the rest. Here Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that He is the temple of God.( John 2:13-22)  Later in the same gospel John places great emphasis on the fact that water and blood flowed from Jesus's side as he hung on the cross.  For the early Fathers of the church, these passages were of great significance and indicate that the idea of the Sacred Heart is to be found in the earliest recorded Christians writings.

The icon has prompted me to reflect anew on the heart of Jesus  -as the Litany of the Sacred Heart  says -  the Holy Temple of God.   We see echoes of Ezekiel in the icon with the life-giving waters from the side of the Holy Temple: as as in Ezekiel, we see fish and fruit. Jesus is the Temple of God from which all life flows.  He calls upon humanity to drink from these living waters.  But there is more - as we find in the reading from Paul ( 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11, 16-17). We are temples : we are God's building.  As the tradition of the Sacred Heart has for so long taught:  Jesus desires to live and burn in our hearts.   

Today's feast is, therefore, in so many ways, a feast of the Sacred Heart: the Holy temple of God.

Saint John Paul - the great Pope of the Sacred Heart- had this to say in his Angelus meditations on the Litany of the Sacred Heart in June 1985. *

'[The] Heart of a man is similar to so very many human hearts and, at the same time, [to the] heart of God the Son.  If therefore it is true that every man 'dwells in some sense in his heart, then the heart of the Man of Nazareth, of Jesus Christ, God dwells.  It is the 'temple of God', being the heart of this man....The heart of the Man Jesus Christ is therefore, in the trinitarian sense, the temple of God': it is the interior temple of the Son who is united with the Father in the Holy Spirit by means of the unity of the divinity.  How inscrutable is this mystery of this heart which is the 'the temple of God' and the 'tabernacle of the Most High.' At the same time it is the true 'dwelling place of God with men (Rev 21:3)  because the heart of Jesus in its interior temple embraces all men.  All dwell there, embraced by eternal love.  To all - in the heart of Jesus - can be applied the words of the Prophet: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you' (Jer 31:3) '

John Paul prayed that our hearts may become like that of Christ: ' a holy temple of God' .  'Yes', he proclaimed,' We are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in us, according to the words of St Paul (1 Cor: 3: 16).

' Through the immaculate heart of Mary, let us remain in the covenant with the heart of Jesus who is the 'temple of God, the most splendid, 'tabernacle of the most high' and the most perfect.' 

As we pray with an image of the Sacred Heart, we ask for our heart to become like the heart of Jesus: a temple of God.

Heart of Jesus, Holy Temple of God, have mercy on us. 

* These are published as "Litany of the Heart of Jesus', by Pope  John Paul II. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Feast of St Margaret Mary and St Richard Gwyn

Last night I watched an interesting documentary on the spear that lanced the side of Jesus and which focused in particular on the mythology surrounding the 'spear of destiny' - and its association with Hitler.   ( Christ's Holy Spear Treasures Decoded, Channel 4) All very interesting, if dubious stuff, but it did serve to illustrate how important the piercing of the heart of the Saviour was in the early history of Christianity.  In the Orthodox  divine liturgy, for example, it is made very explicit when the priest uses a small spear to divide the bread - or πρόσφορον , prosphoron.  And, of course, we have the tradition of St Longinus - the soldier who, it was believed,  lanced Jesus and proclaimed that Jesus was 'in truth the Son of God.'

St Margaret Mary, by Suzanne Kent

For centuries relics of the supposed spear were seen  as very powerful symbols - and men of power wished to harness this power of the weapon that drew blood and water from the heart of Jesus to advance their own interests extend their power.

Icon of Richard Gwyn  - in Wrexham. 
At mass today when we remembered St Margaret Mary - who did so much to promote devotion to the heart of Jesus, but in Wales we also celebrated the life of St Richard Gwyn (1537 – 1584), whose feast day is also on the the same day. ( Read HERE )  At first I thought that they did not have much in common. Margaret Mary was a Nun, who lived out her life in a convent in France, and Richard Gwyn was a teacher, not a priest or a religious, married with 6 children whose fate it was to be brutally executed for the crime of being a Catholic.  But they are both in the presence of God because they both harnessed the power of the pierced heart of Christ in their very different lives.

St Margaret Mary and St Richard Gwyn pray for us.  Help us to place all our trust in the pierced One - who is truly the Son of God.  Help us to burn with the love of God. And when we fail to love Jesus with all our heart  help us to pray , with St Richard:  'Iesu, trugarha wrthyf' ("Jesus, have mercy on me").

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Angels and the icon

One of the great joys of the icon is that it has served to remind me about the importance of Angels.
Today, on the 2nd October, the Church asks us to  reflect upon our Guardian Angels, and earlier this week we celebrated the feast of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.  The presence of the angels in the icon is a constant reminder for us as to the role of the Angels in our lives.  Significantly, Pope Francis has really stressed their importance this week. On Monday at Santa Marta, marking the Feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael,  he said that : The angels battle Satan for the destiny of mankind and win.  They defend and custody  the greatest mystery of the Church, God-made-Man.  Even though in Satan often presents “humanistic explanations” for his attacks on mankind.

