Sunday, 8 January 2017

Ian Knowles in the Sunday Telegraph

Good start to 2017! As we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, it was wonderful to see a big half page spread in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper today reporting on the Bethlehem Icon School.

We all hope and pray that the Icon school in Bethlehem continues to thrive.  (Click on the picture to enlarge.)

Read on line Here 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Advent and the Sacred Heart

I return to the blog after a few months absence after realising yet another dimension of reflecting and reading and icon of the Sacred Heart.  This advent the icon has drawn me into reflecting  on the great 'O' Antiphons that are said/sung in the last seven days of Advent .These are the antiphons
chanted or recited before and after the Magnificat of Vespers.  Their name comes from the fact that they all begin with "O".  The antiphons focus on the names or titles of Jesus:
words:  Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel.

In the middle ages it was discovered that, if you adjusted the order of the names you get  ERO CRAS (I will be, tomorrow).

My advent reading of the icon this year have been aided by a fortuitous recommendation from a friend of a book by Oliver Treanor, Seven Bells to Bethlehem: The O Antiphons, Greenwing 1995.

Treanor begins the journey by focusing on the Blessed Virgin and the Magnificat. One point that I found instructive was the notion that the 'O' antiphons said/sung  before and after the Magnificat remind of her fullness as pregnant with the Son of God. This prompted me to reflect upon the many icons that as us to contemplate the image of pregnant - full of grace - Mary.  Many of these icons make use of very explicit O to remind us of the wonder of the incarnation, and the holiness of Mary.

We use the 'O' a good deal in a variety of contexts, and familiarity does breed contempt.  The antiphons, however, ask us to think far more deeply about 'O'.  And, as Treanor suggests images of a pregnant Mary help us in beginning the last stages of our advent journey.  Advent is in many ways a journey into this 'O'.  The Madonna of the 'O' expresses how Mary is full of God's grace, because she is not full of herself.  In her humility she magnifies God, and not herself.  So as we approach Christmas we have 'O'pen our hearts and minds and let the Christ child in.  When we say or sing 'O' we must try to become like Mary, and create that space wherin the Holy Spirit can dwell.   Each of the titles of the Messiah is an 'O' through which we must enter to make our journey.

Hence, of course, we begin with wisdom.  It also leads us to contemplate other icons, Mary as the seat of wisdom. Mary as the ark of the covenant, as the great exemplar of humility, and God bearer. Sapientia  and  humility have  been an important and recurring theme in my reading of this icon of the Sacred Heart ,  and with the great O antiphons, I find myself once again drawn into praying for humility and wisdom.

17th December.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad
finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:  veni ad docendum nos viam

  (O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High,
that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily
and sweetly:  come to teach us the way of prudence.)

The antiphon of the 18th December also pulls me back into to reflecting on the fire  or furnace of love at the very heart of the icon.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi
apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti:  veni ad redimendum nos in
bracchio extento.

 (O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who
didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in
Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm.)

I find that these first two antiphons inspire and lead me to contemplate an icon of Christ in terms of ' the root of Jesse and the key of David

December 19

O radix Iesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt
reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur:  veni ad liberandum nos, iam
noli tardare.
(O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the
people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles
shall seek:  come to deliver us, do not tarry.)

December 20
O clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:  veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

(O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth:  come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them
that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.)

And in the light of these 'O's , the light and fire in the glow of the icon illuminates splendor of the King of the Universe who came into this world as a baby.

December 21
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae:  veni et illumina
sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

(O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice:  come to give light to them that sit
in darkness and in the shadow of death.)

December 22
O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis
utraque unum:  veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

 (O King of the Gentiles, and desire thereof, Corner-stone that makest of two
one:  come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the

And then as we near the stable and contemplate Mary and Joseph and the Christ child, we behold the great truth: he is God with us!

December 23
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator
earum:  veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.

(O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, and salvation thereof:
come to save us, O Lord our God!)

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

It is a wonderful day : we have a new Saint!  For those concerned to promote the devotion to the Sacred Heart, today's canonization is good news.  Saint Teresa was one of the most important promoters of the Sacred Heart in the twentieth century.  At a time when it was thought that the devotion was no longer relevant, Saint Teresa saw it as the very centre of her mission of love.

As she once said:

“By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus. '

And my prayer today is to ask Saint Teresa to pray for the church to be renewed by a great revival in the devotion to the Sacred Heart.

 Go here to explore the role of the Sacred Heart in her life and mission.

( The icon in the picture is very powerful, it would be good to find out more about it!)

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Feast of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

A few years ago I noted on this blog the importance of the Sacred Heart to Edith Stein, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. See  here) Yesterday was her feast day, and it was timely reminder of the importance of this great Saint and how relevant she is to us in these violent and troubled times.

