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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Saturday, 28 June 2014

WHERE EAST AND WEST UNITE: IN THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS

I know that many will look on the title of this article and will exclaim, "How preposterous!"   It is well known that this is a purely western devotion: it oozes Roman Catholicism!   How can a devotion so western, so post-schism, be where East and West meet?   I am not suggesting that, one day, some time in the future, this devotion may become a meeting place.   Nor am I saying that, for it to to become an expression of unity, the Orthodox have to adopt the devotion.   I am saying that East and West unite in this devotion, without either side having to do anything: it manifests a unity that already exists.   It is a unity at a very profound level; though, unfortunately, its discovery is not enough to provide answers to all our differences, nor does it herald an almost  immediate union between East and West.

One problem is that any practice, any devotion, any idea that has developed in the West and that has no direct Orthodox equivalent, is automatically condemned by too many Orthodox as unOrthodox.   I remember one Orthodox lampooning devotion to the Sacred Heart as devotion to Christ's body parts.   The truth is that devotion to the Sacred Heart is as much devotion to Christ's body parts as the Orthodox teaching that we should bring our minds into our hearts is an invitation for us to become contortionists.   The word "heart" in "Sacred Heart" and in Orthodox spiritual doctrine means exactly the same thing.

Here is a passage from an Orthodox source:
The heart is central in Orthodox Spirituality. This is biblical: if your heart is pure, your actions are pure. If your heart is impure, so will your actions be.
In our Orthodox tradition, the heart is bigger than the mind and the mind is located in the heart; the combination is referred to as the nous. The heart is not identified with the physical heart, but it is understood to be the center of our spiritual existence.
God takes up residence in the heart (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 3:17). Christ refers to this residency in the heart as “the Kingdom of God,” which is not a state like New Mexico or Montana, but rather may be understood as a reign or ruling. It is a verbal noun; it is not, in other words, static but energetic. When Christ says, “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), he means that we are energized by God’s power through the Holy Spirit. This is where we know the “peace of God that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), to which Paul also testifies at Romans 5:5. In the heart we receive both the grace of God and the enlightenment of our lives (II Corinthians 4:6).
The heart is the location for our feelings, for our will, and for our thinking.

When Christ says, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, I will live in him and he in me," it is in our heart that he takes up residence; and when, through prayer and denial of our own will and self-sufficiency, we become "pure in heart" and we enter into it, it is there we will find his eucharistic presence: the heart of each one is his personal tabernacle.

At its deepest level, the heart is the metaphysical point where God's creative act brings about and keeps in existence the human being. It is what Thomas Merton saw in Louisville, "at the corner of Fourth and Walnut".   He saw that the very source of our uniqueness as persons is also the source of our unity with all human beings.   He exclaimed, "Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time;” and, "I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

One reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son sees this heart as the Father's house which the younger son leaves to seek the pleasures of the exterior world.  Growth in the Christian life can be seen as the prodigal's return into his heart, his inner purification.  The people of Louisville do not know of the light within because sin has separated their feelings, their minds and their  decision making from the centre of their being; and, to use the metaphor that Grisha uses to the young Prokhor (the pre-monastic name of St Seraphim of Sarov), a rock, made up of self-sufficiency, pride, lack of faith and mis-directed desires, separates their minds from their hearts.   In communion, Christ enters their hearts, but their minds are little affected.   In order to bring their minds into their hearts, they need to chip through the rock with the sharp arm of humble obedience.   Only then will they pray constantly in harmony with Christ who is praying within them.  This is praying in the Spirit.

The heart is designed to receive God because the human being is capax Dei; but, because it is a created reality and God is uncreated, this is only possible in and through the Incarnation.   Leaving aside purely hypothetical questions about what would have happened if human beings had not sinned, it is safe to say that the Incarnation is the only possible means by which created reality can share in the divine life: therefore, the heart was designed to receive Christ.   That which makes people most human can only be provided by Christ's presence.

Christ is never alone, not only because he shares in the life of the Blessed Trinity, but because, by the power of the same Holy Spirit in whom he is united to the Father, he is also united to the whole human race across time and space, and, most especially, to those whose hearts house the same eucharistic presence.

The prodigal son's return from existence on the surface of life where God's presence is ignored into his heart, his Father's house, where, through dint of much prayer and change, he will find Christ, is also a move from an egoistic, cut-off existence into a discovery of the whole human race "in Christ".  Something of this vision was given to Thomas Merton in Louisville.

It is this presence of the whole Church of heaven and earth, time and space, in Christ and the presence of Christ in the heart that St Peter Damian could write in "Dominus Vobiscum":
Indeed, the Church of Christ is united in all her parts by such a bond of love that her several members form a single body and in each one the whole Church is mystically present; so that the whole Church universal may rightly be called the one bride of Christ, and on the other hand every single soul can, because of the mystical effect of the sacrament, be regarded as the whole Church... Therefore let no brother who lives alone in a cell be afraid to utter the words which are common to the whole Church; for although he is separated in space from the congregation of the faithful yet he is bound together with them all by love in the unity of faith; although they are absent in the flesh, they are near at hand in the mystical unity of the Church (Chapter 18, 73-74).   
Further, because the whole of the human race is united to Christ by the Holy Spirit so that he could bear our sorrows and our sins, so the Church is united to the whole race "in Christ", interceding for it and serving it.   If that were not so, seeing Christ in the poor and in all who are in need would be a pious fiction.   

If at the heart of each human being there is a place where human existence flows out of God's creative act, and in the heart of each Christian there is an ongoing liturgy in which Christ unites heaven and earth in his love, what can be said of the heart of Christ?   Remember, this is not a body part: it is a heart that beats in perfect harmony with the divine will; it is the source and profoundest centre of Christ's divine/human love for humankind and for all creation; and. as St John's Gospel says, he is in us and we are in him.   He is in our heart, and we are in his.

This quotation from Vultus Christi says of Christ's heart:
The Wounded Heart
The solitary life demands a maturity that comes only from suffering. Sometimes suffering causes one to shut down and close in upon oneself. In such a case, solitude is a particularly dangerous form of self-indulgence. Paradoxically, when suffering breaks one’s heart and opens it to God, it is the best preparation for the solitary life. One who goes into solitude without having had his heart broken, or wounded, or pierced through, cannot remain there, because the transformation of solitude into communion with God passes necessarily, and always, through a heart that has been opened by suffering, through a heart that remains open because it is wounded by love. Perhaps this is why true solitaries find themselves drawn to the mystery of the Heart of Jesus wounded by our sins. The Heart of Christ, once opened by the soldier’s lance, remains eternally open.

We began this article by saying that the Sacred Heart actually unites East and West   It does so because all who receive Christ in their heart at communion or in any other way all take up their abode in Christ's heart.   This is the work of the Holy Spirit.   Moreover, all who are united in his heart are also united in the hearts of each of us.   It does so whether we recognise it or no.   Deep in the hearts of the monks of Athos, Roman Catholics lie hidden in the heart of Christ!   The heart of Jesus is much wider than our prejudices.

   Devotion to the Sacred Heart, and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that moon to Christ's sun, remind us what the Eastern monastic tradition keep telling us, that our religion at its deepest level, has its existence within us.   Devotion to the Sacred Heart should not just be expressed in sentimental pictures and statues. To be authentic, we must dig down deep within us, break through the rock of our egoistic infidelity, and find Christ's living heart within our own. 

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