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

Sunday, 21 August 2016

No country, but a whole world

Within the Sacred Heart you have no country, but the whole universe. ~ St Madeleine Sophie Barat, founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart

By the time you read this the Olympics will be coming to an end. For two weeks we have cheered on success, groaned in commiseration and thrilled at superlative feats, endurance and sheer, talented perfection. We have also seen examples of grace and true sportsmanship, such as Abbey D'Agostino helping a rival who had fallen over, and heard backstories of athletes overcoming illness, injury and personal tragedy to get to where they are; sadly, alongside this there has also been the tainting of drugs and other forms of cheating to remind us that not all Olympians are true stars.

Whether in individual or team sports all Olympians compete in national teams, and our support is allowed to be partisan. Yes, we can and do applaud excellence, whatever its flag: we adopt favourite athletes, sympathise with tearful losers and cheer on underdogs regardless of nationality, but at heart, national allegiances predominate - and those of us blessed with a heritage in more than one country have an advantage in how and where to spread our favours!

This year one team has been allowed to transcend that: Team Refugee, whose members are allied not by race, culture or language, but through adversity, suffering, courage and tenacity. Here we have no country, but a whole world, filled with forcibly displaced people.

But, unknown to many there has been another, unofficial team also transcending nationalities: "Team Sacred Heart". Several athletes and two team coaches from Australia, Canada, Mexico and the US are alumnae of Sacred Heart schools, and their progress has been closely followed by the United States-Canada website, with regular updates posted on social media. Whatever our national affiliations the Sacred Heart family has been able to cheer on "our" athletes, and applaud their successes; regardless of country they are "ours" and we are connected.  Here indeed there is no country, but a whole world, united by and in the Heart of Jesus.

The story got picked up by the National Catholic Register, and in turn by EWTN, who interviewed a RSCJ about the aims and values of Sacred Heart education. She explained that the objective is to engender a sense of values and a real conviction that there's a responsibility to use the talents God has given and share them with the community...

So yes, we celebrate the medals, just as we celebrate academic and other successes; but we equally applaud grace and effort, kindness and the quiet, unheralded, daily heroism of so many. What we celebrate in others though, is simply what we'd want them to celebrate in us: someone becoming fully, truly, authentically the loving, gifted, passionate person God created us all to be - becoming the best ME we can be. Someone using their God-given gifts and qualities, whatever they may be, for the benefit of others. Because, as Janet Stuart once wrote: To aim at the best and to remain essentially ourselves is one and the same thing. Just as there are no countries in the Sacred Heart, so there are no losers or failures... only the call to become the best and fullest versions of ourselves we can be, to the glory of God and for the good of our world.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

In praise of... a Magic Kingdom

Sometimes, on my early evening walk, I like to go to the Trap Grounds, a seven-acre urban wilderness about ten minutes' walk from my home. Here reed beds sit alongside small ponds, woodland is interspersed with scrubland and a boardwalk lends a tropically swampy feel to muddy water: all a rich mosaic of plants and wildlife habitats, housing a variety of birds and butterflies, plus dragonflies, glow worms, water voles and a lot more.

The Trap Grounds' website allows visitors to post details of sightings, especially of rare species. I happily confess to my ignorance about these; a Lesser Spotted Whatever could be looping the loop in front of me and I'd be completely unaware of the privilege. For me, the magic of the Trap Grounds lies simply in its wild, untrammelled existence; in sun-dappled leaves, enticing criss-crossing paths and - right now - bushes promising blackberries in abundance. Maybe one day I will spot one of the resident kingfishers, or a slow-worm basking in the sun; for now, though, I'm more than happy with the occasional glimpse of a dragonfly, or a fluffiness of ducklings paddling by. Here I can wander or sit, pray, reflect, explore, be still, enjoy...

I recently downloaded the site's map, and discovered that the team of committed volunteers who manage it have named different areas. My seven-year-old self would have thrilled at them: Frog Lane... Cuckoo Copse... Foxglove Meadow... Periwinkle Wood... Primrose Path leading to Dragonfly Pool on one side and Slow-Worm Glade on the other... fairy tale names for a fairy tale place. And in the middle, just by one of the ponds, is a small area called Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom... yes, that's what this whole place is. Between a railway and a canal, only minutes from houses, pubs and shops, these seven tenaciously and lovingly preserved acres are truly magical: teeming with glimpses of God and untamed beauty... an urban oasis and a haven, not just for butterflies and glow worms, but for anyone who craves a touch of nature's magic in the midst of their everyday life...