"So many projects, except for one's own sins, but many, many projects for mankind’s dehumanization are his work, simply because he hates mankind. He is astute: the first page of Genesis tells us so, he is astute.  He presents things as if they were a good thing.  But his intention is destruction. And the angels defend us. They defend mankind and they defend the God-Man, the
superior Man, Jesus Christ who is the perfection of humanity, the most perfect. This is why the Church honors the Angels, because they are the ones who will be in the glory of God – they are in the glory of God - because they defend the great hidden mystery of God, namely, that the Word was made flesh".

"The task of the people of God - the Pope said - is to safeguard man: the man Jesus” because "He is the man who gives life to all men". Instead, in his plans for destruction, Satan has invented "humanistic explanations that go against man, against humanity and against God":
"This struggle is a daily reality in Christian life, in our hearts, in our lives, in our families, in our people, in our churches ... If we do not struggle, we will be defeated. But the Lord has given this task mainly to the angels: to do battle and win. And the final song of Revelation , after this battle, is so beautiful: Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night”.

Pope Francis concluded urging those present to pray to the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and "recite the ancient but beautiful prayer to the archangel Michael, so he may continue to do battle and defend the greatest mystery of mankind: that the Word was made Man, died and rose again. This is our treasure. That he may battle on to safeguard it".

SEE here.

Today, on the feast of the Guardian Angels, also at Santa Marta, he said:

"Guardian angels exist, they are not [the fruit of] imaginative doctrine, but companions that God has placed beside us on our life’s journey .  Pope Francis said that the readings of the day present us with  two images: the angel and the baby. God placed an angel by our side to watch over us: "If anyone believes that they can walk on their own, they would be greatly mistaken”, they would fall “into that terrible trap of arrogance: Believing we are great", self-sufficient. Jesus taught the apostles to be like children. .."

“Those who are closest to the attitude of a child, are "closer to the contemplation of the Father". They listen to their guardian angel with an open and docile heart:

"According to the tradition of the Church, we all have an angel with us, who protects us, helps us hear things. How often have we heard: 'I should do this, I should not do this, that’s not right, be careful ...': so often! It is the voice of our travelling companion. Be sure that he will guide us to the end of our lives with advice, and so listen to his voice, don’t rebel against it…because rebellion, the desire to be independent, is something that we all have; this is arrogance, the same arrogance of our father Adam in paradise: the very same. Do not rebel: follow his advice”.

"No one journeys alone and no one should think that they are alone" - continued the Pope - because “this companion” is always there:
"And when we do not want to listen to his advice, to listen to his voice, it's like saying, ‘Go away!'. It is dangerous to chase away our travelling companion, because no man no woman can advise themselves. I can give advice to others, but not to myself. The Holy Spirit advises me, the angel advises me.  This is why we need him. This is not an imaginative doctrine on the angels: no, it is reality. It is what Jesus said, God said: 'I send an angel before you to guard you, to accompany you on your journey, so you will not go wrong’".

Pope Francis concluded his homily:

“Ask yourself this question today: How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him in the morning? Do I ask him: Watch over me when I sleep?'. Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? He is by my side. We can answer this question today, each of us: how is our relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to watch over me and accompany me on my journey, and who always sees the face of the Father who is in heaven. "

See here

The Catechism (336) tells us that:

"From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their (the angels) watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united to God."

So, as we journey deeper into the mysteries of the love of God, as expressed in the heart of Jesus, we should, as the icon reminds us, always remember that we are not on our own : our Angel is really by our side. We should listen to our angels with an open and docile heart.

A long forgotten prayer of my childhood comes to mind:

O my good Angel, whom God has appointed to be my guardian,enlighten and protect me, direct me and govern me during this day/night. Amen

Must return to this simple and beautiful prayer.!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and the Heart of Jesus

After a long absence from the blog due to a lot of messing about and moving, it is fitting that I return to write some thoughts today on the feast of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Looking through the blog, I am surprised that I have actually referenced her! Shame on me.  On reflection, I think that my attitude to St. Thérèse  was not unlike my attitude to the Sacred Heart: I was never quite comfortable with the rather kitsch images which were everywhere when I was growing up.  Thérèse  was an immensely popular saint - but the images of her hardly communicate what she was all about.  Like the Sacred Heart, images of this truly great soul tend towards being very sentimental  - and she was in no sense a plaster saint.  Her 'story of a soul' and her poems, prayers  and letters are compelling and full of fire and energy.  This humble 'little flower' is rightly acknowledged as a doctor of the Church: she has much to teach us. And yet her message is simplicity itself: most of us a just little weak flowers.  We do not have stories like the great saints, mystics and martyrs: we do not grow into great majestic trees or tall plants in the God's garden.  No, most of us are small little souls who are, in comparison with the heroic saints, rather insignificant.  And yet we are loved and are called to live our lives in Christ.   And this is why she is a much loved saint: she is one of us. Like St David of Wales, she directs us to pay attention to the little things that we can all do - whatever our physical or mental abilities. We find Christ in all we do- however apparently small and insignificant.

