Christmas is coming soon. Yes, I said it. And much as we are asked to remember “The Reason for the Season”, I am celebrating the upcoming 3-year anniversary of this blog by remembering the reason why I started this thing in the first place… Continue reading
Catholic imagery can be beautiful… and also a bit terrifying. Gruesome even. The picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that I use in the header of my blog is a classic example: a red, pulpy, bleeding heart, gashed, burning on fire at the top, encircled with a barbed-wire-like crown of thorns. Its blood is dripping down to a smaller heart below that is blooming with flowers and fruit. The inscription reads: The Treasures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is, of course, highly symbolic – but also rather startling and seemingly disconnected from what we see and know in “real” life. It begs the question – What are we supposed to do with an image like this?
I am not consecrated to an image of a fleshy, bloody organ. I am consecrated to Christ, to the fullness of reality – which is terribly beautiful, after all. I have committed myself to more than the material, more than the reducible – I have committed myself to life in its entirety, the physical and the spiritual. I refuse to be one of the surface people, fearfully hiding my power and vulnerability behind a fig leaf, and deceiving myself into thinking that only my five natural senses can detect the fullness of reality. I want to be like Christ. To be like Christ is to be most fully human, to be fully alive as we are created to be. Exploring the Mysteries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to explore his inner life, the core of who he is – and that is the exploration of the Mysteries of truth, of what is really real. All I’ve ever wanted is the truth.
But, why, then, some may ask, do I not write of the Sacred Heart in all of my posts?
I started this blog when I began my consecrated devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in hopes of more deeply exploring the Mysteries of Christ’s heart – and of my own. This doesn’t mean that every post is going to be directly about my act of consecration, or Jesus, or even Catholicism. But, I do believe that every post that I write is about the Sacred Heart. Not always explicitly, but always. For, to put it as simply and plainly (though also, I understand, as complexly and mysteriously) as possible, Christ is Truth Incarnate. And his Sacred Heart is the heart of truth, the heart of reality. As long as I tell no lies and make no conceit in this blog, striving for the honesty of life and of my mind and soul – then here is Christ. I press my ear to the heart of the universe and listen…
To put it another way:
Christ Jesus presents and embodies the reason for and meaning of reality – because Christ Jesus is the reason for and meaning of reality: God loves Creation into existence, creating human beings with the capacity to naturally and supernaturally receive divine love and to transmit, to share, this love, agape, with others. This interplay of God’s love for humankind and humankind’s loving response to God is perfect in Jesus Christ. For he is fully divine and fully human. This interplay is his interior life, the core of his being – his heart. Therefore, to delve into the Mysteries of being, of life, to delve into the Mysteries of the Divine and the human, to delve into the Mysteries of love, suffering, and joy, is to delve into the Sacred Heart of Jesus – whether we use that term and imagery or not. For Christ is Universal. Every human quest on earth for beauty, justice, goodness, knowledge, wisdom, or peace is a quest for Christ. In every religion, and in no religion, whether spiritually intending or not, I believe that all honest quests for truth and love are seeking what is found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And it is the Holy Spirit that inspires, guides, and guards such seeking.
The Catholic Church offers the month of June for special consideration of the Sacred Heart. Therefore, for this First Friday, I take the image of The Treasures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as my facilitator. In the image, we can see that God’s love pours forth from the Sacred Heart of Jesus to bring our hearts into full flower and fruition. May it serve to remind me, not only of God’s love, but also of the human dimension of that love – and of my own responsibility. Divine incarnate.
– Lord, God, you so love us that you have become one of us, opening your heart for us in all ways. Help me open my heart to you so that you can transform me into a rich garden of blossoming, yielding fruitfulness of body and soul in all my thoughts, words, and actions – all for you, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!
