Sunday, 4 September 2016

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

It is a wonderful day : we have a new Saint!  For those concerned to promote the devotion to the Sacred Heart, today's canonization is good news.  Saint Teresa was one of the most important promoters of the Sacred Heart in the twentieth century.  At a time when it was thought that the devotion was no longer relevant, Saint Teresa saw it as the very centre of her mission of love.

As she once said:

“By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus. '

And my prayer today is to ask Saint Teresa to pray for the church to be renewed by a great revival in the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

 Go here to explore the role of the Sacred Heart in her life and mission.

( The icon in the picture is very powerful, it would be good to find out more about it!)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Feast of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

A few years ago I noted on this blog the importance of the Sacred Heart to Edith Stein, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. See  here) Yesterday was her feast day, and it was timely reminder of the importance of this great Saint and how relevant she is to us in these violent and troubled times.

A passage of hers which strikes me as sone of the most beautiful and insightful  ever words written on the Sacred Heart came to mind yesterday , and they have remained with me:

'In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts... It draws us to itself with secret power, it conceals us in itself in the Father's bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in a small tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that still, white host.' 

These words are to found in her poem:  I Will Remain With You. Read it here

Monday, 13 June 2016

'Feast' of St Mary Magdalene

My attention is often drawn towards the image of Mary Magdalene in the bottom  right hand corner of the icon.  It was, I think, significant that the Pope signed the decree to raise her memorial to the dignity of a liturgical feast, on the feast of the Sacred Heart (3rd June 2016).
As Vatican Radio reported:

"In a letter announcing the change, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Arthur Roche, writes the decision means one “should reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy.” Archbishop Roche drew attention to the fact Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Resurrection, and is the one who announced the event to the Apostles. “Saint Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic evangelization; she is an evangelist who announces the joyful central message of Easter,” he writes. “The Holy Father Francis took this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to signify the importance of this woman who showed a great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” writes Archbishop Roche. He also notes Saint Magdalene was referred to as the "Apostle of the Apostles" (Apostolorum Apostola) by Thomas Aquinas, since she announced to them the Resurrection, and they, in turn, announced it to the whole world. “Therefore it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same grade of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the General Roman Calendar, and shines a light on the special mission of this woman, who is an example and model for every woman in the Church.” ( See here)

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The icon and ' Give Us this Day'

As I was walking down my drive this morning  I met a delivery man walking up it with a parcel from Liturgical Press. ( See here )   I was delighted to find enclosed copies of the latest number of 'Give us this Day' which has a picture of Ian's  icon on the cover.  For those who do not know about this excellent publication, go here.

I pray that in some small way it may hope to renew its readers devotion to the Sacred Heart.

I also hope that readers will learn more about the Bethlehem Icon Centre and School and the wonderful work it is doing in the Holy Land. Read about it here. 

Sadly, for some strange reason, I cannot edit sections of the blog anymore.  So the contact the blog section is out of date. But readers may contact the blog through  ''

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Francis and the scarred heart

The Pope's reflections on the Feast of the Sacred Heart becomes clearer when we place them in the context of his words to priests the previous day: ( See here)

I think this is an important contribution to Francis's teaching on the Sacred Heart. Here are a few passages which strike me as especially relevant.  I have lost track of the number of times I have typed ' the scared heart of Jesus' rather than 'sacred'.   In this reflection Francis reminds us that the sacred heart is indeed a scarred heart.

 God keeps forgiving, even though he sees how hard it is for his grace to take root in the parched and rocky soil of our hearts.  He never stops sowing his mercy and his forgiveness.

 The Lord never tires of forgiving us; indeed, he renews the wineskins in which we receive that forgiveness.  He uses a new wineskin for the new wine of his mercy, not one that is patched or old.  That wineskin is mercy itself: his own mercy, which we experience and then show in helping others.  A heart that has known mercy is not old and patched, but new and re-created.  It is the heart for which David prayed: “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 50:12). 

That heart, created anew, is a good vessel; it is no longer battered and leaky.  The liturgy echoes the heartfelt conviction of the Church in the beautiful prayer that follows the first reading of the Easter Vigil: “O God who wonderfully created the universe, then more wonderfully re-created it in the redemption”.  In this prayer, we affirm that the second creation is even more wondrous than the first.  Ours is a heart conscious of having been created anew thanks to the coalescence of its own poverty and God’s forgiveness; it is a “heart which has been shown mercy and shows mercy”.  It feels the balm of grace poured out upon its wounds and its sinfulness; it feels mercy assuaging its guilt, watering its aridity with love and rekindling its hope.  When, with the same grace, it then forgives other sinners and treats them with compassion, this mercy takes root in good soil, where water does not drain off but sinks in and gives life. 
The best practitioners of this mercy that rights wrongs are those who know that they themselves are forgiven and sent to help others.  We see this with addiction counsellors: those who have overcome their own addiction are usually those who can best understand, help and challenge others.  So too, the best confessors are usually themselves good penitents.  Almost all the great saints were great sinners or, like Saint Therese, knew that it was by sheer grace that they were not.