Thérèse, of course, had a very intense devotion to the Sacred Heart. Of course, given the age she lived in ( 1873-1897) such a devotion was not unusual.  But, like Teilhard, her devotion was not of the conventional kind. She was not focused on the Sacred Heart as a devotion concerned with making reparation for sin, but like Teilhard, on the Sacred Heart as a symbol of God's love for her : she desired, above all things, to be united with this divine love. Thus the Sacred Heart was not just a symbol of the heart of Jesus wounded by sin, but  an absolute reality: God is love.  Thérèse wanted to be united with and lose herself in its fire.  Her devotion was not obsessed by sin, but focused on the reality and the enormity of God's love for her and all humanity. This is not to say that she was not concerned with sin, but that she saw the Sacred Heart as a 'furnace of love' which would consume and burn away sin.  As we read in one of her most well-known prayers.

O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.

O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfil perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity.


Her poem to the Sacred Heart, written in 1895, captures her approach to the Sacred Heart.  It is a poem which comes to mind when we reflect upon the image of St Mary Magdalen in the icon.


Beside the tomb wept Magdalen at dawn, —
She sought to find the dead and buried Christ;
Nothing could fill the void now He was gone,
No one to soothe her burning grief sufficed.
Not even you, Archangels heaven-assigned!
To her could bring content that dreary day.
Your buried King, alone, she longed to find,
And bear His lifeless body far away.
Beside His tomb she there the last remained,
And there again was she before the sun;
There, too, to come to her the Saviour deigned, —
He would not be, by her, in love outdone.
Gently He showed her then His blessed Face,
And one word sprang from His deep Heart’s recess:
Mary! His voice she knew, she knew its grace;
It came with perfect peace her heart to bless.
One day, my God! I, too, like Magdalen,
Desired to find Thee, to draw near to Thee;
So, over earth’s immense, wide-stretching plain,
I sought its Master and its King to see.
Then cried I, though I saw the flowers bloom
In beauty ‘neath green trees and azure skies:
O brilliant Nature! thou art one vast tomb,
Unless God’s Face shall greet my longing eyes.”
A heart I need, to soothe me and to bless, —
A strong support that can not pass away, —
To love me wholly, e’en my feebleness,
And never leave me through the night or day.
There is not one created thing below,
Can love me truly, and can never die.
God become man — none else my needs can know;
He, He alone, can understand my cry.
Thou comprehendest all I need, dear Lord!
To win my heart, from heaven Thou didst come;
For me Thy blood didst shed, O King adored!
And on our altars makest Thy home.
So, if I may not here behold Thy Face,
Or catch the heav’nly music of Thy Voice,
I still can live, each moment, by Thy grace,
And in Thy Sacred Heart I can rejoice.
O Heart of Jesus, wealth of tenderness!
My joy Thou art, in Thee I safely hide.
Thou, Who my earliest youth didst charm and bless,
Till my last evening, oh! with me abide,
All that I had, to Thee I wholly gave,
To Thee each deep desire of mine is known.
Whoso his life shall lose, that life shall save; —
Let mine be ever lost in Thine alone!
I know it well, — no righteousness of mine
Hath any value in Thy searching eyes;
Its every breath my heart must draw from Thine,
To make of worth my life’s long sacrifice.
Thou hast not found Thine angels without taint;
Thy Law amid the thunderbolts was given;
And yet, my Jesus! I nor fear nor faint.
For me, on Calvary, Thy Heart was riven.
To see Thee in Thy glory face to face, —
I know it well, — the soul must pass through fires.
Choose I on earth my purgatorial place, —
The flaming love of Thy great Heart’s desires!
So shall my exiled soul, to death’s command,
Make answer with one cry of perfect love;
Then flying straight to heaven its Fatherland,
Shall reach with no delay that home above.

St. Thérèse, now united with the Sacred Heart, pray for us as we make our little way towards our home above. 
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, our home lies deep in you.  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

St Phillip Evans and St John Lloyd.

Although we celebrated the Feast of St. Mary Magdelene on the 22nd July, Catholics in Wales are also mindful of two saints who were martyred in Cardiff on the 22nd July 1679 – St. Philip Evans , who was, like Teilhard a Jesuit,  and St John Lloyd. ( Their feast day was moved to yesterday - the 23rd July. )  At a time when their was a persecution of Catholics in Wales, the two men were found guilty of being Catholic priests – and therefore of Treason against the crown.  This was at the same time as when St Claude de la Colombiere was also arrested ( 1678) for the same crime – being a Catholic priest.  St  Claude, of course, was released and allowed to return to France.  Like other Catholics, they fell victim of  the anti- Catholic sentiment stirred up by a fictional plot propagated by one Titus Oates that Catholics were planning to assassinate the King ( Charles II).  There was, of course no such plot – just a plot to kill Catholic priests.

From stained glass window, Catholic Church Tenby
Read about St Philip and St John here and here.  They were canonised in 1970 by Paul VI. 

Their deaths were unbelievably terrible – because they had committed treason they were first partially hung, their insides  ‘drawn out’ while they were still alive and then  cut into quarters.   St  John Lloyd had to watch as his brother priest was executed first, and he followed after. They underwent this cruel procedure showing absolute confidence in Christ, and happy to die for their faith.  I always think that their blood made Cardiff a holy city.  The place where they were executed is marked by a simple plaque and is located in the Roath area of the City – at a very busy (noisy and dirty) junction of Richmond Road, Albany Road, City Road, Crwys Road, and Mackintosh Place.  Even today it is known as ‘death junction’ – because of the high number of road accidents!  In those days it was the place of public execution. And known as ‘Gallows field’- and  ‘Heol-y-Plwcca' – that is road to rough or scrub land ‘. At the time when our two Cardiff saints were killed it was the very opposite of a holy place – it was un-sanctified ground where murderers  and the like were unceremoniously buried.