© 2014 Christina Chase
All Rights Reserved
We did it! I was able to go to Mass for this First Friday, which is part of my Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Physically, I didn’t think that I would be able to fulfill this part of the Act, but I was feeling well today and my parents very willingly took me to a neighboring parish for a noontime service. Having started spiritual participation for First Fridays, I had been choosing “Facilitators” to aid me in making a good spiritual communion. Although I was able to receive Holy Communion beneath the Sacramental Veil today, I have still chosen a facilitator for this month’s first Friday.
Since the month of May is dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, in much of the Christian Faith, I choose her as my First Friday Facilitator. Rather than write something deeply theological about the Mother of God, or something poetic about the Blessed Virgin Mary, I decided to use her own words as inspiration and guidance.
“How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
This in response to the angel Gabriel telling her that she would conceive and bear a son. What I ponder in this is that Mary’s first words recorded in Sacred Scripture are in the form of a question. Her “How?” did not come from sarcasm or incredulity – but, rather, from honest and innocent curiosity. She really wanted to know how it was going to happen. …Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us – and pray especially for all scientists, researchers, investigators, and explorers. May we be like you, so that our questions and examinations be honest and moral pursuits of truth.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
The angel Gabriel answered young Mary’s question – but not in a tangible way that her mind could fully comprehend. Yet, she knew one very important thing for certain: she knew who she was. Whatever God’s plan was for her, however God would make it come to pass, she knew that she belonged to God, that her true purpose and joyful fulfillment as a human being was to know, love, and to serve God. As one of God’s devoted servants, she united her will with the Divine Will, and submitted herself to God’s word. …Mary, Mother of God, pray for all of us so that we, like you, may know our true identity and true reason for being. May we be guided in all that we say and do, in all of our decisions and actions, by the truth of who we are: servants of the Lord.
Though these are not recorded words of Mary, we can logically conclude that she said something, probably the name of her kinswoman out loud. On just hearing this greeting, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leapt. Elizabeth immediately recognized Mary as “blessed among women” and “the mother of my Lord”. I believe that Christ’s very presence in Mary, though barely an embryo in form, radiated all through her and opened Elizabeth to the reception of the Holy Spirit. … Mary, Mother of my Lord, pray for us so that we may be open to the Spirit of Christ, who will dwell with us and within us, so that even our very words to others will open their eyes to God’s blessings.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
This passage, known as the Magnificat, is a beautiful hymn of gratitude and praise. It is rich with reflection and whole books of sermons could be written upon it. …Mary, Blessed One, pray for us so that we may hunger for good things in humility and recognition of God’s majesty and mercy. May we strive to follow in the Divine Way and work to lift up the lowly and to be people of honor, appreciation, and generosity.
“Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”
These are Mary’s first recorded words spoken to Jesus, her son. Again, the words come in the form of a question – and I think it is fair to conclude that they carry admonishment, since she was a naturally worried mother looking for her son who had disappeared, but, also, honest seeking. We can think of Mary as the first and best of all disciples of Jesus and, as her innocent curiosity prompted her first question, she probably truly wanted to know why Jesus had done what he did and caused them to worry. As disciples of Jesus, we will often experience situations of confusion and anxiety – and, like Mary, we can freely turn to Christ and honestly ask him why. The “Wh ?” that we ask should not be a mere complaint, however, but an honest question seeking understanding of God’s Will and of what we are supposed to as disciples of His Son. …Mary, mother of Jesus, pray for us when we are confused or anxious so that we will remember that we can turn completely to your son, our Lord, Christ Jesus, with our burden and troubles and trust in him. May we remember that God’s Ways are above our ways and, when we lack understanding, may we grow in faith.
“They have no wine.”
