Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Teresa Helena Higginson Revisited

A chance to make something of a warm summers day, led to another encounter with Teresa Helena Higginson. Spending some time at the church in which she is buried set me thinking about her experiences and her apparent God given task of awaking hearts and minds to Jesus as seat of Divine Wisdom.

I have often thought that devotion to the Sacred heart has suffered somewhat since the 1960s. At it’s height the devotion was possibly too prescriptive and could be seen as a kind of catholic ‘magic.’ If you do this (go to mass on the first nine Fridays) you get this (heaven !)

The wider implications of God’s love for each of us, the wonderful passages of scripture relating to God’s love for us (e.g. 1Jn 4:7-21) appear to be only secondary importance. The cart seems to have been put before the horse. So a devotion that has it’s very essence within the love of God is reduced to fulfilling objective acts in order to gain the promise of a spiritual reward.

Yet, “The Love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.’ (Rom 5:5) This view of devotion serves as much use to right faith and sound spirituality as the view of God being a ‘Divine accountant’ where St Peter sits at the gates of heaven with his book in which are placed the right and wrongdoings of all who seek to enter heaven!

I suspect Teresa Higginsons ‘revelations’ have suffered the same fate as devotion to the Sacred Heart. Devotion to the Sacred Heart appears to reduce love, relationship and responsibility to undertaking 'pious' actions to gain a promise of ‘grace,’ so too does the devotion to the Sacred Head.

Again the Divine attribute ‘wisdom’ gets lost with the message. The richness of the message can be reduced to a lowest common denominator – what do I have to do ? what do I get ? Yes, I am overstating the case but I feel it needs to be overstated. Look what has happened to the Rosary ? It seems to be the role of the 'chunnering' brigade on coach trips to ‘say’ it these days rather than a reflective, prayerful meditation of the mysteries. Is a communal recitation of the rosary really in the spirit of the prayer? Again if there is a focus upon ‘doing’ the devotion the message becomes blurred. I think all the devotions mentioned above have suffered in ‘translation’ over the past 50 years.

The tradition of wisdom writings found in the bible, the scrutiny of Jesus parables in the Gospels as well as non canonical writings (e.g. Gospel of Thomas) that have been discovered have contributed to a reappraisal of wisdom in the teaching of Jesus, the logos, the wisdom of God. Much has been written about the wisdom of Jesus. Cynthia Bourgeaults book “The Wisdom of Jesus” is a wonderful introduction to this topic.

Perhaps devotion to the Sacred Head could be understood more fully in the light of new research and a reappraisal of the ‘wisdom’ teaching of Jesus. Both devotions are a reflection of the life and times in which they were ‘revealed’ and can appear ossified in the spirit of their respective centuries. The revelation of Gods love and wisdom is eternal and especially rooted in the 'now'. Perhaps the time has come to rehabilitate Teresa and her calling people to rest in the mercy of the wisdom of God.

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