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

Thursday, 25 May 2017

A double and real feast

Moveable feasts being just that - moveable - it rarely happens that the 25th May coincides with the Ascension, as it did in 1865. This is one of those rare years, and even though the Church here now keeps the Ascension on Sunday, today for the Society is a "double and real feast", as a sister declared when she realised the confluence of dates.

Of course, the Society's liturgical calendar makes no mention of the Ascension. Instead, it tells us that our celebrations should emphasise the primordial importance she gave to "union and conformity to the Heart of Jesus" and to fidelity to human relationships and the work of education, both of which served as the basis of her understanding of apostolic community. And that, I'm sure, is how Sophie would want us to celebrate today, focusing not on her, or her arrival in heaven, but on Jesus' all-loving Heart and the spirituality to which she gave her life.

Union and conformity with the Heart of Jesus - in our prayer and activities, our desires, our motivations and our way of viewing the world, with all its pain and loveliness - is fundamental to our call as RSCJ. It calls us to love and serve as Jesus did, and to share his compassionate gaze; it can only be what underpins our relationships, our worldview and our service as educators. And the extent to which we grow in union is the extent to which we become more Christlike in our responses and our interactions, showing forth his tenderness and the strength of his love.

So today especially, let's pray with Sophie for a deepening of our union and conformity with Jesus, and our fidelity and commitment to other peoples' growth and development. Let us pray to become people of hope and compassion, whose lives are anchored in the One who is our centre, knowing that God desires fullness of life for each of us and for our aching, wounded world. (cf. Life Unfolding: Offering the Gift)

And I'm sure this emphasis will undoubtedly make today a double and real feast for all of us, but especially for Sophie!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

My life in 10 verses: Sophie's choice

I'm interrupting the sequence of ten verses of scripture as they have chronologically appeared or had significance for me throughout my life. On Thursday it will be the feast of our founder, St Madeleine Sophie Barat, and in honour of this I asked her two days ago if she would like to choose a verse for me to share via this blog. And having asked I then sat back... and by the end of the day, Sophie had gently reminded me to look at the Gospel for her feast.

John 15: 1 - 12 is a rich text, which never fails to inspire and challenge, and to speak of Sophie. I am the true vine, says Jesus, and you are the branches... A highly appropriate Gospel with which to celebrate the daughter of a cooper, who as a young girl helped with the tending and harvesting of her father's vineyards. And then: Abide in me as I abide in you... Abide in my love... Love one another as I have loved you - and the message is even more appropriate for a woman who gave her life to Love, in the Heart of Jesus.

And then, late last night a bomb ripped apart lives - so many of them young - in Manchester. Responses, as always, are veering in different directions: there are those instantly screaming hate, division and violent retribution, and those urging unity, and the resilience of the community spirit already evident in so many people who rushed to help the survivors. That, for so many, was their first, instinctive reaction - to scoop up terrified survivors, bring their expertise, donate blood, simply to help, in whatever way they could; and that is the story which needs to prevail.

And Jesus' message of love also needs to prevail. Love one another as I have loved you... Which means with tenderness and compassion, forgiveness, concern and a whole, generous heart. With humanity and selflessness, completely, to the very last drop. This is what it means to be one heart with his Heart, to be one love with his Love. This is fundamental if we are to learn from the Heart of Jesus, for it to be as an open book, as Sophie wrote in our 1815 Constitutions: and, two hundred years later, this, surely, is what lies at the heart of the call from our 2016 General Chapter, to live more humanly, in the radical style of Jesus.

Love one another, as I have loved you... Jesus' final commandment to his disciples, and Sophie's reminder to me and to all of us, of the love in which we must centre ourselves. May this united strength prevail, and be the healing of our wounded world.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

My life in 10 verses: Blessing

Out of his infinite glory, may God give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God. Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine... ~ Ephesians 3: 16 - 21

Ephesians 3 is one of those scripture texts which seems to have been with me since forever, but of which I can never grow tired. From its opening words through to its end, each time I encounter it I find something to inspire, encourage or simply thrill and gladden my heart. Sometimes it calls me to focus on the growth of my hidden self, that it may become less hidden; at other times I simply ask to be filled with the utter fullness of God. Then there is the call to be planted in love, and to be built on love: several years ago someone gave me a card which rendered this as - May your roots go down deep into God's marvellous soil - thus adding depth and further, wider understanding.

