Vol 38 No 4
GodLover or Judge?
A REFLECTION ON LOSS: IN THE CONTEXT OF MATTHEW'S PASSION NARRATIVE
Cormac Nagle OFM
PUBLIC POLICY AND MORALITY
SOME POPULAR MYTHS ABOUT GAYS AND LESBIANS
Frank Fletcher MSC
INTRODUCING HEART SPIRITUALITY
Brendan Byrne SJ
CAN THE SCRIPTURAL WORLD STILL BE OUR WORLD? EARLY MILLENNIAL REFLECTIONS
OF AN AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL SCHOLAR
ON THE RISE AGAIN NEO-FUNDAMENTALISM IN AUSTRALIAN CATHOLICISM (PART THREE)
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
FRANK FLETCHER MSC
The year 2004 marked the 150th anniversary
of the foundation of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC). The year
2005 is the Centenary Year of the Australian Province of the Society.
We are currently paying special attention to the things that are important
to us and to the future of our mission, especially by reflecting in depth
on the spirituality which we have inherited from a long tradition in the
IN 1969 I WAS SENT to New York for further theological studies. I took
the oppor-tunity of an introductory week of a live-in course in counselling.
There I met the prioress of the Visitation convent in Brooklyn, the first
Visitandine I had ever met. I thought immediately of St Margaret Mary
Alacoque, the Visitandine contemplative who received the apparitions of
the Sacred Heart. She was the propagator of the popular forms of Sacred
Heart devotion. So I told the prioress that we had studied the life of
St Margaret Mary in our novitiate. Further, I had read a bit on the Visitandines
founder, St Francis de Sales.
When I said Margaret Mary was at the origin of Sacred Heart devotion I
noticed the prioress seemed somewhat discomfited. I hastened to add: I
am afraid we have no Visitation Sisters in Australia. The prioress
replied, Well, you must come and visit our convent. After
the course, then, I presented myself at the Brooklyn Convent where the
prioress and a companion showed me around. Everywhere I noted paintings
and carvings of the heart of Jesus. Again I spoke of Margaret Mary,
She certainly had an impact here. And again the prioress seemed
puzzled. She quietly stated, The Sacred Heart is the emblem of our
order. It was given to St Jane Frances de Chantal by our founder, St Francis
de Sales, well before the time of Margaret Mary. My head spun as
I realised the implications. The Sacred Heart apparitions had not come
to St Margaret Mary out of the blue. She had lived for years
surrounded by the symbol of the wounded heart; the Sacred Heart was deep
within the tradition of her order. Moreover, Francis de Sales is honoured
by the Church as so profound a theologian that he carries the title, rarely
given, doctor of the church. He was a man who knew the scriptures intimately
and the Catholic tradition especially the mystics. This gifted man chose
the symbol of the pierced heart to crystallise his understanding of the
mystery of Christ-in-us.
That realisation recalled to my mind Pope Pius XIIs 1956 Encyclical
on the Sacred Heart (Haurietis Aquas). The Pope insisted that the spirituality
of the Sacred Heart should not be based on St Margaret Mary but on the
whole Christian tradition: the scriptures, the fathers of the church,
the mystics. Heart spirituality was not a little side altar in the Christ
mystery: it stands within the central depth of the Christ mystery. So,
when Pope Pius XII called for a renewal of Sacred Heart spirituality he
insisted that the spirituality be grounded on the mainline tradition.
That call of the Pope brought much creativity: one thinks of the interpretations
of theologian Karl Rahner and of priest-scientist Teilhard de Chardin.
In Australia a young Jim Cuskelly began to take it up as a spirituality
for the times. When he was elected Superior General of the MSC he promoted
the term spirituality of the heart. To indicate what spirituality
of the heart meant I find it helpful to begin by examining the extraordinary
It is a word sometimes over-used in gushy contexts. Does this matter?
For a period in my life I wavereduntil I read a statement by the
revered anthropologist professor WEH Stanner. This man spent some time
with the MSC among the Aboriginal people of Port Keats NT, now called
Wadeye. Stanner spoke of the traditional Aboriginal languages of that
area. He noted that, in contrast to modern European languages where a
word is generally identified with something (some thing-ness if you like)
but in those Aboriginal languages a being is never just a thing. Every
being has an inwardness, a mystery. The language has a mystical or poetic
spirit which preserves this inwardness of reality. If one comes to awareness
of the inward mystery of every being, including ourselves, then we are
not just creatures of a material world. Rather, we are beings of mystery
and our living is a walk within mystery: we relate to other beings through
the depths in which we share.
This sharing in mystery expressed in those languages is not absolutely
absent from our own, but it lies hidden by the heaviness of the everyday.
We need keys to unlock this sharing: and the key word is heart. Some scholars
have registered the ancient character of the word heart by calling it
a primordial word. Even in the seemingly everyday usage of the word, heart
points to mystery. For example, you may remember that Cathy Freeman declared
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. It works
strangely. How, then, can we approach this word so as to appreciate what
it is expressing? The answer is wondrous: if we are attentive at the level
of heart it voices the depth of existence; not just the depth of personal
existence but the depth of the sea of existence.
