Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Magdalene, Manning and Neri

This is a post about the Resurrection.

I am currently reading Cardinal Manning's "Glories of the Sacred Heart", it is a decidedly unflowery book about the Sacred Heart, unlike anything else I've read on the subject.  However it is typically Manning: zealous in his love for the Lord, steeped in the Church Fathers, forthright, pastoral, clear and unsentimental.

He writes about the "Transforming Power of the Sacred Heart" and quotes this rather wonderful phrase that apparently is used by spiritual writers whose names he (sadly) doesn't mention.

Deformata reformare, reformata transformare, transformata conformare

All of this is only made possible through the outpouring of Love on the cross,  through the living Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Hence this is a post about the Resurrection.

To reform the deformed is the nature of Baptism. In Baptism we die with Christ.  And on this day, the Feast of St Mary Magdalene, 500 years ago, an infant was brought to the Baptistery of St Giovanni in Florence, born in the early hours of that morning and recorded in the register of the Baptisery with the following words: Filippo e Romolo di Ser Francesco di Filippo da Castel Franco, popolo San Pier Gattolini, nato di 21 luglio 1515, a ore 6. And had that infant died there and then, his sainthood would have been assured, though perhaps largely unremarked.  But God had other plans.  Reforming the deformed is not enough and the singular degree with which that boy submitted to the actions of grace led him onwards: the reformed was transformed through love and the transformed so wondrously conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that St Philip Neri, with much labour, anxiety and peril, reconverted Rome. He is the saint of Joy.

Our Joy comes from the Resurrection.  As St John writes:That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you; that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice and your joy may be full.

This is a post about the Resurrection.

This brings me to St Mary Magdalene.  Her story only makes sense if she was the woman from whom seven devils were removed, because her story only makes sense if she is the one who anointed Christ with oil.  Perhaps she anointed Him twice (as the scriptures seem to suggest), once for His Priesthood and once for His Kingship. Nobody was worthy (not even John the Baptist) to anoint the King of Kings or the Great High Priest.  But anointing was necessary, just as Baptism in the Jordan was necessary. No, only a redeemed sinner whose sins were scarlet could anoint the Priest and King. It is our total redemption, our complete salvation from sin which is wrought through our reformation, transformation and conformation to the Sacred Heart which is the very reason why we need a great High Priest and King. St Mary Magdalene was amongst the first fruits of this (Dismas may have been the first fruit, but Mary Magdalene ripened more slowly and more lavishly), ripening from her tearful penitence, through her witness of the Crucifixion, through her bravery and steadfast love in going to the tomb, through her hidden and most gloriously joyful life which followed.

She was not some misery ridden penitent, crying over her sins for the rest of her life.  No, she was redeemed and redemption is joy and it is the joy of being conformed to the Sacred Heart.  The joyful tears of one that pours sweet smelling oils over the sorrows and sufferings caused by sin and the joy which binds our bruises, mends our broken hearts and finds its rest in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because it IS the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I'm tired of joylessness, so much of the piety around is little more than titillation at scandal, an outpouring of moral indignation masquerading as charity but lacking the one thing essential to charity and that is joy. Prayer without joy is quite simply mean and stingy.

How many of you actually believe in the Resurrection, I mean REALLY believe....?

What does "go and sin no more" mean?  What does "your sins are forgiven" mean?  Do we not mock these words with our high moral tone and our false humility.

Surely holiness is like climbing a mountain?  You learn what to do as you traverse the lower slopes, you learn how to train you body and learn the sensible way to do things.  But near the summit, your belief in the rules alone goes out of the window, you can no longer rely on them, your learning and your skills count for nothing.  The path disappears, the sides are steep and full of scree, you are helpless, totally liable to go plunging into a ravine at any moment and that is what you will do if you are not conformed to Christ and totally distrustful of self. Though the paths they took were very different, this is where St Mary Magdalene found herself, this is where St Philip found himself, and that is where we ought to be going too.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence


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