Read about 'death junction' here. 

In recent years there has been a revival of interest in 'holy places' in Britain.  That is all to the good.  However, you will not find this part of Cardiff in 'Sacred Wonders of Britain' or 'Britain's holiest places'Here and Here  But ‘death junction’ should be listed amongst them: indeed it should be amongst the most important of them.  Stand by the plaque and look around and you will see little that one could describe as beautiful. It is not a place that anyone would go and visit.  It is no holy well,  or  ancient Cathedral.  There is nothing of a 'new age spirituality' here at this crossroads in Roath. You cannot sit quietly and contemplate and pray. You would not take a photograph to treasure as a souvenir of your visit to Cardiff.  A holy place or sacred space is usually seen as a ‘thin space’: a place where heaven and earth feel very close to one another.  A place where a person has a strong sense of the presence of the divine.

Death junction in Cardiff , however, is in so many respects more sacred and holy than those places generally regarded as ‘thin spaces’ which make people feel good or revive that drooping spirits.  For here, a place which saw so much death and evil and in which two saints were brutally butchered we stand in a place of the skull – a Welsh Golgotha. A Cardiff sacred site that has not been sanctified by a convent or place of prayer or filmed for a glossy TV program on holy places.   Here, in this place, two men felt very close to God and such was their faith in God’s love and mercy that they went willingly and joyfully to meet evil and overcome it.  Through their faith these two men sanctified a place which was a bye-word for death and evil.  When we stand amidst the traffic of  the old gallows field we are not, apparently, in a 'divine landscape'. We are not in the midst of a wood sacred to the ancient druids. We do not stand in an enchanted space.  We are standing, however, in a profoundly spiritual place - but not the kind of spiritual space for those after a beautiful experience.  Amidst all the noise and traffic fumes we stand in a space which gives us none of the 'experiences' we associate with holy places.  But here is the contradiction: as Jesuits like St Phillip Lloyd and Teilhard understood, we are called to see Christ in all things.  We stand in space, but also in time.  The blue plaque is a prompt to step back in time, and recall the faith and courage of these men.  We see Christ in the beauty of the world - as captured by TV producers and presenters - but we also see Christ in the ugly and the ordinary.  We see Christ is all things bright and beautiful, but also in the dark and the disgusting.  So, we should take joy and hope from the fact that it was from this corner of what was a killing field in 1679, two men from Wales made their journey of faith from Cardiff to heaven.  They went from darkness and despair, to light, love and hope.   

We are not all called to be martyred like Saint John Lloyd and St Phillip Evans, but we are all called to close the gap between heaven and earth: as we say in the Lord’s prayer ,‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’  When we do God’s will, we  help to make even the most evil places into sacred spaces.  So, if you ever find yourself in this holy place stop by the blue sign, look around and ask these two great saints to pray for all those who are persecuted for being followers of Christ.  Ask them to pray for all those who do not live in holy places, but places which have been spaces within which human beings have lived lives devoid of love and peace and full of hate and violence.  Pray and ask their help so that our hearts may be open to the fire of the Holy Spirit. 

St Phillip Evans, who played his harp in prison as he awaited his execution, play your harp in heaven for us and pray for us. 

St. John Lloyd, who admitted on the scaffold that he had 'never been a good speaker', pray for us  that we might find the courage to speak the gospel to a world that has so many death junctions. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

St. Mary Magdalene

Today we remember  Mary Magdalene. Over the centuries, the story of this great saint has, of course, been the subject of  various interpretations.  Far a long time Mary of Magdala was confused with other Marys and other women: most notably the unnamed woman ( supposedly a prostitute) who washed and kissed Jesus's feet mentioned in Luke ( 7 : 36-5) as well as
the attentive Mary of Bethany ( sister of Martha and Lazarus) - who chose the 'better part'.  She is mentioned by name in several places in the gospels- in Luke and Mark as being a woman who had been freed from 7 evil sprits - or perhaps  7 deadly sins. ( Luke 8. 2; and Mark 16.9)  It is this woman who was healed of evil spirits - 'delived from evil ' - who was to be with him at the foot of the cross and who was first to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection who appears on the icon of the Sacred Heart.  But  this image in many ways is a composite of three very different women: the sinner who comes weeping to kiss the feet of Christ; the women who sits at the feet of Christ and listens to the word of God as her sister attends to housework and cooking; and the woman who is freed from  7 evil spirits, and who stands at the foot of the cross and is the first to see the risen Lord. By tradition she is therefore a prostitute, a woman who sits with the men and becomes an apostle, and a woman who is freed from the grip of evil and opens her heart to Jesus utterly and completely.  Whatever the historical facts of the matter Mary Magdalene becomes the Apostle to the Apostles.  Perhaps, however,  what matters is not that we are not quite sure who she is, one thing is plain enough. The icon shows a woman who - because of the love of Christ - is a new creation.

