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

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The love is growing...

A few days ago a friend posted an Advent-themed link on Facebook and commented: the love is growing and is coming soon. And in those words I saw something tenderly maternal: I could imagine an expectant mother, her love growing along with the burgeoning new life she was nurturing within her, murmuring these words. Perhaps the mother of Mary said something similar, fondly, blissfully, yet completely unaware of the blessedness she would bring to the world.

And this, I felt sure, is what Mary could have said, with tenderness and awe, in the final weeks of her pregnancy. The Love is growing and is coming soon.

None of us will ever share Mary's privilege of physically bearing and birthing God, Love made flesh, coming to dwell among us. But we can share her call, to allow Love into our world; we can seek to be that Love, to give it flesh and enable it to dwell in and among us. As we continue our Advent journeys, in a world seared through with pain, may we be people in whom Love is growing, and through whom it will come and make its home.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Saturday morning

It's Saturday morning, and after a few brilliantly sunny, frosty days, the weather has turned what we call 'murky' - which means dull and grey, with a pervasive dampness in the air. It may well be mid-morning, but in the murkiness it feels much earlier! Our mornings - even on sunny days - have definitely been getting darker and colder, and on those days when the sun struggles to rise and greet the day with a smile, a warm bed is especially alluring. Even though the heating has come on, I still snuggle contentedly in my drowsy duvet cocoon for as long as possible.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs a bit of extra motivation! On too-early starts and dark, wintry days I sometimes hear Pedro Arrupe SJ's words: What you are in love with... will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning... so I can at least yawningly remind myself of Who I'm in love with - my best reason for (eventually) getting out of my warm bed...

So when I saw this picture on Facebook the other day I chuckled knowingly. Yes, this is me; a drowsy mass of inconsistencies and extremes. I'm all for adventure, high jinks and joining the revolution, but not on a Saturday morning (or indeed too early any morning!) - especially if the morning is dark and chilly and the bed is warm!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Words on the way home

Yesterday I walked home via a different route. It's one I have sometimes used; one that allows me to admire a superbly fiery creeper over an old building, and some lovely facades and carvings. Yesterday, though, it wasn't leaves or bricks which caught my attention - striking though they were against a brilliant blue sky - but words.

First, I noticed this sign outside the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church. I posted a photo on Facebook and Instagram, with the question: wouldn't it be great if all churches could have something similar on display outside their doors? Judging by the number of 'likes' and some positive comments, it seems that the answer was YES! Certainly, in this time of fear and intolerance, we need our people and places of faith, prayer and worship to boldly proclaim - and of course, live - their belief in the values of respect, hospitality and love of neighbour - regardless of their colour, creed or country of origin. And we need, too, the reminder that we all bear the responsibility of speaking and acting in a way which leads to healing and reconciliation. This, of course, is demanding and hard work - construction takes time, effort and commitment; destruction is easy and can be brought about in seconds.

The strapline at the top of the notice - open to God, open to all, was borne out by other signs inviting passers-by to come in, to pray or simply look around. So in I went! The first thing that greeted me in the entrance was this clear round window into the church, its edges engraved with the words O that the world might taste and see the riches of his grace. They come from a hymn by Charles Wesley, extolling the name of Jesus: they're part of a rather lovely little verse, which reads

O that the world might taste and see
The riches of his grace
The arms of love that compass me,
Would all mankind embrace.

... which is an equally lovely continuation of the message of open, all-embracing welcome which first invited me in. The light and reflections played games with my attempts to photograph it, but in a way the outcome, too, was part of the welcome: the busy street outside invited into the quietness within; the cross and light reaching out to passers-by...

And then, inside, more words shone out at me from the end of a side aisle - words of prayer and desire, and of generous, open self-giving, echoing so many offerings and suscipes from within the Catholic tradition. This, as I have since discovered, is the Wesley Covenant prayer, used for the renewal of the believer's Covenant with God, in special services or as a personal re-affirmation of commitment. Words I have since prayed and whose meaning and intention I would want to live, in plenitude and faith...

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

In praise of... welcoming

A small group of us RSCJ have just had a 24-hour meeting at Buckden Towers, a centre run by the Claretian Missionaries. One of the community there knows us, and, downloading an image from our Province website, he put together a rather special welcome. Thus we were greeted by this sweet, gladdening surprise...

