Tuesday, July 17, 2018

ABIDING IN CHRIST (1)



Listening to a directee talk of their recent pilgrimage to Walsingham and the way they were touched by the altar of the Annunciation and Holy House caused me to realise the way in which both of these speak powerfully of God’s invitation into an ever deepening relationship; with Him.
            The Annunciation reminds us that God is constantly and graciously calling us to say ‘yes’ to his invitation that we should give birth to the image of him within us. The movement, then, from that altar at Walsingham into the Holy House is a symbolic movement into the inner room where the Divine presence of Jesus and Mary dwell. The House is our Heart and we enter it through an ever-open door to give attention to him who is enthroned there. Teresa of Avila, of course, expounds this journey in her book The Interior Castle where she writes that the entrance into this ‘Castle’ or ‘Mansion’ is through interior prayer (meditation) and how the person who responds to God’s invitation into the Castle by needs to be cleansed of sin and practice humility. In the same way, the entrance into the Basilica of the Incarnation in Bethlehem is through a low door which requires the pilgrim to bend low in order to pass through. One moves further into the Castle through deepening prayer and a growth of loving desire for God, something of which the pilgrim seeking God in the Holy House will be deeply aware. There are further rooms which are accessed by an increase of this love until ‘betrothal’ occurs in the final room, or Mansion.
            All this is symbolic of the way the Heart is to be that Interior Castle in which God abides in Christ. If we give real attention to the Heart then that Divine Love will gradually melt our defences and draw us more deeply into union with the One who is always present to us. The Heart is, if you like, the locus of God’s hospitality.

‘O come to my Heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my Heart for Thee.’
______________________________________________________

https://www.walsinghamanglican.org.uk/

Thursday, July 05, 2018

SOLITUDE AND SILENCE



There are times I've heard people say they crave being ‘left alone’ and long for ‘a bit of silence’. And that’s understandable.  But being left alone so that one can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet is only OK, for most people, for so long. Then it’s back to wanting a bit of distraction, especially when there’s nothing much to do. Which may be why the kind of solitude and silence of a monastery can be rather intimidating. Because, as brothers and sisters of the Society of St Francis or the monks and nuns of Mucknall, Burnham Abbey, Fairacres etc. can tell you, silence and solitude also provides the place to encounter self and to work towards that inner conversion – the ‘conversion of the heart’ – which lies at the centre of religious faith. Having helpful spiritual experiences is one thing but this way of conversion where the old ‘self’ can die and a new self be born is quite another!  
            Yet this ‘new birth’ is the essence of the Christian story. The trouble is we live in a society which has become overly-attracted by the sensual and gives little attention to the internal. So it’s hardly surprising that the church seems to be giving most of its attention to this external world: ‘growth’ movements often seem to be about numbers and ‘Church Planting’ can sometimes lack sensitivity. We may recognise the need to be 'reaching out' but are we 'reaching in'? Is the growth of violence among young people in part due to having ignored their spiritual needs? At the very time when western society is gradually awakening to the effects of excessive consumption and the need to develop a profoundly deeper awareness of the relationship between humanity and the planet many in the church are looking west and embracing some of the suspect forms of American evangelism rather than looking east and re-discovering the riches of Christian, Sufi and Buddhist spirituality. Jesus, the Buddha and all the great teachers of spiritual wisdom – Teresa of Avila, Aelred of Rievaulx, Julian of Norwich and all those who see and can speak into the heart – have realised the need for periods of solitude and inner silence. But does the church? Does it really? Because, if it did, it might put the same kind of resources into developing what people really, in their hearts, need.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

