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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

How did the name of this Association come about is a question that has been asked.  Doesn’t it “smack of high church-ness or even Roman-ness”?  So why choose it?

THE SACRED, COMPASSIONATE, HEART OF JESUS
For many years I had been attracted by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, finding in that image a real sense of God’s passionate love for all people.   Shortly after my Confirmation, in 1967, I bought a small, porcelain statue of the Sacred Heart which remained with me for many years until joining the Franciscans.  I’ve never understood why such a passionate and inherently positive, emotive image has not found a home in the Church of England.   I know I’m not alone in feeling that we’ve lost a great opportunity for evangelism by ignoring the Sacred Heart, as others have pointed out.

FRANCISCANS AND DIVINE COMPASSION
But there was a time when the Sacred Heart inspired some Anglicans.  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 (Society of the Divine Compassion: 1897 – 1952).  It was founded at a time when devotion to the Sacred Heart was becoming more popular (the Basilica of Sacre Couer was built from 1875-1914). One of the founding members, Fr. Andrew SDC, had a particular devotion to the Heart of Jesus as shown in this poem he wrote:

To rest a tired head upon Thy Heart,
And to be still –
To come to Thee from the whole world apart
And learn Thy Will –
And in that will, because it is Thy will, to live and die,
Knowing Thy love and will are one eternally.
that be my way of prayer –
That brings me where Thou art –
Heaven is there.

Another priest at that time who also wrote poems and meditations on the Sacred Heart was Fr. Arthur Shearly Cripps, the ‘St. Francis of the African Countryside’.  He was connected with SDC and spent most of his life in Zimbabwe where his grave is now a Shrine.   Although SDC ceased to exist in 1952 (the year of Fr. Cripp’s death) when it’s members became part of the Society of St. Francis the dedication of the local parish in Plaistow where it was based is now ‘of the Divine Compassion’, a dedication shared by one of the Provinces of the Society.

Whilst I am no longer a member of the Society, nonetheless its charism remains dear to me and using this designation connects us to the Franciscans.  In 1994, Br. Damian SSF wrote this in his introduction to my First Mass, which was a Votive of the Divine Compassion: ‘Franciscans have been around in the Anglican Communion for a full century.  We may be proud in Birmingham that we can trace those origins to St. Saviour’s, Saltley and to its prophetic priest, Fr. James Adderley, a pioneer of the Christian Socialist Movement.  He went on to found the Society of the Divine Compassion in January 1894 in the Parish of Ss. Philip and James, Plaistow.  …  Divine Compassion, the theme of Brother John-Francis’ Mass, strikes at the very heart of the Good News.  … We sense that God is worshipful and, indeed, we are sanctified by his presence and his touch as we dwell in him.  But what Jesus has shown of the Divine nature is true of the numinous Being of the Father: he is above all compassionate, deeply caring, gentle as a Mother, and ready to heal, restore, forgive.  As he comes again to dwell in us we receive that sacramental grace that is given for our wholeness.  We are gathered today as brothers and sisters within the Body of Christ to give thanks for the Divine Compassion and to receive Christ’s healing and grace at the hands of the latest Franciscan brother to be ordained priest in the Church of God.’

THE COMPASSIONATE HEART OF MARY
In a similar way I have long held a deep devotion to our Lady and regret, as do many, the lack of devotion to her in our Church, in spite of the fact that there are at least six Marian feasts recognised in Common Worship.  Most Anglican churches have a ‘Lady Chapel’ and she holds a particular place in the life of the Mother’s Union.  Her role is central to orthodox Christian theology and, as Theotokos, the ‘God-bearer’, she is the ‘defender of the Incarnation’ setting us apart from every other religion.

She was the subject of one of the official Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s (ARCIC) Joint Statements (‘Mary, Grace and Hope in Christ’; 2008) contained this statement in its final chapter: ‘Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike are drawn to the mother of Christ, as a figure of tenderness and compassion.’ (D.para.71)   During my time as a parish priest I became aware of how it was to the shrine of our Lady that many went when entering the church in order to light a candle – something that has been commented upon by other priests.  Whatever theology we might embrace concerning her it seems she offers a maternal image which draws many people.  Whilst we might speak of God as both Father and Mother it is the image of Mary that gives expression to ‘tenderness and compassion’ for many.

