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WHERE IS GOD? – Richard Rohr

When I was on retreat at Thomas Merton’s hermitage at Gethsemani Abbey in 1985, I had a chance encounter that has stayed with me all these years. I was walking down a little trail when I recognized a recluse, what you might call a hermit’s hermit, coming toward me. Not wanting to intrude on his deep silence, I bowed my head and moved to the side of the path, intending to walk past him. But as we neared each other, he said, “Richard!” That surprised me. He was supposed to be silent. How did he know who I was? “Richard, you get chances to preach and I don’t. Tell the people one thing.” Pointing to the sky, he said, “God is not ‘out there’!” Then he said, “God bless you,” and abruptly continued down the path.

The belief that God is “out there” is the basic dualism that is tearing us all apart. Our view of God as separate and distant has harmed our relationships with sexuality, food, possessions, money, animals, nature, politics, and our own incarnate selves. This loss explains why we live such distraught and divided lives. Jesus came to put it all together for us and in us. He was saying, in effect, “To be human is good! The material and the physical can be trusted and enjoyed. This physical world is the hiding place of God and the revelation place of God!”

Far too much of religion has been about defining where God is and where God isn’t, picking and choosing who and what has God’s image and who and what doesn’t. In reality, it’s not up to us. We have no choice in the matter. All are beloved. Everyone—Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Muslim, black and white, gay and straight, able-bodied and disabled, male and female, Republican and Democrat—all are children of God. We are all members of the Body of Christ, made in God’s image, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, whether or not we are aware of this gift.

Can you see the image of Christ in the least of your brothers and sisters? This is Jesus’ only description of the final judgment (Matthew 25). But some say, “They smell. They’re a nuisance. They’re on welfare. They are a drain on our tax money.” Can we see Christ in all people, even the so-called “nobodies” who can’t or won’t play our game of success? When we can see the image of God where we don’t want to see the image of God, then we see with eyes not our own.

Jesus says we have to love and recognize the divine image even in our enemies. Either we see the divine image in all created things, or we don’t see it at all. Once we see God’s image in one place, the circle keeps widening. It doesn’t stop with human beings and enemies and the least of our brothers and sisters. It moves to frogs and pansies and weeds. Everything becomes enchanting with true sight. We cannot not live in the presence of God. We are totally surrounded and infused by God. All we can do is allow, trust, and finally rest in it, which is indeed why we are “saved” by faith—faith that this could be true.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

SABEEL WAVE OF PRAYER: January 3rd 2018

(Sabeel promotes non-violence and reconciliation based on justice for all the national and faith communities of Palestine and Israel.  It campaigns for more accurate international awareness of the suffering of Palestinian Christians as well as highlighting the plight of Christians in other countries in the region)
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Nine people have been killed in two attacks on Coptic Christians in Helwan district, south of Cairo, Egypt. The so-called Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the church attack.
Lord, we cry out to you to strengthen the Church in Egypt as it continues to lose innocent lives by the demons of extremism. We remember the families of the victims and pray for the recovery of all the injured. May this evil attack bring the people of Egypt closer together to confront exclusivity with inclusivity.
Lord in your mercy . . .

Last Thursday, Israeli naval forces opened fire on Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. The Israeli naval forces detained two fishermen, Sameh al-Quqa and Shawqi Bakr, and confiscated their boats.
Lord, the Israeli occupation generates storms that deny our fishermen and their boats a safe journey back to shore. We pray for all the prophetic voices in the world to continue to speak truth to power and make the Israeli military siege come to an end. We pray for the release of the fisherman, the bread winners of their families, to be reunited with their loved ones.
Lord in your mercy . . .

On Sunday, about 1,500 members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud ruling party voted unanimously to impose Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank. The non-binding resolution also called for the unlimited construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Lord, the extremists in Israel are determined to steal our Palestinian land and deprive us from what is rightfully ours.  We pray for all the people of conscience in Israel to exert pressure on the Israeli politicians to abandon greed and colonialism and recognize international law.
Lord in your mercy . . .