I should mention that there are other primordial words such the holy,
the sacred, spirit, etc. Of course such words are in every language. Miriam
Rose Ungunmerr, Aboriginal artist and teacher of Daly River, NT, wrote
of dadirri. This word means deep inner springs a beautiful
phrase for heart.
Now I want to tell you three brief stories: they complement one another
as elements of the spirituality of the heart.
Story One: Leo Tolstoy
The first story is from the Russian count Leo Tolstoy, author of War
and Peace. He wrote a memoir called My Confessions. In it he described
how, at age thirty, already famous and wealthy, a darling of upper class
society, he fell suddenly into a dread emptiness. He felt the hollowness
of the values by which he lived. It was as if he were disconnected from
real life. He began to think of suicide. At the same time he had an intimation
of a true life which he tried to seek, but he got nowhere. He tried to
pray but nothing happened. He knew he lacked religious faith, but which
religious faith could he genuinely adhere to? The emptiness came
from a deep place within him. It would have to be met at the same depth.
Tolstoy became terrified he would never connect at that level. Then, in
that moment of terror something within him cried out to God. It rose up
from a depth beyond reason. He responded: Teach me! And immediately
to his minds eye came the image of a fledgling bird fallen out of
its mothers nest. In that tiny bird whimpering for its mother, Tolstoy
recognised himself. He recalled the love of his own mother and that led
on to the thought of God as a mother who had brought him into existence
through love. A new existence became possible for Tolstoy.
In Tolstoys story it is the heart which enabled him to see
the one he was longing for, the one whose love he craved. We humans are
so much in love with the mothering mystery that life without an awakened
heart is empty. Faith is a matter of the heart before it is that of the
ego or of the mind. This is clear in the scriptures and in the theology
of St Augustine. Augustine expressed this prayerfully: You made
us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless till they rest in
Thee (Confessions, ch. 1). In the western world many need some kind
of Tolstoy experience before their hearts can find rest.
Story Two: Baptism Of Jesus (Mk 1)
Tolstoys story is 19th century; it supposes much of the modern
outlook. In contrast Marks Gospel account of the baptism is from
the first century; it supposes not only a context of the ancient world,
but a quite different understanding of story.
Tolstoys story is based primarily on the everyday world where another
deeper reality is endeavouring to break through, signalling by means of
emptiness and disconnectedness. Perhaps it is not so much that the deeper
world is looking in but that there is some genuine desire in Tolstoys
heart. That heart desire for true life loosens the grip of his egoistic
The baptism of Jesus story, on the other hand, moves within the mystery
of the heart from the very beginning of Chapter 1 in Marks Gospel.
It warms us up by the prophetic foretelling of the messiah and by the
numinous presence of John the Baptist. Then, without external fanfare,
Jesus comes up from Nazareth. But, if his baptism appeared outwardly without
incident, inwardly it was marked by an extraordinary experience: the heavens
opened and Jesus heard the voice of the Father claiming him as the Son
in whom he delighted. These words immediately echoed certain poems in
the prophet Isaiah, poems known as the songs of the suffering servant.
They sang of a figure who would reconcile the sinful world to God, beginning
with his own people. He would suffer many kinds of violence, withstanding
it all with love. In a moment of enlightenment Jesus knew that he himself
was the suffering servant. Thus the love passion of the divine Trinity,
found expression in the Heart of Jesus. He was willing to respond with
trust in the Father. However, at the same time, Jesus would have shuddered
humanly at the prospect: he knew what the suffering servant would undergo.
He would be the scapegoat for human sin, the lamb dragged to the slaughter,
evil would be allowed its way with him. Later, the agony in the garden
depicted his vulnerability as a human being paying this price.
When I saw Mel Gibsons film, The Passion of the Christ, I found
it helpful. But the necessity of the awful suffering was not sufficiently
indicated. It needed Chapter One of Marks Gospel and the revelation
of the suffering servant.
Many Catholics would be confused by my insisting on the shuddering in
Jesus breast at the prospect of being the suffering servant. Would
not Jesus as divine Son know exactly who he was and what would happen?
We have to keep remembering that the divine Son has become a human being
in Christ Jesus. He is the Word made human flesh; therefore he had a human
heart and a human mind. As a human being he had to live with life¹s
uncertainties, step by step. It is through the uncertainties and the breakdowns
of love that our heart is constantly tested. Jesus carried the divine
passion to heal the world, yet at the same time he carried the worlds
pain. The human pain and the divine passion worked in concert. Heart spirituality
invites us to live with the struggle in Jesus¹ heart between terror
and passionate love. Likewise Heart spirituality invites Jesus to live
out his mission as suffering servant within the struggles of our lives.
At his baptism, then, the vocation to be the suffering servant stretched
his human heart to a total surrender. And, as the story of Jesus unfolds
in Mark¹s Gospel, we see him using every means to prepare his disciples
for his fate, not as a triumphant messiah but as the suffering one.
Moreover, Jesus had another reason to get this message over to the disciples.
