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.