The Sacred Heart in Scripture and Strawberries

strawberries

June is the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Catholic Church. You may ask, what is meant by the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Well, the Sacred Heart is Jesus. And devotion to the Sacred Heart is a devotion to the love of Jesus, devoting oneself to loving   Him entirely.  The heart is a symbol of love, of course, but also an ancient symbol for the core of one’s being, the sacred abode in which God dwells with the person… and more. I wrote more about the heart HERE, HERE, and HERE. For an article on the more scholarly particulars of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, please click HERE.

What does any of this have to do with strawberries? The answer to that is at the end, after a bit of reflective exploration…

Why Does Anything Exist?

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The God of Silence

What does God’s love feel like? Is it warm and fuzzy? In opening our hearts to let God love us, do we experience pleasant sensations, like an encouraging embrace?

I don’t think so.

We are creatures of flesh and what we understand most easily are physical sensations. If something feels good, then we are inclined to do it. If something is painful, then we tend to avoid it. Although the knowledge/experience of divine love is so deeply wonderful that we desire it always once we know/experience it, getting to that place, coming to that state of being where we are peacefully joyful in God’s love… well, that isn’t always a pleasant journey. In fact, I would venture to say that opening ourselves up to let God love us is hardly ever a pleasant journey.

But, oh, what a destination.

God’s invitation to receive the endless bounty of His love is an invitation to walk through fire. Like in the song, Holy Darkness, God declares to us:

“I have tried you in fires of affliction; I have taught your soul to grieve.
In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant my seed.
I have taught you the price of compassion; you have stood before the grave.
Though my love can seem like a raging storm, this is the love that saves.”[1]

This is the love that saves us from failing as human beings. This is the love that heals the soul, brightens the mind, satisfies the heart, leads the will to eternal destiny, and emboldens loving action. But, it cannot be known through the surface things of the world. We cannot see God’s love with our eyes, hear it with our ears, smell it, taste it, or touch it with our skins. We don’t physically sense Divine love, but we can know/experience what it does. God’s love, agape, transforms burdens into blessings, difficulties into opportunities, disappointments into fulfillment, sorrows into joys, and death into life. If only we would let God love us…

It is this “letting” that is the most trying and painful part of salvation. How are we to receive God’s love? Christ’s human arms are opened widest to Divine Love when they are stretched apart and nailed to the Cross. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he tells us.

Those moments in our lives when we are suffering in the world, when we feel that God has abandoned us – those are the times that we are being crucified with Christ.

Will we fight these moments of suffering and receive nothing from them, nothing but frustration, anger, agony, and misery? Or will we accept these moments on the Cross, even lovingly embrace them, and receive from them the endless goodness, courage, healing, and peaceful joy of God’s love?

“In your deepest hour of darkness I will give you wealth untold. When the silence stills your spirit, will my riches fill your soul.”[2]

When we suffer, with “Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight”, we are on the brink of glory. There will be no fanfare, no fireworks, no parades, no exciting revelry when we are opened and receive God’s love – just as there were none on the first Easter. The glory will be beyond what we can think, what we can imagine, and what we can experience through our physical senses. God loving us does not feel warm and fuzzy, but, rather, deeply abiding, never ending, pure, and truly and fully good.

It isn’t all happy, happy, roses and sunshine all of the time. For, every glorious rose has a thorn and every sun that rises must also set. Let us not fear the dark nights of the soul. Rather, may we remember that, although everything else will fall away, God’s love is eternal. Let us allow Him to embrace us in the Holy Darkness.

In the season of Lent, when we more profoundly examine ourselves and our relationship with God, I will be taking this song and the truth that it expresses as my faith facilitator for this First Friday of March.

Prayer:

Oh, Sacred Heart of Jesus,

you bear the burden of my sorrows

and take my pain as your own;

Break open my heart with yours

so that it will not be merely aching,

but rather flooded by your grace,

with the sacred strength of weakness.

Then, may I,

broken and battered in this world,

in the stillness and silence of the night,

receive the gift of your everlasting love,

lifted up in your everlasting life.

Amen.

© 2015 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. For more, click here.]


[1] Holy Darkness, © 1988, 1993, Daniel L Schutte. Published by OCP Publications, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213

[2] ibid.

Unhidden from You

My faith facilitator for this First Friday? The haunting, inescapable truth of Psalm 139, which I have come to know most intimately:

LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.

Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast. If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light”— Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!

My very self you know.

My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.

How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sands; when I complete them, still you are with me.

 

Prayer:

Lord, may I always be mindful that I am ever in your presence…

Guide me in your ways.

Amen.

Peace

Better late than never…
I’m grateful that I was able to observe this First Friday by participating, sacramentally, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In other words, I got to physically go to church.  My parents and I were a little late getting there, so, when we came in the ramped side entrance, the congregation was already standing and the priest was already entering at the altar.  So, we stayed in the seats of that side apse.