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Only me!

In February I wrote about my blooming orchid, which had been flowering strongly since the previous October. Already, it was defying the normal orchid rules. Then, four months ago, I reported on the final three blooms defiantly and merrily taking the plant into its sixth month of flowering. My plan - as with any other orchid - was to wait until they too had died before cutting it back, moving it to a less sunny windowsill and waiting for new signs of life a few months later. But my orchid had other ideas! Shortly after my blogpost, and while the final flowers were still clinging on to one stalk, I noticed that the other one had begun to produce its first tentative bud. The three blooms became two, then one... the first bud became two, then three... the final flower eventually fell; the buds responded by swelling and adding to their number.

For a few weeks it was a mass of buds, full of potential and promise, hope and new life... and then, in early June, the first bud slowly unfurled, stretched, basked in the early summer sun... and must have whispered encouragement to its companions, as within a short time it had plenty of company!

Since then, unwearied by its exertions and undaunted in its orchid-rule defiance, it has simply gone from strength to strength. It's now so thickly abundant that it spills into the room, and in the evenings I can't draw the curtains around it, so that it would be neatly contained behind them. Instead, whilst half a dozen blossoms obediently press up to the window the rest cascade cheekily through the gap, as if determined to keep me company. Luckily, this plant has always been positioned roughly halfway along the windowsill - as if in preparation for this moment - so I simply drape the curtains around it. But unlike my other plants, which are content to spend their days turned to the sun and their nights gazing at the moon and stars, this one clearly prefers indoor light and shadows.

And so, like an over-familiar neighbour it pokes its way in: I look over, see this froth of oh-so innocent white brazenness and can't help smiling; if I listen carefully I can hear it, full of jovial bonhomie, announce its presence with a cheery Hello there... only me!

And sometimes I wonder: what more rules will it break, and what surprises will this orchid spring on me next...?

Saturday, 6 August 2016


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

GM Hopkins

Whenever possible I go for an early evening walk, often along the nearby canal towpath. The sun is beginning its slow, languid slide towards the horizon, its rays increasingly slanting upward. Trees which have basked in sunlight all day are now tipped in gold, their lower leaves contrasting darkly. The sun's angles burrow into hitherto unlit recesses; tall bushes are set alight, green becoming gold, plain colours striped or dappled. Foliage I would have walked past, un-remarking, half an hour before now causes me to pause, shifting to see the sunlight's myriad effects... and yes - of course! - to get out my phone and take photos...

This transfiguration doesn't last long. As the sun continues its descent it gathers its brilliance back around itself, lighting up the sky instead. I walk back, and looking up and around, I see only lush greenness, unadorned leaves which - yes - are still beautiful in their plainness, even though they no longer flame out, like shining from shook foil. God's grandeur is still there, all around me, though less ostentatiously so.

I have not been invited up a mountain, there to watch - or hardly dare watch - a transfigured, brilliantly glorious Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah. But today, and every day, I am invited to pause and take notice, to marvel, wonder and give awed praise, to recognise God's presence and transforming power in people and places I would otherwise walk past, un-remarking...

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration, everyone

Sunday, 31 July 2016

The glory of God's Heart

The fullness of each person is the glory of God's Heart. ~ Life Unfolding: Offering the Gift (2013)

This morning when I posted my St Ignatius day greetings on Facebook I added: May we all always seek to live AMDG! These initials are the abbreviation of the Jesuit motto, Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, To the greater glory of God: an invitation to live our lives for God and others as fully and generously as possible, so that everything we are and do flows from God and is directed back to God. It is a reminder that in all things our sole aim and desire should be the praise and glory of God - not ourselves: no mean feat in our success-driven world.

Of course, I could have added that RSCJ don't actually live AMDG, but are called, instead, to be AMSCG - to the greater glory of the Sacred Heart. This is set out in paragraph 4 of our Constitutions, which explains both the end and the means. And interestingly, this is the only part of the Constitutions where someone felt we needed to hit the Caps Lock key...