A passage of hers which strikes me as sone of the most beautiful and insightful  ever words written on the Sacred Heart came to mind yesterday , and they have remained with me:

'In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts... It draws us to itself with secret power, it conceals us in itself in the Father's bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in a small tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that still, white host.' 

These words are to found in her poem:  I Will Remain With You. Read it here

Monday, 13 June 2016

'Feast' of St Mary Magdalene

My attention is often drawn towards the image of Mary Magdalene in the bottom  right hand corner of the icon.  It was, I think, significant that the Pope signed the decree to raise her memorial to the dignity of a liturgical feast, on the feast of the Sacred Heart (3rd June 2016).
As Vatican Radio reported:

"In a letter announcing the change, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Arthur Roche, writes the decision means one “should reflect more deeply on the dignity of women, the New Evangelization, and the greatness of the mystery of Divine Mercy.” Archbishop Roche drew attention to the fact Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the Resurrection, and is the one who announced the event to the Apostles. “Saint Mary Magdalene is an example of true and authentic evangelization; she is an evangelist who announces the joyful central message of Easter,” he writes. “The Holy Father Francis took this decision precisely in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy to signify the importance of this woman who showed a great love for Christ and was much loved by Christ,” writes Archbishop Roche. He also notes Saint Magdalene was referred to as the "Apostle of the Apostles" (Apostolorum Apostola) by Thomas Aquinas, since she announced to them the Resurrection, and they, in turn, announced it to the whole world. “Therefore it is right that the liturgical celebration of this woman has the same grade of feast given to the celebration of the apostles in the General Roman Calendar, and shines a light on the special mission of this woman, who is an example and model for every woman in the Church.” ( See here)

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The icon and ' Give Us this Day'

As I was walking down my drive this morning  I met a delivery man walking up it with a parcel from Liturgical Press. ( See here )   I was delighted to find enclosed copies of the latest number of 'Give us this Day' which has a picture of Ian's  icon on the cover.  For those who do not know about this excellent publication, go here.

I pray that in some small way it may hope to renew its readers devotion to the Sacred Heart.

I also hope that readers will learn more about the Bethlehem Icon Centre and School and the wonderful work it is doing in the Holy Land. Read about it here. 

Sadly, for some strange reason, I cannot edit sections of the blog anymore.  So the contact the blog section is out of date. But readers may contact the blog through  ''

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Francis and the scarred heart

The Pope's reflections on the Feast of the Sacred Heart becomes clearer when we place them in the context of his words to priests the previous day: ( See here)

I think this is an important contribution to Francis's teaching on the Sacred Heart. Here are a few passages which strike me as especially relevant.  I have lost track of the number of times I have typed ' the scared heart of Jesus' rather than 'sacred'.   In this reflection Francis reminds us that the sacred heart is indeed a scarred heart.

 God keeps forgiving, even though he sees how hard it is for his grace to take root in the parched and rocky soil of our hearts.  He never stops sowing his mercy and his forgiveness.

 The Lord never tires of forgiving us; indeed, he renews the wineskins in which we receive that forgiveness.  He uses a new wineskin for the new wine of his mercy, not one that is patched or old.  That wineskin is mercy itself: his own mercy, which we experience and then show in helping others.  A heart that has known mercy is not old and patched, but new and re-created.  It is the heart for which David prayed: “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 50:12). 

That heart, created anew, is a good vessel; it is no longer battered and leaky.  The liturgy echoes the heartfelt conviction of the Church in the beautiful prayer that follows the first reading of the Easter Vigil: “O God who wonderfully created the universe, then more wonderfully re-created it in the redemption”.  In this prayer, we affirm that the second creation is even more wondrous than the first.  Ours is a heart conscious of having been created anew thanks to the coalescence of its own poverty and God’s forgiveness; it is a “heart which has been shown mercy and shows mercy”.  It feels the balm of grace poured out upon its wounds and its sinfulness; it feels mercy assuaging its guilt, watering its aridity with love and rekindling its hope.  When, with the same grace, it then forgives other sinners and treats them with compassion, this mercy takes root in good soil, where water does not drain off but sinks in and gives life. 
The best practitioners of this mercy that rights wrongs are those who know that they themselves are forgiven and sent to help others.  We see this with addiction counsellors: those who have overcome their own addiction are usually those who can best understand, help and challenge others.  So too, the best confessors are usually themselves good penitents.  Almost all the great saints were great sinners or, like Saint Therese, knew that it was by sheer grace that they were not.