I have never watched the consecration from the same level of the sanctuary – and, since the church we attended has a large crucifix suspended from the ceiling above the altar, I gazed upon Jesus on the cross from the side for the first time.  I thought to myself, it’s like seeing Continue reading

First Friday and the Incarnate Image

Last year, I was searching for a Madonna and Child print to hang in my bedroom. I had thought that I wanted an icon or medieval painting. After looking at hundreds of depictions, however, I grew weary of so many grave madonnas tolerating so many, adult-like babies. Where was the wonder and joy of the Incarnation? Nothing moved me with the touch of human tenderness, with the divine light of living, breathing love.

And then, I found it. “The Virgin of the Grapes” by Piere Mignard, circa 1640-1650.

Virgin of the Grapes

Although, historcally speaking, the picture is far from accurate, the spirit of the work is exquisite in blessedness. The Christ Child is shown as a real child, with sweet baby flesh and a near mischievous little face. His mother Mary is beautifully peaceful, a joyful serenity on her visage. She delights in her child, but doesn’t smother. Her eyes are shown cast downward so as not to take away from the eager gaze of Jesus. He is seated on her, reminiscent of the ancient style, symbolizing Christ as the King seated on a throne – the throne being the soft, loving folds of Mary’s arms and lap. For Mary makes possible the Incarnation with her selfless submission to the will of God and with the humility of her generous motherhood. And none of this is dour. None of this is somber, burdensome piety. This is the beauty of love, this is the light of divine joy brought to us through human forms.

Even in this happy little scene, there is a touch of the sacrifice that is to come when the infant is grown into manhood. Mary innocently holds out a cluster of grapes that Jesus grasps fully with his baby fingers. The grapes symbolize the blood of the Eucharist – the Blood of Christ, poured out from the Cross, poured out for the multitude so that our sins may be forgiven. I believe a touch of the sacrifice must be shown in any good depiction of Jesus – for a good portrait shows the true identity of a person. Here we have a hint of the suffering amidst the joy of the coming of God among us. Should it not be so? As God is the fullness of reality, let us embrace reality fully – and not be afraid.

For God, in infinite love for us, comes intimately among us to reveal the divine light in the human. In Mignard’s painting, baby Jesus is playing partially beneath the veil that is covering his mother’s hair. In his sweet innocence, Christ is lifting the veil and peeking out to us.

Yes, let the angels sing, for Christ Jesus truly lifts the veil and reveals God to all of humankind. This is the holy Mystery of the Incarnation, inexhaustibly wondrous, profound, unfathomable… and as sweet and real as a little baby at play.

So, I take this image as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday of December.

Prayer

Oh, God, You so love the world

that You humbled Yourself to become one of us,

to live as we live so that we may love as You love –

lift the veil from my eyes,

lift the veil from my heart,

help me to pierce through time to eternity,

through space to infinity,

through my humanity to your divinity,

so that I may be transformed into the truth of your image and likeness

and bear love where there is hate,

bear hope where despair,

pardon where injury,

faith where doubt,

joy where sadness,

and light where darkness.[1]

Amen.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. Read more here.]

 

[1] borrowing from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

First Friday and the Will of St. Francis

In a shadowy recess of the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, I caught sight of a dimly lit bas-relief and felt myself drawn to it… and even changed by it.

Before I get to that, shortly – below the carving is a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi taking the body of Jesus off of the Cross. Of course, it is historically inaccurate. But, great art depicts the truth within and beyond facts. The artwork is meant to convey the love and life of Francis, who was so utterly devoted to God-Incarnate suffering in this world that he even developed the Stigmata, signs of Christ’s wounds on his own body. Francis’s arms are therefore shown to be encircling the body of Christ as he is ready to lift up his beloved Savior and catch him in embrace.

St. Francis Jesus Cross Ste. Anne de Beaupré

Francis is on tippytoe in his innocent eagerness, gazing upward in adoration, his hand curved and held in gentle wonder.

And I ask myself: do I want to embrace Christ this much?

Am I eager to carry the weight of his beaten and bloody body? Do I hold him in wonder and affection close to my heart? I wasn’t there when they crucified my Lord, but I am here, now, when the dying are crying out in pain and loneliness, and the abused are losing hope that anyone will carry them to safety. Is my heart suffering with theirs in true compassion, ready to do whatever I can to help – not to hesitate, but to give generously in love? Whatever I do for the least, I do for Christ.

