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Vol 39 No 3


Richard Lennan
STILL RELEVANT? Vatican II Forty Years On

Tony Paganoni CS
ETHNIC MINISTRY IN AUSTRALIA: History, Present Realities and Future Options

Frank Fletcher MSC
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE HEART: The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2005

Brian San

Rev Dr Lawrence Cross, Australian Catholic University

John Falzon
STATS AND STONES: Vinnies’ report from the trenches on the poverty wars

Danny Kinnane
MERTON: A Modern Perspective

Janiene Wilson
REVIEW: Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and Their Intimate Friendships

Kevin Mark


The Spirituality of the Heart:
The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2005


THERE IS A stanza of a poem by e.e.cummings which I like. Whatever cummings may have meant by it, I believe the words articulate the kind of passion behind the spirituality of the heart:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

This poem reminds me of the MSC founder, Father Jules Chevalier. Photos and paintings consistently portray him with an image of the heart of Jesus worn next to his human heart: a way of hearts together.

There is also a scripture verse which resonates for me especially in connection with this spirituality: 'We have entrusted ourselves to the Love of God for us' (1 John 4:16). That verse was the favourite verse of Bishop Jim Cuskelly in his teaching on heart spirituality. However he used the translation 'We have believed in the love of God for us'.

Bishop Cuskelly was a man of rare spiritual perception. Through his reputation in this regard and through his writings he was elected the international Superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. After his twelve years in that appointment he was invited by the Archbishop of Brisbane to be an auxiliary bishop in that diocese.

As leader of the congregation the archives of the MSC were open to him and he brought his mind to bear on the life and writings of the MSC founder, Jules Chevalier. He went on to put Chevalier's spirituality into approaches more appealing for our time. He laid stress particularly on people's desire for God. He recognised such desire as common among all levels of the Church: laity, religious and clergy. His last book was dedicated to lay people.

There are two words used by Chevalier and Cuskelly upon which I would like to build. The first word is desire: the second word is everywhere. Putting these together: the desire for God's love stirs in the hearts of people everywhere. Through belief in this hidden stirring, the sons and daughters of Chevalier have understood that their mission is to awaken people everywhere to the desire within them. Further, although this spirituality begins as a stirring hidden in peoples' hearts, yet among those who are awakened there arises a desire to belong in a movement…and when people belong to one another in a heart movement, their desire for Jesus can become boundless. Chevalier himself expressed this boundless desire in the MSC motto: May the heart of Jesus be loved everywhere!

Let me build further on the everywhere. It means not only in every place but among all kinds of people, some of whom we might be tempted to dismiss as quite unlikely. One such group occurred to my mind recently. In the ABC TV show Enough Rope, 11th April 2005, Sir Bob Geldof was interviewed. Geldof is a pop star world famous for inspiring the Live Aid concerts for Africa. In that interview Geldof made the comment that, for many of the younger adult generations, rock and dance concerts express a search for religion. He had seen this, he said, across cultures and peoples. At first I was annoyed hearing this. I recalled how the Beatles' leader, John Lennon, once claimed they were more popular than Jesus Christ. It was a frivolous comment, I should not have taken it seriously. So, as I prepared for bed I began to think positively on what Geldof might have meant. Did he mean that beneath the loud music of the concerts, many of the younger adult generations are craving for faith and for human solidarity? Certainly their language suggests solidarity in so far as they speak of an inclusivity: 'others' are not to be excluded. So let us take solidarity as one underlying desire. And to the desire for solidarity add ecstasy (I am not indicating the drug). What I mean is ecstatic experience: ecstatic means carried beyond one's ordinary self. Through the beat of the music and the primal release of stress they feel liberated from the pressures and emptiness of modern living. Could that ecstatic experience be somewhat akin to the ecstatic love spoken of by classic spiritual writers such as St Francis de Sales?