GOD …. THE SACRED HEART OF BEING


A Woman Clothed with the Sun
- Julienne McLean
I was grateful to Julienne MacLean, the Jungian analyst and teacher of Carmelite spirituality, for introducing me today to the writings of Sara Sviri and, in particular, to a book she has written called Taste of Hidden Things: Images on the Sufi Path.  Sara is herself a Sufi and I was deeply touched by some of the things she wrote about the Sufi teaching concerning the ‘Oneness of Being’.
            I was immediately struck by the way this connects with our Christian understanding of God as a Union of Beings whom we refer to as ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. But I found myself being drawn further and finding in that term, ‘Oneness of Being’, a way into an understanding of God as the Sacred Heart of Being. Whatever God ‘is’, and it is impossible to define God –  all we can do is to ‘stand-under’ rather than ‘understand’ the mystery – but we can and many are drawn to gaze upon, or contemplate, this mystery. That ‘oneness of Being’ is what gave ‘birth’ to the sun and moon and stars; from that oneness flows the whole of creation, which is why we are told that it is the image and likeness of God. Why Jesus could say that ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:40, 45) and why  St Francis of Assisi realised that all things were inter-related and referred to earth and fire and water, the wolf and ass – even death itself – as our brother and sister. For if God is spoken of as our ‘Father’ then Francis realised Earth to be our ‘Mother’.  We are one with all things and all things have a common origin in the sacred mystery – the Heart – of Being.
            And so we belong together, find our identity and sense of being in relationship with each other and are enriched by sharing in the sacred work of creativity. For creativity, especially when connected with humanity, must be sacred. Whenever, them, we stand before aspects of creation – a vast land or sea-scape, range of mountains or tiny butterfly and really give it our attention ­we can be profoundly moved. Why insubstantial love, love which seeks to enfold us and invites us to reach out to another, is the greatest gift we have. Why profound music or great paintings, poetry and sculpture have a sacred quality to them. And why prayer is so important. For whilst we may have the occasional awareness of being taken out of ourselves into the Other the discipline of prayer – what is called contemplative prayer – works on our own inner being and will make it increasingly sensitive to the Sacredness of Being. Contemplation of the Other will draw us more deeply into the Heart of the Other, into the Sacred Heart of Being. This is what people like Teresa of Avila realised and addressed as the ‘Interior Castle’, what John of the Cross gave himself to because of the way he realised himself being drawn to journey into the mystery of love, and what the author of the great medieval work of English mysticism taught lay behind a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’. Countless women and men have found that themselves joining with others from different religious traditions where the one commonality is the notion of the Oneness of Being that delights in drawing us into union.
            And it is why the notion of fragmenting that union, of damaging it or destroying it, causes so many to despair and why compassion is to be found deep in that Sacred Heart of Being. Seeing brokenness the contemplative, or person of prayer, will seek to hold that fragmentation and place it before the Heart of Being, offering love as a means of healing the dis-ease of brokenness. The contemplative is also a channel of that healing by the simple fact of seeking to let their own heart stay still and focussed so that, deep within them, they are at-one with the Sacred Heart of Being. With God. 
John-Francis 04.07.18

Sunday, July 01, 2018

ABIDING IN SOLITUDE

In the late summer of 1975 Bill Kirkpatrick, later known as Br Aelred William and then Fr Bill, began to test his vocation as a Franciscan at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, at that time the initial formation House of the Anglican Society of St Francis.  He had been born in Canada where, at the age of 18, he had worked with Fr Aelred Carlyle who had become Chaplain to the Nursing Home his mother ran. That Aelred had founded, in about 1895, the first Benedictine community for men in the Church of England and became Abbot of Caldey Island where they finally settled. But by the time they met Aelred had been released from his vows. Bill was a qualified nurse and, after ordination, had become Coordinator of the homeless charity, Centrepoint in Soho. At his novicing in 1976 Bill took the name of Aelred William – ‘Aelred’ after the great 12th c. Cistercian saint of Rievaulx whose classic work, On Spiritual Friendship, greatly appealed to him (and, possibly, connected him to Aelred Carlyle) whilst ‘William’ was not only his baptismal name but also the name of the founder of Glasshampton monastery (Fr. William Sirr SDC d.1937 – a contemplative whose life and spirituality many saw resembled that of St Charles de Foucauld. St Charles had inspired the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus whose charism would also influence Bill).  But he wasn’t destined for the Religious Life and, in 1978 left the Franciscans, settling in a small flat in Earls Court where he became an Honorary As­­sist­ant Curate at St Cuthbert’s, Phil­beach Gardens. From his flat he founded the ministry known as ‘Reaching Out’, a ‘hearing-through-listening’ service freely available to all. Bill described this as ‘a small cell of contemplative action within the Earls Court area … allowing for a ministry of sharing from within the sacredness of each other’s vulnerabilities and strengths where there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. This ministry led to a vital yet to a large extent hidden ministry to the LGBT community in Earls Court, a ministry which helped shape his vocation and had its most profound effect when AIDS emerged in the 1980’s. Bill’s was a life of “being there” informed by Divine Compassion. 

In his book The Creativity of Listening Bill writes of the way he spent a month in 1975 with the RC Franciscans at San Damiano in Assisi and met, during the last two weeks of his stay, Raymond Lloyd.  ‘Raymond’s charismatic enthusiasm was infectious’ he wrote, ‘We laughed, sang, ran up and down hills and spent much time in prayer in the carious chapels within the cathedral and  elsewhere in the area.’ In the same year that Bill left the Franciscans Raymond, another former nurse, would also go to test his vocation to the Franciscans. This description of the brief meeting of two souls who shared so much in common seems to illustrate a Principal of Franciscan life:

