Category: Saint


AMDG

I came across something recently that has been fascinating me ever since – ‘Cardiognosis’ – which means knowledge of the heart.  It seems to have its roots in the Desert Fathers and describes the ability that certain holy people have of taking in the whole person who is in front of them, of understanding in a compassionate non-judgemental way what someone is trying to communicate.  It is more than an intuitive, sapiential way of knowing, it also appears to have a mystical element.  The ability to hear what is not being said, an unnerving ability to see right into you, a disconcerting knowledge of the secrets that can weigh heavily on one’s heart.

William James describes one of the marks of an authentic mystical experience as being ‘noetic’, giving access to some sort of state of knowledge.  In 1901 and 1902 he was invited to give the famous Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University.  This lead to the publication of his classic book, ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’.  In lecture 17 he talked about the insights that authentical mystical experiences gave,   “This is an insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule, they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time”.   He would later go on to talk about the transient nature of mystical experience whilst also being ‘timeless’.

Cardiognosis – seems less like a mystical experience and more like a mystical state. Its deeper than just the ability to read ‘between the lines’.    This level of sensitivity perhaps comes from years of formation and learning about your own heart.  Robin Daniels has written a little-known book called ‘Listening-Hearing the Heart’    which gives a taste of this.  If you haven’t got time to read his book, his widow Katherine hosted a fascinating webinar recently, and there is a beautiful section where she talks about what made him such an incredible listener – link– it lasts about 10mins  .  However ‘cardiognosis’ seems to be something beyond even the highest level of listening, At the end of his brilliant autobiography on St Ignatius – the Basque historian, Jose Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras,  creates a picture of Ignatius just before his death which includes this section….  

His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on.  When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart.

If we were to fast-forward 350 years Padre Pio had an awe-inspiring reputation in the confessional. It is claimed that he heard over 5 million confessions in his lifetime,  often displaying an uncanny knowledge of the penitents.  The famous sculptor Francesco Messina in 1949 went to visit Padre Pio. Padre Pio asked if he wanted to confess. He said maybe but I’m not prepared.  Padre Pio: “Don’t say anything to me. Just answer.” ‘Than he began to list my sins with incredible precision. This type of ‘knowledge’ that Pio had was repeated in many different accounts, and became public knowledge when  his life was investigated during the process of declaring him a Saint.  Then coming right up to the present day, a friend recounted a story that inspired this blog post. He spoke about having a conversation with a very famous Jesuit, who afterwards looked at him in silence for about a minute, and then gave him some pastoral advice – when recounting this story he said to me, ‘He even said things to me that I hadn’t told him about’.

AMDG

All_Saints_Catholic_Church_(St._Peters,_Missouri)_-_stained_glass,_sacristy,_Sacred_Heart_detailI have been telling many of our students here,  that when we die, God is not going to be interested in how you did in this module, or what mark you got in this exam – however He will be interested in how much love you shared in your life.  Today the church focuses on the mysterious way that God manifests his love for us through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a beautiful devotion that has been part of the Church’s armoury of prayer since its earliest days.  There are countless schools, hospitals, orphanages, parishes and even universities around the world that proudly carry the name of the Sacred Heart in their Title.

pierce-christs-sideThe limitless ability of God to love us is made most visible with the historical figure of Christ on the Cross, on Golgotha, outside of the city walls of Jerusalem.  There is a famous story of a German Jesuit who appeared on a late night discussion programme with a famous imam.  When the presenter pressed them to explain the difference between the Muslim and Christian understanding of God, the Jesuit said – ‘Through human eyes, the Christ was a failure ‘ –  this was followed by  a profound silence (which you don’t often see on television!).   When the camera panned to the imam, he was sitting there with silent tears rolling down his face.  A deeply holy and spiritual man, who was obviously close to God, the imam recognised the power of his German friends words.

Wounded-HandsIn the early church, a very popular devotion developed which was contemplating on the sacred wounds of Christ .  We know these wounds, on his forehead the marks of the crown of thorns, on his hands and his feet the holes from the nails, and in his side the large wound that the lance made that pierced his side, were still present in the glorious body of the risen Christ.  Even nowadays they mysteriously appear in cases of stigmata, in the body of doubting-thomasmystics. The wound in his side, opened up Christs heart to us, and so the devotion to Christs wounds, developed to a devotion to his heart, promoted by St Bernard in the eleventh century, and promulgated most notably by the Franciscans and the Carthusians.

