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

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The grace to say yes

Today, as it's the feast of the Annunciation, I have been recalling, with immense gratitude, my own call - or rather, calls: to God, primarily, and within that, to religious life in the Society. I recall the gentle infusion, the gradual seeping in of God: if, as Leonard Cohen sang, there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in... then that has to be how and where God managed to get in. I recall, too, the dawning fascination with Jesus; the compelling impulse to begin to pray and to be part of parish life; the changes - at once reluctant and whole-hearted - as I allowed myself to be challenged by conversations, events and what I read in scripture.

And then came the most memorable moment of call; startlingly compelling and irresistible. A moment in which I was flooded with an awareness of the immensity of God's love for me, and knew that I was being called to love, for love. Like Mary I felt unprepared, caught unawares, but in another way I had been prepared, made ready, in those months of God's patient infusion. Even so there was incredulity - my own Who, me? version of But how can it be...? - not just that moment, but for a long time after, even as I also experienced certainty. Maybe Mary felt this too, long after the angel left her. Who, me?... an uneducated small town girl, chosen from eternity to be overshadowed with the power of God and bearer of his Son...? But how can it be...?

But in that patient preparation lay copious grace - the grace to say yes, in my own way saying Here I am... let it be... Grace is never stingy, and thus I have been able to continue to say yes. I pray that this may continue, so that I may increasingly respond like Mary, whose life - like that of her Son - was one constant, unceasing, YES, filled with faith and generosity. Over the years the details and circumstances of God's calls to Mary would have differed, but her response was unchanging; whether to something uncertain, hazardous or heart-breaking, or to what was life-enhancing and wondrous: Here I am... let it be...

And as I pray for myself I pray too for all those who are facing God's calls; who may feel unprepared, incredulous, afraid; who hover on the brink of their response. May God's tender preparation fill them with the grace to say YES; to utter and live their own Here I am... let it be... 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

No options, just love

Yesterday we saw the worst of humanity - a fatal, crazed attack on innocent people in Westminster - and we saw the best. A brave, unarmed policeman who lost his life defending others, and the quiet heroism of those who ran to his aid; hospital staff who instinctively rushed over to help, not waiting for the area to be declared safe; and so many others, whose contribution may never be known except by those to whom it mattered. And as some sought to stir up hatred and division there were more and louder voices urging unity and togetherness - yes, and love.

Sixteen years ago I heard a homily just a few days after 9/11 in which the priest, a Sacred Hearts father, reminded us that so many of the passengers, facing imminent death, spent their last few minutes phoning their families with messages of love. That message, of love's enduring power and the instinctive rush to it, has stayed with me, moderating anger and sustaining hope in times of darkness and terror.

And it is a message which many others have heard and shared. Again and again in the past 24 hours I have seen articles and tweets urging people to pull together, to focus on shared values and humanity, to remember the love and bravery of the victims, not the hatred of the attacker. As Brendan Cox tweeted, from the Trafalgar Square vigil, London has not fallen, it has risen. Against hatred. Together. And this is how we need to continue: Against hatred. Together.

This morning's email reflection from 40 Acts (daily Lenten challenges) drew its inspiration from the Amish who, hours after a horrific shooting in their community, said We must not think evil of this man. It reminded us that in these moments of terror and uncertainty we must never forget that we can control one important thing, how we react. No options or actions were suggested, just radical, generous love; an extension of hope, an offering of compassion.

And really, for people of faith and goodwill, there can be no options; there can only be love...

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up... Galatians 6.9

Friday, 17 March 2017

Not with malice but with love

Reading about St Patrick today, I was especially struck by the fact that, having escaped from slavery in Ireland, he returned several years later, not with malice and revenge in his heart but with love. Whatever he had found in God and Christianity gave him the inner freedom which enabled him to return to the place of his bondage, not so much with an absence of fear as with an abundance of fervour. There must have been grace in those years of servitude and isolation, and redemptive healing, but their fullness would have come after his return, as he brought Christ to the land in which he had been ill-treated.