As I wrote in the beginning of this post, it was the bas-relief above the statue that most deeply moved me. I had to look up at it a long while before I could discern the figures and details. While realizing what I was seeing, I felt the cords of my heart being so sweetly touched that the exquisite song of joy spread all through me. Below is the image, the image which I am taking as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday:

St. Francis bas-relief Ste. Anne de Beaupré

At first, I saw Jesus with his arms open wide, crucified. And Francis, in front of Jesus like a child, held his arms open wide in imitation, looking back and up at his Savior as though asking, “Like this?” Christ, the patient teacher, and Francis, the willing student. But, then… I saw that there were wings depicted behind Jesus, signifying Christ Resurrected, Christ Glorified and Ascended in Paradise. And I knew that Christ Jesus was teaching his beloved child… with open arms, a living Cross… how to fly….

Prayer:

Oh, my Lord and my God,

teach me to be little,

your little child,

so that I may grow big and strong like you.

Amen.

[This is part of the First Friday Faith Facilitator series, for the month of November 2014.]

© 2014 Christina Chase

In the Ordinary: A First Friday Observance

“To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wildflower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

and eternity in an hour.”

This is one of my favorite poems — even though I’m not entirely certain what it means. Good poetry is like that.  The words of William Blake may express some complex philosophy, for all I know, or their meaning may be simple and apparent: it is blessedness to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

There is rich and awe-inspiring beauty in Creation. But, the transcendent experience of which William Blake speaks (I think) is more than marvelous delight in physical things.  We could simply be caught up in the wonder of a flower’s intricacy and how the forces of nature also bring forth bright, bursting blooms of stardust in galaxies near and far.  Knowing how vast and complex, how beyond our grasp, is the universe — and even a grain of sand — our minds may become overwhelmed and we may experience a rapturous feeling of awe.  All of the natural world is amazing — violets and pebbles, sand and oak trees, and all things and all of the energy that goes into their existence.  But… their existence… not the process, not the parameters, not the products, and not the pondering of these things — but, their existence… contemplating that is when the temporal can take us up to the transcendent.

“To see a heaven in a wild flower” and to hold “eternity in an hour” is more about mysticism than it is about the experience of awe we may feel in the exquisite beauty of what we know scientifically about the universe and the overwhelming vastness of what we don’t know yet.  The idea is not to relate the infinite to the finite or the eternal to the temporal.  I believe that the idea behind William Blake’s poem, the idea behind all sacred experiences of the transcendent, is to relate the finite to the infinite and the temporal to the eternal.  We are not to project our thoughts of the divine upon the mundane (like saying that God is Nature or the Universe) but, rather, project our thoughts beyond the mundane (even through the mundane) to the Divine.

The world is not for nothing. And I believe that matter matters to God.

There is heavenly delight — and then there is Heaven. There is the thrilling adventure of discovery, uncovering the secrets of processes and identities within — and then there is reality itself, existence itself.  To see the transcendent in the temporal is about something much more than how the brain reacts to ego-shattering greatness with a feeling of awe.  It’s about discovering what God wants to say to us personally in the daily living of our lives.

Eternity is not far off, like some experience that is distant from us. Eternity is now.  And now.  And now.  Infinity is not somewhere beyond our reach, impossible to be within.  Infinity is here.  And there.  And here.  And there.  Full and true transcendence is found in the opening of ourselves up to God, allowing God to reveal Divine realities and Mysteries to us.  Here and now.

This post is not meant to debate whether or not a personal God exists. Nor is it meant to further the discussion of whether or not even atheists can have experiences of the sacred.  I am simply reminding myself that the ways of God are visible everywhere — if I remember to look, not only with my eyes and other physical senses, but also with my heart, which is the core of my being, the interior space in which God and I dwell together alone.  So, as I ponder things with my brain, I must also — and, perhaps, first and foremost — ponder them in my heart.  Sometimes, the best explanations of things are not meant to explain, but, rather, to simply cause unutterable wonder — and gratitude — that there is something instead of nothing.  That I am.

The Infinite is. And, yet, so is your hand with its creased and fleshy palm.  The Eternal is.  And, yet, so are the several minutes of time during which you have read this post.  That is what truly amazes, inspires true wonder and true awe.  We have been brought into being by the Infinite/Eternal One!  With this epiphany, the mystics slip through portals of divine transcendence.  GOD’S INITIATIVE.  And God’s willingness to help us up to Him.

And so I take ordinary things as my faith facilitators on this First Friday of October.

Prayer

Oh, Uncreated Creator, oh, Uncaused Cause,

May I see the little lessons

that the ordinary things of every day can teach me

about myself, about life,

and about You.

May I be open to the Transcendent,

remembering always that you are immanent,

ever-present, with me always and everywhere,

revealing your love and Mysteries to me

in my heart.

Help me to see You.

Help me to hear You.

Amen.

[This has been part of the First Friday Facilitators series, to help me better celebrate the First Friday observation of the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.]

© 2014 Christina Chase