And it is Mary who embraced me, as she continues to do, for six months during my novitiate in SSF.  The life of another member of the SDC, the solitary Fr. William, continues to help form Franciscans at the house he founded in Worcestershire, the ‘Monastery of St. Mary at the Cross’.   And all those who make the journey to this holy place are greeted by the words: There stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother , words which speak out over the surrounding fields which Fr. William had painted at the centre of the complex.  And it was on the Feast of St. Mary at the Cross which, in the Roman Catholic Church, is known as the Feast of our Lady of Sorrows (September 15th) that I was admitted as a Postulant of the Society in 1976.  That Feast is closely connected with that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the devotional name which reminds us of ‘her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her love for God, her maternal love for her Divine Son, and her motherly and compassionate love for her children here below.’  (New Advent)

It would, of course, have been possible to omit reference to her in the title, but including her meant that members embrace the totality of human compassion.  Including reference to Mary makes clear that the Society seeks to place itself within the great Tradition of Christian Faith, a Faith which the Theotokos, the God-bearer, guards.  It also acknowledges the important place of Mary – and Jesus – in Islam.

SIMPLY ‘COMPASSIONATE HEARTS’?
There already exist other groups whose charism involves compassion.  Amongst these are: ‘Compassionate Hearts’ (the name of various organisations in the UK and USA); the ‘Compassionate Hearts Ministry’; The ‘Society of Jesus Compassionate’;’ Missionaries of the Compassionate Heart of Jesus’, ‘Compassionate Companions’;  the ‘Compassionate Heart of Jesus’, etc …   But none which unite the compassion of Jesus and Mary – the Son and His Mother.  The male and the female.

INCLUSIVE?
The website of our online Society makes it clear that members recognise that Divine Compassion is realised by all the great world religions.  In seeking to be as inclusive as possible it would have been strange to omit reference to the way that Christians have long realised this charism in the lives of Jesus and His Mother.  It is a pity if, in seeking to be inclusive of other religions, we excluded those great traditions of our own.  Personally I have always realised there is an anti-Catholic (Roman or Anglo) strand buried deep in the heart of some Anglicans – something both sad and to be resisted.

CONCLUSION
Two years ago a young evangelical, one of those I was helping train to be a spiritual director, said that he saw the Sacred Heart becoming central in my life and ministry.  He knew nothing of my story and  I often wondered what his observation might mean.  At the same time I had been reading The Personal Vocation by the Jesuit, Herbert Alfonso.  In it he explores how God calls each of us is called by name: ‘I am not one in a crowd for God’, he writes, ‘I am unrepeatably unique, for God “calls me by name”.  This reality I may characterise as … my most profound and true “self”.  Biblically, however, I prefer to call is my “personal vocation”’  And I began to sense that my ‘personal vocation’ lies within the call to Divine Compassion.  And I also sensed a connection when I noticed I was writing a lot about the need for compassion in our world.

After a while, and with prayer, I began to realise the connection between that love for the Sacred Heart and a deep desire to find a way of encouraging others to consider nurturing this virtue.  The ‘Rule’ of CCHJM, using aspects of Ignatian and Benedictine practices, seems to offer a simple structure in which to nurture compassion.  The reference to the Sacrament of Confession reminds us of the importance of what St. Benedict called the need for conversatio morum – ‘conversion of life’.  Realising the way in which the Church of England is encouraging ‘Fresh Expressions’ in the ministry of the Church, this new initiative, founded in February 2017, might be of help in ‘growing Christians’.   That is my prayer.

