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

Friday, 23 June 2017


On Trinity Sunday I heard an excellent homily, by James Hanvey SJ - who I was fortunate enough to have as my lecturer on the Trinity almost twenty years ago. He began the homily by talking of the three different types or levels of knowledge: knowing about (from a distance); acquaintance (initial meetings); and participation (relationship). And for a while I listened with only one ear; I left the Trinity, so to speak, because in his words I heard more about the Sacred Heart, and about being RSCJ.

Because this is what the Heart of Jesus invites us to - an ever deepening relationship and intimacy, and flowing out from that, participation in his mission of love. This is the challenge and the privilege which lies at the heart of our vocation as RSCJ, and at the heart of our charism. Christ invites us to enter into the dispositions of His Heart, say our Constitutions: effectively, as in today's Gospel, he invites us to yoke ourselves to him, so that we can work as a team, moving in unison, always together. Thus we grow in union with his Heart: his dispositions, outlook, ways of relating, his desires and dreams become ours; his Heart becomes our heart, his mission is our mission. In a world growing increasingly divided we are called to greater, deeper union; to that hurting, wounded world we can bring the healing of the love flowing from his Heart to ours.

Today, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I will join with RSCJ throughout the world as we celebrate this Heart which is the source of God's infinite, unconditional love and renew our commitment, made through vows, to our participation in making that love known, however and wherever we may be. May we, and everyone reading this, grow in union, intimacy and participation with Jesus' Heart and his desire for us and for our world.

Happy Feast everyone!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

All in the mission

Fourteen years ago today I made my perpetual vows as an RSCJ. I was part of a group of twelve - from eleven countries - who had prepared together, and nine of us made our vows together, on the same day. My anniversary, therefore, isn't "mine", but "ours", shared with women on every continent, and even if we rarely meet and contact is sporadic, I remember them all, especially on our day, with great love, gratitude and affection.

For so many RSCJ probation (this group programme) is a precious, defining experience, and the bonds formed with our co-probanists are enduring. For almost five months we form a community which prays, grows, laughs, cries and shares deeply - experiences, prayer, reflection, hopes and concerns, each other's joys and sorrows. We return to our countries united and strengthened by that common experience, and by the name and motto given to our group, which give us - individually and as a body - our unique call and identity forever. So within today's date lie so many layers of memory, bonding and call; so much to give thanks for, and to recommit myself to.

Two of my co-probanists come from the Province of Uganda-Kenya, and one of them, Becky, is featured in this short film by Salt & Light TV which came out earlier this month. Seeing her and some other old friends sharing their lives, blessings and moments of heartbreak was such a gift! It's a lovely, inspiring film, filled with our charism and our mission of love. But this morning I fast-forwarded to the very end, where Becky has the final word, spoken with that quiet intensity and generous smile I remember so well. She is speaking about the call and mission of the entire Society, but today, on "our" day, she is speaking to me of the twelve of us, scattered around the world, but still united in our common identity and mission,

We are all in the mission... So we are like a chain...So we are all in this chain, joined together, and the purpose... the purpose is really to glorify the Heart of the Lord wherever we are. Yes...

Yes indeed, all around the world, in so many contexts and ways, we are all in the mission, with a single purpose, however differently we may live and express it. And tomorrow we will all celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart, when all RSCJ, wherever we are, renew our vowed commitment to that all-loving Heart which has called us and sent us out, to be the revelation of his love, wherever and however we may be. So today and tomorrow I pray with great gratitude, for so many blessings and graces in these past fourteen years, and especially for the immense blessing of my sisters, with whom I am, inextricably, in the mission.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Double divine alchemy

A couple of days ago I baked a cake, marvelling as always at the transformation of very different ingredients as they are mixed together. Each ingredient loses something of itself, even as it gains something from the other; each is changed, and each changes the others. Butter and sugar combine to form a pale, slightly gritty paste; the sugar dissolves completely once eggs are added, but lives on in the silky, creamy mixture's sweetness. Flour lends thickness whilst losing its powderiness, while in a chocolate cake cocoa retains its colour but loses its bitterness along with its original substance. And the merest teaspoon of vanilla essence or baking powder vanishes into the mix, but is enough to make a substantial difference to the overall flavour and texture.

