June 13, 2015

Papal Slaps for Stalin and the Flappers

We’re within the Octave of the Sacred Heart, so here’s a thought-provoking sermon on the subject by Fr John Hunwicke. He preached it before he was reconciled with the Catholic Church, while still vicar of the (very) Anglo-Catholic parish of  St Thomas the Martyr  in Oxford.

As I read the prayer Iesu dulcissime, prescribed by Pius XI in 1928 to be said in all parish churches, I wondered if my neighbour at St Ebbe’s* was remembering to do the same. That prayer is an act of Reparation ordered to be offered to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for all the insults and blasphemies against that Sacred Heart. Pius XI, you will remember, was the Pope who revised the propers for Mass and Office and endowed the Feast of the Sacred Heart with a (short-lived) Octave. And, in this Act of Reparation, one of the offences to be expiated is: immodest and unbecoming dress.

Immodest dress in 1928! I rather think that 1928 means we were moving towards the era of the Flappers; slinky dresses; jazz; cocktails; the Charleston. Pius XI was also the pope who ordered the feast of Christ the King to be observed, as a marker against the Age of the Great Dictators and of the overmighty state. What a combative pontiff Papa Ratti must have been, despite his dusty decades as Prefect in the Vatican Libraries. He was a veritable Pope of the Church Militant, with one hand swiping at the Dictators of Left and Right; with the other, administering a firm smack to the Flappers.

But is there really an equivalence between Stalin and the Flappers? The Flappers may have been a trifle naughty, but they surely weren’t murderous? They didn’t send you to gulags or contrive a genocidal famine in the Ukraine. Yet … I wonder. This age of ours, an age of sexual license, of which the Thirties were perhaps the first care-free dawn, has led to a new Holocaust: of the unborn. I don’t think you have to be over-imaginative to join up a line of dots between the flirty skirts of the Thirties and the era of the overmighty abortionists. Which may serve to remind us that it was Pius XI who also, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii, defended the principles of Christian Marriage.

I suspect one could draw conclusions about the prophetic role of the Papacy from all this. But today, in conclusion, I want simply to underline Pius XI’s promotion of the cult of the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is an iconographical topos only too easy to ridicule. You remember how that acute liturgical commentator, Professor Richard Dawkins, not long ago, evoked a wonderful picture of the Church tumbling around Pope Benedict’s ears ‘amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch Sacred Hearts’: rhetoric almost worthy of the great Goebbels himself. Indeed. The World does not admire those who find refuge in the widely-opened Sacred Heart of Jesus; our idols, our ‘celebrities’, are only too often the shallow and the promiscuous and the foul-mouthed, not the quiet contemplative rapt in adoring and intercessory prayer before the pierced Heart of our Saviour. But God has chosen what the World calls Foolish to shame the Clevers; what the World calls weak, to confound the Macho; because in the opened Heart of Christ crucified, what the World calls foolishness and weakness is made to be the strength and the wisdom of God.

*Fr  Hunwicke was being a bit bold here. St Ebbe’s describes itself as a “large, friendly evangelical church” which of course means it is “low church”. It would  have no time for Catholic  devotions like the Sacred Heart, and would certainly not feel obliged to accede to the wishes of any Pope.

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