The real vessel of mercy, then, is the mercy which each of us received and which created in us a new heart.  This is the “new wineskin” to which Jesus referred (cf. Lk 5:37), the “healed sore”.
Here we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Son, Jesus, who is the Father’s mercy incarnate.  Here too we can find the definitive icon of the vessel of mercy in the wounds of the risen Lord.  Those wounds remind us that the traces of our sins, forgiven by God, never completely heal or disappear; they remain as scars.  Scars are sensitive; they do not hurt, yet they remind us of our old wounds.  God’s mercy is in those scars.  In the scars of the risen Christ, the marks of the wounds in his hands and feet but also in his pierced heart, we find the true meaning of sin and grace.  As we contemplate the wounded heart of the Lord, we see ourselves reflected in him.  His heart, and our own, are similar: both are wounded and risen.  But we know that his heart was pure love and was wounded because it willed to be so; our heart, on the other hand, was pure wound, which was healed because it allowed itself to be loved.

In the same reflection Francis also refers to another  dimension of the scarred heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin.  In particular he spoken about the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose shrined I have been privileged to visit twice.

  Ascending the stairway of the saints in our pursuit of vessels of mercy, we come at last to Our Lady.  She is the simple yet perfect vessel that both receives and bestows mercy.  Her free “yes” to grace is the very opposite of the sin that led to the downfall of the prodigal son.  Her mercy is very much her own, very much our own and very much that of the Church.  As she says in the Magnificat, she knows that God has looked with favour upon her humility and she recognizes that his mercy is from generation to generation.  Mary can see the working of this mercy and she feels “embraced”, together with all of Israel, by it.  She treasures in her heart the memory and promise of God’s infinite mercy for his people.  Hers is the Magnificat of a pure and overflowing heart that sees all of history and each individual person with a mother’s mercy.
            During the moments I was able to spend alone with Mary during my visit to Mexico, as I gazed at Our Lady, the Virgin of Guadalupe and I let her gaze at me, I prayed for you, dear priests, to be good pastors of souls.  In my address to the bishops, I mentioned that I have often reflected on the mystery of Mary’s gaze, its tenderness and its sweetness that give us the courage to open our hearts to God’s mercy.  I would now like to reflect with you on a few of the ways that Our Lady “gazes” especially at priests, since through us she wants to gaze at her people.
            Mary’s gaze makes us feel her maternal embrace.  She shows us that “the only power capable of winning human hearts is the tenderness of God.  What delights and attracts, humbles and overcomes, opens and unleashes is not the power of instruments or the force of the law, but rather the omnipotent weakness of divine love, which is the irresistible force of its gentleness and the irrevocable pledge of its mercy” (Address to the Mexican Bishops, 13 February 2016).  What people seek in the eyes of Mary is “a place of rest where people, still orphans and disinherited, may find a place of refuge, a home.”  And that has to do with the way she “gazes” – her eyes open up a space that is inviting, not at all like a tribunal or an office.  If at times people realize that their own gaze has become hardened, that they tend to look at people with annoyance or coldness, they can turn back to her in heartfelt humility.  For Our Lady can remove every “cataract” that prevents them from seeing Christ in people’s souls.  She can remove the myopia that fails to see the needs of others, which are the needs of the incarnate Lord, as well as the hyperopia that cannot see the details, “the small print”, where the truly important things are played out in the life of the Church and of the family.
            Another aspect of Mary’s gaze to do with weaving.  Mary gazes “by weaving”, by finding a way to bring good out of all the things that her people lay at her feet.  I told the Mexican bishops that, “in the mantle of the Mexican soul, with the thread of its mestizo features, God has woven in la Morenita the face by which he wishes to be known”.  A spiritual master teaches us that “whatever is said of Mary specially is said of the Church universally and of each soul individually” (cf. Isaac of Stella, Serm. 51: PL 194, 1863).  If we consider how God wove the face and figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe into Juan Diego’s cloak, we can prayerfully ponder how he is weaving our soul and the life of the whole Church. 
They say that it is impossible to see how the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was “painted”; it seems to have been somehow “imprinted”.  I like to think that the miracle was not only that the image was imprinted or painted, but that the entire cloak was re-created, transformed from top to bottom.  Each thread – those threads of maguey leaf that women had learned from childhood to weave for their finest garments – was transfigured in its place, and, interwoven with all the others, revealed the face of our Lady, her presence and her surroundings.  God’s mercy does the same thing.  It doesn’t “paint” us a pretty face, or airbrush the reality of who we are.  Rather, with the very threads of our poverty and sinfulness, interwoven with the Father’s love, it so weaves us that our soul is renewed and recovers its true image, the image of Jesus.  So be priests “capable of imitating this freedom of God, who chooses the humble in order to reveal the majesty of his countenance, priests capable of imitating God’s patience by weaving the new humanity which your country awaits with the fine thread of all those whom you encounter.  Don’t give into the temptation to go elsewhere, as if the love of God were not powerful enough to bring about change” (Address to the Mexican Bishops, 13 February 2016).
These thoughts of the Pope provide much food for thought in this month when we have a special care to remember the scarred and sacred heart of Jesus, and the pure and open heart of his blessed mother.