The real vessel of mercy, then, is the mercy which each of us received and which created in us a new heart.  This is the “new wineskin” to which Jesus referred (cf. Lk 5:37), the “healed sore”.
Here we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Son, Jesus, who is the Father’s mercy incarnate.  Here too we can find the definitive icon of the vessel of mercy in the wounds of the risen Lord.  Those wounds remind us that the traces of our sins, forgiven by God, never completely heal or disappear; they remain as scars.  Scars are sensitive; they do not hurt, yet they remind us of our old wounds.  God’s mercy is in those scars.  In the scars of the risen Christ, the marks of the wounds in his hands and feet but also in his pierced heart, we find the true meaning of sin and grace.  As we contemplate the wounded heart of the Lord, we see ourselves reflected in him.  His heart, and our own, are similar: both are wounded and risen.  But we know that his heart was pure love and was wounded because it willed to be so; our heart, on the other hand, was pure wound, which was healed because it allowed itself to be loved.

In the same reflection Francis also refers to another  dimension of the scarred heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin.  In particular he spoken about the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose shrined I have been privileged to visit twice.

  Ascending the stairway of the saints in our pursuit of vessels of mercy, we come at last to Our Lady.  She is the simple yet perfect vessel that both receives and bestows mercy.  Her free “yes” to grace is the very opposite of the sin that led to the downfall of the prodigal son.  Her mercy is very much her own, very much our own and very much that of the Church.  As she says in the Magnificat, she knows that God has looked with favour upon her humility and she recognizes that his mercy is from generation to generation.  Mary can see the working of this mercy and she feels “embraced”, together with all of Israel, by it.  She treasures in her heart the memory and promise of God’s infinite mercy for his people.  Hers is the Magnificat of a pure and overflowing heart that sees all of history and each individual person with a mother’s mercy.
            During the moments I was able to spend alone with Mary during my visit to Mexico, as I gazed at Our Lady, the Virgin of Guadalupe and I let her gaze at me, I prayed for you, dear priests, to be good pastors of souls.  In my address to the bishops, I mentioned that I have often reflected on the mystery of Mary’s gaze, its tenderness and its sweetness that give us the courage to open our hearts to God’s mercy.  I would now like to reflect with you on a few of the ways that Our Lady “gazes” especially at priests, since through us she wants to gaze at her people.
            Mary’s gaze makes us feel her maternal embrace.  She shows us that “the only power capable of winning human hearts is the tenderness of God.  What delights and attracts, humbles and overcomes, opens and unleashes is not the power of instruments or the force of the law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of its gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of its mercy” (Address to the Mexican Bishops, 13 February 2016).  What people seek in the eyes of Mary is “a place of rest where people, still orphans and disinherited, may find a place of refuge, a home.”  And that has to do with the way she “gazes” – her eyes open up a space that is inviting, not at all like a tribunal or an office.  If at times people realize that their own gaze has become hardened, that they tend to look at people with annoyance or coldness, they can turn back to her in heartfelt humility.  For Our Lady can remove every “cataract” that prevents them from seeing Christ in people’s souls.  She can remove the myopia that fails to see the needs of others, which are the needs of the incarnate Lord, as well as the hyperopia that cannot see the details, “the small print”, where the truly important things are played out in the life of the Church and of the family.
            Another aspect of Mary’s gaze to do with weaving.  Mary gazes “by weaving”, by finding a way to bring good out of all the things that her people lay at her feet.  I told the Mexican bishops that, “in the mantle of the Mexican soul, with the thread of its mestizo features, God has woven in la Morenita the face by which he wishes to be known”.  A spiritual master teaches us that “whatever is said of Mary specially is said of the Church universally and of each soul individually” (cf. Isaac of Stella, Serm. 51: PL 194, 1863).  If we consider how God wove the face and figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe into Juan Diego’s cloak, we can prayerfully ponder how he is weaving our soul and the life of the whole Church. 
They say that it is impossible to see how the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was “painted”; it seems to have been somehow “imprinted”.  I like to think that the miracle was not only that the image was imprinted or painted, but that the entire cloak was re-created, transformed from top to bottom.  Each thread – those threads of maguey leaf that women had learned from childhood to weave for their finest garments – was transfigured in its place, and, interwoven with all the others, revealed the face of our Lady, her presence and her surroundings.  God’s mercy does the same thing.  It doesn’t “paint” us a pretty face, or airbrush the reality of who we are.  Rather, with the very threads of our poverty and sinfulness, interwoven with the Father’s love, it so weaves us that our soul is renewed and recovers its true image, the image of Jesus.  So be priests “capable of imitating this freedom of God, who chooses the humble in order to reveal the majesty of his countenance, priests capable of imitating God’s patience by weaving the new humanity which your country awaits with the fine thread of all those whom you encounter.  Don’t give into the temptation to go elsewhere, as if the love of God were not powerful enough to bring about change” (Address to the Mexican Bishops, 13 February 2016).
These thoughts of the Pope provide much food for thought in this month when we have a special care to remember the scarred and sacred heart of Jesus, and the pure and open heart of his blessed mother.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