It's alchemy, pure and simple - a seemingly magical process of transforming ordinary ingredients, some of which, alone and uncooked, would never be edible. Together, though, they somehow blend and harmonise, transforming each other even as they are transformed, and gaining far more in flavour and texture than they lose in the process. 

And today, Feast of Corpus Christi, I reflect on the double divine alchemy which lies at the heart of the Eucharist. There is the daily miracle which is the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into the very essence of God. And alongside this, the invitation to us to partake of this essence: to allow ourselves to be transformed, as base metals are in alchemy, but into something infinitely more precious than gold or silver - the very life and the love of God. We are invited to become what we receive, as St Augustine wrote: to assimilate Christ, and in the process to allow him to completely assimilate us, so that we may be one in Love, and our lives may increasingly be transformed into an enduring gift to God and to the world. This too is miracle, brought about by grace.

May we allow this transforming divine alchemy to grow within us, confident that we gain far more than we lose, as we become this gift for the life and healing of our world. 

Saturday, 17 June 2017

In prayer we come...

Part of a wall near the burnt-out block
In a country and a capital city which have already seen more than enough tragedies, the devastation which is the Grenfell Tower fire scales a new level. In every news programme we see heart-rending, raw grief now turning to anger, strength and resilience alongside fragility and breakdown. We also see - again - the unimaginable, amazing bravery of our fire-fighters and other emergency services, and their understandable fatigue, and the solidarity, selflessness and compassion of thousands of ordinary people. But the fire has also laid bare the gaping inequalities in our country, exemplified by the inequalities in London's wealthiest borough, and so we also see tension and volatility: mingled with the communal cry of grief is an even stronger, angrier, desperate cry for justice and lasting change.

And as I sit emptily with all this in prayer I remember some words from our Constitutions:

In prayer we come to Him
with everything that touches our life,

with the sufferings and hopes of humanity.
We learn to remain in silence
and poverty of heart before Him...

That's where and how I am, and I imagine so many others too. But there's another sentence to that paragraph; one which situates me very firmly in God and reminds me of the need for faith, especially in darkness...

In the free gift of ourselves
we learn to adore and to abide in His love.
May the God of hope and tender care somehow bring healing to all who dwell in the deepest pain and trauma...

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Certainty, love and inspiration

Since 10pm last Thursday, when the exit poll predicting a hung parliament was announced, this country has existed in a state of uncertainty. The only thing we can be sure about is that our new, weak minority government will be lucky to limp along for five months, let alone a full five years - so while there is no certainty there is at least hope of change and possibility.

And then yesterday I attended a wedding. I had first met the bride while she was a student at Oxford, and I remember the great certainty with which she told me, soon after meeting, exactly what she was planning to do with her degree after graduation. But she must have known the certainty wasn't very deep, because not long after she joined the Samuel Group I was co-convening, and - with deep prayer and commitment - began to discern what God might want her to do after graduation, peacefully spending time in a place of not really knowing. What she went on to do after her degree was meant to be another step on the journey - but it became much more than that, especially at this was where she met her future husband.

Yesterday, in Esther's radiance, I saw deep certainty. This was not the certainty of having all her plans and career mapped out - in fact, as they will soon be moving to a new city, there's plenty of uncertainty about her future home and job. Instead, I saw the certainty of a young woman who has found the one to whom she wishes to pledge her life and give her love, and for whom this feels so very, very right. And this - far more than careers or courses - is a sure foundation on which to build a future.

