By Clare Ward, Home Mission Advisor, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
During his twenties my brother was a member of the SVP and would spend hours sitting with an elderly housebound man listening to music and talking to him. When our family used to see this old man at Sunday Mass he communicated his gratitude for my brother’s time through his handshake, tears and smile. It made for a powerful encounter of heart speaking to heart. Pope Benedict XVI has chosen a similar phrase, in Latin cor ad cor loquitur, as the theme for his visit to the UK inviting everyone to consider afresh how they can receive and reach out to others with the love of Christ.
The soon-to-be beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801 – 1890) chose ‘heart speaks unto heart’ as the motto to go on his coat of arms when he became a Cardinal in 1879. At the time, Newman thought these words came from the Imitation of Christ (written in the 1400s), but in fact he was mistaken – they’re from St. Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622), a French Bishop and great spiritual writer whom Newman revered. Whilst Newman is perhaps most known for being a theologian and academic, many of his writings have a devotional tone, not least the words of the prayer, Radiating Christ, which is said by the Missionaries of Charity every day. It begins:
help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Thy spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine.
Shine through me,
and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with
may feel Thy presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me
but only Jesus!
This prayer, along with some of Newman’s other writings, reveals the heart of a man who is deeply in love with Jesus and who is passionate about wanting to share the reality of this love with others. Newman felt his humanity but also knew that he was redeemed by Christ. How wonderful it would be then if in these months before the Pope’s arrival we are quite literally, as a Catholic community, spreading the fragrance of Christ everywhere we go. How beautiful it would be if every person that we come in contact with sensed God’s loving and merciful presence in our hearts. What joy there would be if people looked into our faces and only saw God shining through us; now is the time to shine. These are not just lofty and romantic desires but the fruit of union with God, a reality in the life of a person whose heart is consumed by the love and mercy of Christ.
‘Heart speaks to heart’ can be unpacked in many different ways but at its simplest level it’s a phrase that invites us to make time to be with God in prayer. This making ourselves available to commune with the loving heart of God was something that the French saint, St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647 – 1690), received and responded to in a special way. She wrote: ‘Set up your abode in this loving Heart of Jesus and you will there find lasting peace and the strength both to bring to fruition all the good desires He inspires in you, and to avoid every deliberate fault. Place in this Heart all your sufferings and difficulties. Everything that comes from the Sacred Heart is sweet. He changes everything into love.’ She understood that if we want to live love, we must draw from the source of life and love, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St Margaret Mary knew that there was no other way, as Newman put it, to shine with God’s light. By means of a practical response to this invitation to pray you will find prayers to the Sacred Heart to be used for personal or parish Papal visit preparation here.
During these times increasingly members of the Catholic Church are being called to account and are being invited to explain themselves in and through brokenness. Such are the challenges and difficulties being faced that it demands that we are people of conviction, people who are convicted by the truth of the Catholic faith. Newman wrote in an Anglican sermon: ‘Eloquence and wit, shrewdness and dexterity, these plead a cause well and propagate it quickly, but it dies with them. It has no root in the hearts of men, and lives not out a generation.’ Few people have the gift of oratory but many more have sincerity and passion in abundance. The latter are the most important qualifications for witnessing to our faith and are the most convincing when we try to share with someone speaking from the depths of our hearts. When was the last time that you used an opportunity to speak from the heart to someone about what your faith means to you?
We cannot pass on to others what we have not received and don’t know ourselves, we are called to pray to be filled with Christ’s presence but also to put our intellect at the service of mission. As we prepare for Pope Benedict’s coming it is important to consider how well we know the basic tenets of the Church’s teaching. Could you explain your faith to someone if they asked you a basic question about it? Many people have shared with me that they can’t and there are numerous resources to support you in filling the gaps; faith formation is life-long. The Catholic Enquiry Office provides a very basic starting point for non Catholic enquirers (www.life4seekers.co.uk), for parishioners there are a number of materials, not least the CaFE DVDs and the catechists’ distance learning course offered by the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham.
When Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997) was interviewed in the 1970s she was quoted as saying: ‘The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people… You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way.’ It is true that poverty of heart is widespread in the UK. Many people in our society do suffer from the absence of a loving presence in their lives. One of the ways that we can share our faith with others is through friendship and the giving of our time to a lonely person, to someone who needs a listening ear, some understanding and compassion. Few people make enough time to listen to others in their daily lives and yet in the Gospels we see that this was an important part of Jesus’ ministry. In response to this perhaps over the coming months make time for one person in your life who needs a phone call or a chat? For parish groups wanting to respond to this as a team Acorn Listeners offers an excellent DVD on Christian listening for those wanting to reach out to others in this way, heart to heart; see: http://acornchristian.org/bookshop/
As a fruit of prayer we speak to people’s hearts through our every day actions. People notice what we do and don’t do. The example of deep and authentic faith in ordinary Catholics who are just trying to love God in the best way they can, going to church, trying to be kind, patient, forgiving, whilst not always succeeding gives us the ‘X.. Christ Factor’; we should stand out. This day-to-day decision to choose the Christian way will gently influence those around us. People recognise goodness and virtue even if they don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to call it that. Perhaps bring to mind someone now who influenced you in your own life, who loved you, who accepted and listened to you, who spoke to your heart? You and I in our time are now called to do the same. With the eyes of the world on the Catholic community before and after the Pope’s visit, now is the time to reach out so that we can, in service of Home Mission, spread His fragrance everywhere we go, share a fragrance that is life-changing and priceless, a fragrance that is perhaps acknowledged through a simple handshake, tears and a smile.