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

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Love lies at the heart

This year, in the run up to Vocations Sunday (which is next week), the National Office for Vocation asked several religious - nuns, sisters, brothers, monks, friars and priests - plus a diocesan priest to share briefly something of our call and our motivation. We were also asked to submit a photo of ourselves in which the focus was our congregational symbol, or habit. My contribution is here, and you can see the full gallery by scrolling down this page.

At first glance we may appear a disparate bunch: fifteen adults of varying ages and backgrounds, seeking God and following Jesus in a variety of ways. At first glance the differences in our clothing alone highlight the differences in our ways of life, and the call each one has received - whether to priesthood, brotherhood, apostolic or monastic life. And if you read even just a few of our profiles you can see that each of us responded to the NOV 'brief' in our own, distinctive way, according to our uniqueness as well as each call and charism.

But, despite these differences, our vocation quests hold many similarities, no matter the age, background or charism of each one. We all know ourselves to have been called by God, in whom we seek to root our lives. We have all fallen in love, however we express it, and remain captured by the One who is Love. We are all, in our own ways, passionate and bold enough to follow an unseen - and at times unfelt - Someone who attracts, fascinates and beckons with a soul-searing call. And we have all looked about us - and continue looking, seeing pain, wounds and brokenness alongside many signs of hope, and of God's presence; and we want to do our part, whatever it may be, however small, to contribute to the healing, hope and restoration our world so desperately needs.

Love lies at the heart of everything each of us is, and what we are about: God's love for us, known in his call and invitation, and our response and desire to be transformed into that love, in and for the world. Whether we live that love in a monastery or in mission, as sisters or brothers, this is the fundamental similarity, the unifying force which calls and takes us beyond all our apparent, outward differences. So, as you scroll down the NOV gallery of profiles please do say a wee prayer for each of us and for our communities, that we - and those called to join us - may all become more and more women and men filled and ablaze with God's love, making that love known in the diversity of ways to which we are each called.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

In praise of... ordinary happiness

There's a wearied grimness in the air at the moment. A snap election called while the opposition were in disarray, at a time of rising hardship and poverty in this country, and under-funding of public services - scandalously so, given this nation's wealth and resources. Elsewhere too, the news is unrelentingly worrying and wearying, while even our weather has decided to suspend spring and remind us what winter feels like. So this image, which appeared in my Facebook feed this morning, was a welcome reminder of the many moments of happiness which can permeate even the most ordinary of days.

I love the fact that these examples are "ordinary" and everyday. They're not confined to specific, life-changing events or memories. In the hierarchy of happiness they rank well below those truly sublime joys, such as knowing - really knowing - we are loved, the delight of a long-awaited reunion or the elation of hard-won achievement. Instead, I am reminded of the childlike happiness engendered by observing bees or butterflies, marvelling at dappling or seeing sea monsters in a weirdly shaped tree; the ridiculous, satisfied happiness brought on by surveying a gleaming, newly-polished sink, and the blissful happiness of snuggling up in bed, especially in freshly-laundered sheets. And alongside these, those moments of joy and contentment which are indeed strange or mysterious, or simply beautifully delicate; hard to define or even pin down, but no less precious for that.

Yes, all ordinary, all easily overlooked or taken for granted, especially when times seem unremittingly grim - but all present and woven into the very fabric of daily life. How many types of ordinary happiness can you see in your everyday life?

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Joy and wounds

Yesterday I returned home from a meeting with sixty-six other RSCJ, most of us from England, Ireland and Scotland. For a few days, in small groups and large assembly we prayed, reflected, shared, listened and explored together how we can live the calls from last summer's Chapter.

Unavoidably, there were times of pain - both our own and that of the world. We began just after Theresa May's wearying, dispiriting announcement of her intention to call a snap election, and ended with the news of a fatal shooting in Paris. Refugees, the homeless and marginalised, trafficking, Brexit and so much more were ever present, in our prayer and in our discussions. But there was also laughter, the enjoyment of each other's company, the enlivening and energy of the large group, and the chance to catch up with friends, and get to know others better.

Throughout the week we were nourished by each day's Gospel, in which the Risen Jesus talked, walked and ate with his disciples, challenging, encouraging and calling them beyond their fears, incredulity and limitations, gently yet compellingly showing them their new mission. And that is how it was for us, as we too were led, in the face of anxieties and uncertainties, to discern and explore what we can do more fruitfully together, to strengthen and extend the Society and its life and mission in our provinces.