The love and joy abounding at the wedding was an excellent prelude to today's Feast of the Holy Trinity, in which we celebrate the unbounded love and the joy which are the Trinity's essence. This morning I saw a sonnet for Trinity Sunday by Malcolm Guite. In his preamble he wrote: If, as I believe, we are made in the image of God, as beings in communion with one another in the name of that Holy and Undivided Trinity whose being is communion, then we will find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery in all our loving and making... and this was developed in the sonnet:

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace...
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

Yesterday I witnessed two young people, made for God's glory and each other's inspiration, vowing to live in a loving communion in which they can increasingly become this inspiration of God for each other, and for all those around them. May they, and all of us, find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery of love in all of life, especially in times and situations of uncertainty.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Pre-election rainbow

I was walking away from it, unawares. I had my back to it, my head down and tucked into my hood, to avoid raindrops spattering on my glasses. Yesterday had been a day filled with atrocious weather, beginning with torrential rain and heavy winds, fallen branches lining the roads. But, seven hours later, I drove home under a blazing sun, the trees lining the M40 gilded as they swayed and swooned in the wind. And then, after my arrival, came an hour of showers interspersed with sudden sunshine. Eventually I felt I could safely rush into town on a quick errand, but as the rain started again I quickened my pace...

And then, in Cornmarket a gust of wind tore at my hood and I lifted my head... And in that moment I realised that the rain had stopped, and noticed some people exclaiming and pointing. A man walking toward me stopped and stared into the distance, transfixed, and a woman, beaming, said "beautiful" to no one in particular. So I stopped and turned, and I too became transfixed...

And indeed it was beautiful.

Tomorrow we go to the polls in our increasingly unpredictable general election. And in this rainbow, symbol of God's enduring covenant of love (which, I later discovered, also appeared over other cities and counties), I was reminded of Jesus' promise to be with us always, in all circumstances. May we especially feel his presence with us tomorrow, prompting us all to vote with generosity, wisdom and concern for the common good, especially of the most vulnerable; and may we especially know his fidelity, in the time to come, whatever the outcome.

PS: A minute or so later, heading past Broad Street, I came across the rainbow's end... or was it its beginning? One never can tell with rainbows - they simply are...

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My life in 10 verses: Devise

This is my penultimate scripture verse in the ten verse challenge, and today I'm sharing a verse which will be with me and part of me forever. And any professed RSCJ who has noticed this post's title will understand exactly what I mean.

Probation, the Society's programme of preparation for final vows, brings together a diverse, international group of RSCJ, who somehow - despite their different languages and cultures - form a close-knit community with deep bonds which last, even across decades and continents, and rare reunions. Each group is different, of course, both in its members, and in the context in which they come together. External events - maybe in probanists' home countries - blend with internal dynamics, joys and sorrows, giving each group its own unique character and identity. At the end of this process the Superior General - who, along with her Council, has spent time getting to know the probanists individually and as a group - gives each probation a name and a devise (a motto - usually derived from scripture, prayer or Society texts), which somehow gathers all this up, and serves as both identity and call for the rest of their lives.

My own group experienced illness, fragility and heartache, and each others' tenderness, care and compassion. We were dismayed by the invasion of Iraq, and shared the anxiety of those whose countries were experiencing less publicised conflicts. We prayed, laughed, struggled, scrapped, wept and dreamt together, opening our hearts to each other and to the world, with all its pain and its beauty.

And our name and devise, when they came, somehow gathered up and reflected all this and more, for each one and for all of us as a group. They reflect our experience, but also proclaim a fundamental aspect of the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus. And for me, what began in the novitiate as a call to the Pierced Heart of Jesus and to vulnerability, received its confirmation and simultaneous depth and expansion in our - in my - name The Open and Welcoming Heart of Jesus, and in our devise, which comes from scripture: Through his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53.5)

Through his wounds we are healed... Contained in those six short words are all the mystery of self-giving, redemptive love, and all our hope of healing and restoration. And in there, in that mystery and promise, is an invitation to allow the woundedness of Jesus to become our healing and our wholeness, transforming and healing our own inner wounds so that they, like his, may become glorious signs of God's powerful love and life within us. That has been my experience thus far, and my prayer and hope are that it may continue to be so.