Heart's ease - an infusion was said to help mend a broken heart

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The likeness of God

Today on Twitter, in among all the images of archangels, I saw this haiku from Catholic Scot (@stevhep)

Michaelmas daisies,
Foretelling autumn's advent.
Bronze tinted forests.

And appropriately for today's feast, there was a profusion of Michaelmas daisies along the canal; pale, shadowy lilac against all the greenery and grey-brown water. In Italian we call them settembrini, as this is their month; my mother had a huge clump of them just inside the garden gate, leaning forward - unless severely tethered - in friendly, golden-nosed, lilac-y greeting.

The name Michael means Who is like God? It's meant as a rhetorical question, implying nobody could ever be anything like God - which is very true. And yet... we are all called to be as Godlike as possible, to be the likeness of God. And part of the gracious loveliness of God is that he allows and indeed wants us all to be his likeness... and to see his likeness in all people, places and things. God rejoiced to be with us in Jesus, his truest, most complete likeness - and rejoices to be in and with us now and forever: in the everyday and the mundane as much as in the extraordinary and eventful; in the breath-taking and the barely-noticed, in beauty, ugliness, sorrow, joy and in the tiny and humble... including a little bunch of pale lilac flowers, late summer's quiet foretellers of autumn's approach.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

It will decide everything

Today I've been praying with this reflection by Pedro Arrupe SJ, a former Jesuit Superior General. It is, of course, very true: whatever we are in love with; wherever we choose to put our heart; whatever our deep, underlying passion may be - this does indeed decide everything.

Falling in love is the easy part - even that word "falling" makes it seem as ridiculously simple and unpreventable as tripping over an uneven paving stone or slipping on wet leaves. Staying in love, though, is another matter. It requires fidelity and commitment, especially in tough times, but is about more than that: someone can grit their teeth and remain tenaciously committed even when love has grown cold, but that's not staying in love. Staying in love is about keeping love warm; about tending a longstanding fire to keep it burning. I saw this fire in my parents, still utterly, besottedly in love after more than 50 years, despite diminished health and all the arguments and setbacks of five decades; see it too in older religious, for whom being centred on God has become even more than second nature.

Meanwhile I, somewhere in the midpoint, continue to discover that staying in love can sometimes be sheer delight, at other times hard work; but somehow, life would be unthinkable and unliveable without it. Mostly, it is an ongoing following of a choice made years ago; a journey excitedly embarked on in sunshine and fair weather, lovingly and hopefully continued in all climates.

And today it occurred to me that for religious there is an added dimension - because what we are in love with is... Love! Being in love with God and remaining in love is about being and remaining in God, who is Love. It is this to which we are called and invited, not just at the beginning, but every day. And it is this being in Love which determines the what, the where and the who with of our lives; determines what breaks our hearts and what amazes us with joy and gratitude. Being in Love, staying in Love truly is what decides everything.

NB: One of my community gave me this depiction of the reflection a few years ago. I've seen it used on some other blogs and websites, but have no idea who created it. If you know please let me know, so that I can acknowledge the artist.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Behold your mother

As per a tradition started by St Madeleine Sophie, at the end of each programme of preparation for perpetual vows the Superior General gives each group a name and a devise (motto), which will accompany them individually and as a group of professed religious. This, in a sense, is their new call and identity in the congregation; one which, as far as possible, reflects the experience, process and insights of each one and of their time together. Many of us love and cherish our new name and devise from the moment we hear them; others, though, may be less ecstatic or initially prefer their devise, and take years or even decades to truly 'own' and welcome their name.

Yesterday we buried the ashes of one of our sisters, Joan, who died in June. Two years ago, when she celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of her profession Joan wrote a short reflection for our website about how she gradually grew into her name - 'Behold your Mother' - and devise - 'Do whatever he tells you' - both of them phrases said by or about Mary the Mother of Jesus:

It took me a long time before I tuned into the significance of our name and could begin to feel at ease with a special relationship with Mary. Perhaps this was because of the way I felt some people practised a very sentimental devotion which seemed to place Mary above the Lord himself.

Mary however said words that mean so much, "What ever he says to you, do ye", and gradually she became for me a woman from whose contemplative attitude I too can become committed to live as Jesus lived. All our learning is from the close union of the hearts of Jesus and Mary. It is heart knowledge that teaches us how to look at the world, how to listen to what we are told about its realities and so be enabled to approach it in a human and friendly manner. In welcoming God's word Mary gives life to the world.  (Constitutions #22)

I was reminded of this reflection during the Mass preceding the burial, as we heard Jesus in the Gospel saying that his mother and brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice. (Luke 8: 21) This was the ordinary Gospel for the day, and yet it was as if it had been chosen specially for Joan. She, certainly, was a woman who heard the word of God and lived it as faithfully, generously and congruently as she could, in a daily gift of herself, even when it cost her greatly.

When someone as unstintingly hardworking as Joan dies, we fondly imagine them being welcomed into heaven with the words Well done, good and faithful servant, now come and take your rest (cf Matthew 25: 21). But Jesus did not call those who live the word of God servants; he called them his family - his mother, brother, sister. And so now I can well imagine Joan being ushered into heaven and presented to Jesus, rejoicing to hear and recognise her name, reluctantly accepted in 1954, struggled with and lived for six decades, now gloriously announcing... Behold your mother...

And may we all live our lives in such a way that one day we too may hear something similar being said of us...