‘… the brothers and sisters, rejoicing in the Lord always (Phil 4.4) must show forth in their lives the grace and beauty of divine joy. They must remember that they follow the Son of Man, who came eating and drinking (Luke 7.34), who loved the birds and the flowers, who blessed little children, who was a friend of tax collectors and sinners (cf Mark 10.16), who sat at the tables alike of the rich and the poor. They will, therefore, put aside all gloom and moroseness, all undue aloofness from the common interests of people and delight in laughter and good fellowship. They will rejoice in God’s world and all its beauty and its living creatures, calling (nothing) profane or unclean. (Acts 10.28)

They will mingle freely with all kinds of people, seeking to banish sorrow and to bring good cheer into other lives. They will carry with them an inner secret of happiness and peace which all will feel, if they may not know its source.’ (Day 28)

They were not to meet again.

Raymond had grown up in the Welsh non-conformist tradition and had had a conversion experience when he was seven. He took part in many evangelistic missions and his utter love for Christ and the gospel drew him to pacifism. Later he became a Baptist pastor before being ordained as an Anglican priest before testing his vocation to the Franciscans. In 1979 Raymond was made a novice of the Society and took the name Ramon after the great 13th century Spanish Franciscan, Ramon Lull (or Llull). Lull had entered the Third Order of St Francis in 1263 shortly after a series of visions. Apart from probably writing the first major piece of literature in Catalan he also wrote mystical poetry and his greatest work was probably his ‘Book of the Lover and the Beloved’:

"Tell me, lover," said the beloved, "will you still be patient if I double your suffering?" "Yes, as long as you also double my love."

"If ye will have fire," the Lover cried cried, "O ye that love, come light your lanterns at my heart." This aphorism would have appealed to Ramon whose heart burned with a powerful love for God.
            I feel privileged to have known both men who, to me, mirror souls whose love of God is so powerful – or, perhaps I should say whose awareness of God’s love for them was so powerful – that it led each to a form of the solitary life. Not that either lived apart from others – Bill had his hermitage beneath a pavement in Earls Court Road in south west London where he would spend a significant period of time each morning in silent prayer, whilst most nights would be spent talking to people on the streets and bars of Earls Court. Ramon, on the other hand, never left the Franciscans but was permitted to spend long periods of time in a variety of hermitages in Dorset, North Wales and, finally, Glasshampton in Worcestershire. Yet what both experienced was the lure, the draw – the call – of silent, solitary contemplative prayer. Of that call Ramon wrote: ‘One of the most precious experiences of the time was to descend into the depths beyond my own individuality into a profound corporate sense of our common humanity with its pains and joys, ands to find that the divine Love is in and through all, and will ultimately be manifested as ‘all in all.’ (Br. Ramon SSF, A Hidden Fire, Marshall Pickering, p.57). Bill, on the other hand, wrote profusely about the importance of listening in depth – of ‘being there’ for people and of the value of ‘co-creativity’.  That 'co-creativity' can only occur when the call of 'deep unto deep' is heard (Ps.42.7). As someone said: 'their disposition to allow God to pull them into their depths, in the grittiness of life without removing them from it, empowers them to be evermore immersed in human reality. Going beyond/below themselves and into that place where the Divine resides within, propels them into that fullness of life which exudes love, compassion and friendship to all.' (1)
            Bill and Ramon both found in Mother Mary Clare SLG 2woman whose wisdom they valued and who helped to guide them forward in their eremitical ways. (*Mother Mary Clare had written about solitude and prayer (Encountering the Depths, SLG Press, 1993). 
            They were also informed by the writings of people such as Thomas Merton; Bill had a paper published by the Thomas Merton Society, A Contemplative in the City’ (date unknown) in which he says: As I pray within and before the mystery of God for the world and for all God’s people, I can identify with Thomas Merton when he writes, ‘I am talking about a special dimension of inner discipline and experience, a certain integrity and fullness of personal development which are not compatible with action, with creative work, with dedicated love. On the contrary, all these go together’3.  Merton’s influence on Ramon can be explored in his book Soul Friends – a Journey with Thomas Merton. 4
            Both also wrote a series of books which in different ways concern this ‘listening to the Other’ and which continue to speak to people. And whilst both had their own, small physical hermitages it is clear that it was the ‘cell of the heart’ that mattered to them –that place deep within them where they encountered the One they sought. It was also their struggle with solitude and prayer which truly united them in that inner place.
Ramon died in June 2000 and Bill in January 2018 although his ministry had been curtailed in 2007 after a serious breakdown.
            People like Bill and Ramon do not often appear in the life of the Church but those three decades, from 1978 to 2007, they shone for a brief time like stars in the firmament and, if the Church of England had a process for recognising saints, would be clear candidates. We poorer for their passing but enriched through their lives.
_________________________________
1  JMO’B
2 Mother Mary Clare SLG:
'Our life proves the reality of our prayer, and prayer which is the fruit of true conversion is an activity, an adventure - and sometimes a dangerous one - because it brings neither peace nor comfort, but always challenge, conflict and new responsibility.  We must try to understand the meaning of the age in which we are called to bear witness. We must accept the fact that this is an age in which the cloth is being unwoven. It is therefore no good trying to patch. We must, rather, set up the loom on which coming generations may weave new cloth according to the pattern God provides. We must learn to wait upon the Spirit of God. As he moves us, we are led into deeper purgation, drawn to greater self-sacrifice, and we come to know in the end the stillness, the awful stillness, in which we see the world from the height of Calvary.’ 
3  Merton, T. 1971, Contemplation in a World of Action, London, George Allen and Unwin.
4  Br Ramon SSF, Soul Friends – a Journey with Thomas Merton, Marshall Pickering, 1989

