In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 

SACRED  HEART  

 

 

 

            Cor Jesu, desiderium collium æternorum.  Heart of Jesus, desire of the eternal hills:  a poetic and mysterious phrase taken from Genesis 49:26 to designate the Messiah longed for by the unchanging hills of Palestine, by the inhabitants of the promised Land and by all generations to come.  The desire echoes through the centuries, taking on a different accent after the Incarnation, yet essentially one and the same.  It is a desire as old as the hills.  St. Bernard laments the lukewarmness of his contemporaries’ desire, compared to that of the patriarchs, in his second sermon on the Song of Songs: “During my frequent ponderings on the burning desire with which the patriarchs longed for the incarnation of Christ, I am stung with sorrow and shame… I pray that the intense longing of these men of old, their heartfelt expectation, may be enkindled in me by these words: Let Him kiss me with the kiss of His mouth.  The kiss is the symbol, for Bernard, of the mystery of the Incarnation, the conjoining of the human and divine natures and the reconciling to God of all things whether in heaven or on earth.  “This kiss”, he concludes, “is no other than the Mediator between God and man, Himself a man, Christ Jesus”.  All those who, throughout the ages, have longed for this ‘kiss’ have longed for the divine and human love of Christ, which the Church has resumed in the symbol of the Sacred Heart.

 

            What of the love of the Sacred Heart for us?  The liturgy furnishes us with many examples from which I offer only a few.  From the litany of the Sacred Heart, which includes the invocation to Christ as desire of the everlasting hills, the Heart of Jesus is also presented as ‘fornax ardens caritatis’, burning furnace of love and ‘bonitate et amore plenum’, full of goodness and love.  The antiphon, familiar and beloved, ‘in caritate perpetua dilexi te’, I have loved you with an everlasting love, has all the directness of a powerful emotion.  The hymn of Vespers presents this love as something which drives Him: ‘Amor coegit Te tuus’, Your love impelled You.  There is, however, another nuance which I wish to emphasise: the accent of friendship, of mutuality.  There is the suggestion of a relationship, or at least, a dialectic in ‘Fili, præbe mihi cor tuum’, Son, give Me your heart. (5th Antiphon of Lauds).  The idea of friendship comes also in the Vigils hymn: ‘Quis non amantem non redamet’, who would not love the Lover in return?  There is even the notion of broken or tested relationship in some texts, viz the 4th Antiphon of Vigils: ‘The man of my peace who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me’; and in the offertory at Mass: ‘Sustinui qui simul me contristaretur et non fuit’, I looked for someone who might console me and there was none.  Yet this is not the predominant note.  The love of friendship is one that refreshes and gives joy.  We have the ‘mira cordis jucunditas’, marvellous joy of the heart in the Lauds hymn and the ‘grata mentis refectio’, pleasing refreshment of the soul.  Similarly one of the best known passages says: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest”.  As in the liturgy, so in Scripture.  As man’s desire for God stretches back to the ancient hills, so God’s love of friendship for man is attested from the beginning.  My delight, says eternal wisdom, is to be with the Sons of men.  God walked with Enoch and mysteriously took him as if, somehow, He could not be without him.  Noah, whose name means rest or consolation, is also said to have walked with God.  In the midst of a corrupt generation, he affords the joy and relief of friendship to his Creator.  Abraham is the friend of God par excellence, the one who speaks with the boldness, albeit the respect, of a friend.  Like all the great Old Testament friends of God, Abraham understands the obedience inherent in friendship, not that of servant who might do his master’s will reluctantly, but of the empathiser who understands God’s will from within, who finds that will in his own heart and desires it in unison with God.  Such a one is able to manifest unconditional trust in the friend, in the face of apparently preposterous demands, viz the sacrifice of his only son.  God can henceforth use him for unheard of purposes.  Because you have done this and not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you… and by your descendants shall all the Nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed My voice.  There is a fruitfulness in friendship, a blessing for others arising from intimacy.  God capitulates, as it were, to Abraham’s obedience.  His admiration of Abraham’s total ‘yes’ gives birth to the covenant of love between Israel and God.

 

            Jacob, the more human and cunning figure, reveals to us another face of friendship with God.  Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.  Although Jacob’s thigh is put out of joint in the struggle, he refuses to give in: I will not let you go unless you bless me.  His obstinate love, his persistence in seeking after divine friendship in the darkness and the half light, obtains for him the blessing and the change of name that heralds a whole destiny.  He knows that God is stronger than he; the pain in his joint reminds him forcibly; but he continues to do violence to God and to cling to Him in the expectation of a blessing, in whatever form it takes.  He cannot wrest it from God but he goes on imploring it until the break of day.  It is another form of trust and belief in God’s friendship, in and through struggle.  This is the real prevailing over God.  God is not displeased; He rewards his tenacity.

