Damien F. Mackey
“May we stand within the fire
Of your Sacred Heart, and raise
To our God in joyful choir
All creation’s song of praise”.
James P. McAuley
Professor James P. McAuley, the author of this great hymn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, biblically symbolised in this stanza by king Nebuchednezzar’s Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3:8-38), was my teacher of English around 1970, when I was doing a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Tasmania.
I recall that professor McAuley was an extremely rigorous teacher, invariably returning one’s essays covered with his red inked, highly-critical comments.
His mystical hymn (Jesus, in Your Heart We Find, Gather Australia, 464) reads in full:
Jesus, in your heart we find
Love of the Father and mankind.
These two loves to us impart –
Divine love in a human heart.
May we stand within the fire
Of your Sacred Heart, and raise
To our God in joyful choir
All creation’s song of praise.
In our hearts from roots of pride
Deadly growths of evil flower;
But from Jesus’ wounded side
Streams the sacramental power.
To the depths within your heart
Draw us with divine desire,
Hide us, heal us, and impart
Your own love’s transforming fire.
The fiercely anti-Communist James McAuley, who was born in Sydney (Australia) in 1917 (my father William was born in Tasmania that very same year), moved to Hobart (Tasmania) in 1960, where his large family stayed for a time with our large family, in Lenah Valley.
This fact never gets mentioned in any of the biographies of the professor that I have read. However, I certainly recall the cramped accommodation endured at the time, and some of the incidents associated with it all.
The McAuley family became prominent musically (even including drums in the choir) in our local parish church, appropriately Sacred Heart, in New Town.
Here is one brief biography of “James McAuley (1917 – 1976)”:
James McAuley was born in Lakemba, in the western suburbs of Sydney, in 1917, the son of grazier and real estate speculator, Patrick McAuley, and his wife Mary (née Judge). He spent most of his childhood at Homebush, where the family moved after his father’s retirement, and attended Homebush Public School. Displaying early literary and musical talents, McAuley was sent to the selective public school Fort Street Boys High School, where he became school captain and won prizes for his writing; a number of his earliest poems appeared in the school magazine, The Fortian. In 1935 he matriculated to the University of Sydney, where he studied English and philosophy. At university he continued to hone his poetic craft, contributing poems to the student magazine Hermes, where he also became one of the editors. After graduating with a B.A. (Hons) in 1938, he went on to complete an M.A., writing a thesis on the influence of symbolism in English, French and German literature. From the late 1930s he supported himself in various tutoring and teaching positions, and in 1942 took up a teacher’s scholarship, completed a Diploma of Education and was appointed to Newcastle Boys Junior High School. In June 1942 he married a fellow teacher, Norma Elizabeth Abernethy.
In January 1943, McAuley was called up for national service in the Militia, and quickly transferred to the Australian Imperial Force. In January 1944 he was commissioned in the Melbourne-based Army Directorate of Civil Affairs, where he renewed his association with another Fort Street graduate, Harold Stewart. While working at the Army Directorate in 1944, McAuley and Stewart concocted the ‘Ern Malley’ hoax, intending to expose what they saw as a lack of meaning in modernist literature and art. The target of the hoax was Max Harris, the Adelaide-based editor of Angry Penguins magazine and champion of literary modernism. When Harris took the bait and published the poems of ‘Ern Malley,’ Stewart and McAuley were (eventually) revealed as the actual authors, and admitted having concocted a fictitious identity for ‘Ern’ and using partly random composition methods to produce the poems. While the hoax did cause significant embarrassment to Harris—and has been seen by some as inhibiting the development of literary modernism in Australia—the poems of ‘Ern Malley’ have remained in print and continue to be a subject of significant critical debate: a consequence Stewart and McAuley surely did not intend. In 1946, McAuley published his first collection of poetry (in his own name), Under Aldebaran.