By our charism, we are consecrated
we answer His call
to discover and reveal His love
letting ourselves be transformed by His Spirit
so as to live united and conformed to Him,
and through our love and service
to radiate the very love of His Heart.

So the call to glorify the Heart of Jesus is a call to transformation, union, love... a call to a process of growth and self-gift, in which our motivations, desires and resources are transformed and placed at God's disposal, and we become and radiate the Love at the centre of our lives. And the measure in which we live this love is the measure in which we live and become the fullness for which we were created: a fullness of love and for-Godness... and it is in this fullness that we do indeed become the glory of God's Heart...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Broken, poured out, shared...

Yesterday, the violent insanity currently enveloping our broken, wounded world saw two men armed with knives storm a village church in northern France during Mass, taking hostages and killing the elderly priest, Fr Jacques Hamel. The reaction from around the world, recently grown wearily accustomed to violent attacks, was one of appalled, grieving incomprehension, while the significance of a priest being killed in a church whilst celebrating the Eucharist - the commemoration of Christ's ultimate, redemptive gift of himself - wasn't lost on people of faith.

Every evening I share a Society quote via Facebook and Twitter, where possible something relevant to current events or that day's Church feast. Yesterday evening I intended to find something in one document, but my fingers fell instead on one of its neighbours - our 1994 General Chapter. The booklet opened in my hands at the section on the Eucharistic dimension of our spirituality, and these words, so powerfully relevant, even down to the word "today", leapt out at me...

The poor, the marginalised,
the victims of violence
call us together to live Eucharist
as reconciliation.
This mystery of the body broken
and the blood poured out today
sends us to the world to be bread shared,
the real presence of the love of God for others.

Broken, poured out, shared... This is Jesus, is Eucharist, is the meaning and the transformative action of consecration: of bread and wine during Mass, and of people called to give their lives, in vows, for love. This is what God is for us, and this is what God calls us to be for others. May we have the courage and the faith to live this mystery and grace in these dark and troubled times.

Crucifix carved by a monk of Douai in the 1980s

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

In praise of... handwritten notes (papal or otherwise)

There's something especially delicious about receiving a handwritten letter or note; something which makes it seem particularly special or personal. Amazingly, it's not so long since the handwritten was commonplace, and we would look at an envelope and instantly recognise the sender by the individuality of their writing, which had somehow become imprinted in our memories. Now, though, most of our communication is typed, and our phones, email and social media accounts announce who the sender is: the content of their message is still as highly individual as ever; it is still their "voice", but now it is conveyed in Arial or Helvetica, bland, commonly used fonts with none of the quirks, personality or near-illegibility of handwriting.

So a surprise handwritten message from Pope Francis, addressed to all at our General Chapter, feels doubly special!

The message was impromptu and unexpected, as our international website recounts: After this evening's Mass, our presider Tom McClain SJ surprised us with a message from Pope Francis... Pope Francis, who was at the Jesuit Generalate today for an advanced celebration of the feast of St Ignatius, wrote this message for us...

It may have been impromptu and spontaneous, but it was personalised. The pope clearly put some thought into it, deliberately picking up the theme of our Chapter, which is "Life Unfolding: Mission for the emerging future". Thus the short note, in Spanish, says, very simply and unpretentiously, but also aptly: Dear sisters, I accompany you all in this General Chapter. May God give you courage and patience to allow "life to unfold." And please, I ask that you pray for me. Affectionately, Francisco 24-7-2016

The note may have been addressed to those at the Chapter, but its underlying message is for all of us. May God give each of us the courage and patience we need, to allow life to unfold... our own life and the life around us. And may we all remember to pray for Pope Francis, that he too may have courage and patience, and whatever else he needs as he carries out the mission God has entrusted to him, and allows life to unfold for him and the Church.

And may our appreciation of this handwritten message also remind us all of the importance of the personal and the individual, maybe encouraging and spurring us to spend a few extra minutes sending some written enjoyment to someone dear to us. As the pope's note has shown, our letters don't need to be ornate, lengthy, beautifully laid out or paragons of perfection; it's enough for them to be personal, written from our hearts and in our own hand, however that may look...