... the sort of simple gesture which can transform reception into hospitality and ensure guests feel truly, open-heartedly expected, prepared for and welcomed. Welcomed and also challenged: as one sister murmured: Women of the heart... that gives us a lot to live up to... and indeed it does - not just for 24 hours, or when we're in good company, but for all of life and mission, and for all of our struggling, hope-filled living of our ideals and passion.

And now, already, it's the First Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation, of creating and clearing a space for Christ, in an attitude of eager expectation. As I prepare my Advent wreath I find myself reflecting on welcome and expectancy, on preparation and the simple gestures of genuine hospitality. So now I ask myself: what simple things and space-creating can I do, what sign would I make, to ensure Christ knows he is truly, open-heartedly desired and welcome into the home of my heart...?

Monday, 21 November 2016

Love is our mission

Two weeks ago, in those first dazed, despondent hours after the result of the US presidential election was announced, many of us struggled to find words to express on social media how we felt. My own response was wordless: I did as I had done the morning after the Brexit vote, and changed my Facebook cover photo to show Spes Unica - our only hope. And then, over the next few hours, I noticed first one and then another... and then another, of my American sisters changing their Facebook profile photos to this image. Nothing was said; nothing needed to be said, as the image and words spoke powerfully enough.

It was a tiny, silent gesture in a sea of articles, memes and recriminations; an immediate, instinctive, essential response, preceding the official one. And then a sister called on other RSCJ around the world to follow suit, in solidarity and Cor Unum (our 'one heart'), and I decided to respond. Thus, in two clicks a colourful snowdog and I disappeared, to be replaced by a statement... but not just any old statement! This one, short and direct as it is, is a declaration of the essence of being RSCJ. It is, in a way, a précis of paragraph 179 of our Constitutions...

In all the circumstances of our life,
wherever our mission leads us
our sole purpose in living is to glorify the Heart of Jesus,
to discover and make known His love.

And so, for the next ten days or so, my profile picture was no longer an image of me, but this simple declaration of what lies at the heart of being RSCJ - of what should lie at the heart of me. And it was an image I now shared with RSCJ in four other countries. It was strange, seeing "my" profile picture appearing in threads - strange and also powerful; "mine" and also "ours", a reminder of our unity in diversity, in a world horribly fomenting polarisation.

Today, almost two weeks later, is the Society's 216th birthday: the anniversary of the day when St Madeleine Sophie and her first companions made their vows. Only a few years after the French Revolution, in a society torn apart by violence and destruction, this tiny, fragile group of women pledged their lives, energies and hopes to reconstruction; to a mission rooted and founded on love. Surrounded by the aftermath of hatred they dared to believe that love could be their mission - that love should be their mission. That is their legacy to us. Two hundred and sixteen years later, the call and the challenge remain the same: wherever we may be, however peaceful or troubling our context, our sole purpose in living is to glorify the Heart of Jesus, by discovering and making known his love. May we all have the faith and the boldness to continue to live that mission and legacy, as fully as possible.

PS: This evening in Rome, the twelve RSCJ from nine countries preparing for their perpetual vows will begin their long retreat. May it be a time for knowing and experiencing more fully the Love that has called them to the Society, and continues to call them to its mission.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

An ever-open door

So today the Year of Mercy comes to an end, and in shrines, cathedrals and churches around the world, Holy Doors are being ceremonially sealed, dismantled or returned to their normal status of ordinary door. But, of course, God's tender, loving mercy doesn't end: it lives on, unchanged by Years and dates; what has been changed has been the Church's emphasis, and our general awareness.

And we also have a Door which will never close - the door into God's Heart. Here is a door, originally opened by violence, but always staying open in love, regardless of Year or date - and we will always be invited to enter in. Here we will always find a welcome, always find abundant love, tenderness and mercy, and be invited to be that welcome, to be that love, tenderness and mercy for the rest of our world. Because this ever-open door is an exit as well as an entrance; and we are invited in, not solely in order to snuggle up and feel blissfully at home, but also in order to go out, and to be the love and tenderness we have found and cherish. And in our wounded, hurting world, and in atmospheres of anger and division, that is surely the gift we are all being asked to offer...

Last Christmas our Superior General wrote a letter to the Society about entering the Holy Door and journeying in pilgrimage, much of which can still speak to us today. An extract is below, and you can read more of it on our international website.