After the war, McAuley became a lecturer at the Australian School of Pacific Administration, first in Canberra then Sydney, a position he retained until 1959. While at the School he became deeply interested in the then Australian administered Territory of Papua and New Guinea, and was profoundly influenced by the Roman Catholic missionary archbishop Alain Marie Guynot de Boismenu (1870–1953). In 1952, McAuley converted to Catholicism, which would henceforth have a defining influence on his intellectual life. Immersing himself in Cold War politics, he became associated with the radical Catholic ideologue B.A. Santamaria, and was instrumental in the anti-Communist agitation that split the Labor movement and resulted in formation of the Democratic Labor Party in the mid-1950s. In 1955, he joined the Australian branch of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a conservative, anti-Communist organisation, funded in part by the CIA, and became editor of its journal, Quadrant. McAuley’s reputation as a poet was furthered with the publication of his second collection, A Vision of Ceremony, in 1956, and his credentials as a conservative public intellectual were bolstered by the publication of a collection of critical essays, The End of Modernity: Essays on Literature, Art and Culture (1959).
In 1960 McAuley and his family moved to Hobart, where he took up a position at the University of Tasmania, and the following year he was appointed to the chair of English at the University. Despite his academic duties he continued to write and publish poetry, including his epic poem Captain Quiros (1964), and the collection Surprises of the Sun (1969), which included a poem sequence ‘On the Western Line,’ based on McAuley’s childhood experiences in the Western suburbs of Sydney. During the 1960s he also published a number of critical works, including a monograph on the work of Christopher Brennan (1963), a general introduction to poetics, A Primer of English Versification (1966), and a book-length study of Australian poetry entitled The Personal Element in Australian Poetry (1970). He did not abandon his interest in politics, publishing and organising in support of Australian involvement in the Vietnam War.
In 1970, McAuley was diagnosed with bowel cancer. After recovering from the illness, he devoted increased time and energy to ensuring his literary legacy. His Collected Poems appeared in 1971, and was a joint winner of the Grace Leven Prize in that year. In 1975, he published a second collection of his essays, The Grammar of the Real: Selected Prose, 1959–1974, and a collection of his critical work on Australian poetry, A Map of Australian Verse: The Twentieth Century. Two collections of his later poetry appeared in 1976: Time Given: Poems 1970–1976, and Music Late at Night: Poems 1970–1973. Early in 1976, McAuley was diagnosed with liver cancer; he died on 15 October that year, in Hobart. His posthumous publications included the poetry collection, ‘A World of its Own’ (1977), a collection of his writing edited by his long-time friend Leonie Kramer (James McAuley: Poetry, Essays and Personal Commentary, UQP, 1988), and a revised volume of his Collected Poems (1994).
A significant and often controversial figure in the Australian post-War literary landscape, McAuley’s achievement as a poet has in recent years often been overshadowed by debates over his role as a right-wing intellectual. While unquestionably seen as a major Australian poet in his own time, it is a lasting irony that critical interest in McAuley’s work since his death has been largely eclipsed by the interest in his short-lived creation ‘Ern Malley.’
[End of quote]
It is rumoured that McAuley, when told that he would need to have part of his colon removed, and ever the grammarian, quipped: “Better a semi-colon than a full stop!”
The Fiery Heart of Jesus
Catholics, particularly, like to see in king Nebuchednezzar’s Fiery Furnace, in which the three youths sang their hymns of praise to God the Creator, a symbol of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For, those who choose to live mystically within the fiery Heart of Jesus are not harmed, but, instead, are filled with inexpressible joy and an exuberant praise of God.
There is a saying that we must either burn within the Heart of Jesus, or we burn outside of It. The latter is a most harmful and unpleasant burning. And it can be fully realised in Hell.
Stephen Beale has written an article (2018) for the purpose of “Explaining the strange symbolism of the Sacred Heart”:
What do the flames, light, arrows, and crown of thorns mean?
The Sacred Heart is among the most familiar and moving of Catholic devotional images. But its symbolism can also be strange. As we mark the Feast of the Sacred Heart early this month, here is a look at the explanation behind some of the features of the Sacred Heart.
The flames. The Sacred Heart most obviously brings to mind the Passion of Christ on the cross. There is the crown of thorns, the cross, usually atop the heart, and the wound from the spear that pierced His side. But why is the Sacred Heart always shown as if it’s on fire? That certainly did not happen at the crucifixion.
There are three reasons behind this. First, we have to remember that Christ’s self-offering on the cross was the one-time perfect consummation of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. This necessarily includes burnt offerings, which were the highest form of sacrifices in ancient Israel, according to The Jewish Encyclopedia. An early form of such sacrifices was what Abraham set out to do with Isaac, hence the wood he had his son collect beforehand.
