Monday, 23 November 2015

The solemnity of Christ the King, 2015

Yesterday was the feast of Christ the King- a feast that is closely related in many ways to the Sacred Heart. As this blog has observed before,  the icon draws our thoughts and prayers to the significance of Christ as the universal king.  And this is what the icon depicts so well.  I am reminded of Pope Francis’s words on the Feast day in 2013 which strike me  when I look  the icon:

the beginning: Jesus Christ, the Lord. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20). He is the Lord of creation, he is the Lord of reconciliation. This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. And so our thoughts will be Christian thoughts, thoughts of Christ. Our works will be Christian works, works of Christ; and our words will be Christian words, words of Christ. But when this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves…Besides being the centre of creation and the centre of reconciliation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. Christ is the centre of the history of humanity and also the centre of the history of every individual. ( here)

 If Christ is the centre of history, then he is also at the centre of the social, economic and political order as well as the cosmic order!  For this reason this icon of The Sacred Heart as  Christ Omega  and  the Universal King, has, over the years, has become more and more a window into that great ‘secret’ of the Church, ‘ Catholic Social Teaching’ - CST.  Yesterday it  brought me back to think of the themes and principles of CST as telling us about what the of  Kingship of Christ involves in a practical sense.

It is not a coincidence that the two popes who laid the foundations of CST, Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI  are also closely associated with the Sacred Heart.  For both pontiffs the devotion to the Sacred heart and  Christ the King  were part of their strategy to develop a social Catholicism  whose purpose it was to challenge the secularisation taking place in the modern era. Both believed that economic and political orders based on individualism or collectivism were as morally deficient as one another.  Both believed that the Church had to illuminate the political, economic and social problems and policies of the day by the light of the Gospel.

Their social teaching was therefore inextricably linked to their promotion of the Sacred Heart and Christ the King.  We should listen very carefully to their critique of the modern capitalism – whether of the liberal democratic or state-capitalist varieties.  Thank God, no-one really believes in communism any more, but the appeal of statism and collectivism  and self-love and greed is still alive and well.  Again, it is not a coincidence that the great Pope of the Sacred Heart, St. John Paul, also contributed significantly to CST in 3 major encyclicals. When we seek to promote the social teaching of the Church we should pray to the Sacred Heart.

Christ the King has an urgent relevance to the state of the world today. So on this feast day we would do well to reflect on this relationship between CST and the Sacred Heart  and Christ the King. Images of Christ the King frequently show the relationship between the two – as does this icon. The images of the Sacred Heart and Christ the King  became popular during the same period (1990- 1930s)when key  principles of CST were being developed.  And that was for a good reason: both were images which were about challenging secularisation and the marginalisation of Christianity in the public square: as such they should be read (I believe) as images  that invite us to reflect upon the richness of CST and the profound relevance of this teaching to our understanding of our political, social and economic problems and policies. Pope Francis has, of course, recently added to this by showing ( in Laudato Si) how the teaching of the church is also relevant to current environmental problems and policies

Leo’s teaching on the Sacred Heart  in 1899 ( Annum Sacrum )  which  consecrated the whole world to the heart of Christ, and which united the devotion to the Kingship of Christ,  followed  his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. And in criticising the immoral and individualistic forms of capitalism as well as socialistic collectivism  he emphasises that both capitalism and socialism are as bad as one another in blocking the way to living a virtuous life.  Of course, the greatest of these virtues which were being destroyed was caritas – love.   And he observes of this  virtue that : ‘Charity, as a virtue, pertains to the Church; for virtue it is not, unless it be drawn from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ (30).

Pius XI’s establishment of the Feast of Christ the King ( Quas Primas )   (1925)  and later his encyclical on the Sacred Heart in 1928 ( Miserentissimus Redemptor)  preceded his great social encyclical in 1931 ( Quadresimo Anno)  that celebrated forty years since the publication of Rerum  Novarum.  Following Quadressimo Anno, he emphasised once again the importance of the Sacred Heart to the problems addressed in Quadressimo Anno.  In Miserentissimus Redemptor hr  teaches that the debotion to the Sacred Heart is ' totius religious summa'.  In Caritate Compulsi (1932) Pius said that the devotion to the Sacred Heart  was the 'extraordinary remedy for the extraordinary needs of our time'.

  To understand the Feast of Christ the King as a statement of Catholic Social Teaching we need to place it in the context of hi encyclical Ubi Arcano  (On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ|) written in the aftermath of the  first world war, in 1922. In this encyclical  published a just few years prior to the Pius XI reflects on the dire consequences of abandoning  the Kingdom Of Christ, in favour of the kingdoms of this world.

 The inordinate desire for pleasure, concupiscence of the flesh, sows the fatal seeds of division not only among families but likewise among states; the inordinate desire for possessions, concupiscence of the eyes, inevitably turns into class warfare and into social egotism; the inordinate desire to rule or to domineer over others, pride of life, soon becomes mere party or factional rivalries, manifesting itself in constant displays of conflicting ambitions and ending in open rebellion, in the crime of lese majeste, and even in national parricide.  These unsuppressed desires, this inordinate love of the things of the world, are precisely the source of all international misunderstandings and rivalries, despite the fact that oftentimes men dare to maintain that acts prompted by such motives are excusable and even justifiable because, forsooth, they were performed for reasons of state or of the public good, or out of love for country. Patriotism - the stimulus of so many virtues and of so many noble acts of heroism when kept within the bounds of the law of Christ - becomes merely an occasion, an added incentive to grave injustice when true love of country is debased to the condition of an extreme nationalism, when we forget that all men are our brothers and members of the same great human family, that other nations have an equal right with us both to life and to prosperity, that it is never lawful nor even wise, to dissociate morality from the affairs of practical life, that, in the last analysis, it is "justice which exalteth a nation: but sin maketh nations miserable." (Proverbs xiv, 34) ( Ubi Arcano,  ) 

The process of secularization and the marginalization of Christianity that had been the subject of  several Leo’s encyclicals  - including that on the Sacred Heart - had continued apace and Pius felt the need to re-state once again the Kingship of Jesus over all creation.  A few years later he was to institute the feast of Christ the King in  Quas Primas.   In this he stresses how the Feast was related to previous  responses to the anti- Christian culture of the modern world.  It worth citing the Quas Primas at some length to make this point clear.

23. The festivals that have been introduced into the liturgy in more recent years have had a similar origin, and have been attended with similar results. When reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament had grown cold, the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted, so that by means of solemn processions and prayer of eight days' duration, men might be brought once more to render public homage to Christ. So, too, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, which had made their hearts grow cold, and shut them out from the love of God and the hope of salvation.

24. If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, … has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. …We lamented these in the Encyclical Ubi arcano; we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his right.

25. Moreover, the annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them. While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.

26. The way has been happily and providentially prepared for the celebration of this feast ever since the end of the last century. It is well known that this cult has been the subject of learned disquisitions in many books published in every part of the world, written in many different languages. The kingship and empire of Christ have been recognized in the pious custom, practiced by many families, of dedicating themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; not only families have performed this act of dedication, but nations, too, and kingdoms. In fact, the whole of the human race was at the instance of Pope Leo XIII, in the Holy Year 1900, consecrated to the Divine Heart. It should be remarked also that much has been done for the recognition of Christ's authority over society by the frequent Eucharistic Congresses which are held in our age. These give an opportunity to the people of each diocese, district or nation, and to the whole world of coming together to venerate and adore Christ the King hidden under the Sacramental species.