A new report, by the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, revealed how Israel exploits the West Bank to treat waste –  including hazardous waste – generated in Israel. In so doing, Israel abuses its power as an occupying power. It exposes the Palestinian residents – who are excluded from the decision-making process –  to environmental and health hazards.
Lord, we continue to be overwhelmed by the unjust and abusive actions of Israel. We ask for your spirit to give us the strength to continue the nonviolent resistance to bring the insanity of the Israeli occupation to an end.
Lord in your mercy . . .

According to a new study carried out by Dar al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is the main factor behind the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the region.
Blessed Redeemer, of all the earth, we pray for your Church in Palestine. Stand with your Church and protect it from all evil and disintegration. May the women, men and children who are your body in this land continue to shine forth with the light of your love, truth and grace.
Lord in your mercy . . .

Last Thursday, sixty-three Israeli teenagers have published an open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, declaring their refusal to join the Israeli army due to their opposition to the occupation.
Lord, we give thanks for all our friends in Israel who refuse to take part in the sin of the Israeli military occupation. We pray that the voices of these brave young Israeli teenagers are echoed among many others Israelis. May love triumph fear and justice prevail for all the people in our land.
Lord in your mercy . . .

In a late night debate, lawmakers pass an updated bill that makes it harder to divide Jerusalem without Knesset approval. This latest Israeli law trumps president Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem boarders are negotiable.
Lord, the powerful continue to abuse their power in order to deprive the occupied Palestinian people of their inalienable rights under international law. Loving God, only your power of love can stand in the way of the power of arrogance.
Lord in your mercy . . .

We join the World Council of Churches in praying for the countries of  Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the Occupied State of Palestine.
Lord in your mercy . . .

(The Association, rooted in Divine Compassion, supports the plight of Christian and other minorities in this region)

THE BLESSED SACRAMENT AND THE INCARNATION OF DIVINE COMPASSION

After all the celebrations during the Christmas Octave I’m aware of having come to a period of peace when it’s possible to find time to listen more deeply to the Incarnation. The eye of the body has beheld Jesus within our Cribs and now the eye of the heart can begin to see the wonder of Emmanuel – God with us.

One of the books I’m reading at present is ‘The Drawing of This Love’ by Robert Fruewirth in which he explores aspects of the way Julian of Norwich realised how the compassion of God permeates Divine Love. In one chapter he quotes Julian saying: ‘Here I saw a great affinity between Christ and us … for when he was in pain, we were in pain.  And all creatures capable of suffering pain suffered with him … So was our Lord Jesus Christ set at nought for us, and we all remain in this way as if set at naught with him, and shall do until we come to his bliss…’ (Ch.18)  This led me to consider the way we can always be present to His compassion when we come before Him in the Blessed Sacrament. I find there is something truly wonderful about being present to Him as He is present to us when the Sacrament is exposed on the altar and long for this practice – of placing the Host contained in a monstrance on an altar where anyone can sit or kneel in prayer – to be more and more common. Here we can talk with Him or just rest with Him and know that He is fully present to all who come to Him. And then we can take Him with us in the tabernacle of our own heart for, as St Francis of Assisi wrote in his Rule of 1221: ‘We should make a dwelling-place within ourselves where He can stay, He who is the Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’

Dame Julian echoes this theme when she later writes: ‘The with a glad expression our Lord looked into his side and gazed, rejoicing and with his dear gaze he led his creature’s understanding through the same wound into his side within. And then he revealed a beautiful and delightful place, large enough for all mankind that shall be saved to rest there in peace and in love.’ (Ch.24)  As I read that I saw that ‘place’ as His Sacred Heart, a Heart large enough to contain all of us, enlarged by Compassion. This is the Sacrament of Love upon which we are invited to gaze, as Julian gazed on what was revealed to her. I find it a wonderful thing that we who have been made part of His Body can gaze on that Body which is lit up with Love – I see it as one might look on a building flooded with light both inside and out, throbbing with all the colours there are against the darkness that surround it – a darkness of both sin and a lack of recognition. This is what we are to realise as we gaze on His Incarnate Body shown to us in the monstrance.

