Bishop Morse, my friend and priest, had a sacred heart. Now, having journeyed into eternity, his heart lingers in mine.
Many years ago he and his wife Nancy, visited a church in Paris with my husband and me, an ancient abbey and seminary, today a thriving parish. Eglise Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois is gothic and vaulted, and stands spiritual guard over the massive Louvre palace museum. The soaring white vaults, the vivid stained glass all point to the central focus of this church: the altars, both high and low. This morning as we came in out of a light rain and entered the hushed space I thought of Bishop Morse and his great, loving heart, how it rose to the heavens like this church rose into the Parisian skies.
L’Eglise Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, having been originally an abbey, has a long choir leading to the high altar, where the red lamp burns signifying the presence of the Reserved Sacrament in the tabernacle. But a lower altar sits in the transept. The lower altar is a modern cube with a frontal panel splashed with gold. It is this altar that is used for the Sunday masses, as young and old sit in cane chairs in the soaring nave.
The modern altar, freestanding with the celebrant facing the people, was Vatican II’s effort toward community, Bishop Morse often said. I often wonder about the cost of such changes, where the inspiring high altar is replaced by a simple table with no tabernacle. Nevertheless, one can see the high altar from the nave, far up the chancel, beyond the crucifix and lower altar, to the red lamp and golden tabernacle in the distance. So the old interweaves somewhat with the new and, since Pope Benedict allowed Latin Masses a few years ago, there have been more and more interweavings of the Tridentine or “Extraordinary” with the “Ordinary” forms of liturgy.
Today, Trinity Sunday, is the last day of Mary’s month of May. It is also the Sunday following Pentecost Sunday, that dramatic and essential descent of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of God, upon mankind. Trinity Sunday also readies us for the Sacred Heart devotions beginning tomorrow, when we embrace the love of God incarnate in his Son, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of God. The three persons are indeed one, and as I recalled that Corpus Christi is celebrated this Thursday, I sensed the entire Church heaved a great glorious sigh as the magnificence of God the Father’s acts through Son and Spirit are united in these last days of May and first days of June, 2015.
The Church inhales the Spirit of God at Pentecost and exhales the incarnate love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our salvation. Our dear Bishop Morse died during the octave of Pentecost on the 28th day of Mary’s month of May. He was consecrated Bishop in Denver on the 28th day of the month of January 1978, a day we celebrate as the founding of the Anglican Province of Christ the King and the continuing American Episcopate. He has been a faithful shepherd to his flock these many years, witnessing to God’s love in a love-less world.
Mary said yes to the Archangel Gabriel two thousand years ago. Her fiat, “be it unto me according to thy word,” shifted the world toward redemption and salvation. She allowed this historical Incarnation to happen; she allowed the Second Person of the Trinity to become flesh in her womb; she said yes.
There is an encouraging stained glass image Our Lady in St. Peter’s Montmartre, the historic abbey next to Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Mary stands with her full-length cloak held open to embrace St. Genevieve of Paris, who in turn, embraces the city itself. Just so, we rest protected within Mary’s great cloak of love as we travel through our days and years home to God.
Ah, redemption and salvation. I once thought they were the same, but I have come to see that while all have been redeemed – bought back – by the sacrifice of Calvary, only those who choose to believe in Christ will be saved. We are all redeemed from the Fall in Eden, by Christ’s ransom. But to make good that redemption (rather like a green stamp) we must believe in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. God gives us freedom to choose; and once we choose him, grace begins its marvelous work.
I’m glad I chose early in life. I’m glad I said yes. For I have experienced God’s grace for many years here on earth. Thus, Heaven intersects Earth, and I can see it, know it, as it beams upon a golden altar in a soaring basilica in Paris. At this perfect point in time and space, this consecration of bread and wine, as we bow our heads in awe, the world shifts. Grace breathes through the bread and wine, transforming these everyday creatures into the Second Person of the Trinity. Grace breathes among us, whispering in our hearts, directing our prayers, reminding us to watch and listen, to pay attention to these marvelous acts of God. Just like Pentecost.
There were numerous white-robed children paying close attention this morning. They helped us sing praises, and they helped the clergy with candles and missals. They watched wide-eyed and listened with open hearts. They processed up the aisle with great expectancy, following the crucifer and torchbearers, and they recessed out, with happy satisfaction that they had added to this spectacular moment of grace when the earth turned to let in the rubied light.
I glanced one last time at the stained glass, so brilliant in blues and reds. I paused to memorize the massive stone pillars steepling in the flamboyant arches. I thanked God for this day of union with the saints who have come before us, who walk among us today, and who will come long after we are gone. I thanked God for the life of our Bishop Morse on earth and gave thanks for his new life in Heaven. We are all saints, united by the love of the Trinity, the beating Sacred Heart, the Corpus Christi offered on the altar. We are all redeemed, saved, and ushered into this moment of beauty and truth.
Our Bishop Morse wrote a poem to the Sacred Heart he shared with me shortly before he died:
O God of love who didst invest/Thy Sacred Heart within our breast/Burst forth with heat of newborn flame/And purge away our sin and shame/That we may burn as torches of light/Before thy shrine, O God,/Who loves through human heart.
Now we too must write a poem with our own lives, offering ourselves as living torches, aflame with the love of the Sacred Heart.