John-Francis Friendship
March 12th, 2017

Propers for a Mass of the Divine Compassion

THE OPENING RITES

Entry Antiphon
The counsel of the Lord shall endure for ever and the designs of his heart from generation to generation.  To deliver their soul from death and to feed them in time of famine.  (Psalm 32: 11, 19)

The Opening Prayer
Almighty God,
whose Son, Jesus Christ,
was moved with compassion for all
and with indignation for those who suffer wrong:
Inflame our hearts with the burning fire of your love,
that we may seek out the lost,
have mercy on the fallen
and stand fast for truth and righteousness.
We make this prayer through the same
Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord … Amen.

THE LITURGY OF THE WORD

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14b – 19

Responsorial Psalm:  102
R. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.  R.

Who forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;
Who redeems your life from the Pit
and crowns you with faithful love and compassion.  R.

The Lord executes righteousness
and judgement for all who are oppressed.
He made his ways known to Moses
and his works to the children of Israel.  R.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
He will not always accuse us,
neither will he keep his anger for ever.  R.

Alleluia                Alleluia, alleluia!  Shoulder my yoke and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble of heart.  Alleluia.

Gospel Reading: John 15: 7-17

The Peace
The love of God in Jesus Christ brings peace to all who touch him.
May his peace be with you.

THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST

Prayer over the Gifts:
Lord, look on the heart of Christ your Son
which he offered for the life of the world.
Because of his compassion and love
accept this sacrifice and forgive our sins.  Amen.

Preface
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
almighty God and eternal Father,
through Christ our Lord.
For raised up high on the Cross,
he gave himself up for us with profound compassion
and poured out blood and water from his pierced side,
the wellspring of the Church’s Sacraments,
so that, won over to the open heart of the Saviour,
all might draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
And so, with choirs of angels
and with all the heavenly host,
we proclaim your glory
and join their unending song of praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord …

Communion
The Lord says: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’  John 7: 37-38

Prayer after Communion
God of life and love,
from the pierced heart of your Son
flowed the life of the world.
Renew within us
the love we have celebrated in this Eucharist
and keep us always faithful to your Word
the same Christ our Lord.  Amen.

ABSOLUTE VULNERABILITY – Richard Rohr’s Meditation: March 8th, 2017

Image credit: Three Russian Dancers (detail), Edgar Degas, 1895, National Museum, Stockholm Sweden.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. —Brené Brown [1]

“Weakness” isn’t a trait any of us wish to be associated with, and yet the apostle Paul describes no less than God having weakness! Paul says, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). How could God be weak?

We are in a new ballpark here. Let’s admit that we admire strength and importance. We admire self-sufficiency, autonomy, the self-made person. This is surely the American way. This weakness of God, as Paul calls it, is not something we admire or want to imitate. Maybe this has been part of our resistance to this mystery of Trinity.

Human strength I would describe as self-sufficiency. God’s weakness I would describe as inter-being. Human strength admires autonomy and holding on. There is something positive about this; it’s not all wrong. But the irony is, the mystery of Trinity is much more about letting go, which looks like weakness.

We’re almost embarrassed by this mystery of Trinity; maybe that’s why we haven’t unpackaged it. God’s mystery rests in mutuality: three “persons” perfectly handing over, emptying themselves out, and then fully receiving what has been handed over.

We like control; God, it seems, loves vulnerability. In fact, if Jesus is the image of God, then God is much better described as “Absolute Vulnerability Between Three” than “All-mighty One.” Yet how many Christian prayers begin with some form of “Almighty God”? If you’re immersed in the Trinitarian mystery, you must equally say “All-Vulnerable God,” too!

Vulnerability isn’t admired in our culture. If we haven’t touched and united with the vulnerable place within us, we’re normally projecting seeming invulnerability outside and judging others for their weakness. This seems particularly true of men, as many years of leading male initiation rites taught me.

Human strength wants to promote, project, and protect a clear sense of self-identity and autonomy rather than inter-being or interface.

“I know who I am,” we love to say. And yet we have this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit operating out of a received identity given by another. “I am Son only in relationship to Father, and he gives me my who-ness, my being.”

References:

[1] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Avery: 2015), 34.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 57, 59-60.