 

            The pattern of God’s friendship with man continues in the story of Moses, vulnerable and hesitant, hot-tempered, meek and obedient, therefore ultimately strong and capable of friendship with God, of standing in His Presence and speaking with Him, as a man speaks with his friend.  Von Balthasar remarks that Moses so pours himself into the Covenant that he embodies it with God vis à vis the people and with the people vis à vis God.  “God can lay the weight of the sinful people upon him” because of his obedience.  This can only be the obedience of a friend, for otherwise it would crush him.  Balthasar continues: “How divine are the functions and qualities that God lays upon the shoulder of the man who embodies the Covenant in his mediation.  This is the reason why the only ones who stand in this place are those who are absolutely obedient to God.”  There is a cost in friendship, gladly borne, since the wills of the partners are united.  There is also the supreme prize - enjoyment of the other’s Presence and look of love.  Exodus announces three times that the face of Moses shone after he had spoken with God.  The meekest man who lived on the face of the earth, who stammered and flared up and did not think he was any good at speaking, is nonetheless admitted into the Presence of God, into the life of the Heart of God, so thoroughly that the people could hardly look upon the radiance of his face.  It reflected God’s own glory; friends begin to resemble one another; even such disparate friends.

 

            Mgr. Le Gall in his book ‘The first friends of God’ describes glory as the ‘trinitarian fullness of the divine life;’ it is the ‘life of friendship of the three divine Persons.’  By this understanding, it is the reciprocal look of love between the Father and the Son, in the light of the Holy Spirit.  “The key to being is the mystery of friendship as it is lived in the Trinity.”  One might add: the mystery of friendship of the Incarnate Son with the Father, or the look of love bestowed eternally by the Father on the Only Begotten Son rests likewise on the human face of Christ.  He, in turn, looks with hope of friendship upon His disciples.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  The Gospels show us that He did experience the love of friendship while on earth.  We see Him at repose at the home of Martha and Mary, deeply moved at the death of Lazarus.  The Beloved Disciple claims friendship for himself, with the assurance of one who knows himself loved.  Thirdly, surely Jesus achieved what He desired so much from His disciples.  He avows friendship for them, constantly hoisting them up to His own level, even as they tend to slip away from it.  This human love of the heart must be akin to the love of friendship in the Trinity: the mutual delight in the other’s presence, the exchange of looks, the admiration and the deep understanding of purpose.  If we approach Christ’s Heart, in obedience, perhaps sometimes with holy violence, but always with trust, we are taken into the friendship with the Father, in the Holy Spirit.  “Called to become sons in the Son, we shall find our rest in the glory which is full openness to the Father’s love.”  The invitation remains.  His desire for our friendship is still active, waiting for but never forcing our response, with all the humility of God.

 

            Our desire for Him, in constant need of purification so that it becomes a wholly obedient love; His desire for us, expressed in the love of friendship, once we are enabled to reciprocate by a loving obedience: these two desires meet in the Mass and Holy Communion.  They said to Him, Lord give us this bread always (Jn 6:34).  I have earnestly desired to eat this pasch with you before I suffer (Lk 22:15).  The meeting of desires, the function of friendship, requires encounter and mutual presence.  While Christ’s presence in Mass and Communion is sacramental it is not a remote presence.  When we come into contact with the Holy Eucharist we come into person-to-person contact with Christ. (O’Connor, Hidden Manna)  In this encounter, as in any encounter of friendship, the experience of another’s loving actions encourages a dialectic of love and an intimacy of knowledge between the persons.  In this instance, the loving action of Christ is the self-donation of the whole substance of His being as our food and drink.  Here the analogy of human friendship ceases to work adequately.  Since one of the partners in the eucharistic encounter is divine as well as human, our own loving action consists in submitting and responding to the transforming friendship of Christ.  We can know Him and love Him only in being known and loved by Him, by letting His look fall upon us.  As with the transubstantiation of the bread and wine, mutatis mutandis, God grasps created existences and transforms them (cf. O’Connor, Hidden Manna).  “He, not coming down, lifts the creaturely realities to himself, drawing them up to where He is with the Father.”  In the language of the liturgy: ideo exaltatus a terra attraxit nos ad cor suum miserans. (Ant. 3 Lauds).  Or in the Preface: omnes ad Cor apertum Salvatoris attracti iugiter haurirent e fontibus salutis in gaudio,  all drawn to the Saviour’s open heart, draw ceaselessly and in joy from the springs of salvation. His heart is ever seeking to draw our friendship to itself and it does this most effectively in the Holy Eucharist.  Tolkien wrote that what kept him on track in his life was ‘the never ceasing silent appeal of tabernacle and the sense of starving hunger.’

 

            Dom Guéranger, too, understood the profound connection between Eucharist and Sacred Heart in the light on the Incarnation.  In his first Constitutions for S. Pierre, he wrote: “Adoring the mystery of the Incarnate Word and all its immense consequences, this Congregation confesses this mystery present in the Eucharist and rejoices to see it manifested under the symbol of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.”  The desire of the everlasting hills, that is, our desire, has been fulfilled by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, really present in the Eucharistic sacrifice.  His desire for us, to be with us, not only as Saviour but as friend and brother, has likewise been translated into the Sacrament of the altar, whereby He can be with us and in us forever.  In the Holy Eucharist He has found a means of satisfying His love of predilection and thus of assuaging the wound of His Sacred Heart.


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