So I love the idea of creating that inner-monstrance which is to be the dwelling-place for Jesus because I can then adore Him whenever I visit that place. I know few churches can offer perpetual adoration but He can always be with me and I can always adore Him whenever I choose to make this visit to my heart. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if more Anglican churches were able to offer this facility? Perhaps well-staffed cathedrals might offer this facility – I believe Southwark Cathedral contains the Tabernacle House from the Convent of the sisters of the Community of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament which was founded in 1869 and ended with the death of the last sister in the early years of this century. Sadly I never visited this community and would love to find a way of continuing their charism. It’s exquisitely beautiful to come to Jesus in this way and be able to just rest with Him – ‘be there’ with Him who is in all places and fills all things yet who left us this way to realise His presence. It’s a presence that doesn’t require any words and the only effort is to focus attention on Him and Him alone. To be able to do this in places like Westminster Cathedral and Tyburn Convent in Hyde Park Place is a joy and I am grateful to those who make this possible.

So I wonder, might it be possible for individual churches to offer Jesus to us in this way – maybe just for an hour or so at a time? I did this when I was a parish priest and although few came it was such a blessing for me to be able to place Christ there on the altar and spend an hour in His presence. Could we not begin to develop a list – a rota, maybe – of times and places where this happened and encourage people to come to Jesus in this way? What a wonderful appeal to renew and refresh the spiritual life this would offer.

CHRIST THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD – some thoughts on the Incarnation

I wonder if you have an image of God? Many people do, even if it’s one they can’t believe in – that old man with a long white beard, the heavenly schoolmaster, the dictator who rules the world. Maybe a doting father – or even a loving mother. Or perhaps a painting you saw has left an impression on you – a painting of an ancient figure elevated above Jesus with a white dove between them. With such a plethora of images, some highly questionable, no wonder all three great monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, forbid the depiction of God. “But”, you might say, “what about all the images of Christ in churches?” Well, in a sense, they’re not images of God; they represent the human form in which Christians believe he clothed himself and as Orthodox Christians know, if God chose to reveal invisible things in visible matter then we honour God by doing the same.

In the end God remains a mystery beyond our comprehension so to say ‘I don’t believe in God’ begs the question – well, what is it exactly that you don’t believe in because it’s likely that the Church doesn’t believe in that either. Once you begin to define what God is then God, in a sense, slips through your fingers.  Nowhere in the Jewish scriptures (the ‘Old Testament’) is there a definition of God – the closest one gets is that remarkable statement when God said to Moses: “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” or whatever the original Hebrew words mean. Now that seems to suggest God is not so much a ‘thing’ as a state of existence that cannot be named. One might say that God is the is-ness of is, pure being or becoming. Some speak of God as an ‘ocean of love’ or the heart of a mystery and so on. But none of these expressions seek to define what, in the end, is and always has been beyond our understanding.  I know some object to saying that God is a mystery but that’s how it’s always been. It’s not a ‘cop-out’ but, as St Ephrem the Syrian back in the fourth century realised, only something greater than God could possibly define God and there can be nothing greater than God …  So perhaps we might say that ‘God’ is a useful three-letter word to identify what is unidentifiable but which men and women down the centuries and around the world have believed in. I know we like to name things as it gives us the ability to identify them but – whoever or whatever God is – it would seem God clearly doesn’t want to be identified because as the Little Prince in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry  beautiful little book of that name said: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Yes, there have been other ways of trying to identify God – the Holy, Faithful or Wise One for example – but these are merely attributes people have used to speak of God. Then there are metaphors: God is the potter, we the clay; the nursing mother or loving Father; God is light and in Him there is no darkness etc. Two of the most common ways of speaking of God are as the ‘most Compassionate’ and ‘all-Merciful’ One or the Holy, Faithful or Wise One, attributes which lie at the heart of both Christianity and Islam. Then there are metaphors: God is the potter, we the clay; the nursing mother or loving Father; God is light and in Him there is no darkness etc.  But you cannot say God is this or that. God is not this baby any more than God is that old man. What you can say, and what the Church says, is that God clothed Himself in our flesh and wore the garments of this baby who grew into a 33 year-old Palestinian man. He on whom we gaze with the eye of faith is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. And then you would be able to say that what we see in Him reflects the nature of that which He contains leading Charles Wesley to sing:

            Jesu, thou art all-compassion,
           Pure unbounded love thou art.