In our final reflection a sister in my small group spoke of experiencing the joy and the wounds of the assembly, and of each one. And it occurred to me that joy and wounds are at the heart of this Easter week - and at the heart of the Risen Jesus and our experience of him. We have the sublime joy flowing from Christ, permeating and transforming our own lives, enlivening us with the hope he offers to us and all the world. And we have the wounds, the indelible scars which, even in all his glory, Jesus chose to keep, and by which he was known and recognised by his disciples.

Joy and wounds... at the heart of Jesus, at the heart of the Resurrection, at the heart of our world, and very rightly at the heart of us; women called - with all our wounds and fragilities, our prayer and passion, and our capacity for love and joy - to be the Heart of God on earth.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Wood hath hope

I have written a few times about "my" vine, an untended mass of leaves and untrammelled tendrils, which somehow yields copious vintages. Last autumn I picked enough to not only give several pounds away, but also experiment with making two types of grape liqueur! Just a few yards from my window, the vine is part of a communal garden, but had mostly escaped the attention of the two gardeners who come at various times... until last winter, when they clearly decided that it was in need of some radical pruning.

I'm by no means an expert in viticulture, but I've seen vines after pruning, and there's usually more of them left than on this vine. This poor tree had been chopped back drastically, removing virtually all of it from the trellis it had been covering. The end result looked less like a pruning and more like a purging! All the newer, greener shoots were removed, and all that remained were the old trunk, desiccated branches - more like dry sticks than anything else - and a few gnarled old tendrils. How long would it be, I wondered, before the vine managed to restore itself and put forth new wood? Would this year be a fallow year for grapes?

A week or so ago, in the midst of spring's greening, I noticed the first tiny leaves beginning to bud, transforming the deadness and dryness with their tiny, pink-green freshness and promise of new life. As I marvelled at them I recalled a line from Caryll Houselander (referencing Job 14.7, and on which the St Louis Jesuits based one of their hymns in the 1970s):

Wood hath hope,
If it be cut, it groweth green again,
And the boughs thereof sprout.

Yes indeed, this dry old wood hath hope!

And then yesterday, when I went to take photos, I found the loveliest surprise! Each of those tiny leaf buds, now unfurling and stretching in the intermittent sunshine, contains the tiny seeds which will, over summer, gradually grow and develop into grapes. Wood hath hope! - lots of it, held in tiny pink seeds, smaller than grape pips - but each one filled with the hope and the promise of growth, and ripe, delightful sweetness. I had wondered if and when the vine could restore itself, could somehow acquire new life and a semblance of its former glory; could somehow grow green again, sprout boughs again... and now I had my answer - an emphatic yes.

On Good Friday, in a world filled with bombing and violence and instability we pondered Jesus' ultimate gift of himself on the wood of the cross. And today, Easter Sunday, in a world still filled with bombing and violence and instability we celebrate the hope and promise of Jesus' Resurrection. Today we know for sure that the wood of the cross has hope; that it has in fact been transformed into the source of all our hope, and our joy. Today we marvel at the seeds and the promise of new life, and at the reminders, large and small, that death is not the end, because love has triumphed, and will always prevail. And, as Pope Francis encouraged us in last year's Easter Vigil homily, we now become joyful servants of hope... As joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love.

Have a joy-filled, grace-filled Easter, and may we all be joyful servants of hope - whether abundant or in tiny seeds - announcing the Risen One by our lives and our love.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Cross in Love

I've been reflecting on this image* quite a lot recently, finding new layers and depths of meaning each time I come to it anew.

As an image it is quite simple, amazingly so: three brush-strokes, two colours - but such riches to be found within that simplicity! A cross, symbol of suffering, sacrifice and death, of torture and barbarity, hate and violence; of the love which impelled Jesus to accept his passion and death, and the love which, daily, impels so many others in smaller acts of sacrifice and self-gift. And a heart, universal symbol of love, and, for RSCJ, our entry point into Jesus, and into the depths of God. It contains the bare elements of the congregational logo I wear every day, and no doubt speaks to me, in all its simplicity, precisely because I am of the Heart of Jesus.