Monday, June 25, 2018

GOD IS - the isness of is



GOD – in orthodox thought that three-letter word identifies all that humankind aspires to, inviting us to reach beyond our personal safety zones and overcome all life-diminishing forces. And it can be used to dehumanise us. God is … no-thing; God identifies all that is creative, every word that invites us into the fullness of life and to walk that path; the Spirit that animates and enables our human-being.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

PRIESTS OF THE HEART OF JESUS



‘The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.’ (St John-Marie Vianney)
_________________________________

And with those few words the Cure d’Ars identifies the heart of the priestly vocation. Every priest is called to live out of the Heart of Jesus.

Often I hear of people saying they’re going to be a ‘vicar’ or asking what it’s like to be a vicar – but no one’s ordained to be a vicar!  Or rector, chaplain, padre or whatever; these are simply some of the roles priests inhabit. What we need to do is to reclaim the centrality of ‘being priests’, priests of the Heart of Jesus.  We should not be afraid to reclaim that word for it speaks of sanctification even though many of us fail in that calling. The role – vicar, rector, chaplain etc. can overwhelm anyone but the vocation will always be refreshing. For our vocation is rooted in Christ in whom we are enfolded and who feeds our hearts in His love.   The book I have written concerns that calling.

It’s also apparant that people are being attracted by, and encouraged to consider, being a ‘leader’ as if priesthood and leadership were the same. They are not. When I was a Franciscan it was clear that priest-brothers were not, necessarily, called to be leaders of communities. If the church wants leaders then there is no need for them to be ordained. But if it wants priests, pastors of the flock and ministers of the altar that is a different matter. Not all priests are called to be leaders and not all leaders are called to be priests.

So my book isn’t about leadership but it is about priesthood and what needs to nourish and nurture that vocation. The way in which the Church of England is placing so much emphasis on leadership begs questions about the nature of the Church. I know that many sense a ‘business’ model is influencing the hierarchy and wondering whether this is what the church needs, wondering what has happened to the notion of the primary call of the Reign of God, of Christian sanctification and pastoral care. So my book is an attempt to address this growing imbalance; an attempt to re-focus into the Heart of Him who invites us to share what lies deeply in His Sacred Heart.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

PRIESTS OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS


In reading Fr John Croiset SJ's The Devotion to the Sacred Heart I was struck by discovering the Vows St Margaret Mary Alacoque made to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Eve of All Saints (I cannot find the year).  Couched in the language of 17th century France some of them are very particular to her but a number would be applicable to any Christian seeking to live in closer union with the Heart of Christ.  They also seem of particular importance to the sanctification of priests:

š  To commit to pray the Daily Office;

š  To respect others and strive to honour all, even those I find it hard to love;

š  Not to seek for any reward save that of doing the Will of God;

š  To offer myself to my bishop to be used for the good of the Church;

š  To give myself, day by day, to living out of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ and to consider my life as a ‘living sacrifice’, offered on the altar of the world;

š  To never seek out the faults in others “and when I am obliged to speak of them, to do so only in the charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.”

š  To be generous in my judgments of others;

š  To seek the good of all;

š  To live out of the Divine Will of our Father in heaven;

š  To refrain from “dwelling voluntarily, not only on bad thoughts, but on thoughts that are useless.”


š  To offer my life to the greater glory of God.

These commitments, rooted in our Baptismal consecration, are so easily forgotten but are gems which would enrich the lives of those who are called to live out of the 'Love of the Heart of Jesus'.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

A SERMON FOR CORPUS CHRISTI


Readings: Exodus 24: 3-8; Hebrews 9: 11-15; S. Mark: 14: 12-16 & 22-26 

"To be possessed by Jesus and to possess Him –
that is the perfect reign of Love."