This is a simple statement of fact that Mary makes at the wedding feast in Cana. We could just gloss over it, but only if we forget that Mary spent more time with Jesus than anyone else did on earth. She was there from conception to Ascension and he loved her deeply, as is obvious when he speaks to her while dying on the Cross and there gives care of her to his beloved disciple. Often, Mary is exalted as nearly divine – but, she was absolutely not divine. She was human. She is human. And in the fullness of her humanity, she saw the plight of the family celebrating the wedding. Sure, it wasn’t like anyone was going to die because the wine had run out. But, as a matter of human tradition, as a matter of celebration and joy, the wine was important to those people. And Mary saw this and brought this small suffering to the attention of her son, Jesus. And this is why millions of Christians across the earth believe that she is attentive to even their smallest needs. Whether one believes in the intercession of Saints or not, we can all certainly see that Mary gives us an example of “giving a hoot”. The lack of wine had nothing to do with her and nothing to do with her son – but she wanted them both to help in any way that they could. …Holy Mary, Queen of Saints, pray for us that we may see the sufferings and burdens of others, no matter how small, and bring their troubles before the Lord so that, in our compassion, we may serve God by helping them.
“Do whatever he tells you.”
These are the last words of Mary – and what perfect last words they are. It is as though this real woman, who was the real mother of our Lord and Savior, turns directly to us, looks into our eyes, and, in her one opportunity to tell us everything about him and everything that we need to know for our own happiness, speaks out these words. Slowly and deliberately so that they may dwell deeply and fully in our hearts, she says: “Do whatever he tells you.” …Hail Mary, mother of all the living in Christ, pray for each and every human being created, as we are, in the image and likeness of God, so that we will see and recognize in Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life. May we love him as you loved him and seek to do whatever he tells us to – and when we hear the Divine Will, may we have the courage, the humility, and the generosity to do it.
I’ve written here that I want to feel sacred – and that I’m disappointed because I thought I would feel sacred by making an act of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But… what does sacred feel like? Is there such a feeling? What if what I’m experiencing is what sacred feels like: seeking, wanting, trying, not yet satisfied…?
There should be a sense of reverence toward a consecrated place, thing, or person. And, I wonder, shouldn’t there also be a sense of reverence that the consecrated person feels about him or her self? That feeling of being made sacred? To look upon myself no longer as my self, but as belonging entirely to God – that’s a true act of consecration. I should no longer consider my life as my own to do with whatever I wish, but, rather, as belonging to the Sacred Heart – with the inner life of Christ acting, working, through me.
In my desire to feel sacred, I must remember two things: 1.) God is Holy Other. 2.) I am not God. I am what God sanctifies, what God makes holy – at least, I can be what God makes holy if I let God do what God wants to do. Making an act of consecration to God (through any worthy kind of imagery or form, like the Sacred Heart) is making an act of surrender, so to speak. I am to hand over my person and my life to God (hand over my liberty, my intellect, my memory, my will[i]) so that God may make me sacred. So that, henceforth, my choices, my actions, and my words will be for God’s glory, for God’s ultimate plan. I dedicate myself to God’s work for God’s sake – not for my own ambition or comfort or even reward. Therefore, I seek only God’s Perfect Will – living in order that God’s Will may be accomplished through me… oh, let my spirit be willing, Lord, even if my flesh is weak!
Right now, I, human creature that I am of limited flesh and blood upon the earth, do not live purely in the presence of God, in the absence of temptation and sin. Rather, I live in the world, surrounded by distractions and worldliness, living in the weakness of my own flesh, as well as the weakness of others. If I seek only God’s Perfect Will, then I cannot be content with succumbing to temptation and sinning. If I seek only God’s Perfect Will, then I cannot be content with cruelty and injustice. If I seek only God’s Perfect Will, then I will hunger and thirst for righteousness. Christ Jesus tells us that those who do so hunger and thirst will be satisfied. He says that they will be satisfied… not that they are satisfied. For human beings to be truly blessed, to be truly happy, they will mourn and they will be persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ. These who mourn and are persecuted will be consoled and will be rewarded – their happiness, their blessedness, will be fulfilled.[ii] It is not fulfilled right here and right now. It is being accomplished. Not done yet.