After a long absence, today draws me back to reflect on the icon and  Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Bridgend, South Wales. First built in the middle of the 19th Century, the present building was completed in 1998.    It was an appropriate church to celebrate the feast as the design of the building was inspired by the symbolism of the Pelican - a truly ancient Christian symbol of Christ.   The guide to the Church tells us that the 'interior shape  and design of the building , especially its support beams, convey  the sense of being within the heart of Christ'.  The Tabernacle  has splendid Pelican on the top and is engraved  with an image of the Pelican feeding its young.  Outside the church visitors are greeted by a large statue of the Sacred Heart, and there is, of course, one inside.  The symbol of the Pelican  has long since fallen out of popular favour - not least because we know that the Pelican does not feed its chicks with its own blood  when no other food could be had.  But for centuries the symbol of the Pelican as a a symbol of self-sacrificing love was widespread.  St Thomas, of course in   Adoro te devote says, for example:

Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

And as I sat in this lovely church I reflected on the profound truths which this ancient symbol expresses and marvelled at the wisdom of the parish in commissioning such a design in the 1990s!  However, I was less clear about the relationship between the readings  at mass and the Sacred Heart.  However, it all became clearer when I read the text of Pope Francis's homily today.  Read here.  So during the day the Pelican and Francis's words have made me think about the meaning of the feast!  I'm still thinking.

The Pelican image is clearly one which has great affinity to that of the Sacred Heart, and the Blessed Sacrament.  This is apparent in so much imagery which links the Sacred Heart, the eucharist and the Pelican, and the church in Bridgend does this on an architectural scale, as a simple holy picture does it in a small and intimate way.  Perhaps we have lost this 'pelican' sense of the Sacred Heart as a symbol of God's totally self-sacrificing love.  To enter St Mary's is to be reminded of it in a wonderful way.  So, it was a perfect place to celebrate the feast.    But, the readings at mass did not seem to connect with this, but having read Pope Francis's homily,  the connections started to happen.

As we have noted elsewhere on this blog, since becoming Pope Francis has progressively unfolded his teaching on the Sacred Heart. His remarks at mass were directed at priests, but they clearly have an application to all the faithful.  In the homily he had this to say in just a few extracts:

..the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus invites us all to turn to the heart, the deepest root and foundation of every person, the focus of our affective life and, in a word, his or her very core....
The Heart of the Good Shepherd is not only the Heart that shows us mercy, but is itself mercy. There the Father’s love shines forth; there I know I am welcomed and understood as I am; there, with all my sins and limitations, I know the certainty that I am chosen and loved. Contemplating that heart, .. The Heart of the Good Shepherd tells us that his love is limitless; it is never exhausted and it never gives up. There we see his infinite and boundless self-giving; there we find the source of that faithful and meek love which sets free and makes others free; there we constantly discover anew that Jesus loves us “even to the end” (Jn 13:1), without ever being imposing....Contemplating the Heart of Christ, we are faced with the fundamental question of our priestly life: Where is my heart directed? Our ministry is often full of plans, projects and activities: from catechesis to liturgy, to works of charity, to pastoral and administrative commitments. Amid all these, we must still ask ourselves: What is my heart set on, where is it directed, what is the treasure that it seeks? For as Jesus says: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).

Turning to the readings at mass, the Pope taught that:

            To help our hearts burn with the charity of Jesus the Good Shepherd, we can train ourselves to do three things suggested to us by today’s readings: seek out, include and rejoice.
            Seek out. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God himself goes out in search of his sheep (Ez 34:11, 16). As the Gospel says, he “goes out in search of the one who is lost” (Lk 15:4), without fear of the risks. Without delaying, he leaves the pasture and his regular workday. He does not put off the search. He does not think: “I have done enough for today; I’ll worry about it tomorrow”. Instead, he immediately sets to it; his heart is anxious until he finds that one lost sheep. Having found it, he forgets his weariness and puts the sheep on his shoulders, fully content.
            Such is a heart that seeks out – a heart that does not set aside times and spaces as private, a heart that is not jealous of its legitimate quiet time and never demands that it be left alone. A shepherd after the heart of God does not protect his own comfort zone; he is not worried about protecting his good name, but rather, without fearing criticism, he is disposed to take risks in seeking to imitate his Lord.
            A shepherd after the heart of God has a heart sufficiently free to set aside his own concerns. He does not live by calculating his gains or how long he has worked: he is not an accountant of the Spirit, but a Good Samaritan who seeks out those in need. .... Like every good Christian, and as an example for every Christian, he constantly goes out of himself. The epicentre of his heart is outside of himself. He is not drawn by his own “I”, but by the “Thou” of God and by the “we” of other men and women.
            Include. Christ loves and knows his sheep. He gives his life for them, and no one is a stranger to him (cf. Jn 10:11-14).  His flock is his family and his life. He is not a boss to feared by his flock, but a shepherd who walks alongside them and calls them by name (cf. Jn 10:3-4). He wants to gather the sheep that are not yet of his fold (cf. Jn 10:16).
            So it is also with the priest of Christ. He is anointed for his people, not to choose his own projects but to be close to the real men and women whom God has entrusted to him. No one is excluded from his heart, his prayers or his smile. With a father’s loving gaze and heart, he welcomes and includes everyone, and if at times he has to correct, it is to draw people closer. He stands apart from no one, but is always ready to dirty his hands. As a minister of the communion that he celebrates and lives, he does not await greetings and compliments from others, but is the first to reach out, rejecting gossip, judgements and malice. He listens patiently to the problems of his people and accompanies them, sowing God’s forgiveness with generous compassion. He does not scold those who wander off or lose their way, but is always ready to bring them back and to resolve difficulties and disagreements.
            Rejoice. God is “full of joy” (cf. Lk 15:5). His joy is born of forgiveness, of life risen and renewed, of prodigal children who breathe once more the sweet air of home. The joy of Jesus the Good Shepherd is not a joy for himself alone, but a joy for others and with others, the true joy of love. This is also the joy of the priest. He is changed by the mercy that he freely gives. In prayer he discovers God’s consolation and realizes that nothing is more powerful than his love. He thus experiences inner peace, and is happy to be a channel of mercy, to bring men and women closer to the Heart of God. Sadness for him is not the norm, but only a step along the way; harshness is foreign to him, because he is a shepherd after the meek Heart of God.
            Dear priests, in the Eucharistic celebration we rediscover each day our identity as shepherds. In every Mass, may we truly make our own the words of Christ: “This is my body, which is given up for you.”  This is the meaning of our life; with these words, in a real way we can daily renew the promises we made at our priestly ordination. I thank all of you for saying “yes” to giving your life in union with Jesus: for in this is found the pure source of our joy.

For me a few lines stand out and helped me to reflect on the feast of the Sacred Heart and the icon:  the first is that the Sacred Heart is a symbol of  "The epicentre of [our] heart [has to be ] outside of [ourselves]. We must be  drawn by not by our  selves , but by 'the “Thou” of God and by the “we” of other men and women.' The second is that we ought to focus more on the line 'This is my body given up for you.'  St Thomas refers to Christ as a Pelican, and it is this image which powerfully expresses the idea that to share the body and blood of Christ is to give up our hearts to God and to other people.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Heart hearts and hard times

The world is in one hell of a mess!  It is a real challenge to read a newspaper or watch TV or radio news without falling into a pit of despair.  The other day Pope Francis said something which made me think about the reasons behind the dire state of the world. It was in his homily on the story of Saul and David (see here) The Pope

May the Lord grant us the grace of an open heart, of a heart open to the voice of the Spirit, which knows how to discern what should not change, because it is fundamental, from what should change in order to be able to receive the newness of the Spirit.

Hard hearts  or cold hearts or hearts  of stone are one of the the main concerns of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Modern men and  women have closed their hearts to God. Without hearts open to the love of God and lives open to the Holy Spirit there is little hope for humanity.

Pope Francis's words prompted me to think of stone and why scripture refers to hearts of stone.  And this in turn prompted me to think ( of all things) about those lines in the film the Godfather III. As I live near the coast I spend a fair amount of time looking into pebble filled pools, and the words of Cardinal Lamberto  sometimes comes to mind -  when he picks up a stone from a fountain and  says :
' Look at this stone. It has been lying in the water for a very long time, but the water has not penetrated it.” He gives the stone a sharp blow and splits it in two.  Showing it to  Don Michael he observes, “Look. Perfectly dry. The same thing has happened to men in Europe. For centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity, but Christ has not penetrated. Christ doesn’t breathe within them.” View here.

And that is the sadness of it all.  Like the stones in water, human beings in the West have been surrounded by the living waters of Christ, but they have not been penetrated by it.  Their hearts are dry, hard and closed.  Is it any wonder that the world is in such a mess? The devotion to the Sacred Heart is more important to the future of humanity than we can really understand. The only hope for our planet is that we can open our hearts and allow God's spirit to penetrate us and breathe fire into us.