And this is something we need to hear more about, especially in these times of ugliness and hate. The way to healing can never be through retaliating against the one who has wounded us, but through loving them. How this can translate to politics, security or foreign policy is another matter, but surely not an impossible one. Those to whom evil is done, wrote WH Auden chillingly, Do evil in return: but the life and example of Patrick shows that another way - the way of responding in love - is not only possible, but far more effective and redemptive, both for the lover and those to whom love is given.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Loveliness down the drain

We don't generally look too closely at drains, or even notice them, unless they're smelly or flooding. Sometimes we might notice the weeds growing out of them, but generally, we don't associate them with loveliness, while if something 'goes down the drain' it means it has been spoiled or wasted.

But here's a drain with a difference - or maybe one which thinks it's a flowerpot! Just outside a functional building, this little splash of colour and loveliness draws my attention downwards, away from blossoming trees and spring flowers, in a moment of pure, unbidden delight. It is a reminder that beauty can be found in even the most prosaic and unprepossessing places, if we only have the eyes and heart to see and appreciate... a reminder, too, that good things can grow and flourish in even the least favourable conditions.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

In this Heart together

Last weekend I was in Roehampton at a vocation discernment weekend, with six lovely young women open to exploring how and where God might be calling them to be his love on earth. In the course of our discussions and reflections we talked about the gift of our internationality as RSCJ, the constant call to go beyond ourselves and our national borders, and the wealth of our connectivity. This weekend I was back in Roehampton for a Province day, in which we reflected on the calls and challenges for our life and mission arising from our General Chapter and other meetings and processes beyond this little island, but of which we are, nonetheless, a part. Halfway between the two came International Women's Day, and on the same day, Catholics in the US began to keep Catholic Sisters' Week. So in the midst of all this, it's not surprising that international sisterhood has been in my thoughts!

As my blogger profile says, I grew up straddling two cultures, happily interchanging between two languages (with the odd bit of each parent's dialect thrown in), and aware, since my earliest days, that I belonged to something far bigger than Britain. As I wondered where my call to religious life might take me I knew I needed to join an international congregation: I just couldn't imagine belonging to a mono-cultural community; I knew I needed something wider and more diverse, with all its challenges as well as richness. 
From the Sacred Heart High School,
Hammersmith - the Goal of Community

Certainly, over the past twenty-three years, I have experienced and appreciated that breadth and wealth of cultures and interchange, here in England as well as in Mexico and Rome. Totting it up, I realise I have lived at various times with women from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Spain, Uganda, Uruguay and USA. I also have RSCJ friends in several other countries, including a twin in Korea, and of course sisters who were most certainly my consorelle when my parents were ill and died in Italy. Social media has undoubtedly aided this sisterhood, enabling me to keep in touch with many, and to connect at some depth with RSCJ I have yet to meet - and may never meet, though in so many other ways we are already connected. We are sisters, pledged to each other's growth and wellbeing, sharing a common call and mission, and a common home in the Heart of Jesus. As the image says - we're all in this Heart together.

And now that the UK heads inexorably towards Brexit our internationality feels like even more of a richness and a blessing. As this country narrows and constricts its outlook and our leaders pull us towards isolation, the Society draws me even more strongly into breadth and diversity and global inter-connectedness. Thank God for that! - and for a Heart which is truly unbounded, and large enough to welcome and contain the entire world!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

It's the little things that count

A few days ago a sister with whom I'd lived as a novice died. A humble, kind and generous woman, Tarci was invariably loving, and one of whom any number of small favours could be confidently asked. Timorous about many new experiences, she was unafraid of showing affection, or of taking initiative if she felt someone needed her help. She was a good person to have in a formation community: she never gave us novices any input or classes, but she taught us a great deal nonetheless - just by being who and how she was - about fidelity and the centrality of God, kindness, generosity and simple, loving service, happily given.