Dreaming Compassion: James Finley

Imagine that you have a dream in which you are climbing a high mountain. The valley below is where you grew up, where you experienced pain and made many mistakes. You are trying to transcend and leave this place by reaching the summit, on which you will be sublimely holy and one with God.  As the summit comes into view, the wind rising from the valley brings with it the sound of a child crying out in distress. You realize that there is no real choice but to go down the mountain to find and help the hurting child. Turning back, you descend into the valley. Following the child’s cries, you arrive at the very home you tried to leave behind.

You gently open the door and look inside. Sitting in the corner on the floor is your own wounded child-self, that part of you that holds feelings of powerlessness and shame. You sit down next to the child on the floor. For a long time you say nothing. Then a most amazing thing happens. As you are putting your arms around this child, you suddenly realize you are on the lofty summit of union with God!

To be transformed in compassionate love does not mean that you do not have to continue struggling and working through your shortcomings and difficulties. It means learning to join God who loves you through and through in the midst of all your shortcomings. As you continue to be transformed in this way, you come to realize that right here, right now, just the way you are, you are one with love that loves you and takes you to itself just the way you are.

Immersed in love, you look out through compassionate eyes to see the world. Here the dream in which you return to your wounded child-self takes on new, social dimensions. In this expanded version of the dream, you follow the child’s cries to the home in which you grew up. You go inside to compassionately embrace the preciousness of the hurting child. As you are putting your arms around the child, it turns into your mother, your father, brother, sister. It is every nameless face you have passed in the street. It turns into the world that “God so loved . . . as to send God’s only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

God loves and is one with the communal preciousness of all that is lost and broken in everyone. So, too, you begin to realize that you are falling in love with each and every person in the world. As you go on in this love for others, you fail again and again. This is no obstacle so long as you see your failure to be compassionate as just another opportunity to renew your faith in God’s compassionate love for you and for all of us in the midst of our wayward ways.

As our fidelity to meditation continues to deepen, we experience within our-selves how God’s compassionate love uses us for its own purpose by inspiring, even impelling us to do what we can to ease the burden and calm the distress of those around us. Meditation embodies compassion that forms the essential bond between seeking God in meditation and all forms of social justice. The more we are transformed in compassion, the more we are impelled to act with compassion toward others.

Gateway to Silence: Rest in God resting in me (Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation)

SACRED HEART OF JESUS, Source of Light and Life by St. Bonaventure

An excerpt from a work by St. Bonaventure which is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus celebrated each year on the second Friday after the Feast of Pentecost.  Here Bonaventure reflects on the meaning of the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ crucified, the living water of sacramental grace coming from the loving heart of the Saviour.  His comments are in part a commentary on several lines of Psalm 36, which is used in the office of the feast: “Your love, Lord, reaches to heaven, your truth to the skies . . . In you is the source of life and in your light we see light.”

___________________________________

‘Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.  It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’. The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.

Arise, then, beloved of Christ! Imitate the dove ‘that nests in a hole in the cliff’, keeping watch at the entrance ‘like the sparrow that finds a home’. There like the turtledove hide your little ones, the fruit of your chaste love. Press your lips to the fountain, ‘draw water from the wells of your Saviour; for this is the spring flowing out of the middle of paradise, dividing into four rivers’, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile.

Run with eager desire to this source of life and light, all you who are vowed to God’s service. Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to him with all the strength of your heart. “O indescribable beauty of the most high God and purest radiance of eternal light! Life that gives all life, light that is the source of every other light, preserving in everlasting splendour the myriad flames that have shone before the throne of your divinity from the dawn of time! Eternal and inaccessible fountain, clear and sweet stream flowing from a hidden spring, unseen by mortal eye! None can fathom your depths nor survey your boundaries, none can measure your breadth, nothing can sully your purity. From you flows ‘the river which gladdens the city of God’ and makes us cry out with joy and thanksgiving in hymns of praise to you, for we know by our own experience that ‘with you is the source of life, and in your light we see light’.