ª

INTRODUCTION
Recently I was reminded by a friend that the best sermons consist of three points  He illustrated this dictum with the story of how a young ordinand on one Feast of Corpus Christi preached what was arguably the most comprehensive and theologically profound three point sermon ever given .… and this is what he said:
            Point 1: Jesus is God
            Point 2: Mary is his Mother
            Point 3: Go to Mass
and then sat down, thus earning the eternal gratitude of the entire congregation.  

I’m not going to sit down that quickly but my three points as we celebrate Corpus Christi are these:   
Firstly, Jesus is really present in the Most Holy Sacrament. 
Secondly, He holds us in His Sacred Heart. 
And, thirdly, we need to give our profound attention to Him.

You’ll notice that I mention the Sacred Heart of Jesus because I believe they are profoundly connected.  Eight days after this Feast, on the Octave day, the Church celebrates the great Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus because when we gaze on the Host it is not the outer form of bread we want to behold but the heart of Christ.  And we want Him to gaze on us from His Sacred Heart.  But, sadly, most Anglicans have probably never heard of this celebration – which is to our profound loss.  But let’s begin by reflecting on the way that Jesus is truly present in this Most Holy Sacrament. 

1. JESUS IS TRULY PRESENT IN THIS SACRAMENT
Today we join our fellow Christians around the world in affirming His Real Presence in our midst.  On Maundy Thursday we worshipped with Jesus in Jerusalem as he observed the Passover Feast before His Passion and Death.  Now we recognise His continuing presence with us, a presence made explicit in those words: ‘This is my Body, which is for you.”  So, today, we give our attention to Jesus present with us in the Blessed Sacrament. 
            So today is all about affirming that, as we are present to Him, He is present to us.  And as we are present to Him and feed on His Real Presence: ‘The Bread of Life himself changes the person who eats, assimilating and transforming us into himself’ as someone once wrote. ‘See in what sense the Kingdom of heaven is within us!’ (Nicolas Cabasilas)

2. JESUS HOLDS US IN HIS LOVE
Secondly, Jesus holds us in His love.  That we’re at-one with Divine Love is made explicit in those words of the 19th c. French priest St. Peter Eymard: "To be possessed by Jesus and to possess Him, that is the perfect reign of Love."  Knowing that we’re loved by God is fundamental to living by Faith and this Feast reminds us that He who made us and came among us is eternally, lovingly present with us.  And our primary calling is to live in that love. 
            In eight days’ time, on the Octave day of this Feast of Corpus Christi, comes that great Feast of the Sacred Heart which reinforces this profound calling.  It’s a celebration that’s no optional extra, rather it complements Corpus Christi by its focus on the Divine Compassion of God in Christ.  The great Franciscan saint, Bonaventure, wrote these beautiful words: ‘I have found this Heart in the Eucharist when I have found there the Heart of my Sovereign, of my Friend, of my Brother, that is to say, the Heart of my friend and Redeemer. …  Come, my brethren, let us enter into this amiable Heart never again to go out from It.’
            Of course some people will find all this talk of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Heart very flamboyant.  But love is passionate, as Bp. Michael Curry revealed at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  It’s not academic or disinterested: we need to allow God’s love for us to permeate into the depths of our heart.  Some people talk about there being a crisis of faith in the western world but I think that, if there is a crisis, then it concerns the way so many don’t realise the depths of God’s love for them.   
            And these twin Feasts of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart hold us into that deep truth and invite us to allow it to possess us.  One of the problems I frequently encounter through the ministry of Spiritual Direction is that of accepting we are loved.   For too many people childhood was not a time when they learnt this: rather it was a time when they learnt that love had to be earned: it did not come without a cost.  And even the best parent, seeking to love their child to the full, will always make mistakes.   We are adrift in a world where nobody really has the faintest idea what it might feel like to be unconditionally loved.  This is beyond our experience.  Love, even the best we can offer, always comes with provisos and limitations.  So, my final point is that we need to give profound attention to this mystery of God’s love for us.

