Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Holy Spirit and the Sacred Heart

A short while ago the Pope reminded us that we should always pray to the Holy Spirit.  He is , he said, the 'forgotten one'. Read Here.   Francis has made quite a few observations about the need for us to pray to the Holy Spirit for a heart that is open to the love of God. At mass today we read from Paul's letter to the Hebrews ( 3: 7-14)  in which he reminds us about the dangers of a hard heart - closed to God. And we then heard Psalm 94 which warned us about listening to the voice of  God and not hardening our hearts as the Israelites did at Meribah.

This relationship between our open/closed/hard heart and the heart of Jesus and the action of  the Holy Spirit is important - and hence in the icon we see the use of three symbols closely associated with the Holy Spirit.   Fire, water, cloud and light.  Fire - at the centre of the icon reminds of the way God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai as a burning bush ( Exodus 3.2).  It reminds us of how God led the people of God with a burning pillar of fire.( Exodus 13:21).  But is also reminds us Pentecost - when the Holy Spirit appeared as fire to the Apostles ( Acts, 2.3). Water is also an important symbol of the Holy Spirit.  As St John  emphasises , out of Jesus's heart flowed blood and water.  Water is the great symbol of life and the new life in baptism when we receive the Holy Spirit.  The image of John the Baptist in the icon prompts us to recall when the Holy Spirit was present as Jesus entered the river Jordan.  So water in the icon is there to remind us of the third person of the Holy Trinity.    At the base of the icon we also have 7 streams of water- which also serve to remind us of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

 A symbol that is a little less obvious is the circle of clouds which surround Christ. The cloud is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit because, of course, it is where the life-giving water comes from!  At the same time we find that God often appears in the form of a cloud  .  At the transfiguration the Apostles as covered by a cloud and are told that ' This is my Son, whom I love. `Listen to him!'  (Mark 9: 2-7)  As to light - it is everywhere in the icon. An icon uses gold to capture and reflect light in so many ways that the role of light is always a aspect of an icon that  stimulates reflection.

The Catechism says about these symbols of the Holy Spirit:

694 Water. The symbolism of water signifies the Holy Spirit's action in Baptism, since after the invocation of the Holy Spirit it becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth: just as the gestation of our first birth took place in water, so the water of Baptism truly signifies that our birth into the divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit. As "by one Spirit we were all baptized," so we are also "made to drink of one Spirit." Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life.

696 Fire. While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who "arose like fire" and whose "word burned like a torch," brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel.  This event was a "figure" of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes "before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah," proclaims Christ as the one who "will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Jesus will say of the Spirit: "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!"39 In the form of tongues "as of fire," the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself.  The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit's actions. "Do not quench the Spirit. "

697 Cloud and light. These two images occur together in the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the transcendence of his glory - with Moses on Mount Sinai,  at the tent of meeting, and during the wandering in the desert, and with Solomon at the dedication of the Temple.  In the Holy Spirit, Christ fulfills these figures. The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and "overshadows" her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus.  On the mountain of Transfiguration, the Spirit in the "cloud came and overshadowed" Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John, and "a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!'" Finally, the cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples on the day of his ascension and will reveal him as Son of man in glory on the day of his final coming.

In addition, of course, we have the image of Mary, who conceived through the Holy Spirit, and John the Baptist who was full of the Holy Spirit. See Catechism, 717-726.

And, of course, at the very centre of the icon we see the heart of Jesus which is open to us and we see Jesus imploring us to open our heart to the fire and water of God and inviting us into the great cloud of the Divine life. Again the Catechism is clear and concise: 'Christ's whole work is in fact a joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.' (727)

So, what is stopping us?  The Bible is very clear about what stops us in so many places.  What prevents us from opening up our hearts to Jesus is the 'hardness' of our hearts.  In a General Audience back in May 2013 Francis gave us a little prayer to help us soften and open our hearts:

This is a prayer we must pray every day: “Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God, make my heart open to goodness, make my heart open to the beauty of God every day”. I would like to ask everyone a question: how many of you pray every day to the Holy Spirit? There will not be many but we must fulfil Jesus’ wish and pray every day to the Holy Spirit that he open our heart to Jesus.

 Could not be clearer:

“Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God, make my heart open to goodness, make my heart open to the beauty of God every day.”

This a prayer we MUST say!!  Simple. 


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Francis - a Pope of the heart

Although Francis has made significant  comments about the Sacred Heart, he has not developed a 'theology of the heart of Jesus' as such.  ( Read here) But what is ever more apparent is how central is the spirituality of the heart to our Pope.  Two homilies this week have asked us to reflect upon the heart.  Just as an image of the Sacred Heart is inviting us to look into our own hearts, so Francis is calling for us to look at the state of our hearts.

In his homily,  as reported by Vatican radio, Thursday he had this to say:

Reflecting on what he called the “key word” in the liturgy during this time of the year, Pope Francis said Jesus ‘manifests’ himself at the Epiphany, at the Baptism, at the Wedding of Cana, but he asked: “how can we know God?” Francis explained that this truth is explained less by the intellect than by the heart.

