Category: Mysticism


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.

 

The Trinity

AMDG       Homily given in the Holy Name Manchester, 12pm,        22nd May 2016

rf_detail_176_0There is an assumption that every preacher dreads Trinity Sunday – how can we speak about the inner nature of God?  How can we talk intelligibly of this ultimate mystery?  Human Language always fall short…..  but I think that this is an unhelpful attitude because God desires for us to know Him.  In Jesus Christ, in the incarnation, in the second person of the trinity – we see that God longs for us to know Him, God longs for us to grow in discovery of Him.  This is the great adventure of life …..  Knowing God …… moving closer to that ultimate mystery of being .

As we grow in knowledge of God, that desire to know is transformed into a desire to love God.  Knowing becomes loving, curiosity leads us to adoration. I consider the best place, not the only place, but the best place to go on this journey of knowing and loving God, is here in the Catholic Church.  If the fundamental task of every human being is to know, love and then serve God than the Roman Catholic Church is the best place to live that adventure as we have so many wonderful guides who have gone before us.

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11Fr Pedro Arrupe, who was the General of the Jesuits about 40 years ago, talks about this adventure in a beautiful way –  “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

This striving to know God has led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The Church Father, Tertullian, provides us with the first recorded use of the word Trinity in the third century.  God is One and Three: He is not an eternal solitude; rather, he is an eternal love that is based on the reciprocity of the Persons, a love that is the first cause, the origin, and the foundation of all being and of every form of life.

295px-Kircher-Diagram_of_the_names_of_God

Athanasius Kirchers – Names of God in Oedipus Aegyptiacus

But nowhere in Scripture do we find God calling himself the “Trinity.”  However the Trinitarian understanding of God is not something that we have figured out by ourselves.  If we ask ourselves “Is this the way Christ spoke?” looking at the stories from the Gospels, we can confidently say – yes.  We recognize that we he often spoke of the Father – doing his Fathers business, being with his Father, in today’s Gospel        ‘Everything the father has is mine’  and also of sending the Spirit – ‘when the spirit of truth comes’ Today – On Trinity Sunday, we praise God for who he is not merely for the wonders that he has worked.   The names that we give to God, names like “All Good” or “Perfect Being,” contain truth but are not complete. Knowing God’s name is an essential part of that journey of our life.  And we see how God reveals his nature through the life of Jesus.

So God is three persons – but one substance – consubstantial as we say in the Nicene Creed.  This unity is engendered by love, Trinitarian unity, is a unity more profound than the unity of any building stone, it is a more profound unity than in a material sense.   This is why unity is so important – and when we damage that unity – through Gossip, through attacking other Catholics,  through criticising the Pope, whether through our words or what we write online,   even when we refuse to attempt to understand those who are different from us – we are working against that divine unity.

This love than cannot keep to itself, this love which flows out, that breathes the Spirit, is Communio-logodynamic not static.  God in the Trinity is closer to us than our heart beat, and we are called to share in this community of Love. When we look at our community, formed from people from all over the world – who have travelled to study and teach here, to live in this rainy city of Manchester – the ‘communio of the Trinity’ is our touchstone.   In a culture that is stretched by globalization and blighted by individualism, we are called to offer a witness of community and in beautiful way of koinonia, of communion. This reality does not come ‘from below’ but is a mystery which, so to speak, ‘has its roots in Heaven,’ in the Triune God himself. We express that communion, sacramentally every day – but also through our living together, our eating and celebrating together, the work we do for the poor.

The more we love like this and the more we share our lives – the closer we come to living this mystery of self-giving and reciprocal love that God offers to us in his very being.  If you can help us build up this community you are helping is to contemplate the very heart of God.