Shortly before going to probation (our group programme of preparation for perpetual profession), I renewed my vows in a simple time of prayer with my community and some co-workers. We ended by praying this passage out loud as a blessing, invoking for each one what Paul desired for the Ephesians -  the strength of a deep and sure rootedness in God's love, and the fullness of God, overflowing into every action and part of our lives. It is a blessing we can continue to call on ourselves, and on each other.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

My life in 10 verses: Found in translation

Number 5 in the ten scripture verses challenge... halfway there!

The Word of God invariably comes to us mediated by a translator's preferences or decisions: to be poetic or simple, use modern or archaic language, entirely faithful to the original or more fluid. Even if we read scripture in its original languages, we are always unconsciously translating into our own, choosing this word over that one, adding or removing significance with one verb. Verses which sing within our souls in one version can appear fairly mundane in another: many years ago I spent ages going through various of Paul's letters in my Jerusalem bible searching for a particular verse, only to discover that I had, unknowingly, read past it more than once, but hadn't recognised it in this translation.

In 1997, the year after making my first vows, I began studying theology and bought the recommended NRSV bible. I can't remember why I took it with me on retreat the following summer - maybe it was simply its smaller, more compact size. What I do remember, though, is turning to 1 John 4: 7 - 16 on the penultimate day; well-known verses, hitherto read as addressed to My dear people.

And this time, in an entirely new translation, the first words of verse 7 leapt out of the page at me: Beloved, let us love one another...

I had been struggling for a long time with prayer which was unremittingly dry, spent in darkness. A way of prayer in which more and more was stripped away, including any sense or feeling that I might be praying, leaving only a groping faith: this might not 'feel like' prayer (whatever I imagined prayer was supposed to 'feel like'!); I might be dry and distracted, but I could - I had to - hold on to the belief that, in some incomprehensible way, this was prayer; that I was indeed spending time with God, open to however God chose to be with me.

And here, in these six words, leaping off the page, God was simply saying this is what prayer is; a call to love, nothing more. Not to lovely thoughts or loving feelings, just to being together in love. Beloved, let us love one another... sit with me in love, spend time with me because of love, let me love you; whether or not you feel 'in love', know that this is in fact love, and this is indeed prayer... and that is all...

Sunday, 14 May 2017

My life in 10 verses: Two in one

Here are two for the price of one: days 3 and 4 in one post...

I think I was about nineteen when Romans 8 made its indelible impression on me. I can't remember how or where, just that it remained powerfully with me. Its message is abundantly clear, and abundantly reassuring: nothing, neither death nor life, no angelic or earthly power, no height or depth, nothing that exists, nothing still to come... no hardship or persecution, trial, distress or peril... can ever separate us from the love of God, made known to us in Christ.

Time and again in my journey into the Society this message was reinforced: God's love is steadfast, everlasting, all-embracing and all-forgiving. I entered knowing, with certainty, that I was utterly, abundantly loved by God - and nothing, including anything I might do! - could ever change that. And time and again since becoming an RSCJ I have known that I am called to enter into the depths of that love - in the Heart of Jesus - and proclaim it with my life.

And I was twenty-seven when I first encountered Isaiah 55, and heard it as a powerful, heartfelt plea from God, and a generous offer, combined in one.

Oh come to the water all you who thirst; though you have no money, come!... Why spend your money... on what fails to satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.
It was part of the overwhelming, primordial call to God which contained within it a call to religious life; a call whose depths I still I continue to discover and explore anew.

The journey never ends, it simply continues.

Friday, 12 May 2017

My life in 10 verses: Matthew Something

So on Day 2 of the 10 day scripture verse challenge, I move into my mid-teens...

One of my classmates died unexpectedly at Christmas 1978. We had just sat our O Level mock exams, so our timetable had become fluid. I recall that Geraldine and I hung around chatting after an exam, then tagged along to a school event which promised refreshments at the end. During an otherwise serious address we both found the same thing funny. My final memory of Geraldine is of her impish, highly expressive face sending me into barely suppressed giggles. Within a week she was in hospital, where she died on Christmas Day.