So the deep and profound relationship between the Sacred Heart and the Kingship of Christ is clear enough for the teaching of these two great Popes.  For both the Kingship of Christ will be brought about through the Sacred Heart.   A few years after Quas Primas, Pius published his Miserentissimus Remdemptor  which focused on the importance of the devotion to the Sacred Heart for bringing about the Kingship of Christ.   The message of the encyclical was to underpin the later social encyclical, Quadressimo Anno in 1932.  The Sacred Heart was needed to remind humanity that we were living in a disordered world. The world was turning away from the love of God and was becoming more and more centred on the love of the self.  The challenge was to restore the relationship between humanity and God: it needed to make reparation and re-order itself.  And that is what the devotion to the Sacred Heart involved: humanity had to repair its relationship with God.   The Devotion to the Sacred Heart was the great means by which this process of repairing our relationship with God could take place.

In this context we now better understand Pius XI’s contribution to building on the social teaching of Leo XIII.  Christ is King of all things – and that includes the realms of politics and economics.  Economic ‘laws’ may describe how self-interested, homo economicus behaves, but the laws of Christ show how human beings should behave.  The Kingship of Christ is a feast which is about reminding us to get things in the right order.  First, we have to set ourselves to seeking to realise God's law and order, and then having put this fist, we will nor be enslaved to material possessions and power.  What Jesus came to show was the world was  made for us to enjoy - like the wine at the marriage feast at Cana - but ( and  here is the big BUT) we must not make the things of this world the centre of our lives.  We have to order our lives in a way that always seeks to seek God first. As CST shows, private property is a good not a bad, BUT we must - as individuals and as societies - be possessed by our possessions. Vices are always dis-ordered forms of good. We have to eat,  and we ought to enjoy good food.  But, we must not be gluttonous and let food consume us.

The laws of God’s kingdom are the laws which tell us how we ought be should behave, the ends we should seek if we are not to fall prey to forces of materialism, individualism,  collectivism and nationalism.  The Feast was established to mind us who is really in charge of  the universe and that we should not presume to think that human beings can exist outside the moral and natural law of His kingdom. The image of Christ the King therefore serves to remind us that human beings have  telos – a end to which they should aim. We should not enthrone the  powers of this world in our hearts – whether they be greed and envy and the rest of the vices or whether they are Kings and dictators and plutocrats.  We should aim to become one with Christ: it He who is King of our hearts, and it is He who is the way, the truth and the life. The theme of the Quas Primas  is clear enough.  Contrary to those that argue that the Church should keep out of the public square, Pius states, that yes, His Kingdom is a ‘spiritual kingdom concerned with spiritual things’, but:

It would be a grave error…to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. (17)

The feast of Christ the King was instituted to make this very clear. The Church has a place in the public square, and must use its voice to remind people of the social, political and economic implications of the gospel.  Above all the feast of the Christ the King was instituted to say that human existence had a purpose, and end to which it must strive.  It may fail and miss the mark, but there is a mark: the heart of Christ. Politics and economics was about means, but it was also about ends.  The feast of Christ the King was there to remind humanity what that end was, and what that end ought to be.  Christ is King of all creation: the alpha and the omega. As King he came into the world to show the way to enable humanity to learn from him how to live and to what end.  He humbled himself and suffered and died so as to save mankind.   And because he did this for all mankind it meant that, as Quas Primas shows, he is King of all creatures, and his gospel is therefore for all humanity – indeed all creation.  And that means all public as well as all private life (19) !   It also means that His rule extends to the public consequences of private life.  The feast was therefore to ‘draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them’ (25).

In 1931 Pius was to celebrate the publication of Rerum Novarum and add significantly to CST in Quadressimo Anno. In the encyclical he calls Rerum Novarum a ‘magna charta’ upon which should guide social, economic and political life.  He endorses Leo’s vigorous attack on the moral defects of both capitalism and socialism, and argues that modern society is being hurled against the twin rocks of individualism and  humanity was suffering as a result.  The following year, 1932,  he returned to the Sacred Heart again in Caritate Christi.  Once again he argues that the dis-order in the world can only be repaired through the Sacred Heart.  It was he said, 'the extraordinary remedy for the extraordinary needs of our time'. It is Caritate Christi, written in the midst of a great economic depression and political ferment, that we see the relationship between the Sacred Heart, the Kingship of Christ and  Catholic Social Teaching most clearly expounded.  In Quadressimo Anno he had warned about the dangers of excessive individualism and egotistical and godless  capitalism, as well as atheistic communism and nationalism, a year on it had all continued to get worse.  .    The source of all this misery was evident:

indeed, the root itself from which this most unhappy state of things arises is yet more to be lamented; for if that judgment of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed by the Apostle St. Paul, "the desire of money is the root of all evils," was always in close agreement with the facts, this is more than ever true at the present time. For is not that avidity for perishable goods which was justly and rightly mocked, even by a heathen poet as the execrable hunger of gold, "auri sacra fames"; is not that sordid seeking for each one's own benefit, which is very often the only motive by which bonds between either individuals or societies are instituted; and, lastly, is not this cupidity, by whatsoever name or style it is called, the chief reason why we now see, to our sorrow, that mankind is brought to its present critical condition? For it is from this that come the first shoots of a mutual suspicion which saps the strength of any human commerce; hence come the sparks of an envy which accounts the goods of others a loss to itself; hence comes that sordid and excessive self-love which orders and subordinates all things to its own advantage, and not only neglects but tramples upon the advantage of others; and, lastly, hence come the iniquitous disturbance of affairs and the unequal division of "possessions, as a result of which the wealth of nations is heaped up in the hands of a very few private men, who - as We warned you last year, in Our Encyclical Letter Quadressimo anno - control the trade of the whole world at their will, thereby doing immense harm to the people.

The root of the evils of the day - in its various forms of  irreligious capitalism, atheistic communism and aggressive nationalism - was, as always 'excessive love of self'  and 'the insatiable greed for earthly goods'.

the enemies of all order, whether they be called Communists or by some other name, exaggerating the very grave straits of the economic crisis, in this great perturbation of morals, with extreme audacity, direct all their efforts to one end, seeking to cast away every bridle from their necks, and breaking the bonds of all law both human and divine, wage an atrocious war against all religion and against God Himself; in this it is their purpose to uproot utterly all knowledge and sense of religion from the minds of men, even from the tenderest age, for they know well that if once the Divine law and knowledge were blotted out from the minds of men there would now be nothing that they could not arrogate to themselves. And thus we now see with our own eyes - what we have not read of as happening anywhere before - impious men, agitated by unspeakable fury, shamelessly liking up a banner against God and against all religion throughout the whole world.

Caritate Christi argues that is only when human beings turn-away from the love of self and the love of material goods and, in prayer and reparation, and begin to understand the deep order in creation revealed in the Kingship of Christ at the Heart of the Saviour that we can repair the damage and destruction being wrought by those who wish to destroy Christianity and especially the Catholic Church.

In Quadressimo Anno Pius hoped that all those who struggled to promote the social teaching of the Church would be ‘enkindled with the fire of the heart of Christ’.