 The reading at mass today from St Paul, (2 Corithians 5:14-17) speaks of the love of Christ overwhelms us and that those who are in Christ are new creations.  Mary Magdalene is - as is clear from the gospel account in John (20: 1-2. 11-18) -  someone who is over-whelmed by the love of Jesus.  She arrives at the tomb whilst it is still dark, and finding his body gone, she weeps.  She weeps because she cannot see his dead body.  Recently,  seeing the poor people who  have lost loved ones in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17,  our hearts go out to anyone whose loss is made all the worse by the fact that they do not know where the body of their loved one is.   Mary Magdalene weeps like this in the darkness: she weeps not because Jesus is dead, but because his body is missing. And then out of this darkness she sees what she believes to be a gardener : perhaps he will know more than the men inside the tomb?  Weeping from  the very core of her being, she begs the gardener to tell her where he has put him. And then, the darkness lifts: Jesus, her beloved teacher, his alive. She hurries off to tell the apostles.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart has, for many centuries, drawn upon the Song of Songs ( 3: 1-4).  It is fitting that at mass today we hear words which capture the sense of love we find in John, chapter twenty. The Song of  Songs describes a woman searching for him 'whom her heart loves'. She searches through the City streets, and asks the night watchmen if they have seen who her heart loves.  And then she find the love of her heart.   And that is the image we contemplate in the icon: the image of a woman who, in the darkness, sought the love of her heart.  It is a woman who has been freed from sin and the power of evil.  It is the image of a broken hearted woman who wept for the love of Jesus and who sees the risen Christ through her tears. Opposite her is Adam - the old creation.  We turn and look again on the new creation that lives no longer for themselves, but in the love of Jesus. We see a woman is no longer enslaved to 7 deadly sins, but one who is now full of the 7  waters of eternal life. Eve brought death to Adam, Mary Magdalen brings the good news of the new life in Christ.  Whatever our sins, Mary Magdalene reminds us that when we humbly open our hearts and ask for mercy we too can be made into a new creation.  However dark it is, we can search and we can find Jesus.

As we prayed at mass today:

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant we pray that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and Come to see him reigning in your glory. 

Lord, instil in us that persevering love with which Saint Mary Magdalene clung resolutely to Christ her Master.  Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Henri Nouwen and the Sacred Heart

Henri Nouwen is one of the most widely appreciated Catholic writers of the 20th century – and not just among Catholics.  So, what has Nouwen brought to the modern devotion to the Sacred Heart?  Now, of course, Henri Nouwen is, for some Catholics, a red rag to a bull – rather like Teilhard. And this is not the place to go into the case for and against.  Here we just want to explore  how his writings can help promote a  broader understanding of the  Heart of Jesus. For me his writings have deepened my own devotion and I regard him as having made an significant contribution to fostering the kind  of ‘spirituality of the heart’ which is so necessary in  the dark, greedy and violent world in which we live.   A world that needs the light of Christ’s heart to illuminate and teach us that without love the world will be consumed by pride, greed, anger and the other deadly sins.

The theme of the heart runs throughout Nouwen’s  writings, although reference to the Sacred Heart actually came quite late – in the mid-1980s.  In  his book (published in 1981), The Way of the Heart : Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, for example, he explores what we, in the modern world can learn from the Desert Fathers.  His conclusion is beautifully simple:  we need to cultivate silence in our lives and endeavour to live lives of unceasing prayer.  What noisy world needs is love: and that means we have to find silence in our lives.  Silence is our great defence against the noise of the world.

I read The Way of the Heart  a few weeks ago on the London underground and reflected on the ‘suicidal journey’ which Nouwen believed the world was heading.  As I was reading the section dealing with silence and the importance of finding silence in our hearts and in our lives I looked around and observed that most people were listening to their mobile devices.  Ours is a world that is full of noise and in which silence is believed to be as a threat or a problem we can fix by a bit of technology: so we can have music wherever we go.   The lack of silence is, I have come to realize is really killing us slowly and most certainly.  What the Desert Fathers appreciated was that human beings have a deep and profound need for silence.  Because, it is only in silence can we hear God.  Perhaps the unspiritual and Godless lives people lead is because they have little or no opportunity to have silence.  We live in a world in which communication just means endless streams of words and noise:  in fact, which live in an age of mass in-communication!  We live in a world which has little or no time for silence, and therefore little time or space for prayer.

The Desert Fathers, Nouwen argues, believed that we had to live a life on unceasing prayer.  This unceasing prayer was the prayer of the heart.  Real prayer , he observes, comes from the silence in the very core of our being: real prayer comes from the heart. It is the silence of our hearts we meet God. and hear His word. It is in our hearts where God’s Spirit dwells.  And our hearts are ‘the source of all physical , emotional, intellectual, volitional and moral energies’.  So for Nouwen, our lives have to be centred on our hearts.  Quoting Macarius the Great, Nouwen observes that the chief task of  a monk is to ‘ enter into his heart’.  If our hearts are to speak to the heart of God, we must know our own  hearts. We must enter into the silence of our heart: for it is there we will find the kingdom of God.

This means, says Nouwen, that our prayer life must be about an absolute surrender to the mystery of God.  And this is why the ‘prayer of  the heart’ is so important as a way of entering into our hearts and into the heart of God: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God , have  mercy on me , a sinner.’