But, more wonderful still, what we see in Him is a bright reflection of what lies within us.  We can reflect aspects of that diamond-studied divine compassion and love that dwells in Him; our being contains a reflection of the wonder He incarnates and which we are to reveal. If you behold glory in this child, that glory can be reflected in us, as the Turkish writer, Elif Shafak, has said: “How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.” Perhaps, them, we might say that the aroma of ‘God’ invites us to seek the ultimate depth of all our being, the creative ground and meaning of all our existence. Maybe, then, it cannot be said that God ‘exists’ as you or I do, and that simple, three-lettered word offers the way we can express the inexpressibleness of life – that which painters and poets also struggle with. The great silence where a Word echoes; the expression of all that is, has been and will be. The silence of love.. The eternal darkness in which light shines.

If, then, the baby in the manger distracts you
from seeing what lies in the Cave of Bethlehem;
that reflection of the depth of human life,
then look beyond and realise the potential present in yourself,
the mystery that lies in the recesses of your own heart,
Perhaps, the importance of this Feast isn’t just that we celebrate God’s incarnation –

it is the Feast of what our humanity can become.

Compassion towards Detainees

I read with a deep sense of shame, disgust and anger of the suicide three months ago of Marcin Gwozdzinski, a Polish detainee at Harmondsworth Detention Centre.  The report, in The Guardian, carried this harrowing account of the event:

“He was crying, begging for help from the guards, telling them to call an ambulance, that his mental health was an emergency,” said another detainee,  … “They told him he would get no help and to stop calling for an ambulance. He broke down like a baby. Still they did nothing.”

In view of this I have written a letter to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to plead that the government show compassion to those held in custody.  I fear, as many do, that this is yet another example – and a tragic one – of the way our country is hardening its heart following Brexit.  I understand that we are the only country in Europe with no time limit on immigration detention despite a campaign by MP’s and others to impose a 28 day limit and only then as an “absolute last resort”.  These deaths leave those responsible – and, by implication, all of us in the UK – with blood on our hands, blood which, like the blood of Abel, cries out for justice.

COMPASSION – the biblical gift to the human spirit

Johann Baptist Metz, the German Catholic theologian (b.1928), argued 1 that compassion is ‘… a primary reaction to another person’s suffering.  It possesses a political dimension, in that a merely private attitude … is not enough.  And since it has to be exercised in the midst of oppression and repression, it has to become justice.
In the Gospels, Metz observes, Jesus is more attentive to the sufferings of others than their sins, but is very critical of the sins of hypocrisy committed by the scribes and Pharisees – the religious authorities.  Unfortunately, however,
‘Christianity very soon began to have serious difficulties with this fundamental sensitivity to other people’s sufferings, which is inherent in its message.  The worrying question about justice … for the innocent who suffer, which is at the heart of the biblical traditions, was transformed, …with excessive haste, into the issue of salvation for sinners.’ 2
            Metz pointed out that Jesus had been more concerned with people suffering than their sin and points out that the parable of the Good Samaritan has entered into the narrative of humankind’s memory.  The God whom Jesus reveals is one who connects with people because of his revealed compassionate heart from which compassion emerged.  Metz argued that ‘compassion’ was the only word which could adequately carry this sense of divine sensitivity to human suffering and a key word for a global programme for Christianity and the ‘biblical gift to the human spirit’.  Such an imperative demands justice and, if Europe embraced a political culture inspired by compassion it would offer a creative, inspirational landscape.  Although this might seem naïve any politics of freedom must move beyond a narrative of economic competition to the morality of compassion.    He quotes how the Jesuit theologian Ignacio Ellacuría (martyred in San Salvador in 1989) wrote of the way the church, maintaining political neutrality, needs instead to express a passionate solidarity with the needs of the suffering poor. He described this as a spirituality of ‘open eyes’ that sees more and pays attention to the needs of the suffering regardless of how difficult that might be, for God is their friend.