She was a great woman, said one of my noviciate companions in an email, and indeed she was - but not in the ways greatness is usually measured. Tarci's name will never appear in history books or on a plaque, and no building will ever be named after her, but she was surely one of those to whom Jesus could have said Rejoice, because your name is written in heaven... (Luke 10.20). In her case the citation would undoubtedly read Mistress of the little things, because it was in so many little things - simply, unobtrusively done - that Tarci showed her huge love.

I was able to visit Tarci the day before she died. I recalled and thanked her for all those little things, reminding her of how she would regularly lay the dinner table to give that day's cook one less thing to do, then slip into the kitchen just as the steam was rising and dirty pans were beginning to pile up. She didn't waste time (or draw attention to herself) by asking if help was needed, but simply rolled up her sleeves and started on the washing up.

And Tarci nodded, murmuring It's the little things that count - and indeed they do. We may take them for granted, but take away those little things and life is that bit harder or unfriendly, that bit less sweet. And therein lay Tarci's greatness; not in heroism or grand gestures, leadership or pioneering, but in simplicity, humility and willing service in countless little things, all of which live on in happy memory and do count, so very much.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

In praise of... sharing books, sharing pleasure

Today's World Book Day reminds me that there was a time when books were rather splendid things, often handed out as prizes; even relatively cheap, ordinary ones were beautifully bound, maybe with decorative opening words in each chapter. The gift of a book was something special, especially if the giver was sharing something - prose or poetry - that they themselves treasured and found enriching, or suggested that this author would in some way speak to the recipient's heart, broaden their mind, or meet their needs at the time.

Nowadays, even with paperbacks and garish covers, books are still special, because of what they are and what they contain. They are portals into other worlds, into another's thoughts and experiences; into lands and scenes which are poetic, whimsical, sobering, thought-provoking, spirit-lifting, spine-chilling, humorous, enlightening... into ordinary events made extraordinary by means of well-crafted words and imagery. They are also portals into friendships. One of the delights of visiting a friend whose shelves are crammed with books is the opportunity to browse, especially if said friend is glad to recommend and lend whatever they have enjoyed; while a sure way of getting to know a new friend better is to see what tastes are displayed on their bookshelves. We may rarely give books as gifts - sending much-loved poetry and novels in the post as previous generations did - but we still delight in sharing books or authors we have discovered, as if they were treasures - which, indeed, they are.

And this is where books - actual, physical books - will always trump Kindles, however useful they may be for travellers. I can happily browse a friend's bookshelves while she makes me a cup of tea - but I would never dream of picking up her tablet and scrolling through her downloads! And even if she allowed me to do this, she'd never be able to lend me anything that caught my eye or her imagination; which, I suppose is good for sales and royalties, but not for our enjoyment. Sharing a good book is almost as good as re-reading it; certainly, our pleasure in it is doubled.

Last year I read a delightful book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It is charming and heart-lifting - despite a plot which focuses on a dark period in Guernsey's history - with each page singing of humanity and the resilience of the human spirit, and the sheer gift that literature can be. (That's all I will tell you - if you want to know more, get hold of a copy! - and yes, I've already passed it on to a friend who was enchanted by it!). At the end one of the co-authors adds a few words of her own, in which she speaks of the interest sparked by the book and its diverse characters. She ends by saying...

This profusion of questions, exclamations and tales is the new version of the Society. Its members are spread all over the world, but they are joined by their love of books, of talking about books, and of their fellow readers. We are transformed - magically - into the literary society each time we pass a book along, each time we ask a question about it, each time say, 'If you liked that, I bet you'd like this.' Whenever we are willing to be delighted and share our delight, as Mary Ann did, we are part of the ongoing story of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

And, I'd say, we are all transformed into being part of the ongoing story of the enduring, unending appeal of books, and the sheer, gratuitous pleasure of sharing them...