For the Desert Fathers this simple and unceasing prayer was a powerful way of finding the silence than enables us to enter into our heart and thence into the heart of God. Through this ‘prayer of the heart’ we can stand in the presence of the Living God.  Nouwen has much to say about this form of prayer, but this passage in particular caught my attention as it resonates very strongly with Teilhard’s sense of the Sacred Heart.

When we say to people, ‘I will pray for you’, we make a very important commitment.  The sad thing is that this remark often remains nothing but  a well – meant expression of concern.  But when we learn to descend with our mind into our heart, then all those who have become part of our lives are led into the healing presence of God and touched by him in the center of our being.  We are speaking here about a mystery for which words are inadequate. It is the mystery that the heart, which is the centre of our being , is transformed by God into his own heart, a heart large enough to embrace the entire universe.  Through prayer we can carry in our heart  all human pain and sorrow, all conflicts and agonies, all torture and war, all hunger, loneliness, and misery, not because of some great psychological or emotional capacity, but because God’s heart has become one with ours.  The Way of the Heart, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1981: 87

Reading this I am drawn to the icon of the Sacred Heart.  As we reflect on the centre of the icon, I feel that the icon captures this sense of the heart of God as transformative: it is large enough to embrace the entire universe! And yet, it is small enough to become our home.

Given the place of the heart in Nouwen’s writings, it is surprising that it took him quite a while before he turned to the Sacred Heart, per se.  How this came about is quite interesting – because his rediscovery of the Sacred Heart began with an icon. As he notes in Heart Speaks to Heart:

“. . . It all began with an icon Robert Lentz  OFM, had made for me portraying John the Evangelist leaning against Jesus’ breast in the heavenly Jerusalem. Called ‘The Bridegroom’, the icon best expresses my own desire to develop a more intimate relationship with Jesus.”

Thus his journey towards the Sacred Heart began with an icon of the beloved apostle, John.

He had copies of the icon made and gave one of them to the mother of Jean Vanier – the founder of ‘L’Arche.’ .  Pauline Vanier – ( left)  – loved the icon and also had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart.   However, Nouwen admitted that he never felt any desire to pray to the Sacred Heart as he associated it with ‘ Nineteenth –century piety and the statues in which that piety was expressed had kept me away from the devotion that for many people had been very nurturing. (Heart Speaks to Heart. p 11 Kindle edition).  Despite her belief that he should write something about the Sacred Heart, Nouwen confessed that he was not inspired so to do!  But Madame Vanier  (Read about this formidable woman HERE) was persistent with her request that he write about the Sacred Heart. Reading about Pauline Vanier, I can quite understand how difficult it must have been to ignore her suggestion!  She was a remarkable women. Her mother's spiritual  director had been Fr. Almire Pichon, SJ - who had also been the spiritual director of St Therese of Lisieux!  (READ about here) From Fr. Pichon her mother had learnt the value of devotion to the Sacred Heart, and Pauline Vanier, like her mother, was to have an intense devotion to the Sacred Heart. ( And she no doubt passed this on to her son, Jean Vanier  - for whom the heart has a central place in his writings.)  With the encouragement of this woman who had a deep love of the heart of Jesus, Nouwen  eventually gave in to her request - which she believed came from God. In due course he felt that he was ready to get down to it as he celebrated Holy Week  with Trappists in Holland, Manitoba - and the result was subsequently published 1985.

His original plan was to get down to reading a selection of books suggested  by Annice Callahan  RSCJ, which he never actually got around to reading!  One book did move him, Pedro Arrupe’s SJ.  In Him Alone is Our Hope.  This particular book ‘moved’ him deeply and ‘stirred up a  new desire to enter more fully into the mystery of God’s love as lived out in the passion and resurrection of Jesus.’ (Looking through the blog I am surprised that I have not discussed Arrupe’s book on the Sacred Heart! It is indeed an inspiring book and I will return to it again.)

The impact of Arrupe’s book seems to have changed his focus: Madame Vanier’s suggestion that he write about the Sacred Heart now appeared to be more of  an invitation to ‘let the heart of Jesus touch my own heart deeply’, and furthermore to ‘be healed; by the experience of writing.  He came to realize  that  he had ‘come to pray ‘ and  let his wounds become ‘one with the wounds of my crucified and risen Lord.’

Heart Speaks to Heart is the account of that rediscovery of the Sacred Heart and should be read by all who wish to ‘enter more fully into the mystery  God’s love’.  GO here.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Entrance to Church of St Thomas, Jersey
The feast of St. Thomas the Apostle on on the 3rd July -  the week after the celebration of the Sacred Heart  - was a fitting time to reflect on the place of ‘doubting’ Thomas in the history of the Sacred Heart.   The image of  Thomas – ‘called the twin’ – placing his hand into the side of Jesus is very well known  and is found in some of the earliest Christian art.  Representations vary, with some showing St Thomas just looking, and other touching, and others with Thomas placing his fingers into to the wound.  Some, show Jesus holding or guiding the hand Thomas's hand. It is a common subject in iconography as in other forms of religious art.

No better introduction to St Thomas can be found than that written by Benedict XVI, read HERE. 