Of course you may take me as naďve. Am I overlooking the use of drugs by some performers and by some of the crowd? Well, maybe I am. However, is it right to so emphasise what is evil that we overlook the underlying desires for true belonging and loving, desires which are affecting whole generations. Heart spirituality feeds upon the Gospels. It is influenced strongly by Jesus' merciful attitude toward the tax collectors and prostitutes. He found them closer to the Kingdom of God than their self-righteous accusers.

Again, stressing the positive, there is an emphasis on ecstatic love in the songs of the concerts. It seems younger people share an intuition that the underlying movement within life is the coming of the fullness of love, a love which will bring life to its ultimate meaning and justice. Love must conquer evil. Therefore, in the rock and dance concerts, the singers and musicians take on the appearance of love figures. Are such figures altogether contrary to Christian love? Some are. But remember: the Christian tradition carries genuine experience of ecstatic love. Recall the First Letter of Peter: 'Although you have not seen [Christ] yet you love Him, and even though you do not see him now you believe in him and you rejoice with indomitable joy' (1 Peter 1:9-10). This means a high level of love in the heart: a long distance from drugs, but deeply satisfying.

The First Path

Let me put forward now four distinct paths to Heart Spirituality. The first path is a way of trust. It recalls Jim Cuskelly's favourite text in the First Letter of John : 'We have entrusted ourselves to the love of God for us' (1 John 4:16). If this trust in God's love 'touches' us, there arises a desire to give oneself over to His love. This giving-over means a desire to accept life including its dark places. It is a belief that Jesus is in all the shocks and crevices of life–and that He will watch over us from His Heart…This trust is the beginning. At some point we move to a second place. Our desire to give ourselves in trust is overtaken by His desire. Our giving is met by His giving. He gives His Heart in exchange for ours. So the way of trust blossoms into the exchange of hearts.

A feature of this way of exchange is that people may express it in ceremonies. It puts symbols and words on the desire to entrust our life, death, everything to Jesus' love. That entrusting is a big grace… to be encouraged with much prayer…Then somewhere along the way the Master opens His Heart to us… He dwells in us, we in Him: the exchange of hearts.

The Second Path

If this exchange of hearts is authentic it will be followed by an exchange of life. Why is life transformed by exchange of hearts? Obviously when one is in love one wants to let the beloved into one's life. St Paul the Apostle wrote: 'I live now but it is not I who live– Christ lives in me' (Gal 2:20-21). Christ Jesus, like any lover, delights to live in our lives: and he wants us to live in his love. The heart is not a talent to be buried in the ground and returned to the master un-used. Our hearts are made for exchange.

However, within us there is also a refusal to change, a refusal to love. And just as there is a field of love exchange, so also there is a field of love refusal. And large sections of the world are dominated by the refusal of love. Remember how Jesus was tempted by the great refuser who boasted of his power over the world. John's Gospel chapter one speaks of Jesus as the true light who gives light to every human being. Christ was everywhere in the world but the world would not recognise him. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

That struggle between the refusal of love and the willing exchange of love is the root conflict we are all caught up in. The conflict between the desire for heart exchange and the refusal of it can be obvious in a couple entering marriage. The ceremony contains an exchange of vows followed by an exchange of rings. As we pray for them we know that in the years of marriage the couple will either give their love to one another as part of the divine-human exchange, or they will refuse it in key areas of their lives. If the latter they will need to break through to deeper levels of heart.

As the exchange struggle in marriage illustrates, the exchange of human hearts opens the couple up to an exchange with the divine love in Jesus Christ. This exchange struggle is at the core of Jules Chevalier's spirituality. I have checked through a number of quotes from Chevalier. He encouraged people at every level to withstand the refusal of love and to enter into the divine-human exchange. In that exchange people will break through to the great love assertions in John's Gospel. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God (1Jn 4:16). This breakthrough was manifest in the life of the medieval poet Dante. On a street in Florence Dante beheld a young woman named Beatrice. Immediately he knew she was the woman his heart loved. What followed was more wonderful. Dante declared that in his experience of falling in love, Dante knew there is a Christ, knew there is a Saviour. In the love experience he felt the truth: God is love. God acts as one who loves. When one is in love, there is not only a recognition of the beloved; one also glimpses the whole plan of love, no matter how bleak the world can seem. Hope arises in the heart: there is a divine solution to the problem of evil: a solution given in the passionate heart of Jesus.