What do I see?

I see Love - the Heart - flowing from the Cross; and I also see Love flowing into the Cross.

I see Love embracing the Cross, and also containing it; suffering and pain somehow held within the Love from and into which they flow.

I see the arms of the Cross thrust wide in welcome, and a sense of joy and exultation. And I see that the Cross doesn't hold a figure, because the Love which encompasses it is the figure, is Jesus, whose Love is larger than any Cross.

I see space, plenty of space: like Julian of Norwich, I see a lovely and delightful place, spacious enough for everyone... to rest there in peace and love.

And I see a small gap at the foot of the Cross, formed by the ever-open Heart; thus Love can flow out, just as we can all come in.

Which do I see first, when I look at this image? I really cannot say. And if I were to draw it, where would I begin and end? I don't know. All I do know is that it speaks so powerfully of the Good Friday mystery we commemorate, and attempt to comprehend today.

And you... What do you see...?

* A friend used this image on social media a while back, and was able to trace it back to an old blog, but it's unclear where they got it from. If anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Holy Week, sunshine and cloud

Last week spring and summer threw a party and danced delightedly for a while. Spring brought along trees frothing over with blossom, overblown magnolia, their petals flapping lazily in the breeze, and leaves tentatively unfurling on recently bare branches. Summer contributed sunshine and warmth, temperatures reaching the low 20s and a brilliant, blue sky against which trees could triumphantly thrust their blossom-laden branches. Tulips of every hue clamoured for attention, and here and there an early iris could be seen. (Camellias unaccountably started flowering in late February, so they had already left the party, along with daffodils, having performed a heart-lifting service of heralding spring) For a week or so we basked, warming our bare limbs and feet, while tree-lined roads were transformed from the mundane into places of beauty. Everything seemed to peak on Palm Sunday. If Jesus had chosen to make his triumphant entry down the Woodstock Road, he'd have been greeted not by pale palms, but by a riotous, colourful phalanx of blossoms, and petals strewing his way.

And then on Monday the sun disappeared, temperatures dropped by about ten degrees, and the sky changed, overnight, from azure to pale grey. During the week the sun has reappeared teasingly, temporarily parting clouds before disappearing again. Today has felt especially grey, but without the usual accompaniment of rain, though some has been forecast. The trees are still spilling over with blossom, but whereas a brilliant blue sky heightens all colours - even the palest, a pale grey one simply dulls them.

And really, lovely though the sunshine is, this chilly greyness has been the perfect weather for Holy Week, a week filled with grim, unremitting foreboding, after the euphoric glories of Palm Sunday. Just as we brace ourselves for the gruesome murder in a film we've already seen, so we brace ourselves in these days for the inevitable crucifixion of Love. The fitful sun has been a good reminder of Holy Week's chinks of light, the clouds of its consistent overshadowing by the foreknowledge of the suffering and death to come. And the new growth and blossom...? They speak of hope and promise, and the certainty that death is not and never will be the end...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Perfectly folded, held, dropped

This morning, as I walked to the chaplaincy for Mass, I came across this palm cross, lying on a deserted stretch of pavement. A minute or so later I saw a few people walking home from Mass, crosses in their hands or tucked into breast pockets - like this one, all perfectly aligned and folded. Someone had clearly spent time putting this cross together with care and devotion. Someone else had held it, maybe for an hour or more; might even have carefully tucked it into a bag or pocket, or entrusted it to a child... but then, in one heedless, careless moment, it had fallen, unnoticed and forgotten, onto the pavement.

Today we commemorated Palm Sunday against a backdrop of violence and senseless murder: atrocities in Syria, Sweden and now Egypt the latest in an increasingly heart-rending roll call. Meanwhile, here in England a young asylum seeker is viciously attacked, in one of a growing number of race hate crimes. So many lives created and sustained in love; so many bodies nourished with care and devotion, only to be treated as expendable, something easily discarded... This little cross, perfectly folded, blessed, held, then dropped on a pavement, is now a focus for my prayer, somehow speaking to me of all those innocents, those discarded people, of the many who grieve and care for them, and of the anguish and pain seeping through our world.

And to paraphrase a tweet I saw this morning from Cardinal Vincent Nichols: this Holy Week, may Jesus absorb the violence of this world and transform it in love, as only he can...