“God is love! It is only on the path of love that you can know God. ‘Reasonable love’, ‘love accompanied by reason’. But love! And how can we love what we do not know? Love your neighbors”. This, the Pope said, is the doctrine of two Commandments: the most important is ‘You 
shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. And he pointed out that “to get to the first we must ascend the steps of the second: that means that through our love for our neighbor we can get to know God, who is love. Only through loving can we reach love”.
That’s why, Pope Francis said, we have to love each other, because love comes from God and whoever loves has been generated by God:

“He who loves knows God; he who does not love has no knowledge of God because God is love”. But, Francis stressed: “it’s not the love of a ‘soap opera’. No, it is solid, strong and eternal. “It ‘manifests’ itself in the Son, in the Son of God who has come to save us. It is a concrete love made of works and not of words. To know God we must walk through life in love, love for our neighbor, love for those who hate us, love for all”.

Flower of the Almond Tree
Pointing out that God sent us his only Son to free us from sin, Pope Francis said that in the person of Jesus we can contemplate the love of God, and following His example, we can climb the steps, one by one, to God’s love, to the knowledge of God who is love. Recalling the words of the prophet Jeremiah, the Pope said that God's love precedes everything … He precedes us. “The prophet Jeremiah said that God was like the flower of the almond-tree, as it is the first tree that flowers in spring, meaning that God always flowers before us. When we arrive, He is already there waiting for us. … He is always there before us”.    

Turning his attention to the Gospel reading of the day that tells of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, The Pope said the Lord had compassion for the many people who had flocked to listen to Jesus “because they were like sheep without a shepherd, they had no orientation”, today – Francis said – so many people have no orientation, but God precedes just as he preceded the disciples who hadn’t understood what was going on.
“God’s love always awaits us; it always takes us by surprise. Our Father who loves us so much is always ready to forgive us. Always! Not once, always!”
Pope Francis concluded asking the Lord to give us the grace to be acquainted and to get to know God on the path of love."


The following day, Friday, he again returned to this theme of the heart:

The Pope’s reflections came from the day's gospel reading that recounted how the apostles were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on water.  And the reason for their terror, he explained, is that their hearts were hardened.

Pope Francis said a person’s heart can be made of stone for many reasons, such as, for example, a painful experience in one’s life. But as he went on to point out, another reason for hardened hearts is because people are closed in on themselves.

“Creating a world within one self, all closed in.  Closed within oneself, in one’s community or parish, but always closed in.  And this closure can revolve around so many things. But let’s think about pride, self-sufficiency, thinking I am better than others, and vanity too, right?  There are ‘mirror-men and women’ (who are wedded to their own image in the mirror), who are closed in on themselves and are constantly looking at themselves, right? These religious narcissists, right?  But they have a hardened heart because they are closed in on themselves, they are not open.  And they seek to defend themselves with these walls that they have created around themselves.”

The Pope said these hardened hearts in people can also arise from a problem of insecurity, such as those who barricade themselves behind the laws and rules, as though inside a prison, to feel safer and follow these rules to the letter, 
“When a heart becomes hardened, it’s not free and if it’s not free it’s because that person isn't capable of love, that was the fate of the Apostle John in the first Reading.  A love that’s perfect banishes fear: in love there’s no fear, because fear is expecting a punishment and a person who's afraid doesn’t have a perfect love. He or she is not free. They are constantly afraid that something painful or sad will occur, that will cause their life to go badly or will endanger their eternal salvation… What an (over-active) imagination, because he or she can’t love. A person who isn't capable of loving is not free.  And their heart was hardened because they hadn’t learnt how to love.”
The Spirit makes us free and docile not yoga or zen courses
Pope Francis concluded his homily by stressing that only the Holy Spirit can teach us how to love and free us from our hardened hearts. 
“You can follow a thousand catechism courses, a thousand spirituality courses, a thousand yoga or zen courses and all these things. But none of this will be able to give you the freedom as a child (of God).  Only the Holy Spirit can prompt your heart to say ‘Father.’ Only the Holy Spirit is capable of banishing, of breaking that hardness of heart and making it … soft?  No, I don’t like that word, … ‘docile’.  Docile towards the Lord.  Docile when it comes to the freedom to love.”

Read HERE.

In this teaching contained in his homilies the Pope has implicitly asked us to remember what we pray in the Litany of the Sacred Heart:

Iesu, mitis et humilis Corde, Fac cor nostrum secundum Cor tuum.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart , make our hearts like unto Thine. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Keeping the flame of Christmas alight

I always think that the challenge of Christmas is not unlike carrying the Olympic flame throughout the next 12 months! On Christmas night we are given the light of Christ that came into the world when God became human so that we might be able to share in the divine life.  Jesus has a human heart and he desires us to allow the love of God to flame in our hearts.  Christmas is not just for Christmas, of course, it is for life.  The Christ-child has to be re-born anew in our hearts every day.  We have to run the race of the new year with that light shining in our hearts and we must endeavour to make sure that it does not go out.   The Pope reminded us on the feast of the mother of God the other day  how we can do this.  As always we must look to the Holy Mother, our Blessed Lady. As Francis observed:

Mary is so closely united to Jesus because she received from him the knowledge of the heart, the knowledge of faith, nourished by her experience as a mother and by her close relationship with her Son. The Blessed Virgin is the woman of faith who made room for God in her heart and in her plans; she is the believer capable of perceiving in the gift of her Son the coming of that “fullness of time”(Gal 4:4) in which God, by choosing the humble path of human existence, entered personally into the history of salvation. That is why Jesus cannot be understood without his Mother.

Read here.

Keeping the flame of Christmas alive is all about learning from Mary, who 'made room for God in her heart and in her plans'.  This is our challenge in 2015: make room for God in our hearts, and place God in the very centre of all our plans.