Much more could be said of the first and second approaches to heart spirituality: the trust which leads to an exchange of heart. An exchange which is an encouragement for living with our weaknesses. Paul the apostle attributed his perseverance to this exchange of heart with Christ. 'Gladly will I glory in my weaknesses' he wrote, 'so that the power of Christ may dwell within me.' (2 Cor 12:9b) Further, going back to the rock concert discussion, the desire which invites people towards the exchange of hearts has some connection with the desires which possess the younger adult generation, namely the desires for ecstatic love and solidarity.

The Third Path

Now, let me move to a third path into heart spirituality, a way attractive to the compassion of many today. A contemporary exponent of this approach is Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche communities for people mentally disadvantaged. From his association with these people whom the world tends to look down on, Vanier writes:

The heart is the basic level of expression, a truth best discovered when we have been stripped of all power, competence and hope. It is here our elderly and handicapped people of L'Arche seem to specialise in a deep and loving relationship with God and with other people…they are helping us to discover our own long lost heart'. (John Ayres, 'Rediscovering the heart of faith', Compass 1998:4, p.15.)

Vanier's words connect with the solidarity which is part of the young adult desires. In this solidarity people experience a humble depth in themselves; it is the heart which can overcome that self-centredness which despises less fortunate people.

Again, there is much that should be said of this awakening of the heart through being attentive to marginalised people. This inclusivity, as we have already noted, is a mark of many groups of young adults and others. The growth of L'Arche communities (and of other groups such as the St Francis houses and the Cana communities in Sydney) is a powerful witness. This path with the less fortunate stirs a genuinely humble and compassionate heart.

The Fourth Path

Now let me move to the final path into heart spirituality, a way connected with the spirituality of Aboriginal people, a spirituality of the divine mystery manifest in nature.

To set the scene for this fourth path let me refer to some of the writing of the eminent Australian anthropologist professor WEH Stanner. Stanner spent some time among the Aboriginal tribes of Wadeye (Port Keats) NT, a place of long-time ministering by MSC and the OLSH sisters among the Aboriginal people. Stanner studied the traditional Aboriginal languages of the area. In this study he made clear that in their traditional languages a being is not just a thing. Rather every being bears a mystic inwardness, a spirituality. Stanner's work suggests that we moderns have lost awareness of the spirituality which envelops us. Yet I believe we can recover something of this awareness—particularly if we are attentive to the word heart. Even in our modern language it has a mysterious quality. Let me give an example.

Cathy Freeman declared that her decision to resign from world competitive athletics came from her heart. Do we know what she meant by 'came from her heart'? We say, yes. But if we are pushed to say precisely how the decision came from her heart we may be struggling. That is the paradox of the word heart: we feel we know but at the same time its meaning is obscure. To register the unusual character of the word heart some scholars have called it a primordial word. It is a strange word, this primordial word. We get near what primordial means if we approach it as mystical and poetic. Primordial words are poetic in so far as they voice the depths of existence whilst not presuming to sort them out. Heart points towards the mystery of who one is; but it holds back from a definition lest it lose the deeper meanings it can evoke.

The Aboriginal person who has proposed her heart experience as a spirituality is Miriam Rose Ungunmer Baumann of the Daly River N.T. In her language the word for heart is Dadirri which means literally 'deep inner springs', a more imaginative expression than ours.

For her Dadirri prayer Miriam suggests people go into the bush, sit there quietly and wait for the deep-inner-springs to 'move' within them. Miriam expects that after some time mystical words will arise, such as Jesus and Saviour. They are signs of the Beloved, the One our hearts love: a touch of ecstasy.

Sitting quietly in the bush makes more sense when we recall the Aboriginal perception of inwardness and mystery within all beings. Beings are not just things. The whole world is full of mystery. At its centre there is the presence of the Saviour. Sometimes we feel a pull upon our hearts to join the circle of His love.