 As we recall the work of Pius XI in exposing the defects of individualistic and collectivist systems in the early 20th century we must pray that all who battle against these disordered ideologies in their various forms and seek to proclaim the Kingship of Christ  in the 21st century may be ‘enkindled with the fire of the heart of Christ.’  The Sacred Heart is still 'the extraordinary remedy for the extraordinary needs of our time'!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Pogliaghi's Sacred Heart, Milan

I spent a few days in ( a very hot) Milan recently and managed to find some time to do a little tourism.  Fortunately,  I was based at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart - founded in 1921.  And so, I was able to attend mass on the first Friday of July in the Cappella del Sacro Cuore in the university. It is very beautiful, and I would encourage anyone who can to pay a visit.  High above the altar  is a remarkable painting by - I later discovered on my return to the UK - Lodovico Pogliaghi (1857-1950)  (Read about him here) . It is rather like a 3D image, and  I could not decide if it is a painting or a statue! But I think it is a painting. Underneath on the wall there is a famous line from St. Thomas Aquinas's great hymn:   ADORO TE DEVOTE LATENS DEITAS” (“I adore you devoutly, hidden God”)

Teilhard and Gemelli's images of the Sacred Heart
The painting was commissioned by the founder of the university, the Franciscan, Padre Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959- read about him  here) .  It was originally located in the the building in Via Sant' Agnese and was installed in the present chapel on its completion in 1932.  Copies of the image may be found in rooms in the university.  As an image it was - like Teilhard's Pinta picture - used for holy cards.

It appears to have been painting executed around the same kind of period - early 1920s - as the Pinta image (Here) that Teilhard loved so much. Walking around churches close to the chapel the sense of it being a radical break from the traditional image becomes apparent. Next door, for example, in the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, there is a chapel to the Sacred Heart, with a traditional image, and a little further away in Santa Maria delle Grazie  there is also a pretty standard representation.  So the image in the painting in the Cappella del Sacro Cuore  is quite a departure from the norm.  As in Pinta's image the focus on on the glowing love of God. As the light catches the 'golden glow' the image is quite stunning and the eye is drawn into a contemplation of the God who is hidden in the eucharist.  This is the Sacred Heart we adore, hence the words on the wall beneath: ' ADORO TE DEVOTE LATENS DEITAS'.  No doubt this is to prompt the students and faculty to remember their Aquinas! The next lines are, of course: 'Quæ sub his figuris vere latitas; Tib se cor meum totum subjicit, Quia te contemplans totum deficit'  As we contemplate and adore the hidden God revealed in the heart of Jesus, we place our hearts before Him: 'Tib se cor meum totum subjicit'.

The artist was  ( in all probability) working to a brief from Fr. Gemelli, and I think what we have here is a very Franciscan - if not intensely Franciscan -  and very modern image of the Sacred Heart.   It recalls (perhaps) Francis's Letter to all the friars: 

Let the whole of mankind tremble, the whole world shake and the heavens exult,  when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest.  O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity!  That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself  that for our salvation He hides Himself under the forms of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him!  Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him.  Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves  so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.  ( Here.) 

The painting in the chapel is also is strongly suggestive (to me) of St. Bonaventure ( a great friend of St Thomas Aquinas) whose prayers and writings show the deep Franciscan love for the Heart of Jesus. As Bonaventure prayed:

'From the burning heart of Jesus flows his blood, hot with love.  Jesus showed us from the cross his faithful heart, glowing with love....' (cited in T. O'Donnell, Heart of the Redeemer, Ignatius Press, 1989 p 101)  

The Franciscans have contributed immensely to our understanding of the Sacred Heart ( I always think of Francis and Bonaventure when I look at the seraphim in the icon!) - and it is not a coincidence that St Margaret Mary recounts that St. Francis was her guide. He is depicted in the mural at Paray le Monial.  Teilhard too had a special regard for St. Francis.

There is another aspect of the image which is interesting: it is the image which shows the aesthetic preference of a another priest -scientist.  Fr. Gemelli was a physician and scientist who, like Teilhard sought to reconcile Christian faith with modern science.  Gemelli actually proposed Teilhard (and Henri Breuil) for membership of the  Pontifical Academy of Sciences, but this was opposed due to Teilhard's supposed 'Darwinist' tendencies.  It is interesting that both priest-scientists should have seen the Sacred Heart in the same way: the Pinta image and Pogliaghi's image are remarkably similar! For both men, whose lives were dedicated to reconciling science and their Christianity, the Heart of Jesus was the great symbol which inspired their religious and scientific lives.

As I read and talk about Laudato Si, it seems to me that the work of Gemelli and Teilhard to reconcile faith and reason in the modern world was not in vain!

One final thought which later occurred to me (!!?) was the entrance to the chapel.  As you enter you see an important quote over the door: Nitium sapientiae timor Domini. “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom”. (Psalm 111, 10, Sirach, 1, 1)

All too often when we think about science and knowledge we default to Bacon - 'knowledge is power'.  Here at the Catholic University in Milan they remind students and faculty that wisdom begins when we fear the Lord. Wisdom begins when we realise in all humility the limits of human understanding, and the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God. Knowledge may be power  BUT wisdom is about humility. As we remember this, we also recall that in the  Litany of the Sacred Heart,  in which the humble and gentle heart of Jesus is described as the the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge.

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

As you reflect on the symbol of the Sacred Heart in this beautiful chapel, it is well to remember that the love of God is indeed the alpha and omega of all wisdom.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Laudato si - one giant leap for our common home

Well, what a day!  Watched the live broadcast of the launch of Laudato si - and no longer had to struggle with my terrible Italian and downloaded the English version. Was so pleased to see the reference to Teilhard in the final text * , and having read the whole thing  through a few times I think that it is a document that is truly a landmark in Catholic social teaching. It  also conveys the spirit of what Teilhard was trying to say about the need for a more cosmic sense of Christ and of the need for Christianity to have a 'sense of the earth'.  This will give rise to a great debate and hopefully action to 'care for our common home'.

My initial thoughts are about the press launch.  I was moved by Metropolitan John Zizioulas's contribution - especially his emphasis on how the ideas contained in the encyclical will serve the cause of Christianity unity.  This was, of course, Teilhard's great belief - that a more cosmic sense of Christ, and a sense of the earth would promote unity!  One point in particular stuck out- his observations about the ecological implications which relate: the very heart of the Church, which is the Holy Eucharist. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church offers to God the material world in the form of the bread and the wine. In this Sacrament space, time and matter are sanctified; they are lifted up to the Creator with thankfulness as His gifts to us; creation is solemnly declared as God’s gift, and human beings instead of proprietors of creation act as its priests, who lift it up to the holiness of the divine life. This brings to mind the moving words of St. Francis of Assisi with which the Encyclical opens: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth.” As St. Gregory Palamas and other Greek Fathers would put it, the whole of creation is permeated by God’s presence through His divine energies; everything declares God’s glory, as the Psalmist says, and the human being leads this cosmic chorus of glorification to the Creator as the priest of creation. This way of understanding the place and mission of humanity in creation is common to both Eastern and Western Christian tradition, and is of particular importance for the cultivation of an ecological ethos.

This was so very evocative of  Teilhard's great Mass on the World. (Although on reflection, Teilhard was always very sympathetic to the Greek fathers!So, no surprise really.)

