Spiritual Evolution

This coming Friday marks the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. When we talk about the Sacred Heart we are not, in fact, talking about Jesus' actual anatomical heart. Rather, we are using it as a poetic way of reflecting and focussing on God's boundless and extraordinary love for mankind. The devotion to the God's love is at the very centre of the spirituality of such figures St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Bonaventure. The modern devotion has its origins in pre-Revolutionary France before disseminating across Europe. Indeed, the Feast of Sacred Heart was first celebrated in 1670 in a seminary in Rennes. 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J. (1881-1955)

The French-ness of Friday's Feast provides us with a nice segue into the thoughts of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). A Jesuit priest, philosopher, and paleontologist, Teilhard was one of the scientists who worked on the discovery of the Peking Man--the fossils of a subspecies of Homo Erectus found outside modern-day Beijing. He spent his life attempting to reconcile Christian theology with the evolution of humanity and the universe. Some of his teachings being censored in the 1920s by the Vatican. These days, however, it is accepted that Teilhard was simply a man ahead of his time and he has since enjoyed a reprieve by both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

In a nutshell, Teilhard teaches that humanity is constantly evolving towards a finite point of complexity, perfection, and unity with the Godhead--the 'Omega Point'. The final stage of evolution began with the Incarnation--'when God invested himself organically into the majesty of his creation' (Phenomenon of Man, p. 267). 

Teilhard teaches that each soul exists for God in Christ Jesus. This material universe exists for us in order to enable our souls to reach this point of perfection. Thus, the end of the world occurs at the point in time in which the 'Omega Point' has been reached--the heavenly Jerusalem beckons. According to Teilhard, 'the Kingdom of God is within us already--when Christ appears in the clouds, he will simply be manifesting the change that has been slowly accomplished under his influence in the heart of man' (The Divine Milieu, p. 102). This 'change' can be understood to be the process of sanctification--that lifelong journey which we, as Christians, undertake to imitate Christ more closely and become holier.

This coming Sunday is the start of that long period time that is known as 'ordinary time' or 'Sundays after Pentecost'. The narrative part of the liturgical year has ended. We have celebrated Jesus' Incarnation, his Baptism and Presentation in the Temple. We have sat with him the wilderness, strewn palms before him, supped with him in the Upper Room, and trudged behind him up Calvary. We have rejoiced and basked in the joy of his Resurrection and glorious Ascension before celebrating the gifts of the Spirit on Pentecost. Now is the time to 'do' as opposed to simply 'listen'. 

As we know, 'ordinary time' concludes with the Feast of Christ the King before leading into Advent--a time when we reflect on Christ's majestic perfection and his Second Coming. We now have that wonderful annual opportunity to actively work on our sanctification. Following on from the Feast of the Sacred Heart, 'ordinary time' gives us the space to pray for and accept God's incredible love, and allow it work its marvels in the depths of our souls. 

O Christ whom now beneath a veil we say,
May what we thirst for soon our portion be:
To gaze on thee unveiled and see your face,
The vision of your glory and your grace. 

Messe Modale en Septuor (1938)
Music: Jehan Alain (1911-40)
Text: Ordinary of the Mass
Artists: Ensemble Camarata Saint-Louis & Quatour Ludwig/Georges Guillard

Carrying on with the twentieth-century French theme, this weekend marks the eightieth anniversary of the death of French composer Jehan Alain. Despite dying in battle at the untimely age of 29 during the Fall of France in 1940, Alain was remarkably prolific. His musical language was deeply influenced the music of Claude Debussy and literature and musical styles of the Far East. Alain's highly individual voice is characterized by crunchy dissonant harmony and rhapsodic outbursts of melody and chordal movement. 

Alain composed a vast amount of organ and piano music along with a handful of choral works. His Messe Modale en Septuor was composed two years before his death and is scored for upper voices, organ, strings, and a solo flute. It is a hauntingly beautiful work and provides the listener with a gateway into Alain's compositional genius. 


Further Reading

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Phenomenon of Man (1956) (Harper Perennial, 1976)
___ The Divine Milieu (1956)  (Harper Perennial, 2001)


  1. I have been spiritually uplifted over the years by my reading and rereading of Chardin. Thanks for the testimonial.


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