Friday, June 12, 2015

In Corde Jesu

Today, Catholics of the Western tradition celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Outside of devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is none more popular or more identified with the traditional piety of Catholic life than this feast, occurring on Friday of the week following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was on that earlier feast when a Novena to the Sacred Heart would begin, culminating in the Mass and Office of today.

“Christ’s open side and the mystery of blood and water were meditated upon, and the Church was beheld issuing from the side of Jesus, as Eve came forth from the side of Adam. It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first unmistakable indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side, the wound Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love.” (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)

There were various monastic communities who took up the devotion, but the real tip of the biretta has always gone to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a Visitation nun who had a vision. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw Our Lord with his heart beating openly, and the sight of it all sent her into a spell of ecstasy. “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart.” To say the least.

But perhaps the finest explanation of this vision can be found in an episode of The X-Files, a detective series that ran on The Fox Network for nine years, and to this day has a formidable cult following. It is from the series' sixth season, and is entitled "Milagro" (6X18), originally airing on April 18, 1999. It seems there were people being murdered by their hearts being removed by hand. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) visited a Catholic church, and coming across the image of the Sacred Heart, she runs into this unsavory fellow who explains the story behind the image to her. A piece of the dialogue, from the mysterious writer named Philip Padgett (John Hawkes), describes a vision:

I often come here to look at this painting. It’s called “My Divine Heart” after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story ... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary, his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary ... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart ... and so he did, placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary, sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.

His account portrays an almost sensuous quality to the Saint's reaction to this vision, in a way that one might rarely hear or read anywhere else. It is a sign that perhaps the influence of Christendom has not entirely faded from the popular culture, not to mention images created in tattoo parlors.

A common practice in many Catholic homes until the mid-20th century (including mine), was the "Enthronement of the Sacred Heart," in which the family placed the appropriate image of Christ on the wall, and together recited the necessary prayers, pledging the consecration of the family and the home to Him, in return for special graces. Fisheaters has a good explanation of the whole she-bang, just in case it makes a comeback.

It could happen.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015


One hundred and fifty years ago today, the War Between the States finally ended -- I mean, really ended, at least in the eastern theater. Most of us associate that event with the surrender of General Robert E Lee of the Confederacy to General Ulysses S Grant of the Union at Appomattex Courthouse, Virginia, on the 9th of April in 1865. But news traveled much slower back in those days. Thompson's Brigade surrendered on the 11th of May, Confederate forces of North Georgia surrendered on the 12th, and Kirby Smith surrendered on the 26th, an action that was made official and in writing on this date in 1865.

This writer would have hoped to have shared two stories from that conflict that are of particular and personal import, both of which occurred in 1863. Hopefully this can happen before the end of the year. For now, we present a bittersweet love song that was popular among both the Blue and the Gray.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
Far more than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our loving prospered well --
But then, 'tis past, the years are gone,
I'll not call up their shadowy forms;
I'll say to them, "Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life's pelting storms."

Lorena was penned by Rev Henry D L Webster in 1856, in the wake of a broken engagement. It was put to music by his friend Joseph Philbrick Webster. It reminded soldiers on both sides of the conflict about their wives and sweethearts back home, and the heartbreak of never seeing them again. It is performed here by the late banjoist/fiddler John Hartford.