The other thing that struck me -which  again brought Teilhard to mind - was the presence of a scientist on the panel, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber.  He began by talking about the important relationship between faith and reason, science and religion.  It is a sign of how far we have come since Teilhard that we are now able to have a dialogue of this kind - and to see the way one can inform the other.

So much to say about this great encyclical!

The context of the Teilhard reference is:

"83. The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things.[53] ...The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator."

( Isn't this what is depicted in the icon inspired by Teilhard?) 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Teilhard cited in Laudato si /Be praised: on the care of our common home!

I am sure that if Teilhard were alive today he would be smiling at the prospect of a Jesuit Pope, trained as a chemist, with the name Francis publishing an encyclical on the global environmental crisis.  Teilhard had a great love of St. Francis.  Speaking to Blessed Gabriel Allegra  he remarked that ' St Francis is so dear and so close to me! I believe he assists me in my difficulties and blesses my work'. ( My Conversations with Teilhard de Chardin on the Primacy of Christ, p55)  I have just read the leaked draft of Laudato si (hereand was absolutely delighted to see that Teilhard gets a reference. ( fnote 53:  'In questa prospettiva si pone il contributo del P.Teilhard de Chardin;' * How fitting!!  Teilhard, after all these years, is mentioned in the official teaching of the church!! This surely must mean that Teilhard is finally acknowledged for his immense contribution to the Church's thinking on  the relationship between  Christ, humanity and the Cosmos. Just hope that the reference makes the final version - Teilhard still has plenty of enemies and there are no shortage of anti-Francis people who will no doubt pounce on him for daring to mention Teilhard and for the argument of Laudato si as a whole.  If ever there was a time to pray for Pope Francis, now is a very good time!

In advance of the publication the Pope had this to say:

 Pope Francis asked the faithful and all persons of good will to receive his new Encyclical letter on the care of creation with open hearts. Speaking to pilgrims and tourists gathered for his weekly General Audience on the eve of the much-anticipated document’s official release, Pope Francis said, “Tomorrow, as you know, the Encyclical on the care of the ‘common house’ that is creation will be published.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Our ‘house’ is being ruined, and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us.” The Holy Father concluded, saying, “My appeal is, therefore, to responsibility, based on the task that God has given to man in creation: ‘to till and tend’ the ‘garden’ in which humanity has been placed (cf. Gen 2:15). I invite everyone to accept with open hearts this document, which places itself in the line of the Church's social doctrine.” 

  St Francis of Assisi, pray for for the Pope.  Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in you - the  great sign of ' l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle'.   May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to the message of Laudato si . 

In respect of this statement:' Il traguardo del cammino dell’universo è nella pienezza di Dio, che è stata già raggiunta da Cristo risorto, fulcro della maturazione universale.' ( The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fulness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things  .'

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Feast of the Sacred Heart, 2015

Yesterday was the feast of the Sacred Heart. It marked a milestone for me personally as it was five years to the day when I realised that I was being called to dedicate my life to the Sacred Heart. All I can say is that it has been a period of transformation : I was blind, but now I see.  I have no doubt but that I can thank the icon for helping me develop a constant sense of God as love.  Pope Francis did not speak on the Sacred Heart, but he had earlier reminded people about the feast on on  Corpus Christi. (here).  When we encounter Christ in the eucharist we are, of course, receiving the word of God made flesh.  The readings at mass said it all really. The first reading from Hosea shows us what the heart of God is like: it shows us that God loves us in a very intimate way.

When Israel was a child I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
I myself taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in my arms;
yet they have not understood that I was the one looking after them.
I led them with reins of kindness,
with leading-strings of love.
I was like someone who lifts an infant close against his cheek;
stooping down to him I gave him his food.

The Psalm from  Isaiah reminds us of the pierced heart of Jesus from which flowed the living waters.

Truly, God is my salvation,
  I trust, I shall not fear.
For the Lord is my strength, my song,
  he became my saviour.
With joy you will draw water
  from the wells of salvation.

And of course, the great reading from St Paul's letter to the Ephesians ( which deeply informed Teilhard's 'attraction' to the Heart of Jesus) expresses the essence of the meaning of the devotion.

 This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name: Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.

And finally the Gospel from John:

When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:
Not one bone of his will be broken;
and again, in another place scripture says:
They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

These readings tell us why the devotion to the Sacred Heart is as important to the future of the Church as it was at the time of St. Margaret Mary.  As our parish priest reminded us, the devotion sprung into a new life at a time when the Church was under attack and when people had turned their backs on the love of God.  Today we live in a sinful world in which God  - who is love - is dead you so many people. And we wonder why there is so much hate, greed and violence?  We wonder why the hearts of so many are cold and hard? 

Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on us 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Our Lady of Penrhys

There are many holy and  sacred places in Wales - some of which find their way into guide books ( such as Nick Mayhew Smith's excellent book Britain's Holiest Places,  see here) , but there are some that are not so well known. One such is the the more scarred than sacred Marian shrine in the Rhondda Valley at Penrhys.  ( Read here. )  We went there on a pilgrimage yesterday and asked that ' the prayer of Mary find an echo in the life and heart of each one of us today'.  There could be no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon: the weather was kind and just as we started to sing 'I'll sing a hymn to Mary'  the clouds parted and the light shone down on us!  As we sang of being' sojourners in this vale of tears' and asked the 'Lily of the Valley' to pray for us, it was difficult not to remember the beautiful but sad valley in which the medieval shrine to Mary had once stood.

 The Rhondda is such a inspiring place with its deep valleys and big open skies, but it is also a valley of tears.  I love it.  If you want to find the heart of Wales, come to 'Cwm Rhondda' . However, this is a wounded place: a place which was ripped apart by the search for black gold in the 19th and twentieth centuries.  It is a landscape which has been pierced and gutted by coal mining and is populated by communities in which we find some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Europe. But also some of the best and friendliest people in the world.

Before the service we took a short walk to the holy well ( Ffynon Fair or St. Mary's Well ) that overlooks the village of Llwynypia  and which once drew pilgrims from all over Britain to find it situated in a burnt and litter-strewn hill-side.  To me the water gushing out of the hill-side was kind of wound in the heart of this valley.   What was once a sacred place was now a scarred place littered with beer cans and much else besides.  It was not always so.  The shrine fell into decline during reformation: Thomas Cromwell himself ( that really nice man as (mis)represented in the openly anti-Catholic Wolf Hall!) ordered the burning of the wooden statue of the Virgin (1538) that was a focal point of the shrine established by the Cistertians. I admit that all I could think about was that this is a perfect place for a shrine to Mary, and just the right location for a holy well in 21st century Wales.  The statue of Mary holding Jesus looks out on a world which has been wounded and scarred by human beings who had (as Teilhard would put it) little 'sense of the earth' and was in the midst of a community that nowadays had little sense of God.  As we drove up to the shrine - which is over a thousand feet above sea level, we passed chapels and churches which had long been abandoned.  And yet, here we all were singing and praying and acknowledging the holiness of this once important shrine.   This gives us hope: for the valley of tears is recovering: but not fast enough.  The valley that was so grim and dark when I was a boy is now green again.  A place that once was without much hope is once again a beautiful place to be.  The scars are healing.  Just go there and see how beautiful it is!