How then are we invited to enter the Holy Door?

Sophie would ask us to enter with trust, desire and expectation the holy door of Jesus’ Heart, confident that God wants to share with us anew God’s merciful love. 

Let us enter the holy door of our own hearts, confident that the Spirit is present within us, opening, healing, giving life, breathing within us, that we may know and live the mercy of God. Perhaps this is a moment in which the Spirit wants to transform further some part of me, of us. Perhaps it is a time to receive forgiveness and welcome God’s merciful love, renewing us in the confidence that God calls us as we are to live the love of God’s Heart. Perhaps this Christmas is a time when I am invited to incarnate in a particular way the mercy of God. Perhaps ... 

And, how are we to journey in pilgrimage?

Let us journey in pilgrimage to the place where God’s heart dwells in my heart. Let us take time to reflect on the journey we have walked in this past year, or throughout our life, noticing how and where I have become more able to receive and to live God’s mercy in relation to my own life story. In my relationships with others, may I ask to notice what enables me to live the openness, tenderness and forgiveness of God’s compassion; and what blocks me at times. May I become aware of the direction in which God invites me to journey in the coming year in relation to myself and others.

Let us join with others who are on pilgrimage at this time, seeking love and life in today’s world. Let us journey with those who are fleeing violence, terror, abuse; those suffering the destruction of the fabric of society or of the environment; those trying to reach a new land where they can nurture life and hope for themselves and their children; those seeking to rebuild their lives in various ways. Let us journey with others who are searching to create new possibilities of mercy and communion in our world. Let us learn from and with one another how to respond with love in the face of fear, violence and pain; how to envision and build a global society where everyone has access to resources; how to live in new ways that provide and sustain life for everyone. Let us deepen and expand our compassion, that we may grow in living Sophie’s vision of relational transformation in love of persons, of our global community, of our universe...

Friday, 18 November 2016

A heart that holds back nothing

Who is Philippine for us: a courageous, sensitive woman; a deeply prayerful religious; a lover of poverty and simplicity; a loyal, suffering daughter of the Church; a pioneer into the future who dared to go where few had gone before? She is saying something to us with urgency and insistence....

~ Helen McLaughlin RSCJ, Superior General at the time of Philippine's canonisation.

And so who, I asked Philippine, does she wish to be for us today, on her feast day...? What is she saying to us, and the times in which we live, with urgency and insistence...? And the reply was contained in some other words written by Helen... Philippine spent her whole life entering into new worlds: building bridges, striving to understand other people's experience - in a word, creating communion.

There is a poignancy to reading those words in a world torn apart by the rhetoric of hate and division; a poignancy, too, to celebrating a life spent boldly transcending boundaries, at a time when walls, frontiers and fear dominate. Philippine could easily have remained confined and cushioned by the comforts and wealth of her upbringing; she could have remained in France, and spent herself in ministry there; she could, too, have let herself be constrained by multiple excuses and anxieties. Instead, she moved beyond everything she knew and held dear, into new territories, new worlds - and into the vast, challenging and at times lonely new world of the New World. And in these worlds she opened her heart to the poor and dispossessed, and to so many who needed to know the good news of the abundant, healing and restorative love of the Heart of Jesus.

Philippine didn't do great, world-changing things - but what she did do, and how she did it, was undoubtedly life-changing for so many. She herself knew that her contribution was relatively small, and once wrote: We cultivate a very small field for Christ. But we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements, but a heart that holds back nothing for self.  And hers was surely an open, generous heart which held back nothing for herself, but impelled her to give, love and care as deeply and widely as possible, regardless of race, culture, ability or the many other excuses for divisiveness and holding back. This was how Philippine entered into new worlds and created communion - by holding back nothing for herself.

And as I re-read Helen's words I am reminded, too, of the call which was reinforced at our 1994 General Chapter, to be women of communion, compassion and reconciliation; educators whose hope is continually rekindled and kept alive. May this be Philippine's message and inspiration to us all today, in and for our deeply wounded and divided world: to be people whose hearts do not hold back, but who enter into new worlds with compassion and hope, creating communion by giving, loving and caring as deeply and as widely as we can.

Happy feast everyone!

You can read more extracts from a conference and a letter sent to the Society by Helen McLaughlin RSCJ for Philippine's canonisation on our international website.