Saturday, June 20, 2009

19 June 2009 - Feast of the Sacred Heart

Walter Brueggemann does a lecture on today’s reading from Hosea 11, imagining it to be rather like a parent who has to go to the police station at 3am to pick up his/her child. The selection in the Catholic Lectionary cuts out parts of the whole pericope, but the mood of the poem starts almost wistfully: “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son.” I kept reaching out to them, and they kept going further and further away, it continues, as if God is thinkning back on when Israel was a little boy and wondering where God went wrong as a parent. Somewhere between verses 4 and 5, Brueggemann says, the child says something smart-alecky while they are driving home from the police station, and the parent loses it: “God, though in unison they cry out to him, will not raise them up.” But then, and this is what I love, God finds new depths of compassion in God’s own self between verses 7 and 8: “How could I give you up, O Ephraim?” “I’m not gonna do this anymore,” God seems to say, aghast at seeing God’s own potential for violence revealed. And Brueggemann concludes that on the day Hosea wrote that, he went home for lunch and told his wife Gomer, “I wrote one hell of a poem today, and it’s going to help God out a lot.” That conflicted, heartbroken inner life of God is a far cry from what we usually expect to find in God in the Old Testament, but in its own way, I think it is more there than in the New Testament, in which God is much more of a behind-the-scenes kind of character. Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart, so I think that reading fits pretty well – a God whose heart is torn apart by the sufferings caused by the people’s infidelity to a covenant of justice and mercy. Much of the devotional stuff regarding the Sacred Heart has been pretty sappy, but insofar as the Heart is broken by solidarity with those who suffer, it remains a viable symbol. I have suggested elsewhere that what makes Jesus’ heart different from ours is that we characteristically try to avoid pain and vulnerability via denial, numbing, and whatever other means of keeping the suffering of the world at arms’ length, whereas Jesus faces it all head-on and doesn’t run, doesn’t deny. The Heart of Jesus is sacred in that it is open to (and opened by) the unspeakable sufferings of the world. We as Christians (myself very much included) have somehow accustomed ourselves to glazing over a lot of suffering, and to silence in the face of a lot of injustice. Perhaps because our media are so loaded with the myriad atrocities of the world on a daily basis, or because of the ambiguities of so many of the moral issues presented us, we can get saturated, so we turn off, tune out, distract and deny. I have been reading a decent amount of Holocaust literature of late, and I can say from my own inner reactions, I understand the desire to push away. Every time I think I have seen it all, humanity surprises me with its capacity for inventive and sadistic means of inflicting pain and death.

What, then, is the point of not denying, if we are so drowned in violence? Speaking out seems to either be ignored (if we are lucky) or bring repercussions into our ordered little lives, but the Sacred Heart is about permeability to suffering – being hurt is less important than the demands of love for the wounded Other. In his book Torture and Eucharist, William Cavanaugh talks about how torture atomizes people, both because they are rendered too fearful to speak and because pain at that level is beyond verbal sharing, so people are isolated in their pain. The antidote, he suggests, based on the experience of the church in Colombia, is Eucharist: a re-membering of the Body of Christ by telling the stories of tortured, broken bodies, and not letting silence and fear have the final word. What that looks like in an affluent, safe church like our own is worth exploring, but some part of it has to be about solidarity that includes saying, “Stop torturing. Stop silencing those who suffer.” If we Brothers of the Sacred Heart can figure out some piece of that, we can reclaim the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus for a world that desperately needs it. Happy Feast Day, Brothers and friends. Ametur Cor Jesu.

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