Friday, 16 September 2016

An anniversary redeemed

The idea that everything works out for the best in the end is often regarded as a truism, but there are many times when it is in fact true. The 16th September is a significant date in my life story - twice over. Twenty-five years ago today something happened to change the plans and dreams I had been making for myself. What I had thought I would do, where I thought I'd do it - everything changed. It was devastating, disheartening... but - though I couldn't know it at the time - it would all work out beautifully, gloriously, amazingly, for the best.

And so two years later the 16th September quietly became a pivotal date for me again. I didn't engineer it, didn't set out to influence the coincidence of dates; it simply happened that on 16th September 1993, having written a few weeks earlier to ask if I could join the Society, I had my first meeting with the RSCJ Provincial Superior. Just as my life had changed irreversibly two years before, so it did now. The Provincial was positive and welcoming; my application was accepted by her and her Council, and so four months later I became a candidate, embarking on the first stage of formation. The 16th September, in my story, was thus redeemed, in the loveliest, most unexpected of ways - making today a silver anniversary I can celebrate.

I know that if the tough events of 16th September 1991 had never happened my life would have been very different. Certainly, I might never have joined the Society: thus I would never have known the joy and the grace of being an RSCJ, never have even begun to plumb the depths of the Heart of Jesus, never have experienced the growth and the challenge, known many of the people I now know or done many of the things I have done. That's not to say I wouldn't have been happy, and I would still have had a life with God - but I wouldn't have known the supreme happiness of being where and what I was created to be. And that makes all the difference.

Some things do work out for the best - and NOTHING is irredeemable, not even a nondescript, random date, a mere square on a calendar.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Wondrous love

Heart-Cross by Manfred Bugl,
an image given to my group when we made our perpetual vows
At Mass today for the Exaltation of the Cross the priest began his homily by describing the cross as an instrument of torture and degradation. And he went on to say: when we look at the cross we see the worst that humans can do to each other... Yes, I thought, and we also see the best of what God can do for us...

And from somewhere in the distance I could hear, quietly but richly joyful, the opening words of an old spiritual: What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul, what wondrous love is this...?

So when we look at the cross we do indeed see a barbaric instrument of torture, the worst that humans can conceive and do to each other. But we also see the height, depth and breadth of God's love, the awesome, wonderful enormity of that love - the Wondrous Love who allowed himself to be nailed to the Cross. On its own the cross is horrific; with and because of Christ, it is gloriously, triumphantly redemptive. It is the worst of us, transformed by wondrous love into the best of God - a reminder that nothing and nobody is so awful as to be beyond God's powerful, transforming and redemptive love.

Monday, 12 September 2016

What's lost is nothing...

What's lost is nothing to what's found,
and all the death that ever was,
set next to life,
would scarcely fill a cup. ~ Frederick Buechner

This morning on Facebook a friend shared that today is the 42nd anniversary of her entry into religious life. She recalled waking up on her first morning, wondering what on earth she'd let herself in for, and added that she could never have imagined the half of it. Later, she commented that if she'd known what lay in store she'd have run a mile - thereby missing the gig of a lifetime.

Those sentiments could well be echoed by people in so many other ways of life, recalling getting married, becoming a parent, joining the army or embarking on a challenging yet satisfying career, or giving up their job for overseas volunteering. What's lost is nothing to what's found... as millions will testify, in ways little or big. As do so many religious; as do I.

What's lost is nothing to what's found... and indeed, in religious life there comes a time when whatever's lost disappears in the plenitude of what's found: not in one moment, or in an overwhelming torrent of joy, but in a gentle seeping, a deepening of certainty, a quiet abundance of grace. It disappears in the gradual unfolding, the growth and transformation, in God's fulfilled promise of fidelity; in gratitude and quiet joy at all this and so much more. Call what's found the hundredfold, the best wine, or - like my friend - the gig of a lifetime; it is so often an intangible, indefinable reality, beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings, and all the sweeter for being unexpected and unheralded.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Tiny, little and big

Since the canonisation of Mother Teresa on Sunday all sorts of images, quotes, articles and memes have been doing the social media rounds. After a while and with the inevitable repetition many of them have blurred into each other, but this morning a new one stood out. It showed pictures of our three St Teresas, with the captions 'Big' (Avila), 'Little' (Lisieux) and 'Tiny' (Calcutta/Kolkata).

The image played on the fact that we have traditionally distinguished between Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux with the simple adjectives 'big' and 'little' - and now we have another Teresa who was most definitely tiny. It was, of course, perfect in its symmetry: the three women on a temporal timeline, decreasing in physical size, if nothing else, as the world around them seems to be continually expanding. But in another sense it was wrong: all three are 'big' just as all three are 'little'.

'Big' because they were great-hearted, whole-hearted women; abundantly, hugely 'big' in the greatness of their love, commitment and generosity. And whilst they were all physically 'little' - even 'big' Teresa was probably small in comparison to contemporary women in the West - they were also little in their humility: women who knew themselves, knew their limitations as well as their strengths, and trusted that God would make up for whatever they lacked. Whatever their size, they were women of stature, through whom God's glory shone, through their great humility as much as their great love.

And that is what we are all called to - whether we're big, little or tiny! And so when I saw Sunday's quote, from one of my Society calendars, I knew it was spot-on appropriate. These words, from a letter written in 1985 by Helen McLaughlin RSCJ, then Superior General, may have been addressed to members of the Society, but they contain a challenge and a call for each person reading them...

Humility is the key that opens us to love. We... are called to be women who love, bearers of love, of a love that is strong, that is true, that is magnanimous. In this we cannot be mediocre; we cannot be weak; we cannot be vacillating.

May the prayers and example of each Teresa - Big, Little and Tiny - help us rise above our weaknesses and mediocrity, and become bearers of a love which is truly strong, steadfast and magnanimous.