And, so, if I am truly dedicated to God’s Will, if I am consecrated to the Sacred Heart and allowing the process of being made holy by God’s grace, then I am laboring, I am trying, I am wanting – and I am not there yet. I am not of the world, but I am still in the world. An Act of Consecration, or the process of being made sacred, while still in the midst of the profane is not the experience of complete peace without hunger, or joy without suffering. I shouldn’t feel satisfied and content. My faith is that I will be so fulfilled, perfectly peaceful and unceasingly joyful… This is Christ’s promise to me and I believe him. I believe in him – for this faith is my act of consecration…. God is consecrating me… here and now for eternity.
Yes, I have to stop thinking about this in terms of my gift to God. This is about God’s gift to me. What do I really have that is truly my own? I can give nothing to God. God gives everything to me. I can do nothing for God. God does everything for me… And through me. I, with the power of the Holy Spirit in me, merely use my God-given soul to acknowledge and surrender to the inevitable truth of who I am.
Even just writing this, I have more of a sense of being sacred. I am seeing with new eyes, hearing with new ears, feeling with new skin. My physical eyes, ears, and skin have not changed – but, perhaps, the attitude of my mind and spirit have changed, or, more accurately, are being changed. Continually being directed less toward self-centeredness and more toward God-centeredness (which is the reality of existence) this is coming home to truth, this is consecration. It is not something extra that I do, for then it could seem as though it were superfluous or unnecessary to life itself. I mean, why make an act of consecration at all? Why not just be like the majority of Christians and basically try to live a good life and then let God’s forgiveness handle all the rest so that I may go to Heaven? But… Consecration is profoundly and simply a recognition of the truth that is always there: I belong to God.
Everything that exists belongs to God. God is the giver. God gives the gift. Not me. With my God-given freewill, imagination and intellect, I can ignore this fact, reject this fact, or neglect this fact – but the fact remains. That which we call “God” is what always was, what always is, and what always will be. And the what is not something that we can ever detect with our tools or formulations. This Absolute, Almighty, Eternal Truth/Being is not a what but a Who. Person is the force and drive behind and within the very creation and existence of matter/energy; Person is the force and drive behind and within our expanding universe; Person is the answer to every why, whether that “why person” be Divine or human – it’s all personal. It’s all a gift.
“Life is a gift” is not something sentimental or trite, something handy but unnecessary, something superfluous to real life. It’s essential truth. God consecrates me through His divine action and I don’t ignore the package at the door waiting for me, I don’t take it away in disgust or disdain, and I don’t neglect to see it, blinded by my own self-centered thoughts or pursuits. I look for the gift and the gift finds me seeking… wanting… trying… and not fulfilled yet. God is sanctifying me…
[i] taken from a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola
[ii] Matthew 5:3-12
Eternity is not only about life after death, like heaven and hell. Eternity is also here and now. For, if eternity has no beginning and no end, then it’s already happening. It’s always.
What do I do with this knowledge? Do I merely repeat it, post it, preach it? Or do I live it? And how do I live it? I had hoped that consecrating myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus would help me to give my whole self to God and doing God’s will. I want to be sacred, for holy use, dedicated to divine purpose. But… What did I think that would mean? Did I think I wouldn’t have any lazy hours anymore? Did I think I would stop following football? (I never intended to do that.) Did I think that I wouldn’t want to watch funny shows or indulge in some clean, romantic fiction from time to time? Not that these things are ungodly, but… There isn’t much that I can do physically for God and God’s people except pray. There is so much cruelty and violence in the world, and I could pray for peace…. What am I doing? Aargh. Crap.
I’m not a nun. I don’t mean that in any flippant kind of way. I admire and respect people who are consecrated to Religious Life in Religious Orders. To leave their worldly things behind and give themselves totally to a regiment, a structure with rules and routines designed to keep them mindful of God and devoted to doing God’s work – it’s sublimely beautiful. Of course, they don’t spend every minute praying on their knees, or ladling soup out to the hungry, or sewing clothes for the naked, or cleaning the bedpans of the sick. I mean, they have to sleep. And they play, too. Some Orders have basketball hoops or ping-pong tables or bicycles. They go for long walks, chatting and laughing together. But, all that they do they do for love of God, giving God glory and praising Him. Not like they’ve got the basketball and are going dribble, “I love God,” dribble, dribble, “God is great” – that’s not what I mean. I don’t know what I mean.