The Heart Movement

Now let me move to the movement which takes in all four paths. It is the heart movement which was the dream of Father Jules Chevalier to renew all levels of the Church. To understand Chevalier's dream we must grasp something of his historical context.

Chevalier grew up in the anti-church atmosphere which followed upon the French Revolution. Those who came to power enthroned secular reason and modernity's love affair with the machine. Reason and the machine stood for progress; religion was a childish clinging to the mindset of the old regime. Many people dropped away from faith. And to compound the church's problems sectors of the clergy were under the influence of the Jansenist heresy. Jansenists had some positive characteristics but they preached a God whose holiness was judgmental, whose face severe. Chevalier and some fellow seminarians were upset by the decline of the church. They prayed for guidance. Enlightenment came for them when a theology lecturer introduced them to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 'It went straight to my heart', Chevalier wrote. Further, it was not that he was drawn to love Jesus but rather that the Heart of Jesus longed to remedy the crises of church and culture. Jesus offered His Heart as the way—and Chevalier responded. He endlessly recommended to contemplation the passionate love of God in the Heart of Jesus. The 'touch' of this love was Chevalier's starting point for everything: it shaped his spirituality, his pastoral ministry, his invincible hope for a renewal of the church.

For many years I found his vision too deep for my mind and heart. Finally an enlightenment came to me from reading an anthropological book by Deborah Rose. She was attempting to distil a sense of the Aboriginal Dreaming. She did not put together a description of the Dreaming from the Aboriginal words in the ceremonies; rather she described what she felt when listening to the Aborigines. Thus she grasped a sense of the Dreaming as like a rolling ocean beating up against a thin strand of sandy beach on which we stand. In other words, we are on the edge of fathomless mystery.

I feel a similar sense of 'ocean' in Chevalier's vision—except that, for Chevalier the ocean represents that divine passion which seeks our fragmentary hearts. The ocean also represents the divine compassion. From these convictions came Chevalier's stand against the Jansenist images of severity. In an early effort at drawing up MSC Constitutions (1877) Jules wrote: 'We must take a stand against the destructive spirit of fear and severity which has wrought so much havoc in the Church'. What upset Chevalier so much was that this severity pictured God as a judge aloof from his people, angry at their unworthiness as if they must earn divine love. This was anathema to what Chevalier understood from the Heart of Jesus in John's Gospel. The passionate lover gives himself freely, cares for us as friends, loves us as the Father loves Him. The Father and the Son delight to come into our hearts.

Linked with the divine compassion Chevalier felt the tenderness of Christ, he wrote: 'Jesus was happy to pour out the tenderness of his heart on the little ones and on the poor, on those who suffer and on sinners, on all the miseries of humanity. The sight of any misfortune moved His heart with compassion' (MSC Constitutions, n.6).

Let me conclude with the perception on which I have built throughout this essay: human hearts desire the touch of ecstatic love. To which we added 'everywhere'. Everywhere became the thrust of the missionary movement. The desire for love stirs among all people even if sometimes deeply hidden—and rock concerts are not a deep hiding place! Young adults openly long for ecstatic love.

From the hidden stream of people longing for that love Chevalier put together a heart movement of laity, religious and clergy who have felt a stirring of their hearts. At this present time, we MSC, our sister congregations and numbers of lay catholics are recapturing Chevalier's vision of the Heart movement.

To conclude. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit may awaken in our hearts to trust in the love of God in the Heart of Jesus. Recall again Cuskelly's favourite text: 'We have entrusted ourselves to God's love for us'.

Further, let us respect the ecstatic desires of younger generations. Of them the theologian Fr Timothy Radcliffe has written: they have belief but not belonging. They would belong if they were touched by the depth of Jesus' kindness…In that connection I recall the e.e.cummings stanza:

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

Chevalier was right to wear the Heart of Jesus on his heart.

Fr Frank Fletcher MSC has lectured in theology and spirituality in Australia and Canada. For sixteen years he has ministered to Aboriginal people in Sydney.

2005 was the Centenary Year of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Australia.