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1  Sobrino, Jon, 2016, Fifty Years for a Future that is Christian and Human, in ‘Journeys of Liberation: Joys and Hopes for the Future’, ed. Maria Clara Bingemer, ‘Concilium: International Journal of Theology’, p.70

2 Toward a Christianity of Political Compassion in ‘Love that Produces Hope: The Thought of Ignacio Ellacuría’, ed. K. Burke Sj and others, 2006, Liturgical Press

Compassion and Contemplation

Compassion means to understand another’s pain at such a deep level that it’s like feeling it yourself. Many mentors have told me over the years that the essence of pastoral ministry is connection and presence, being with. One seminary professor liked to say that the most important thing in parish ministry is to love the people you serve. It stands to reason that anything that makes us more compassionate will enable us to enter more deeply into the ministry that is ours as pastors.

The question then is how to develop compassion, which is a bit like asking how we learn to love. Through intention, perhaps. Through practice, certainly. But Henri Nouwen and his collaborators point out in their book entitled Compassion that “compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish.” In other words, it doesn’t always feel good. Nouwen et al add—and I think this is significant—“Compassion … is not as natural a phenomenon as it might first appear.”

I propose that contemplative practices can facilitate direct connection with other beings, in ways we are only beginning to understand, enlarging our capacity for profound compassion. If contemplative practice can awaken our compassionate hearts, it can help us minister to people—even, or perhaps especially, those we might see as annoying and maybe even try to avoid.

The seed of my interest in this subject was planted in something that took place some years ago, during a period when I was faithfully maintaining a daily practice of Centering Prayer. I walked into a crowded convenience store and crossed paths with a store employee. I was heading for the coffee; she was carrying some bottled drinks to the refrigerator. As she walked by, I experienced a powerful sensation that she was carrying a great deal of pain – not physical, but emotional – and I offered a prayer for her. I felt that same sensation again when I went to pay for my coffee and she was back at the cash register, and this encounter stayed with me for a good long time after I left the store.

What just happened? I wondered. I’d never experienced anything like this before. I sensed that it was more than just a matter of emotional intelligence, i.e. picking up on visual clues such as her facial expression and body language. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience for me, since it involved my feeling some of what I perceived to be her pain; on the other hand, it also felt sacred. Even after those impressions faded, I continued to reflect on what had connected us for those few moments, and how it was even possible.

Much later, when I had returned to the regular practice of Centering Prayer after a time away, I had another similar experience. This one was even more intense. While sitting with others in contemplative prayer, I suddenly had an overwhelming sense of the goodness of one individual in particular. To be honest, this was someone I had previously found rather annoying. But now it was as if this goodness were a tangible quality that was overflowing into the room, blessing all of us; the word that came to my mind to describe this person in the moment was “golden.”

Another time, while sitting in silence with a woman who had experienced real pain in her life and whose physical appearance bore mute witness to what she’d been through, I glanced at her and was overwhelmed by her beauty. Again, it was as if what I perceived as beauty was not a matter of looks but more a kind of energy that radiated from the depth of her person and had moved between us.

As we develop our compassion for the world, we become better positioned to lead our parishes in responding to those needs and fulfilling the baptismal promise expressed in the Book of Common Prayer to “strive for justice and peace among all people.” As Thomas Merton wrote after his well-known Louisville experience, “If only they could see each other as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. … But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

Additionally, many of us believe that good preaching requires becoming aware of what the text might have to say to the particular circumstances in which we preach, and what the people we preach to need to hear. I think the perception of contemplative compassion has something to contribute in both of those areas, but especially in the understanding of who the people we preach to really are, what they are experiencing in their lives, what hurts and doubts nag at them, what they need to feed their souls.

I cannot think of any quality that is more needed in our world today than compassion, and each parish is in its own way a microcosm of that world. If a greater capacity for compassion is a natural outcome of contemplative practice—and it seems that it is—that is a wonderful and valuable asset for anyone in pastoral ministry. We so need that open-hearted connection to God, and to our people.

Catherine Kerr
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Catherine D. Kerr is an Episcopal priest, spiritual director, and contemplative photographer. She serves as rector at Good Shepherd Church in Hilltown, Pennsylvania, USA and is a graduate of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation: Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program. Catherine and her husband, Chris, have two grown children.