3. GIVING PROFOUND ATTENTION TO JESUS
A nineteenth century Franciscan, and friend and contemporary of St Peter, was St. John Marie Vianney, better known as the Curé d’Ars.  Some of you may know the moving story about him that speaks powerfully of this need to give our attention to Jesus. 
            Each day an old farmer would enter the village church and sit before the Tabernacle in which, of course, resides the Blessed Sacrament just as it does here in the hanging Pyx.  St John would watch him until, one day, he decided to ask what the old man did when he sat there.  His response was very simple and has become world famous:  I look at him, he looks at me and we tell each other that we love each other.” 
            That old farmer was contemplating Jesus’ presence in the Tabernacle: he was opening his heart to the Holy Communion of Love.  I often wonder if our Church really encourages people to adopt this contemplative gaze in church – or in life.  We may be well known for our welcome, offer wonderful hospitality, or care for one another, especially those in need, and all of that is right and proper.   But are we well known for our devotion to Jesus?  Nowadays, if you go into many churches, they are often full of noise and activity although Meister Eckart, the great German mystic, maintained that ‘there is nothing so much like God as silence.’  But today, if you like, ‘poor little talkative Christianity’ gives way to our silent adoration of the Word made Flesh.
            I’m sure you’re aware of the way in which what we give our attention to – what we gaze upon – helps mould who we are.   Give your attention to hatred and violence, envy, greed, lust and so on and you may find yourself becoming filled with hate, violence, envy, greed and lust.  The human heart, the centre of who we are, is moulded its desires.  So giving attention, giving our devotion, to Jesus is of greatest importance.  That contemplative prayer of what might be called ‘loving regard’ is essential in developing our life in Christ.  All the great saints have realised this and encourage us to take time to recognise the power of evil and actively gaze upon Christ as He gazes upon us.
            Corpus Christi says: love for you – Mary or John, Christine or David – led me to enter your flesh and shed my blood.  These are my gifts of love for you and the world.  And if you don’t quite understand that – if you can’t grasp that, then look at my Heart.  It’s broken for you, crowned with thorns for you, on fire with love for you and the world.  This Trinity of Persons-in-Love feeds us with love – feeds our hearts because the Heart of God is an ocean of Love. 
In all my woes, in all my joys,
though nought but grief I see,
O sacred heart of Jesus, I place my trust in thee.
When those I loved have passed away,
and I am sore distressed,
O sacred heart of Jesus, I fly to thee for rest.
In all my trials, great or small, my confidence shall be unshaken
as I cry, dear Lord, I place my trust in thee. (Author unknown)

CONCLUSION
Yet there’s something more to this matter of our celebration of Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament which we celebrate today.  It’s not only in church we need to re-direct our attention, for each one of us and the whole of Creation is a sacrament of God. 
            Today we affirm the presence of God in all things and so we’re called to venerate all things just as we are called to venerate Christ in His Most Holy Sacrament.  But chiefly we’re called to venerate His presence in each one of us.  Beneath all our masks we bear His image and likeness, which is why we greet one another with a holy kiss at the peace.  Why, just as the Word of God and the Sacrament itself, we are also censed at Mass.  ‘Blessed, praised and hallowed be Jesus Christ on his throne of glory.’  And in the Most Holy Sacrament.  And in you and me and the whole of creation. 

So, today as every day, and in every moment, let us take to heart those words of St. Peter Eymard: 

 "To be possessed by Jesus and to possess Him, that is the perfect reign of Love.”                                  

X

Thursday, May 24, 2018

THE SACRED HEART OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT

Eight days after the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Octave days, the Church celebrates the great Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Except, of course, most Anglicans have never heard of this celebration and even those churches which realise the Catholic heritage of the Church of England may not recognise this Feast.  This is to our loss for, as Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA, preached about at the wedding of their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, love is the way; and the one symbol that speaks to all about love is – the heart.  And the Church has the wonder of the Sacred Heart to offer people – a Heart which is not just concerned with the joys of love, but also knows about passion and pain.  It was while she was kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque displaying Hs Heart, "represented as a throne of fire with flames radiating on every side. It appeared more brilliant than the sun and transparent like crystal. The wound received on the Cross appeared clearly: There was a crown of thorns around the Heart and it was surmounted by a cross."  This is the Sacred Heart of Christ’s Passion which, unlike other images of love, constantly reminds us of its true cost.  This is a gift the Church of England sadly neglects.

At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of Love is as Love reveals His Presence among us, a Presence we celebrate in and through each Eucharist.  It’s a Presence which is Real, a Presence which we need to penetrate and which needs to penetrate us if we are to encounter the Heart of God.  At Christmas we behold Love clothed in Flesh, Flesh which suffered, died, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven.  Love left us the sacrament of that Presence, and whilst the eye of the body beheld Jesus within Crib the eye of the heart can now begin to see the wonder of Emmanuel – the Love of God with us abiding in the Blessed Sacrament.  The great Franciscan saint, Bonaventure, wrote these beautiful words: ‘I have found this Heart in the Eucharist when I have found there the Heart of my Sovereign, of my Friend, of my Brother, that is to say, the Heart of my friend and Redeemer. …  Come, my brethren, let us enter into this amiable Heart never again to go out from It.’