Ffynon Fair - Penrhys
If the Sacred, scarred and pierced Heart of Jesus has a landscape, it is here high in the wonderful hills of Penrhys.  Here we have an image of the humility of God and His love for all creation that one day will be united in Him.  But here we also have a scarred and wounded landscape from which a fountain of clear water flows.

As I stood there amidst the forget-me nots, brambles and blackened earth the words of the great hymn Cwm Rhondda came to me:
' Open thou the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream shall flow' /'Agor y ffynhonnau melus
'N tarddu i maes o'r Graig y sydd.'

It was to that (remarkably still)  crystal sweet flowing water that we came  yesterday to bless ourselves as did Christians hundreds of years before.  Yes, I thought, if there was a shrine to the wounded heart of Jesus  from which living water flows in Wales, here it is at  Penrhys - Ffynon Fair, St Mary's Well. As always 'ad Jesum per Mariam' - To Jesus through Mary!

Looking out across the valley as we sang, in the distance I could see a large wind farm that was harnessing the winds that blew in our faces and carried our voices across the hills into Tylorstown .  Once this valley had been the source of the fires that had powered an industrial revolution.  Now it was being used to harness the winds.  The statue of the Blessed Virgin holding the infant Jesus now looks out upon these great turbines.  With that, the words of Teilhard came to my mind, and I smiled just as the sun broke through the clouds:

Quelque jour, après l’espace, les vents, les marées, la gravitation, nous capterons, pour Dieu, les énergies de l’amour.- Et alors, une deuxième fois dans l’histoire du Monde, l’Homme aura trouvé le Feu. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, L’Évolution de la Chasteté, ( Les Directions de L’Avenir, Éditions du Seul, Paris1973, p92)

The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Once the Rhondda had harnessed the energy contained in coal for the world.  We can  only pray that 'quelque jour', one day, one beautiful day, the statue of Our Lady of Penrhys will look out on a world that is harnessing, for God,  the energy of love from the hearts of humanity.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Divine Mercy

Pope Francis gave an impressive homily reflecting on Divine Mercy. It repays careful reading as we enter a year of reflecting on the Mercy of God.  His homily adds to the growing richness of his teaching on the subject of the Sacred Heart.

Saint John, who was in the Upper Room with the other disciples on the evening of the first day after the Sabbath, tells us that Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you!” and he showed them his hands and his side (Jn 20:19-20); he showed them his wounds.  And in this way they realized that it was not an apparition: it was truly him, the Lord, and they were filled with joy. On the eighth day Jesus came once again into the Upper Room and showed his wounds to Thomas, so that he could touch them as he had wished to, in order to believe and thus become himself a witness to the Resurrection. To us also, on this Sunday which Saint John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, the Lord shows us, through the Gospel, his wounds.  They are wounds of mercy.  It is true: the wounds of Jesus are wounds of mercy. Jesus invites us to behold these wounds, to touch them as Thomas did, to heal our lack of belief. Above all, he invites us to enter into the mystery of these wounds, which is the mystery of his merciful love. Through these wounds, as in a light-filled opening, we can see the entire mystery of Christ and of God: his Passion, his earthly life – filled with compassion for the weak and the sick – his incarnation in the womb of Mary.  And we can retrace the whole history of salvation: the prophecies – especially about the Servant of the Lord, the Psalms, the Law and the Covenant; to the liberation from Egypt, to the first Passover and to the blood of the slaughtered lambs; and again from the Patriarchs to Abraham, and then all the way back to Abel, whose blood cried out from the earth.  All of this we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen; with Mary, in her Magnificat, we can perceive that, “His mercy extends from generation to generation” (cf. Lk 1:50).

Faced with the tragic events of human history we can feel crushed at times, asking ourselves, “Why?”.  Humanity’s evil can appear in the world like an abyss, a great void: empty of love, empty of goodness, empty of life.  And so we ask: how can we fill this abyss?  For us it is impossible; only God can fill this emptiness that evil brings to our hearts and to human history.  It is Jesus, God made man, who died on the Cross and who fills the abyss of sin with the depth of his mercy.

Saint Bernard, in one of his commentaries on the Canticle of Canticles (Sermon 61, 3-5: Opera Omnia, 2, 150-151), reflects precisely on the mystery of the Lord’s wounds, using forceful and even bold expressions which we do well to repeat today.  He says that “through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of [Christ’s] heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high”.

Brothers and sisters, behold the way which God has opened for us to finally go out from our slavery to sin and death, and thus enter into the land of life and peace.  Jesus, crucified and risen, is the way and his wounds are especially full of mercy.

The saints teach us that the world is changed beginning with the conversion of one’s own heart, and that this happens through the mercy of God.  And so, whether faced with my own sins or the great tragedies of the world, “my conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the Lord: ‘he was wounded for our iniquities’ (Is 53:5). What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ?” (ibid.).

Keeping our gaze on the wounds of the Risen Jesus, we can sing with the Church: “His love endures forever” (Ps 117:2); eternal is his mercy.  And with these words impressed on our hearts, let us go forth along the paths of history, led by the hand of our Lord and Saviour, our life and our hope.

Read here.

On this day might also remember St John Paul's words in 2001:

 The Heart of Christ! His "Sacred Heart" has given men everything:  redemption, salvation, sanctification. St Faustina Kowalska saw coming from this Heart that was overflowing with generous love, two rays of light which illuminated the world. "The two rays", according to what Jesus himself told her, "represent the blood and the water" (Diary, p. 132). The blood recalls the sacrifice of Golgotha and the mystery of the Eucharist; the water, according to the rich symbolism of the Evangelist John, makes us think of Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3: 5; 4: 14).
Through the mystery of this wounded heart, the restorative tide of God's merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time. Here alone can those who long for true and lasting happiness find its secret.

Read here.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Remembering Teilhard: the 60th anniversary of his death

At Easter time we remember that it was Teilhard's dearest wish to die during the Easter season: and his wish was granted, as sixty years ago today, on Easter Sunday 1955 , Teilhard died in New York.  At mass today I (like many I am sure) prayed for his soul. And sixty years on he remains a controversial figure: distrusted by some and held in great love and esteem by others.  And me? Well, I suppose that all I can say, like the man whose sight was restored: ' all I know is: I was blind and now I can see!' The blog began as an attempt to try and make sense of the Sacred Heart.  I did not get it, and I think largely because of Teilhard, now I do. And, in the process I have not found myself wandering off into some strange wacky new-age Christianity.  Quite the opposite: I would say that the more I have allowed Teillhard writings to guide me, the more do I appreciate and value the traditional or orthodox teachings on the heart of Jesus! And that, it seems to me, is significant.  Thus reading Teilhard on the heart of Jesus  - as Christ Omega and the heart and centre of the universe - has not led me to reject the traditional devotion which was so dear to Teilhard's mother.  Teilhard believed that the Sacred Heart was a living symbol of  Divine love which was vital to the future of the Church: he did not reject his mother's devotion, he wanted to expand and enlarge it.  We must never forget that Teilhard's whole system of thought was rooted in and centred on the Sacred Heart.  As we remember Teilhard today in our prayers  we should also pray that Catholics rediscover the Sacred Heart !

