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.’