In his book The Drawing of This Love the author, Robert Fruewirth, explores aspects of the way the 14th century English mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, realised how that Divine Love is permeated by compassion.  In one chapter he quotes Julian saying: ‘Here I saw a great affinity between Christ and us … for when he was in pain, we were in pain.  And all creatures capable of suffering pain suffered with him … So was our Lord Jesus Christ set at nought for us, and we all remain in this way as if set at naught with him, and shall do until we come to his bliss…’ (Ch.18)  Divine Compassion lies in the depths of the Sacred Heart – indeed, is the way in which that Heart is to be understood and we can always be present to His compassion when we come before Him in the Blessed Sacrament.  So people have longed to look upon that loving compassion and can do so when the Sacrament is exposed to our gaze on the altar.   There we can be present to Him as He is present to us when the Sacrament is exposed on the altar; if only every church offered times when this practice so that all can sit or kneel in prayer in His Presence.  If churches helped people to come and adore Him who longed – and longs – to be with us!  There we can talk with Him or just rest with Him and know that He is fully present to all who come to Him.  We could just curl up before Him who opens His Heart to us in the Sacrament of Divine Love. 

But even if we cannot find an open church where the brilliance of the Host shines out we can always take Him with us in the tabernacle of our heart for, as St Francis of Assisi wrote in his Rule of 1221: ‘We should make a dwelling-place within ourselves where He can stay, He who is the Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Dame Julian echoes this theme when later she wrote: ‘Then with a glad expression our Lord looked into his side and gazed, rejoicing and with his dear gaze he led his creature’s understanding through the same wound into his side within. And then he revealed a beautiful and delightful place, large enough for all mankind that shall be saved to rest there in peace and in love.’ (Ch.24)  That ‘place’ is His Sacred Heart, a Heart large enough to contain all of us, a Heart enlarged by compassion.  This is the Sacrament of Love upon which we are invited to gaze, as Julian gazed on what was revealed to her.  It is a wonderful thing that we who have been made part of His Body can gaze on that Body which is lit up with Love – as one might look on a building flooded with light both inside and out, throbbing with all the colours there are against the darkness that surround it – a darkness of both sin and a lack of recognition. This is what we are to realise as we gaze on His Incarnate Body shown to us in the monstrance.

God enables us to fashion an inner-monstrance of the heart which is to be the dwelling-place for Jesus where we can adore Him whenever we visit that place.  Few churches can offer perpetual Adoration but He can always be with us and we can always adore Him whenever we choose to make this visit to our heart.  But wouldn’t it be wonderful if more Anglican churches – cathedrals, certainly – offered this facility?  There is a wonderful Tabernacle House, for example, in Southwark Cathedral (which may come from the Convent of the sisters of the Community of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament founded in 1869 and ended with the death of the last sister in the early years of this century).

It’s exquisitely beautiful to come to Jesus in this way and be able to just rest with Him – ‘be there’ with Him who is in all places and fills all things yet who left us this way to realise His presence.  It’s a presence that doesn’t require any words and the only effort is to focus attention on Him and Him alone.  To be able to do this in places like Westminster Cathedral and Tyburn Convent in Hyde Park Place is a joy which all would benefit from realising.  And when that is not possible we can make a virtual visit to adore Jesus through a number of websites which offer that facility.

Thankfully even though we may not be able to visit those places, He dwells in the hearts of all who turn aside to Him and unlock the door to this inner sanctuary.  The Sacred Heart is like a door leading into the very soul of Christ, towards complete conformity to Him.


"Devotion to the Sacred Heart has a twofold object: it honours first with adoration and public worship the Heart of flesh of Jesus Christ, and secondly the infinite love with which this Heart has burned for us since its creation, and with which it is still consumed in the Sacrament of our altars." (St. Peter Julian Eymard)

Monday, May 07, 2018

SODALITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF PRIESTS - a new development?


‘Cor ad cor loquitor’

INTRODUCTION
Recently Fr. Richard circulated a note about how we might include lay people in the Sodality, as indicated in the Principles.  It’s a development that’s been on the side-lines but Richard has given it a kick into play and I wanted to take it up and, by God’s grace, see what emerged as I held it for a while.

I’m sure you are aware that, along with the development of the Sodality, I launched a Spiritual Association, rooted in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, offering a simple Rule of Life whose charism has been to express compassion.  It has the Approval of the Bishop of Southwark and we now have 16 Companions, most of whom are priests and including one bishop, and 14 Associates.  Alongside all this

Following writing ‘Enfolded in Christ – The Inner Life of a Priest’ I realised I could have said more about how to live with greater integrity – holiness – and to give greater attention to the call of Christ and the gospel.  Having been a Religious for many years the Franciscan charism is still present and I have been looking at various options and praying for discernment as to the possible way forward.   At present some of those associated with the Sodality have joined other, dispersed communities (Benedictine) and there are some new forms of online ‘Monastic’ life on offer, not least in the Episcopal Church as well as some in the UK (Cistercians – traditional and male and Hopeweavers – new form, for example). 