Looking back, I recall that the starting point for the blog was Teilhard's short story in the style of R.H. Benson (an author cited by Pope Francis a while ago!)  in which he describes an experience of praying with a picture of the Sacred Heart. Perhaps it was the one by Pinter (above) that he carried with him.  Robert Faircy S.J. recounts that Teilhard had told Jeanne Mortier that 'The picture' was an account of his own personal mystical experience - and I find that entirely plausible.  From this time on (1916)when he wrote 'The Picture' it is apparent that the Sacred Heart had indeed become the foundation of all his subsequent work. (Read Faircy here on this point.)  If we want to understand why the Sacred Heart was so absolutely central to Teilhard, we must always return to 'The Picture'. Read here - chapter 2.)

Today I have been reading and re-reading 'The Picture'  and reflecting on my own journey thus far. The piece was written , with two others, 'The Monstrance' and 'The Pyx' just before a battle at Nant-le-Grand the October of 1916. Reading the first story in the context of the other two I am reminded how it is really all here in these mystical stories.  All that comes after is in so many ways just an exploration of the thoughts and feelings contained in these brief stories.  Above all, we see how central  Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist is to his whole life and his life's work. 'Christ in the World of Matter' provides us with an insight into how, by this time,  the universe 'in all its power and multiplicity, came to assume [for him] the lineaments of the face of Christ'.   Teilhard makes it clear that his intellectual development as a priest -scientist was grounded in a mystical experience: the foundations of his geology were laid down in the metamorphosis of the Great War in which he came to a profound understanding of the meaning of the Sacred Heart and the mystery of the Eucharist.  In 'The Picture' he recounts an experience of seeing an image of the Sacred heart 'melt' : like a the process of forming an igneous rock.  And then, it begins to undergo a metamorphic process of transforming into a new form. I allowed my gaze to wander over the figure’s outlines I suddenly became aware that these were melting away: they were dissolving, but in a special manner, hard to describe in words. When I tried to hold in my gaze the outline of the figure of Christ it seemed to me to be clearly defined but then, if I let this effort relax, at once these contours, and the folds of Christ’s garment, the lustre of his hair
and the bloom of his flesh, all seemed to merge as it were (though without vanishing away) into the rest of the picture. It was as though the planes which marked off the figure of Christ from the world surrounding it were melting into a single vibrant surface whereon all demarcations vanished.

The Sacred Heart was no longer just the familiar image: for Teilhard, it had become the centre of all creation. There was a heart at the centre of the universe: a heart which was filling all and uniting all things.

I perceived that the vibrant atmosphere which surrounded Christ like an aureole was no longer confined to a narrow space about him, but radiated outwards to infinity. Through this there passed from time to time what seemed like trails of phosphorescence, indicating a continuous gushing-forth to the outermost spheres of the realm of matter and delineating a sort of blood stream or nervous system running through the totality of life.

Then, in the stories  concerning adoration of the Blessed Sacrament , 'The Monstrance' , and the experience of carrying the Eucharist in battle, 'The Pyx' , Teilhard shows that the Sacred Heart is to be found  and adored in the Eucharist.  These themes are to be  echoed and explored and refined in the decades to come, but they are never so purely expressed as in his ' Christ in the World of Matter'.  When we once begin to look at an image of the Sacred Heart with the intensity of Teilhard, we soon begin to understand that the whole of Teilhard's writings are about the Sacred Heart!  His whole life was centered on the Sacred Heart.  His message today is simple: centre your life on the heart of Christ. Place all your trust in the love of Christ. 

As we reflect on his life and pray for his immortal soul we recall the great prayer in his 'Mass on the World', composed a few years later (1923) :

Tu autem, Domine mi, include me in imis visceribus Cordis tui. Atque ibi me detine, excoque, expurga, accende, ignifac, sublima, ad purissimum Cordis tui gustum atqueplacitum, ad puram annihilationem meam.

‘And thou, my Lord, enfold me in the depths of thy Heart. And there keep me,
refine, purge, kindle, set on fire, raise aloft, according to the most pure desire of thy
Heart, and for my Cleansing extinction.’

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Together for the common good

It is excellent news that here in the UK there has been a genuine and broadly-based interest in Catholic Social Teaching over the last few years.  Although that is not so surprising considering the shallowness and narrowness of the political 'debate' in Britain in recent decades.  That is not to say that the debate was much better in the good old days when citizens had a 'reasonable' level of trust in politics and politicians.    The truth is that liberal democracies such as the UK are now facing a cul-de-sac, a dead-end  in every sense.  A recent book edited by Nicolas Sagovsky and Peter McGrail shows us a way to get out the mess that modern capitalism, statism and individualism has brought about  by exploring the concept of  the 'common good' as it has been developed in the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Go Here

 The publication of Together for the Common Good: Towards a National Conversation (SCM Press) this month shows how people on the left and right of the political spectrum as well as across religious traditions are discovering what the social teachings of the Catholic Church can bring to the ‘conversation’ about the future of the country.  We should all pray that the book will be successful in facilitating a ‘national conversation’ as to the task of realising the common good.  It is really a remarkable publication which we can only hope and pray will help to shape the political agenda in this country - especially as we enter into a general election campaign.  Given the importance of a British Catholic, Cardinal Manning, in the story of CST in the late 19th century it is appropriate to keep him  in mind as we talk about the importance of CST for Britain in the early 21st century.

In praying for this 'conversation' between Christians and other faiths ( and those with none) to yield fruit we might as Catholics remember the important connections between Catholic Social Thought (CST) and the Sacred Heart.

So, although it is encouraging to see CST being discussed in this new book,  it is important to make sure that the development of the social teaching of the Catholic Church is understood within its proper spiritual and religious context.   As is well known, for example, Pope Leo XIII’s  great encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) has an important and defining place in the history of CST.  And, of course, we may also draw attention to the considerable role played by Cardinal Manning in developing Catholic social teaching in the late 19th century.  It is by no means a coincidence, however , that both Cardinal Manning and Leo XIII were greatly devoted to the Sacred Heart.  In the case of Leo XIII,  it was his encyclical on the Sacred Heart (Annum Sacrum) in 1899 which marked  the consecration of the whole world to the Sacred Heart.  Pope Leo (1878-1903)-saw the strengthening of the devotion as absolutely necessary in the fight against the evils of  secularism and an economic system which was predicated Annum Sacrum as the greatest act of his entire Pontificate!

Why? The reason was simple: real change can only come when Christ reigns in the hearts of human beings.  Politics has its limits: we should not place too much hope in political processes.  As Leo put it in the encyclical: it is in the Sacred Heart that 'all our hopes should be placed, and from it the salvation of men is to be confidently besought.' - and not in states and markets or  ideologies.   It is from love of God that we can draw strength to confront evil and promote and defend the common good. Pope Leo passionately believed that the social teaching of the Church and its spiritual and religious teachings were absolutely integral to one another: hence the centrality of the heart of Jesus.  For Leo, devotion to the divine love and mercy of God as expressed in the heart of Jesus was therefore a form of both personal and public  resistance to the materialism and secularisation of the age.