In the Hebrew tradition the suffering servant was not just one person:
it included also all those who were open to the divine plan of reconciliation.
At the baptism, therefore, Jesus knew that he must gather a movement of
disciples around him. He began to do this almost immediately after the
baptism. He searched for those whom the Father had already called in their
hearts, usually without their knowing. He roused them to awareness of
the divine love so that he would continue his mission in them, even after
he had endured the way of the suffering servant. Paul gave witness to
this continuing presence of the saving one with the depths of himself:
I live now, no longer I; the Christ lives in me. (Galatians
Chapter 2, v. 20)
Through this presence, heart to heart, we are given some awareness of
what is happening in Jesus during the various moments of the Gospel drama.
This is crucial because, as noted early on, the instinct of contemporary
heart spirituality is that we recognise his story in our lives and our
lives in his story as portrayed in the Gospels. This recognition enhances
the inner dignity of our life and offers some meaning in our humiliations
and even in our failures. Many are seeking for this spiritual light.
Story Three: Jules Chevalier
The third story is that of another European whose life-time paralleled
that of Tolstoy, a French priest named Jules Chevalier, the founder of
the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Since my youth this mans spirituality
has both attracted me and defeated me. He endlessly praised, wondered
at and recommended to our contemplation the passionate nature of God in
the heart of Jesus. The touch of divine love was his starting point for
everything: it shaped his spirituality, his pastoral ministry, his hope
for the church. For years I found his vision too big for my mind and heart.
It was because of an immaturity in myself. It may surprise you that I
came to some grasp of it from reading an anthropologist, Deborah Rose
who was attempting to describe the Aboriginal dreaming. From her I received
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 get the same feeling from Chevalier¹s
words except that for him the ocean is a mystery of divine passion and
desire, and we are tiny fragmentary beings. Yet this passionate ocean
of love longs for our fragmentary hearts, seeking an exchange of love.
Chevalier delighted in the Gospel of John and in sections of the farewell
discourse of Jesus to his disciples. Another area where I had felt daunted!
But the ocean image for the passionate God has allowed me some understanding
of Jesus mysterious words about eternal life. We have eternal life
now because in our exchange of hearts we are beyond ourselves in love.
It follows that we must love one another, the new commandment is demanded
by love. We are heart beings.
Chevaliers historical context is significant for understanding his
religious vision. He grew up in that whirlpool of cultural change which
followed the French revolution, the enthronement of secular reason and
modernitys love affair with the machine. Secular reason and the
machine stood for Progress. Religion was considered a childish clinging
to the past. Many dropped away from the Church.
To compound the Churchs problems sectors of the French Church were
infiltrated with tendencies of Jansenism. They preached severity and fear.
Chevalier and fellow seminarians were confused by this deterioration.
They prayed for guidance. Enlightenment came when a theology lecturer
introduced them to the doctrine of the heart of Jesus. It went straight
to my heart, Chevalier wrote, and in that enlightenment he became
convinced that the heart of Jesus was seeking to overcome the crises of
Church and culture. He offered a way. And Chevalier responded to the task.
Thus Jules wrote in an early formula for the MSC Constitutions 1877: 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 muchwas 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 Johns
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.
The loving nature of the Father and Son relationship is revealed in the
tenderness of the Heart of Jesus. Chevalier wrote: He 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). For Chevalier compassion became the key to understanding
the divine love in the Heart of Jesus.
Chevalier did not found a social movement but he dreamt of a movement
of compassionate people focussed upon the mission of the Heart of Jesus,
devoted to prayer and to the poor and to justice. He believed that many
were already called in their hearts to live out this spirituality and
that these people would be heartened to find a movement to support them.
This movement would be open to all: lay people would be an essential part
of it. The words of John¹s Gospel Chapter 17, resonated with Chevaliers
dream: All those that the Father gives me I shall not turn away.
Focusing on the Pierced Heart
At the beginning I reflected on Marks Gospel chapter one, the baptism
of Jesus. I will conclude with a key Gospel passage on Jesus showing
of his wound, John Chapter 20, vv. 19-28. It recounts Jesus
meeting with his disciples on that day, the evening of the third day after
the crucifying of Jesus. For fear of their enemies the doors were bolted
tight. Yet here was Jesus standing among them saying, Peace be with
you. Then he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples were still traumatised by his violent death. Jesus appeared
with a word of peace and, without any words, showed them his hands and
his side. What did this silent showing of his wounds mean? It seems
that Jesus meant his wounds to speak for themselves.
Then the scene concludes. The disciples, having looked upon the pierced
hands and side of Jesus, are filled with joy! Their hearts
were spinning; their hope renewed.
An Aboriginal family member took me to be with her grieving relatives
after a tragedy involving a mother and her small children. The relatives
were in shock. It seemed to me their hearts were pierced through. They
nodded their heads. With a blessed oil I anointed them in the name of
that Heart which was pierced through for our sake. In his wounded body
he carries the wounds of the world.
The suffering servant calls us to participate in his healing mission.
It is a heart work.
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.