These elements seem to be related and I wonder if others wonder if the Sodality might explore whether it might provide an ‘umbrella’ under which, for example, an intentional open community might develop which gave expression to aspects of the Sodality charism, was dispersed and rich in catholic spirituality.  I have now spoken with Fr. Richard who noted that such an ‘umbrella’ is provided by the Carmelites and Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus and recommended I put a written proposal to the Sodality Council at the Annual Meeting.

PROPOSAL
That SMMS gather a group of people – lay and ordained – who are interested in developing their baptismal commitment that ‘dying to sin we may live the risen life’ through a committed form of dispersed religious life.

For some this has meant undertaking: the Benedictine vows of obedience, stability and ‘conversatio morum’, variously translated as ‘conversion of manners’ or ‘of life’, whilst non-monastics have expressed their commitment through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  What might be appropriate?  Here are my suggestions:

            Simplicity of life

            Commitment to appropriate relationships

            Conversion of the heart

The Aim of the new Association (?) could reflect that of the Sodality which the Principles state is for:

‘the sanctification of  (Associates – lay or ordained)
through the hearts of Jesus and Mary, for the glory of God, and to nurture God’s Reign.’


Our Principles offer some clear ways for a vowed Association – here are some suggestions: which emerge form these{

Simplicity of life:

            - to contemplatively listen as Mary did (Day 6)

            - to live with generosity, rooted in simplicity of life (Day 10).  This might involve, for example, giving away 5% of one’s disposable income;


Commitment to appropriate relationships

            - we don’t include this so it would be something new to offer;


Conversion of the heart: (This feels most important and could develop Day 18 of the Principles: ‘Called to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary’)

            - to imitate Mary (Day 3) – the one who sought to live by the Divine Will;

            - to live with humility (Day 11).  This is already part of the charism of the Association of the   Hearts of Jesus and Mary but might be developed in ecological ways as well;

            - to live with repentance (Day 12).  This might involve making use of the sacrament of             Reconciliation

            - to live with mercy (Day 13).  Like members of the Association of Compassionate Hearts,       Sodalists already recognise that Compassion expresses God’s love for humanity, and is shown           especially in the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

            -  to commit to evangelisation (Day 14).  To reach out to others from the Heart of God and to serve the Reign of God in whatever way might be appropriate to the individual (Day 9).  This    might include a recognition that we are all sisters and brothers with the whole of creation.

CONTEMPATIVE LIVING
The focus of the Sodality on Mary and her place in our life suggests that there might be an emphasis on living contemplatively.  There are few existing ‘new communities’ in the UK (I think Hopeweavers sees itself as contemplative) which are rooted in contemplative living, something which the Carmelite lay communities focus on, so this might be something a new development could be rooted in: contemplative living the gospel – something the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus emphasise. 

PRAYER
To spend at least 30 mins a day in silent prayer, and to make use of the Examen each day.
To take a retreat each year, either at a Retreat Centre or at home
To make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as conscience requires.

CONCLUSION
These are just some thoughts as to a way forward if SMMS wants to take up this idea of opening up to lay people, an idea which might take the working name of Solitaries of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary’.  It might also help those of us, married, partnered or single, who are looking for a way of committing ourselves to a way that’s rooted in the tradition of Christian religious life.

John-Francis Friendship, Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich 2018

Sunday, May 06, 2018

TOLKIEN, LORD OF THE RINGS and LAUDATE SI





Having read, many years ago, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ I knew it dealt with timeless religious themes and, in particular, the cycle of redemption and salvation and was impressed by the way it did so in such a compelling way.  But it wasn’t until I read an article by Nancy Enright, an American professor of English, in the present copy of ‘The Way’ (April 2018) that I discovered J. R. R. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic.  ‘Tolkien, Middle Earth and Laudate si’, concerns, in particular, his horror at the way the world was becoming corrupted not only nationally (it was written between 1937 and 1949 against the backdrop of the rise of facism and communism) but also ecologically to the extent that he gave up owning a car because of the way he saw, even then, that motoring was contributing to the destruction of the environment.

Enright also points out the connection between Mary and Galadriel, queen of Lothlorien, the uncorrupted land: ‘She shone like a window of glass … as a crystal fallen in the lap of the land.’  Tolkien was close friends with a Jesuit in Cambridge and Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, used the characters of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins in a 2008 lecture to students in Argentina.  But it’s St Francis who inspired both Tolkien and the Pope who made his own appeal for the future of our planet in his encyclical, Laudate Si. 

If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we are intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. (Laudato si, n.11)