Second, fire is always associated with the essence of divinity in the Old Testament. Think back to the burning bush that spoke to Moses, the cloud of fire that settled on Sinai, and the flames from above that consumed the sacrifice of Elijah. This explanation fits with the gospel account of the crucifixion, in which the piercing of Christ’s side revealed His heart at the same time that the curtain of the temple was torn, unveiling the holy of holies where God was present.
Finally, the image of fire associated with heart represents Christ’s passionate love for us. One 19th-century French devotional card has these words arched above the Sacred Heart—Voilà ce Cœur qui a tant aimé les hommes, which roughly translates to: “Here is the heart that loved men so much.” One traditional exclamation is, “Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning with love of us, inflame our hearts with love of Thee.” We see this actually happen in the gospels, where the disciples on the road to Emmaus realized that their hearts had been “burning” after their encounter with Jesus. ….
The rays of light. Look closer at the image of the Sacred Heart. There is something else framing it besides the flames. They are rays of light. In John 8:12, Christ declares that He is the “light of the world.” In Revelation 21:23, we are told that in the new Jerusalem at the end of times there will be no light from the sun or moon because the Lamb of God—that is, Jesus—will be its source of light. Light, like fire, is a symbol of divinity. Think of the Transfiguration and the blinding light that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. As the light of the world, Christ is also the one who “enlightens” us, revealing God to us. The Sacred Heart constitutes the climax of divine self-revelation, showing us the depths of God’s love for us. ….
The arrows. The crown of thorns and the spear make sense. But sometimes the Sacred Heart is also depicted with arrows. Again, that’s not something we find in the gospels. One explanation is that the arrow represents sin. This is reportedly what our Lord Himself said in a private revelation to St. Mary of St. Peter. (See here for more.) The arrow could also draw upon an ancient Roman metaphor for love, which, according to ancient myth, occurred when the god Cupid shot an arrow through the hearts of lovers (as this author points out).
The crown of thorns. Unlike the arrows, the crown of thorns is reported in the gospels. But in traditional images it encircles the Sacred Heart, whereas in Scripture the crown was fixed to Jesus’ head. One traditional account offers this interpretation, describing those who are devoted to it: “They saw the crown transferred from His head to His heart; they felt that its sharp points had always pierced there; they understood that the Passion was the crucifixion of a heart” (The Heart of the Gospel: Traits of the Sacred Heart by Francis Patrick Donnelly, published in 1911 by the Apostleship of Prayer). In other words, wrapping the crown around the heart emphasizes the fact that Christ felt His wounds to the depths of His heart.
Moreover, after the resurrection, the crown of thorns becomes a crown of victory. Donnelly hints at this as well: “From the weapons of His enemy, from cross and crown and opened Heart, our conquering leader fashioned a trophy which was the best testimony of His love.” In ancient gladiatorial contests, the victor was crowned. In the Revelation 19:12, Christ wears “many crowns” and believers who are victorious over sin and Satan will receive the “crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Finally, according to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the seventeenth French nun who helped start the devotion, the points of the thorns are the many individual sins of people, pricking the heart of Jesus. As she put it in a letter, recounting the personal vision she had received, “I saw this divine Heart as on a throne of flames, more brilliant than the sun and transparent as crystal. It had Its adorable wound and was encircled with a crown of thorns, which signified the pricks our sins caused Him.”
The cross. Like the thorns, the cross is both rooted in the gospels but also displayed in a way that does not follow them in every detail. There is almost an inversion of the crucifixion. In the gospels, Christ hung on the cross, His heart correspondingly dwarfed by its beams. But in images of the Sacred Heart, it is now enlarged and the cross has shrunk. Moreover, rather than the heart being nailed to the cross, the cross now seems ‘planted’ in the heart—as St. Margaret Mary Alacoque put it—if to say to us that the entire reality of the crucifixion derives its meaning from and—cannot be understood apart from—the heart of Jesus. As Donnelly wrote, “The Heart [is] … forever supporting the weight of a Cross.” Truly, it is the heart of Jesus that makes the cross meaningful for us today.