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.

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.

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?

SERMON for EASTER 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday

“I come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn.10:10)
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INTRODUCTION
You can’t miss it, can you!  Well you could, but you’d need to have your head in the sand.  The Election!  And not just in this country: the people of France are voting today for a new President: will it be Le Pen or Macron (I know who I’d vote for!)?  And Germany, too, is gearing up for their Federal Elections in September.  It’s not just Spring that’s in the air – but election fever!

Of course, we don’t vote for our Head of State.  Living in a monarchy we are spared the somewhat nauseating goings on that brought Trump to the White House.  But, nonetheless, we’re getting into the thick of it – will we be drawn by ‘Stable and Secure’; ‘For the Many not the Few’, or ‘Change Britain’s Future’?  Whatever soundbite attracts us let’s just remember that today is Good Shepherd Sunday and Jesus has His own slogan that He shares with us: not at first sight very political but in His day quite radical – “I am the Gate.”  So, what on earth did He mean by that?

I AM THE GATE
Well, to start with, this ‘I Am’ affirmation is one of seven (or, possibly, eight) in John’s gospel and, next week, will be followed by another: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ (John 14: 1-14)   Now that  prefix, ‘I Am’, should alert us to the way in which these words were understood in Judaism.  They refer back to the moment when Moses stood before the burning bush on Mount Horeb and asked God, who addressed him out of the flames, to identify Himself.  Speak His Name.  And God declared: “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex.3:14).  Enigmatic to say the least!  Or, perhaps, it prevents  us from giving a name to the One who has no name; for once you can name someone you have a certain power over them.  So Jesus gives us ‘hints and guesses’ as to His identity.  “I am the Gate.”  I am the one through whom the sheep will enter the sheepfold.  I am in process and cannot be contained.

And a few verses later Jesus will bring all this to a climax when he says: “I am the good shepherd … And I lay down my life for the sheep” (10:14/15) thereby connecting Himself with the practice at that time, and still is in some places today, for a shepherd at the end of a day to lead their sheep from pastures to the walled-in sheepfold.  And then to lie down across the entrance to protect the sheep from scavengers.

WHO IS THE GOOD SHEPHERD?
In all these statements Jesus is using metaphors to shed new light; reveal things from a different angle; open up new meaning.  One of the connections the Israelites would have made was with the powerful understanding of the king, the ruler, as the human manifestation of the Divine Shepherd of Israel.  The Good Shepherd.  So when they did not live up to their duty to protect the people, especially the weakest and most vulnerable, the Prophets were not slow to criticise them: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD” said Jeremiah to King Zedekiah (Jer. 23:1).

And those who listened to Jesus would have sensed He was alluding to Himself as the One who, if the people listened, would lead the people to good grazing.  He knows His flock and cares for them and His purpose is fullness of life for those who follow Him: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10)  They might promise much and seem very appealing but they needed to be listened to with caution.  And whilst Jesus directs this allegory about the sheep and the shepherd toward the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders of his time, it’s one that is timeless.

GOOD SHEPHERD AND ELECTIONS
Now with a General Election looming there are plenty of promises being made by politicians about making life better for people.  And, of course, we all want a better, more abundant life; one where we can feel secure and of value.  And many people believe this will come, for example, once we have left the EU.  But there’s a danger when expectations have been raised, especially if these are predicated upon forces beyond our total control.

And then there are those ‘false prophets’ of whom Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. … A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. … Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matt.7)   Such an important and timeless metaphor.

MONTH OF THE SACRED HEART
Now it so happens that the General Election falls in the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Unfortunately the image of the Sacred Heart, and the devotions associated with it, are unfamiliar to many non-Catholics, although the first Franciscan community for men in the Church of England was dedicated to the Divine Compassion.  And that’s just another way of speaking of the Sacred Heart, of which the Jesuit priest and writer, Jim Martin, said: ‘(It) is nothing less than an image of the way that Jesus loves us: fully, lavishly, radically, completely, sacrificially.  It invites us to meditate on some of the most important questions in the spiritual life: In what ways did Jesus love his disciples and friends?  How did he love strangers and outcasts?  How was he able to love his enemies?  How did he show his love for humanity?  What would it mean to love like Jesus did?  What would it mean for me to have a heart like his?  How can my heart become more “sacred”?  For in the end, the Sacred Heart is about understanding Jesus’s love for us and inviting us to love others as Jesus did.’