For me one of the most striking things about the passage is that Jesus says to Thomas 'Give me your hand: put it in my side’.   His response is to proclaim , Dominus Meus et Deus Meus, ‘My Lord and my God.’   In this context we also recall something that Jesus also said to Thomas when he later asked ‘ Lord, we do not now where you are going so how are we to know the way?'  To which Jesus replies: ‘ I am the way, the truth and the life’. When Jesus invites Thomas to place his hand in the wound made in side by the spear that pierced his heart, he tells Thomas to hold his hand.  He holds Thomas’ hand in his hand to guide it to his wounded heart.  Jesus is saying: ‘here is the way, the truth and the life’.  'I am the word of God made flesh and I love you with my heart – my wounded heart’. 'Learn from my gentle and humble heart.'  

One of the most moving reflections on this episode in the Gospel of  John  is to be found in Henri Nouwen’s little book on the Sacred Heart: Heart Speaks to Heart. Here is what he says: 

Whenever I touch your broken heart, I touch the hearts of your broken people, and whenever I touch the hearts of your broken people, I touch your heart.  Your broken heart and the broken heart of the world are one…Lord Jesus , you always call me closer to your wounded heart. There you want me to know true joy and true peace… To Thomas who heard your voice and touched your pierced side, you said, ‘You believe because you can see me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ There, O dear Lord, is the mystery of your love.  I have not seen you  and yet  I truly see you every time I look at the broken bodies of my fellow human beings.  I have not heard you and yet I truly hear you every time I hear the cries uttered by men, women and children in pain.   I have not touched you, and yet  I truly touch  you every time I touch all those who come to me in their pain, I see, I hear and touch the heart of humanity, your humanity, the humanity of all the people embraced by your love.  Thank you , Jesus, for your heart.  Thank you for showing me your heart. Thank you for letting me believe more every day, hope more every day and love more every day. My heart is little, fearful and very timid. It will always be so. But you say ‘Come to my heart. My heart is gentle and humble and very broken like yours. Do not be afraid. Come and let your heart find rest in mine and trust that all will be well.’  I want to come, Jesus, and be with you.  Here I am, Lord, take my heart and let it become a heart filled with your love.’  Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Gospel Meditations on Jesus, Kindle edition, pp 54-57

Such inspiring and powerful words from Henri Nouwen!

A painting which I find is helpful to reflect upon the story of Thomas is the one by Caravaggio. There are, of course,  numerous images to choose from  which to explore Thomas's doubt,  but this painting has given me most food for thought and prayer. 

Jesus takes Thomas’s hand firmly and allows him to touch his wounded side from which poured the blood and water of his pierced heart.  Jesus is the source of light in the picture - the light of the world. Thomas is pointing towards the Heart of his Lord and and his God - and the other apostles look intently at the way, the truth, the light and the life. 

Caravaggio pulls us into the space as firmly as Christ directs the hand of Thomas into the wound.  We too, like the apostles, are drawn into contemplating the wounded heart of Christ. We, like them, stand in awe at the the mystery of God's love.   I think that perhaps we are all Thomas’s twin (for the name of his twin sibling is not recorded).  In this painting, we are the twin who is absent – who is called to believe without seeing, hearing and touching.  And yet Jesus is still asking us to put our hand in his, and have faith in his love for us.  He invites us to give us our hand that he may guide us. He calls us to  give him our heart so that we may love him. He desires that we, like Thomas, touch his heart-  so that we may be one with him.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The feast of the Immaculate heart of Mary

Since the feast of the Immaculate Heart – which followed the feast of the Sacred Heart  - last week I have been thinking a good deal about the heart of Mary.  The devotion to the hearts of Jesus and Mary have long been linked in terms of  both prayers and imagery.  As I write  I am looking at an image that used to be on my  parent's walls which shows Jesus and Mary displaying their hearts.  But, in truth I have never ‘got it’! But I think since Saturday I have begun to understand.

They key passages in scripture about the heart of  Mary are in Luke tells us that Mary kept all the events of Jesus’s early life in her heart : she treasured them and pondered over them.  Luke thinks that this is so important that he tells us twice!  She spent  all of her life after the Annunciation pondering what all these ‘things’ meant.  As St. John Paul observes in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, “No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary. The eyes of her heart already turned to him at the Annunciation, when she conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit” (11). Read HERE.

From the moment that she conceived Jesus in her heart – when she said yes to the angel Gabriel – Mary began a life of complete and utter trust in God, and in her son, Jesus.  She did not know what it all meant, but she treasured all the events in the life of Jesus and reflected on them.  She is puzzled by what is happens  - Why me? How can it be? Why did Jesus go off on his own ? What did Jesus mean  by telling them he must be about his father’s business?  So many questions. And yet, such was the power of divine grace within her, she was content to trust in God and be simply a handmaiden of the Lord. She was humble enough to let things be done according to God’s plan.   She was content to let all these things that filled her mind with questions to rest in her heart.  And in her heart she would reflect upon and contemplate the profound mystery of God’s love.

Mary  shows us the way to the heart of her son, because she knows it better than anyone.  We get to know and love the heart of Jesus by treasuring  and pondering over the heart of Jesus as what Pope Francis called the ' highest human expression of Divine love.'