Change involves human beings, it is not just about 'the state' or 'the economic system': the "sovereign power of Christ over men’ he said, ‘ is exercised by truth, justice, and above all, by charity.’   Of course, as Leo appreciated,  the state and the economic order are important and needs to be changed in line with CST:  but change also involves individuals changing their lives.  CST is all about changing the heart.  Social change has to begin in the hearts of each one of us. Servant of God, Dorothy Day, a great figure in the story of CST, (Read Here)  summed it up in this way:

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun.' - Dorothy Day, from Loaves and Fishes

 The Sacred Heart serves to remind us that Jesus wants a relationship with us as individuals.  Jesus wants to change our heart: he asks us to learn from his meek and humble heart!  The personal is political.  Yes, we must seek change in the social, political order and structures.  Yes, we must challenge and oppose forms of economic organization which are destructive of human dignity. But, that is not enough. It is never enough.   The Catholic Church, as Pope Francis reminded us, is not an NGO,  it is our mother ( here)  who is concerned above all with our internal life - our  heart .  So if we wish to advance the common good, we must first  open our hearts to God, for as Pope Leo taught:  ‘in that Sacred Heart all our hopes should be placed'.  All our hope and all our trust. Without Christ in our hearts, he warned, we will destroy ourselves by an 'excess of liberty.' Liberal democracy is paying the price for the ' excess of liberty'  and excessive materialism.  As Christian citizens we should be very wary about putting all our hopes in the hands of government or in markets.  All too often that has resulted in a misplaced and dangerous faith in the state or the market, or a misplaced faith in philosophies and theories. And all too often that has resulted in the moral and spiritual aspects of public policy being ignored or marginalised. Ultimately we must place all our hope in the power of God's love working in the human heart.

Thus reading Rerum Novarum  without reading Annum Sacrum  is really missing the entire point of CST.  As human beings we have to understand the limits of what politics,  state or the market can achieve.  Without change at the individual level in the depths of our interior life, change at the other levels are in reality and inevitably rather shallow. In a world which is profoundly individualistic and materialistic, real and deep change has to be at the individual and spiritual level.  A better world needs a change in our hearts: because our interior life and the life of world are connected.    It is for this reason also that Cardinal Manning (1808- 1892)  although someone was very much engaged in the politics of his time, was deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart.  So, I would encourage anyone who is interested in CST to read  Dignity and Rights of Labour, Burns and Oates, 1934,  ( a collection of Manning's writings on CST) to grasp the scale of his criticism of the economic and social order, but also to read his great book on the Sacred Heart: The Glories of the Sacred Heart, published in 1876.   Read about his open solidarity with the rights of workers in London, and his practical involvement but also about the pilgrimage he lead to the shrine of  the Sacred Heart at Paray-le -monial (in 1873) as a way of witnessing opposition to the materialism and secularism of the times and as a witness to the power of prayer in the face of the very injustices that he opposed in social and economic terms!  His support for the striking dock-workers  ( Read here Cardinal Nichols on Manning -  here for a report on the significance of the strike. ) , and his (much criticised) pilgrimage to the the shrine of the Sacred Heart in France were simply two sides of the same coin.  Consider, for example, his observations  made in one of his sermons to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of St Vincent de Paul in 1861:

Look at the condition of the classes of England; the  separation of the rich from the poor ; at the unequal  distribution of wealth ; at the unwieldy miseries and  irremediable distresses of our millions. Private charity -  is exhausted ; public relief breaks down ; and pauperism  and hunger gain head against all we do. We were told  the other day, that every week one person at least dies  of actual starvation in London. Whether that be so or  not, I cannot tell ; it is a statement put forward by those  who ought to know. With all our wealth and skill and  pride of government, the political powers of the world  are incapable of redressing evils such as these, which are  the degradations of barbarism, not the maladies of  Christian society. There is only one power that can  redress these social evils, that is, the supernatural power of charity. ..[it] is the  universal action of the same supernatural charity which springs from the Sacred Heart of Jesus...(Manning, Ecclesiastical Sermons, Vol. I., p. 89, read here -  my emphasis)

His point in this sermon  was that we utterly delude ourselves if we think that we can solve the problems of inequality and injustice, poverty and hunger by the use of our wealth, or our intelligence, or government.  He, of course, called for action from government and the exercise of intelligence  and skill to address the problems of inequality, but he also had no doubt that the only power that could change the world was the power of love.  Political power, however exercised, was 'incapable' of actually overcoming the evil which was in the world - such as the evil of wealth which is concentrated in the hands of a few.  No. For Manning, evil could only be overcome by the supernatural power of love. He saw that power being exercised in the work of people like St. Vincent de Paul. And in  the face of evil, Christians had to harness this power of love through prayer and in social action and in political activism to shape public opinion.  Christianity could not and must not stand passively on the side-lines, it had to be in the vanguard of confronting and challenging evil in all its social and economic and institutional manifestations.   Catholics in particular had to challenge the idea of progress as something that could take place in a society which had abandoned Christianity.  Although a minority then, as now, British Catholics, he believed, had to be active in opposing the ways in which religion is marginalised in a secular and increasingly statist society.  Real progress was fundamentally about moral and spiritual progress.  Manning took on the claims of modernity head on.  He disputed that human progress was just about the forward march of reason and science and ever better institutional arrangements and structures.  Benedict XVI makes Manning's   point in a more contemporary way in Spe Salvi:

good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough. Man can never be redeemed simply from outside. Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. . . It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.  (Benedict XVI: Spe Valvi, 25-6) 

Manning believed that Christians, like St. Vincent,  should challenge the moral and spiritual corruption of their societies; they should  ensure that the rich understood the responsibilities of wealth; they should  attend to the divisions  in society; and they should  'teach the poor to know'.  The common good was not just the responsibility of government, the common good was the responsibility of everyone.  Why? Because it concerned spiritual and moral corruption and improvement.  And that meant harnessing supernatural power: the love of God.

Manning believed that for humanity to reach its full potential it had have a care for the moral and spiritual  dimension of political, economic and social life.  Like Pope Leo, Manning’s approach to ‘social teaching’ was not to see it as detached from individual spiritual life and prayer:  quite the opposite, for Manning the devotion to the Sacred Heart was a personal but ‘political’ or social act and the social teaching of the Church was prayer and love in action.  In the heart of Jesus the public and private realms are united.  It is not surprising,therefore, that Saint John Paul  - the 'Pope of the Sacred Heart '-  ( as this blog has often noted) - also made several major contributions to CST: not least Laborem Exercens (1981); Sollicitudo Rei Socialis ( 1987) ; and Centesimus Annus  (1991).

What the Catholic Church has consistently taught in relation to social teaching from the very beginning (in Cardinal Manning's work and writings and later in Rerum Novarum ) is that, in the words of Benedict XVI in Caritas in Vertiate:

Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law ... It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches .. and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter.. (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.

Above all else, Christianity is about a personal relationship with the love of God made flesh in Jesus. As  Benedict  points out  in the encyclical :

Being A Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.

This is a central theme of Pope Francis’s  major statement on CST, Evangelii Gaudium - in which he cites the above passage from Caritas in Veritate ( see 1: 7)   CST in all its theological and philosophical richness is grounded in and founded upon the belief in a personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.  This is clearly stated in the first opening paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium:

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. .....The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.  I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them...

Our Christian joy, he says ' drinks from the wellspring of his brimming heart' (1.5).  And yet so much of our world is perverted by a 'covetous heart' (1.2).  However, our life in God has 'its source in the heart of the risen Christ'. (1.2)

SO: caritas, love,  is at the heart of the doctrines of CST.  Love is at the heart of subsidiarity, solidarity, the common good, and the dignity of the human person - and all the other key principles.  Because of this, the encounter with Jesus is at the very core of CST. AND, what is the most important symbol of Caritas and the call to a personal encounter with Christ in the Catholic Church?  Answer, the Sacred Heart. Simple. In contemplating Jesus with a heart wounded and on fire with love we enter into the great truth of Christianity: God the Almighty humbled himself to show us that He is Love!