It was the holidays, these were pre-internet days and our school's catchment area extended beyond our borough, but somehow the news of her death travelled, through phone calls and visits, and our entire class plus a lot of our teachers and other pupils were at her funeral. Back at school, in those pre-bereavement counselling times, we may have been offered the chance to talk to a teacher - I can't remember. I think we were expected to grieve quietly, supported by our families. And then we classmates were asked to suggest hymns and readings for a special memorial Mass.

I don't know where, or how, but I had recently encountered a scripture passage I thought would be just right, though I couldn't recall it exactly. It's Matthew Something, I offered, Come to me and I'll give you rest, something like that. My suggestion was duly noted, but not taken up: no, I can't remember what Gospel we did have, just that it wasn't the one I'd thought would be ideal for a memorial Mass. Years later I did in fact use it for a funeral - my father's. He was a gentle and humble man, and had certainly laboured throughout his life, restlessly grieving for my mother in his final months, so it seemed very appropriate.

By then I knew Matthew Something extremely well: it's one of the three Gospels used for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, and part of it is also quoted at the end of Paragraph 8 of our Constitutions, which I fondly regard as "my" paragraph. And maybe that's the reason why this passage appealed to my teenage self: the Society's charism, already deep within my being; as yet unknown and unacknowledged, but as much a part of my DNA as all the molecules and chromosomes which make me uniquely me. Somehow, the gentleness of the Heart of Jesus not only spoke to my heart but remained there, gently calling.

So for day 2 I share, not Matthew Something but Matthew 11: 28-30:

Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened
and I will give you rest.
Shoulder my yoke and learn from me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

My life in 10 verses: They look up

Over the past few days some of my friends in the Sacred Heart family have been sharing daily scripture texts on Facebook, then challenging others to follow suit, for ten days. Some have illustrated their verses with photos or added a short explanation of why these words speak to their hearts, or the person or event with which they associate them. Today the challenge was passed on to me, and I'm beginning the challenge with a blog post: I can't guarantee that I'll manage this every day, but I'll do my best to share all the verses here as well as with my Facebook friends.

I decided it would be fun to do this chronologically, tracing my life through ten verses. So I set out to remember what must have been the first verse of scripture of which I was consciously aware in my life. Not bible stories, or words of scripture contained within hymns and prayers, all of which filled my childhood; no, I wanted to remember which words first came to me, unadapted, even if they were not fully comprehended.

And I have indeed remembered! I was nearly seven when I was given the part of the angel in the class nativity play. I was probably cast because I was a good reader with a clear voice; certainly, the script - which may have been written with slightly older children in mind - required good literacy, at least as far as the angel was concerned. I cannot remember how I fared with the full glad tidings of great joy speech, but I do remember the opening line. Nobody had explained the concept of stage directions to me: thus, at our first rehearsal, and to my utter confusion, I unwittingly managed to annoy the teacher by solemnly proclaiming

Fear not shepherds (they look up)...

Fear not... do not be afraid... These words are threaded throughout scripture. Do not be afraid, says God to Israel through Isaiah, for I am with you... I have redeemed you... And do not be afraid, say angels to Mary and Joseph, and later to the shepherds, assuring them of God's presence and favour. Do not be afraid... said Jesus, as he walked across a storm to a boat being battered by the waves; it is I. And those were the first, gladdening, reassuring words heard by the women at the tomb, from both the angels and the Risen Jesus. 

And whether scripture says this or not, I am sure they all looked up; mystified maybe, but heartened and reassured nonetheless. How could they not raise their heads in unison with their hearts?

In these uncertain, unnerving, dystopian times in which we find ourselves, we need to be heartened and reassured; to lift ourselves, our spirits and hearts, and keep being lifted from fear and futility. May we too hear those consoling, fortifying words and be filled with hope and strength... Do not be afraid... and may we take heart and look up, seeing the One who comes and remains every day, fulfilling God's promise. May we fear not... and look up.