 

SERMON FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Preached at the Church of S. John Chrysostom, Peckham on October 1st, 2017

Jesus said: “Be compassionate
as your Father is compassionate.” (Lk.6:36)

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INTRODUCTION
Sometimes I find is very hard to say “no”.  I don’t think that’s unusual – there seem to be plenty of others whose first re-action, if asked to do something – is to say “yes” and then regret it afterwards.  Are we all ‘people- pleasers’?  Do we think saying ‘yes’ is the easy way out?  I don’t know.  But I do know that the parable Jesus told today resonates for me.  Those two sons, the one who said ‘yes’ and then didn’t and the one who said ‘no’ and then did seem types that I, for one (and I guess many others) can relate to.  Which was the best response?  Why did Jesus tell the parable?  What was He trying to say?  What does it say to you?  Perhaps we should have a conversation about it – you could get into groups and talk it through and then we could share our insights together afterwards….

And that would be the sort of thing that happened when Jesus told the story because that’s how Jesus taught.  He taught through using ‘parables’, word-pictures that hang before our eyes inviting us to explore their meaning.  Jesus rarely taught as we might understand the notion of ‘teaching’ – this is what the Church teaches, for example.  Rather he taught about the kingdom, or Reign of God, by way of these many-layered word-pictures inviting people (as he did today) to consider their response.  I’ll leave you to talk about it over coffee, or to ruminate on it as the week progresses.  What I want to pick up on today is that phrase Jesus used, he “thought better of it”.  Some translations say he “changed his mind”.  Or we might say he “had a change of heart” and it’s that phrase I want to explore.

CONVERSION OF HEART
Jesus is all about helping us to change our hearts, to be converted from what is life-denying to what is life-affirming.  I’m sure all of us, as we read the papers, listen to the news or hear of the terrible things happening in our society and neighbourhoods, would agree that people need to change.  In particular I think of the terrible violence that many young people suffer – the knife crimes that occur, the fear that lurks streets and schools and the anger that seems to fill so many people’s heart – and it makes me wonder what can be done unless there is a change of heart.

And that won’t come because of pronouncements by the church or government but it will come if people like you help those you know – your children and grandchildren, for example – to reflect on what might help create a better world for them to live in. How can they be helped to change their hearts?  How can I be helped to change mine?  What example do I set?  Have I closed my own heart to this matter of ‘inner conversion’?  Are there areas of my life which are closed off from God – from the gospel of Christ?  Am I so strong-willed that I won’t or can’t change?  Is my heart a fertile place for the Word of God to grow, or is it a hard place?

COMPASSIONATE HEARTS
Recently someone wrote to me about the way she realised her heart was growing harder. About six years ago‘, she said, ‘I became troubled that my heart was becoming like stone, and I made a conscious choice to change this situation.  I knew that only God could help me on this one, and He did.’  She went on to observe: ‘I’ve noticed that, as some people get older, they become increasingly bitter and resentful about what life hurls at them.  They may even choose to have hatred running in their lives.  It sort of energises them and keeps them going.’

Personally I had noticed something similar in some people’s attitudes towards those of other nationalities – and especially towards refugees and immigrants following Brexit.  And I reflected on something the Holy Father wrote last year: “Jesus’ only judgement” he said, “is one filled with mercy and compassion.”

THE COMPASSION OF GOD
Whilst all the world’s great religions attest to God’s compassionate nature, Christianity is the one most rooted in this Divine attribute.  God’s relationship with the world and with all people is defined by love and compassion – and we’re called to act with this gift that can transform the world.  It was out of compassion for us that God entered creation in the Incarnation.  We sing about it in one of our most popular hymns: Jesu, thou art all compassion!  When He saw His friends weeping at the grave of Lazarus, He felt compassion for them and wept alongside them (Jn 11: 33-35).  Moved with compassion for the suffering of others, He healed the large crowds who came to Him (Matt. 14:14) as well as individuals who sought His healing (Mk 1: 40-41).

And when a Pharisee asked Jesus “What’s the greatest Commandment?” (Matt. 22: 34-40) He replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.”  If only we had the courage to share those words with others!  That would change a lot of hearts!  Because when asked: Who is my neighbour?” Jesus responded by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37),

The example of that hated foreigner who showed active compassion in the face of suffering is something I wish we could share with all young people.  And old people, as well!  It’s easy to become blind and deaf to this Commandment because it does not come naturally.  Too often we give attention to the lure of those life-diminishing forces that can be difficult to avoid.  The Bible is clear that compassion is an attribute of God and, therefore, is to be an attribute also of God’s people. For example, S. John, in his First Letter, asks: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (3:17).