In its modern form, the devotion is associated with Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque, a French Visitation sister who claimed to have a series of visions in the 17th Century, that lasted for 18 months.  In these visions, she claimed Jesus appeared to her radiant with love and asked to be honoured under the figure if his heart.   Her spiritual director was  Claude de Colombiere SJ,  is now a Saint. He was crucial in that he did not dismiss Margaret Mary’s claims, but wisely accompanied her and discreetly encouraged her, in spvisitationite of widespread disbelief and even jealousy from many of her sisters and friends. The series of promises that were made to those who followed the devotion,
which include regular communion, attendance of mass on ‘First Fridays’ and weekly holy hours, were sent around the world under the patronage of an American Businessman, with the approval of the Church.  Although the Church officially approves of the devotions, individual Catholics are not bound to follow them.  I wonder whether it could be the perfect antidote to the epidemic of pornography in our times.

 

salvador-dali-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossSalvador Dali believed that Christ of St John of the Cross was his religious masterpiece. It is influenced by a sketch found in the spiritual diaries of the Spanish Mystic and Carmelite, Juan de Yepes y Álvarez who became known as John of the Cross.  A sketch in his spiritual John_of_the_Cross_crucifixion_sketchdiaries of a vision he had received, made a great impression on Dali – he described the image as being ‘like a Crucifix presented to the lips of a dying man’ .  When Dali came to paint the image he used a Hollywood Stuntman, Russel Saunders as the model for Christ – and actually strapped his body to a gantry to help Dali envisage the pull of gravity on the Human Body.

Historical Context

In 1948 Dali had returned to Spain after the war, he had rediscovered his Catholic Faith and visited Pope Pius XII in Rome where he sought and was given approval for his new religious themes.  He had studied Nuclear Physics and felt that the discovery of the atomic nature of the universe was proof of the existence of God. This mix of science and religion 2would lead to a new Nuclear Mysticism according to Dali and in 1951 he published his Mystical Manifesto stating his ambition to paint a new type of Crucifixion.  Paintings of the crucified Christ had focused on the pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion- however Dali said in his manifesto ‘ I want my next Christ to be the painting containing the most beauty and joy, more than anything that will have been painted up to the present.’  It is worth noting that unusually for paintings of Christ on the Cross – it is devoid of pain, blood and the crown of thorns.  Dali associated the nucleus of the atom with Christ and was influenced by the ideas of the mathematician Luca Pacioli – paying attention to the triangle formed by Christs arms and the cross.

Theology

The background to the Painting is Port Lligat – the area of the Catalonian coast were Dali lived for most of the latter part of his life.  This is a reference to the universal relevance the Crucifixion, its historical significance and supra-historical effects.  When we celebrate the mass we believe that we cut through time and space as we are united with the one eternal sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, we are not just remembering or ‘re-enacting’ his last supper.  So by placing Christ against the background of his home, Dali is performing what would be called in Jesuit spirituality a Composition of Place.  The crucifixion of Christ is as relevant here and now, in 1950’s Spain or in 21st Century Manchester as it was 2 millenia ago in Palestine.

It is also worth reflecting on the beauty of the male image. In Dali’s own words – The metaphysical Beauty of the Christ-God and make his Christ ‘as beautiful as the God that he is’.   Christian Theology has often been interested in the tension between the  ‘Theology of the Cross’ and the ‘Theology of Glory’ .  Christ on the Cross is one of the most powerful images in human culture, but for Christians it represents the wisdom of God and the self-abandoning love of Christ.  Seen through the eyes of faith the cross presents unique insight into who God is and how he chooses to save.  Seen through the eyes of the world the cross is a brutal, humiliating public form of torture or capital punishment.  Because of this St Paul talks of ‘the scandal of the cross’ – a stumbling block to the wise.  Usually Christian iconography – especially in Spain – focuses on Christs suffering in order to elicit feelings of devotion in the believer.  A danger of an exaggerated Theology of the Cross is to see creation as irrevocably fallen, The Theology of Glory on the other hand would see creation as essentially good and have an eschatological focus on the resurrection and ultimate victory of good.  Perhaps Dalis – new type of Crucifixion is an attempt to marry the two.

Paintings Reception & Impact

dali_and_honeymanWhen a Scottish Art Historian, Dr Honeyman, acquired the painting for the Glasgow Art Gallery – students at the Glasgow School of Art and members of the Church of Scotland vehemently protested its purchase.  For some it was a waste of money and should have been spent on contemporary Scottish painters, for others it was blasphemous and encouraged idol worship.  The public however flocked to it and it was observed how men would instinctively take their hats of viewing it and boisterous school groups fall silent in its presence.  It has recently been voted Scotland’s favourite painting and is now by far the most valuable painting in the collection – a wise investment!

There is a fascinating 28min documentary about in on the Radio  4 Website