And it’s rooted in Divine Compassion.  For our Faith tells us that it was out of God’s deep and powerful compassion for us, His lost sheep, that He came in human form to search us out and lead us home.  To His Kingdom.  In a world where hatred and resentment, hostility and fear of the other are ever present and seem to be growing, compassion is a virtue to be cultivated.  “Divine Compassion” wrote Br. Damian when he was Provincial of the Anglican Franciscans in the UK “… strikes at the very heart of the Good News.  … 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.”

COMPANIONS OF THE COMPASSIONATE HEARTS
And it is for all those reasons that a new international, ecumenical Spiritual Association, the Companions of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, is being developed.  Its aim is to help nurture in our hearts and spread in the world this most basic of all Christian virtues.  It welcomes any Christian who, recognising they often fail to live with compassion, wants to nurture that virtue in their own heart.

COMPASSION AND LIFE ABUNDANT
One of the reasons why it came in to being was to counter the belief that an abundant life is about possessing more things.  Just recall what that early Christian community in Jerusalem did as a consequence of God’s gift of abundant life: ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.’  (Acts 2: 44)

There was a generosity about those early Christians.  They discovered a joy, deep within them, because of this gift of life in all its fullness.  Listen to the rest of the description of the early Church: ‘Day by day, as they spent much time together in the Temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts. … And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.’ (Acts 2:46f)

COMPASSION AS A MARK OF HUMANITY
Now I’m not suggesting that every Christian should sell all they have and give the proceeds to the poor, although there will be some who hear this invitation and seek to do just that and, like S. Francis of Assisi, it might motivate them to enter Religious Life.  But if that is not our calling, how are we to be formed as Christians?  What are our distinguishing marks?  To what do we need to attend, for example, in seeking to make a discerned choice in the Elections to Parliament?  We aren’t choosing a leader for our country but each of us has a responsibility to make that discerned choice.  And what needs to underpin that discernment?

Well, firstly, to desire the best for our fellow human-beings, especially the most vulnerable, and to become aware of any prejudices we may have that may interfere with that good desire and seek to set those aside.  Then to read the different political Manifesto’s and notice what they promise, and what they don’t!  Finally, as Christians, we ought to ask God to help us make the best choice we can that will accord with what He desires for us.   As our Archbishop’s have said in their Pastoral Letter concerning the Election: ’The United Kingdom, when at its best, has been represented by a sense not only of living for ourselves, but by a deeper concern for the weak, poor and marginalised, and for the common good.’  So beneath all our considerations we need to ask what most accord’s with the call of Christ – what reflects most fully God’s compassion for His creation. 

The Archbishop’s Letter goes on to note that: ‘Our Christian heritage, our current choices and our obligations to future generations and to God’s world will all play a shaping role’ and comments on how ‘Stability, an ancient and Benedictine virtue, is about living well with change. Stable communities will be skilled in reconciliation, resilient in setbacks and diligent in sustainability.’   And I would have added, if they had asked me (which I can’t for the life of me think why they didn’t!), not just ‘concern’ but compassion towards the foreigner and refugee in our midst.

CONCLUSION
The Bon Pasteur, the Good Shepherd, longs in the depths of His Sacred Heart to bring all into His sheepfold, His Kingdom.  He reaches out and asks that we, His disciples, do the same: ‘Be compassionate as your (heavenly) Father is compassionate’  (Lk.6:36)   And it is His compassion which must always inform and mould our hearts, not least in our dealings with each other and the world in which we live.  As Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic writer and pastor said: “Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of the compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian.”

May the Good Shepherd move in our hearts as we seek to live out of His Will.

Amen.

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Preached at Church of S. John the Baptist, Eltham on May 6th, 2017
Readings: Acts 2: 42-47; 1 Pet.2: 19-25 and John 10: 1-10

REFLECTION on S. TERESA BENEDICTA of the CROSS and the HEARTS of JESUS and MARY

To stand with you by the cross

Today I stood with you beneath the cross
and felt more keenly than I ever did before
that you, beneath the cross, became our mother.