The Sacred Heart in the Catholic tradition is the great symbol of the relationship Jesus desires to have with us as individuals: a heart to heart, and profoundly intimate encounter.  So although we must welcome the way in which CST is being employed by non-Catholics to develop a critique of modern society and foster a conversation between different faiths and between those who have none, we must never lose sight of  what the purpose of that teaching actually is: to show us how to follow Jesus Christ who loves us.   It is really all about love. Which is why, the Sacred Heart, as the most important symbol of God’s love, is so central to the task of translating CST into action.  To quote Pope Francis, who has as we have noted  in this blog,  has stressed time and time again the importance of a spirituality of the heart:

[The] Sacred Heart of Jesus, [is] the highest human expression of divine love..[it is] the ultimate symbol of God's mercy – but it is not an imaginary symbol, it is a real symbol, which represents the center, the source from which salvation for all humanity gushed forth. HERE

The role of the Church is not to be involved in politics per se , but to illuminate the public sphere by showing how the Gospel of Jesus Christ  - and the power of God's love - is relevant to the problems we face in the public sphere and how it can contribute to the struggle to secure the common good in the face of human sinfulness.  CST does not favour any particular form of social/political/ economic order.  It is perfectly possible to be a supporter of CST on any point on the ideological spectrum  provided that position is drawn from the key principles of the teaching. The purpose of CST  is to make you into  better conservative or a better democratic socialist or whatever. And these principles of CST have their source in the pierced heart of  Jesus - the 'highest human expression of divine love.'  For it is  there we find the core and very centre of CST: we must love God and love our neighbour as Jesus loves us. We must love with all our heart. Once again, just to state as Benedict put it, ‘Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law’.

Politics is about power.  CST has a very profound thing to say about this relationship between power and politics: do not fool yourself in thinking that politics is just about power of a material or secular kind.   There is also power of  a spiritual or supernatural kind which must be channeled into social and political action.  Cardinal Manning, perhaps the most important British Catholic associated with CST, put it best when he said that: 'There is only one power that can  redress these social evils, that is, the supernatural power of charity.'  The very same charity which ' springs from the Sacred Heart of Jesus'.

Given this, I do not think that  it is so surprising that CST is contributing to the formation of  new kind of consensus which can form a basis for a conversation between different faith traditions and people of no faith.  Manning actively gave his support to a cause ( a strike) which united people of different faiths and of none.   I think Manning, who so annoyed conservative Catholics  ( and he really annoyed them!) for the way he collaborated with other Christian denominations and the way he was respected and loved by the working classes and the Labour movement  and supported the cause of Russian Jews,  would have wholeheartedly endorsed the efforts of Together for the Common Good. We can only hope and pray that the teachings which he did so much to develop and promote can, in our present time,  serve the cause of unity and understanding between all people of good will who seek to advance the cause of the Common Good.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in you as we seek to disseminate and put into practice the social teachings of the Church.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Making a space for the one who dreams about us

Sometime ago I blogged quoting Servant of God Catherine Doherty's comments about Christianity  as a love affair between God and humanity. (HERE)  It is a powerful passage from her great book, The Gospel Without Compromise:

For too many people, the Christian faith is a series of dogmas and tenets to be believed, commandments and precepts to be observed and obeyed in a negative fashion. Of course Christians should believe in the dogmas of their faith; of course they must observe the commandments. But Christians must also realize, with a joy that can scarcely be expressed, that the Christian faith, in its essence, is a love affair between God and man. Not just a simple love affair: It is a passionate love affair. God so loved man that he created him in his image. God so loved man that he became man himself, died on a cross, was raised from the dead by the Father, ascended into heaven—and all this in order to bring man back to himself, to that heaven which he had lost through his own fault.
Catherine Doherty, The Gospel Without Compromise, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame. 1976, p77 

The Sacred Heart is in its most simple terms an image representing God's love affair with us : each and everyone of us!  Today the Pope urged us all this Lent to 'make a space' for God in our lives.  As Vatican Radio reported during morning mass today at Casa Santa Marta  Francis reminds us that God loves us : he dreams about us and dreams about re-creating us. He reminds us that, as Christians, we believe that God is in love with us.  That is the amazing thing!

Taking his cue from the first letter of the prophet Isaiah in which the Lord says He is “about to create new heavens and a new earth”, Pope Francis said that God’s second creation is even more “wonderful” than the first because when he makes the world over he does so in Jesus Christ. He renews everything and manifests his immense joy:
“We find that the Lord has so much enthusiasm: he speaks of joy and says ‘I will exult in my people’. The Lord thinks of what He will do and of how He will rejoice with His people. It’s almost as if he has a dream. He has a dream. His dream is about us. ‘Oh, how beautiful it will be when we are all together, when this and that person will walk with me… I will exult in that moment!’ To bring you an example that can help us better understand, it’s like when a girl or a boy think of their beloved: ‘when we will be together, when we marry…’. It’s God’s ‘dream’”.
“God – the Pope continued – thinks of each of us and loves each of us. He ‘dreams’ about us. He dreams of how He will rejoice with us. That’s why the Lord wants to ‘re-create’ us, He wants to renew our hearts so that joy can triumph:
“Have you thought about it? The Lord dreams of me! He thinks of me! I am in the Lord’s mind and in His heart! The Lord can change my life! And he has many projects: ‘we will build houses and plant vineyards, we will share our meals’… these are the dreams of someone who is in love…. Thus we can see that the Lord is in love with his people. And when he says to his people: ‘I haven’t chosen you because you are the strongest, the biggest, the most powerful. I have chosen you because you are the smallest of them all. You could add: the most miserable. This is whom I have chosen’. This is love”.
God “is in love with us” – Francis repeated, as he commented on the Gospel reading that speaks of the miraculous healing of the son of a Royal official:
“I don’t think a theologian exists who can explain this: it is impossible to explain. We can only think about it, we can feel, we can cry with joy. The Lord can change us. ‘And what must I do?’ Believe. I must believe that the Lord can change me, that He has the power to do so: just like the man in the Gospel whose son was sick. ‘Sir, come down before my child dies’. ‘You may go (Jesus said to him). Your son will live!’ That man believed in the words of Jesus and had set off. He believed. He believed that Jesus had the power to change his child, the health of his child. And he won. To have faith is to make space for God’s love, to make space for his power, for God’s power. Not for the power of a powerful person, but for the power of one who loves me, who is in love with me and who wants to rejoice with me. This is faith. This is believing: making space for the Lord so that he can come and change me”.

Read here.

Reflecting on the icon, I think it is significant that the image of Jesus opening his heart to us is also one which references Isaiah 65:17-21.  In the icon we see God making a new  heaven and a new earth. The old universe is being rolled up and an Angel is measuring the walls of the New Jerusalem. The Pope's words remind us that God desires to re-create us. God dreams of making us new.  The Sacred Heart is imploring us to make a space in our hearts for the love of God - a love that will utterly transform us. ' O Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like yours.'.