We have a print of the Virgin which we like very much (see left). It is by the early Italian (Venetian) Renaissance - Late Gothic artist Antonio Vivarini (1440-1480  ) - entitled La Vergine che legge- The Reading Virgin.   ( He some times signed his work as Antonio of Murano. )

 I think it is an image which beautifully captures this sense of the meaning of the immaculate heart as providing a doorway into the mystery of God’s love and  mercy.  The Virgin is shown reading scripture and treasuring the Word of God in her heart.  Jesus, of course, is the 'Word of God, made flesh'.  (Her flesh.)  We, like Mary, are called to trust in God’s love and treasure and ponder in our hearts all the things that have been revealed to us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now, and at the hour of our death. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

The feast of the Sacred Heart, 2014

As we have noted elsewhere on this blog, as a Jesuit Pope Francis naturally has a special relationship to the devotion to the heart of Jesus – as the Society has long been in the forefront of promoting the devotion.  In modern times Jesuits like the Rahner brothers as well as Teilhard, of course,  have made important contributions to the theology of the Sacred Heart. Pope Francis drew attention to the continuing relevance of the heart of Jesus for our own times on last year's feast of the Sacred Heart. ( See Here) Last year he reminded us that the 'Sacred Heart of Jesus, is the highest human expression of divine love'. 

Today, the Holy Father has continued to develop his teaching on the Sacred Heart - as the highest expression we have of God's love + .  See Here for Radio Vatican report.

In his homily during the mass to celebrate the feast of the Sacred Heart he said that  it reminds us that God is like a gentle father who holds us by the hand and we need to become like a small child to have a dialogue with Him.    The feast, he said, was celebration of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

“There are two aspects to this love.  First, love is more about giving and receiving.  Second, love is more about actions than words.  When we say it’s more about giving than receiving, that’s because love communicates, it always communicates.  And it’s received by the one who is loved.  And when we say that it’s more about actions than words, that’s because love always generates life and makes us grow.”

Pope Francis said that in order to understand  God’s love we need to become small like a child and what God seeks from us is a relationship  like that between a father and child. God gives us a caress and tells us: I’m by your side.

“This is the tenderness of our Lord and of His love; this is what He tells us and this gives us the strength to be tender.  But if we feel we’re strong, we’ll never experience those caresses from the Lord, those caresses from Him that are so wonderful.   ‘Don’t be afraid, for I am with you and I’ll hold your hand’… These are all words spoken  by the Lord that help us to understand that mysterious love He has for us.  And when Jesus speaks about Himself, he says: ‘ I am meek and humble of heart.’ Even He, the Son of God, lowers himself to receive his Father’s love.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by noting that God is always there in front of us, waiting for us and urges God to give us the grace to enter into the mysterious world of his love.

When we arrive, He’s there.  When we look for Him, He has already been looking for us.   He is always in front of us, waiting to receive us in His heart, in His love.  And these two things can help us to understand the mystery of God’s love for us.  In order to communicate  this, He needs us to be like small children, to lower ourselves.  And at the same time, He needs our astonishment when we look for Him and find Him there, waiting for us."

The readings at mass today help us to understand this great mystery of God's love for us: a love that is active and always waiting for our response. A love that always waiting for us to open our hearts to divine love : a love that desires to burn in our heart.  In Deuteronomy (7: 6-11)  we read that the Lord has 'set his heart' on us. Out of this love he has set us free. But he waits for our response. In the Psalm ( 102) we learn that, for those who do open their hearts, the 'love of the Lord is everything'.  The God who waits for us is full of compassion and love and full of mercy.  He waits for our love: like a father waiting for his child.  And why? Because, as we read in St John's letter ( John 1, 4:7-16), God is love. If we do not love, we cannot know God.  Out of this love, Jesus was sent into the world to show us what God's love is like - and therefore what God is like, because He is love. Thus, says St. John, when we live in love, we live in God, and God lives in him.  In the Sacred Heart Jesus is calling us to live in God's love, so that God can live in us.  God becomes the centre of our life - our heart - and we can share in the life of Divine love. He is, in Pope Francis's words,' waiting to receive us in His heart , in His love.'

In Matthew (11:25-30) we are given the way to His heart.  In order to enter into the Love of God we have to  learn from His heart- a heart that is 'gentle and humble'.  All devotion to the Sacred Heart aims at this one thing: we ask for the grace for our hearts to become gentle and humble.  The Sacred Heart tells us that Jesus loves us, and asks us to place all our trust in that  immeasurable love and in God's infinite mercy.  He waits for us, not far off at the other end of the cosmos, but by our side.

Knowing this we should weep for joy. Knowing this , we should smile and laugh. Knowing this, we should not be afraid. He is with us, hand in hand, and heart in heart!

+ Sadly, Pope Francis was later unwell and was unable to make a visit to Gemilli hospital - part of the University of the Sacred Heart . The text of his talk was, however, released.

In the text, Pope Francis had written that a Christian should see his or her life as an opportunity to witness God's love by humbly serving and caring for others. The day's feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he said, was an occasion to reflect on how well one loves others. Is one consistent or "do I follow my moods and my fondness" for certain people?

The homily focused on Jesus' sacred heart as a sign and symbol of God's faithful, immeasurable love.

"God has set his heart on us, he has chosen us, and this bond is forever, not because we are faithful, but because the Lord is faithful and puts up with our infidelity, our slowness and our failures," the text said.

"We can experience and taste the tenderness of this love at every stage of our lives, in times of joy as well as sadness, in times of health as well as in sickness," Pope Francis had written.

Go here.

We pray that he may regain his health and strength.