And I guess that’s the point of this post. To tell whoever may be reading this that I don’t know. All the words in all the languages of the world combined cannot write out all of the things that I don’t know.
When I consecrated myself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I knew that there was part of the Consecration that would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to do because of my severe physical limitations. (It’s hard to get around, I stay home a lot.) Mass attendance on the first Friday of each month is recommended, with five in a row prescribed. Hopefully, I will be able to do this… but I’m not counting on it. Meanwhile, I will participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy in the best way that I can: by watching a televised Mass and praying to receive Spiritual Communion. To help facilitate spiritual participation and communion, I will be choosing and presenting a prayer, meditation, or scriptural passage that’s conducive to true worship.
This month’s facilitator is St. Ignatius of Loyola, who eloquently speaks to the crux of what I was poorly attempting to write about in my last post:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; dispose of it entirely according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is sufficient for me.
This is exactly what God calls me to do, exactly what I have such a hard time doing. This is the life of Jesus Christ, his human nature crying out to God the Father: “not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39.) This is the self-giving love of Christ on the Cross, surrendering to Divine Will, pouring out his life’s blood for me. And this is what is celebrated in the Eucharist of every Mass: the surrender of the self to the will of God in humility and love.
So what does that mean to me and for me?
There is nothing that I can give to God that God has not already given to me. God doesn’t need monetary tribute or burnt incense or a sacrificed portion of grain or meat. Even the little things that I “give up” during the season of Lent are not for God – the sacrifices are for me, to help me recognize that material things and self-centered pleasures do not constitute my identity or the fullness of life. By letting go of daydreaming (my personal Lenten sacrifice) I can turn my mind more fully to God and be more deeply aware of the true gifts and talents that God has given me. When I use these gifts for God – including my personal liberty, memory, and understanding – then I am fulfilled as a human being. I’m closer to becoming the person that I was created to be – I am closer to knowing the profound depth of God’s love and to experiencing infinite joy.
From today’s Psalm (51):
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
To truly participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy, then, symbolized by the bread and wine brought to the altar, I give my whole self to God. I consecrate and offer my person and my life to Divine Love Itself, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Like Jesus, I seek and choose God’s will. This is full participation in the Eucharist – in Christ’s Paschal Mystery. Transformed through redemption, I received the gift of Christ’s love, thus entering into full spiritual communion. And then I am able to do the things that God wants me to do each day: setting aside my selfish pursuits and indulgences, my self-righteous indignations, and going forth, in the ways in which I am uniquely able, “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing [my] bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when [I] see them, and not turning [my] back on [my] own.” (Isaiah 58)
So, why don’t I DO it? Why do I have such difficulty just being gentle sometimes?
Lord, I want to be like you. I want to give you my whole self. Come, live your life through me.
Mysticism isn’t la-dee-da, namby-pamby, or just something from long ago and far away. It’s difficult to define, but it can be simply said to be an experience of the truly Divine, beyond words, beyond the self. True love can be a mystic experience – if you let it. Now consecrated to the Sacred Heart, I am called to surrender my will to the will of God, to be still and know… To fall so deeply in love that my submersion in love is eternal. And I do desire that my surrender be complete, that I give all of myself, consecrating and offering my person and my life so that “the entirety of my being may henceforth only be employed in loving, honoring, and glorifying Thee.” There should be no halfways about it.
With this in mind, I love the words of the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, in his poem as translated by Coleman Banks. (I added the capitalization of majesty.)
Gamble everything for love,
if you’re a true human being.
If not, leave
Half-heartedness doesn’t reach
into Majesty. You set out
to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited roadhouses.