Even an earthly mother’s faithful love
desires to carry out her son’s last wish.
Yet, you are the handmaid of the Lord,
and surrendered in your entire being and life
to the Being and Life of God made man.
You have taken us into your heart,
and with the heart’s blood of your bitter pains
have purchased life that’s new for every soul.
You know us all: our weakness and our wounds.
You also know the spark of heaven’s flame:
your Son’s love longs to take it
and pour it on us – an eternal blaze.
You guide our steps with care,
no price for you too high
to lead us to the goal.
But those whom you have chosen as companions here,
surrounding you one day at the eternal throne,
we now must stand, with you, beneath the cross
and purchase, with our heart’s blood’s bitter pains,
this spark of heaven for those priceless souls
whom God’s own Son bequeaths to us, his heirs.
Prayer poem of St Teresa Benedicta

Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta: 1891-1942) wrote this prayer-poem on Good Friday 1938 during a retreat before taking her life vows as a Carmelite.  She had always felt an affinity with Mary at the foot of the cross and prior to entering religious life had spent many hours each Holy Week, praying before a statue of the Pietà at the Abbey of Beuron.

When Hitler came to power early in 1933 Edith soon recognised what that might mean for the Jewish people and wrote, ‘I talked with the Saviour and told Him that I knew it was His cross that was now being placed upon the Jewish people… I would [help carry it]. He should only show me how… I was certain I had been heard. But what this carrying of the cross was to consist in, that I did not yet know.’ She entered the Carmel at Cologne later that year, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a sign of her deep sense of call to share in Christ’s Passion.  Her understanding of the vocation of enclosed contemplative life in relation to heart-deep compassion for the world deriving from the Divine Compassion, comes out clearly in these words: ‘You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the cross. Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart…’ and ‘Whoever enters Carmel is not lost to his own but is theirs fully for the first time; it is our vocation to stand before God for all.’

She had long seen her life as a holocaust of intercession and atonement (by which she meant the at-one-ment of reconciliation and profound intercession) and on Passion Sunday 1939, she asked the Reverend Mother of the Dutch Carmel at Echt (where she had been offered asylum) for leave ‘to offer myself to the heart of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement.’  Two months later when making her will she wrote, ‘I joyfully accept the death which God has destined for me in complete submission to his most holy will…in atonement…’  She had a sense of carrying in her heart, and offering herself for, not only the Jewish people, but also their Nazi persecutors, the Church, the concerns of Jesus and Mary, her family and ‘the salvation of Germany and world peace’.  Echoing Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, she concluded her self-offering by praying ‘for all whom God has given me: that not one of them may be lost’.  The vastness of her prayer and her love could be seen as a reflection of the love, self-giving, and complete surrender to God’s will exemplified by Jesus and Mary, her guiding inspirations and Companions.  Just as Jesus carries us in his Heart to the Heart of the Father, so Edith sought to join her life and heart to His and Mary’s.  She had written of Mary, ‘The Virgin, who kept every word sent from God in her heart, is the model for…attentive souls in whom Jesus’ high priestly prayer comes to life again and again.’

Edith had once said to a priest, ‘You don’t know what it means to me when I come into chapel in the morning and, looking at the tabernacle and the picture of Mary, say to myself, they were of our blood.’  And as the above poem shows, she so clearly felt a sense of tender affinity with Mary at the foot of the cross. Like Mary, however full of grief and pain, she remained totally focused on Jesus, and did not flinch when the Nazis came for her in 1942.  An inmate of the transit camp at Westerbork wrote afterwards of Edith’s brief sojourn there, en route to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, that as she sat and prayed she looked like ‘a Pietà without the Christ’.  That was the outward appearance; within her Christ was living his Passion – and like him, she reached out in compassion to those with her, calming and quieting children and combing their hair, and, as an official at the camp was later to testify, ‘walking, talking, and praying…like a saint.

Just as Jesus ‘gave’ Mary to John so, Edith suggests, Mary takes us into her heart and we can offer her a ‘home’ in ours, as together we journey ever deeper into the burning heart of love that is the Trinity – a heart that longs to reach out in love to a broken world.

Nicola Mason (Companion CHJM)
Lent 2017