But to seek to live with compassion isn’t easy.  It’s not the same as kindness or being sympathetic.  Rather it involves being open to the world and meeting it with love in action.  So because this matter of re-making one’s heart, this need for continuous conversion of the heart, is hard I’ve created a new, online Spiritual Association of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary to provide the means whereby members can ‘soften’ their hearts and develop a compassionate heart for the sake of the world.  It offers many simple ways of doing this, many prayer-practices and reflections for meditation and has the approval of the Bishop of Southwark

COMPASSIONATE HEARTS OF JESUS AND MARY
Sometimes Anglicans speak in a rather smug and disparagingly way about the Hearts of Jesus and Mary – they don’t like images of the bright red Sacred Heart, crowned by the cross, surrounded by fire and encircled with the Crown of Thorns.  Too explicit; too graphic – especially when Jesus is shown holding it out for our gaze.   Yet it clearly touches and provokes a response in hearts that are simpler and unbiased.   When, for example, during a recent school retreat a child was asked why Jesus’ heart should be shown outside His body he simply replied: “Because he loves us so much he can’t keep it in!”

But in the nineteenth century some Anglicans began to realise the importance of devotion to the hearts of Jesus and Mary.  The first Franciscan community for men in the Church of England was dedicated to the Divine Compassion which is just another way of speaking of the Sacred Heart.  One of its funding members, Fr. Andrew, wrote the hymn ‘O dearest Lord thy sacred head, with thorns was pierced for me’ which concludes with this verse:

O dearest Lord thy Sacred Heart
with spear was pierced for me;
O pour thy Spirit in my heart
That I may live for thee

CONCLUSION
In the end devotion to the Sacred Heart is simply about making my heart – the centre of my being – like Christ’s.   Nurturing within myself His love and compassion.  So the fact that the Sacred Heart has never had a place in the life of the Church of England is a cause for great sadness:  it is our loss as is the fact that we give little attention to the heart Jesus’ Mother who, in one Orthodox tradition, is known as the ‘Softener of Evil Hearts’. The reality of the Divine Compassion is something we need to desire to flow in our hearts and be lived out in our lives.  Perhaps we might ask ourselves what would it mean to have a heart like His?  How can my heart become more “sacred”?  How can Mary help me to soften my heart?  For, in the end, the Sacred Heart is about understanding Jesus’s love for me and all people and inviting me to love others as He did.

So I invite you to consider joining the Association, it’s free and simply asks that you spend a little time each day quietly meditating on God’s compassionate love for you; find a means of expressing compassion and reflect on your practice that your heart might be more like the Heart of Jesus.  If more people changed their hearts and lived out of the compassionate hearts of Jesus and Mary, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

SOME PRINCIPLES FOR A COMPASSIONATE HEART

A set of daily Principles for Compassion have been published which are intended to offer a means of reflecting on some of the ways in which we might develop a compassionate heart.  They are available here.  For ease of use they are divided into daily portions but are also separated into sections which might be read together.  The idea for creating them owes much to those Principles which guide the lives of members of the Society of S. Francis.

Knowing that many will have other obligations and commitments, these reflections should not be regarded as a burdensome routine to be undertaken.  Rather it is hoped they might be of some interest and assistance in nurturing the great, universal virtue of compassion.

METANOIA

‘[Is] the full emergence of the glory of the mind of Christ.  The alternative orthodoxy begins in a view that God is not opposed to us; God is for us.  How is God served by people who fail to germinate?  God is rapturously delighted in every human being whose heart breaks open and blooms.  Then, as human beings come to their glory, the world comes to its glory.  It’s a view which is inclusive, recognizing that human beings on all paths are called to glorification, to the full emergence of the human being.  It’s evolutionary in that we are a work in progress, both individually and collectively.  Creation itself is not static but dynamic.’*

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* Cynthia Bourgeault Returning to Essentials: Teaching an Alternative Orthodoxy (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015)