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

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Drawn by the pierced Heart to love

Each probation (group preparing for final profession in the Society) is different. Each has its own blend of personalities, nationalities and cultures, of strengths and fragilities, journeys and hopes. The dozen or more women who form community during this amazing, intense and precious time each come at this particular moment in their own lives, and in the life of the world; of the Church, the Society, their own countries. External events interweave with internal dynamics, dreams and perspectives are challenged and widened, and the group grows into its unique character... and, in the process, its unique calls. And all this is somehow gathered up into the name and devise (motto) given to the group towards the end; a name and motto which express their identity and experience, and will serve as a ballast and a call for the rest of their lives.

The group who will be professed tomorrow began their process only a month after our General Chapter, in a year already filled with seismic events and a growing tide of greed, violence and prejudice. They end just after the inauguration of Donald Trump, with the tide of ugliness sadly increasing. And during these past five months, true to our charism and mission and the spirit of the Chapter, they heard a call to grow in unity and love, which was summed up by Barbara Dawson, our Superior General, in her closing conference: We saw in action the One Body that you have become, built on trust and lived day in and day out. And we heard over and over again your desire to incarnate God’s love in the midst of people who are poor, exploited and marginalised.

And this desire, and the pain and calls of our time, found their response in their name - Drawn by the pierced Heart of Jesus to love - and devise - The Spirit continues to transform us to respond to the needs and cries of our world.

This is the call and the intuition each of the probanists has received, at the core of her being; her identity and her mission, not just for these ugly times or a particular place, but throughout her life, wherever she may be. And this, surely, can be a call and a challenge for each of us, as we contemplate the pain and division in our world.

To be drawn by the pierced Heart... by a Heart which was wounded, broken open, in a state of utmost vulnerability, and whose response was an outpouring of love... Drawn by this Heart to love... because, as our Constitutions say, The pierced Heart of Jesus opens our being to the depths of God and to the anguish of humankind. Drawn to love... because, as with the piercing of Jesus' Heart, this opening of our being, of our hearts, opens each of us up to respond with compassion, tenderness and - of course - our own outpouring of love. And drawn because Jesus himself showed us that, however weak and "soft" it may seem, love is in reality the only power strong enough to overcome hate, heal division and create anew.

And so we pray with and for the about-to-be professed, as they pledge their response to the Love that has called them. And we can also pray for ourselves, that we too may be drawn by the irresistible power of that same Love, and can make our own these words from the closing conference: God calls us into love, sets us on fire with love for God’s people, and continues to call us into God’s Heart and out to God’s people, like breathing in and breathing out, over and over and over again.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Cor Unum in a time of Brexit

When I was about eight or nine years old my classmates and I used to enjoy writing out our addresses as fully as possible. After our house/road, Mitcham, Surrey would come - each on a separate line - London, England (and maybe Britain and/or the UK), and then... Europe, The World, The Universe. This was our address, our home, the place we belonged; and we were placing it within ever-widening, increasingly unbounded contexts. Instinctively, we knew we were part of something immeasurably bigger than our little world - and those extra lines showed a desire to be part of it. Probably, if we had known more about politics or astronomy we could have added a few more lines, especially if they had extended us beyond the universe, into truly outer space.

I have no idea if children still do this, but the other day, reading more abut the muddled disaster we call Brexit, I wondered how future generations - post-Brexit children - will define themselves. Will they still believe themselves to be part of a continent whose nearest shore is only 20 miles away? Will they grow up understanding and appreciating our interwoven histories, our alliances in peace and in war, our intermingled genetic and linguistic heritage? Or will they skip Europe and define themselves as belonging to the rest of the world? Or - horrible, shuddering thought - will they make their addresses only a few lines long, their self-definition contained within this little landmass and all its borders and controls?

Earlier today a young Polish sister produced this short video of a post-Christmas meeting in Madrid for European RSCJ in temporary vows and formators. Three went from England, joining several others from France, Hungary, Poland and Spain, with input from an Austrian. Together, as sisters and as Europeans, they prayed, listened, reflected, discussed, relaxed, ate and saw in the new year, with all its known and unknown promise, joys and challenges. Such meetings - for those in different stages or responsibilities - have been happening for decades, and are an essential part of how we build our Cor Unum (one heart) in our diverse and multi-lingual region.

And so I find myself wondering about the RSCJ of tomorrow: the post-Brexit vocations; the women who will join the Society in this country in 10 or 15 or more years' time. Will they want to join us regardless of our internationality or because of it? Will future RSCJ come yearning for a union and a sense of belonging to a wider world which many of us have grown up taking for granted? Will they actively want to form communion, to engage in the joy and the challenge of being one heart, acting as one body, with sisters from countries our national politics are now trying to break us away from? And what will our Cor Unum - our singleness of mind, heart and vision - say to them, and to a wider society becoming increasingly fragmented, suspicious and isolationist?

What a challenge... and what a call, to be and to witness to a love and unity stronger than all the xenophobia and disunity currently swirling around...

Wednesday, 11 January 2017


Today is the feast of St Silvanus of Amiens. It's also the 22nd anniversary of the day I became a novice - so it's buon onomastico and a happy anniversary to me!

One of the things I most remember about entering the noviciate was something my novice director said to me the evening before: Remember Who you're doing it for. Those words stayed with me, at times almost like a mantra, not just during my during my noviciate but in the two decades since. Remember Who you're doing it for... and there have been times when remembrance has been sweet and effortless, replete with gratitude and joy... and other times when I have remembered through pain or gritted teeth, or in month after month of praying in dark emptiness. Mostly, though, I have remembered in ordinary daily life; in minor setbacks and challenges and in tiny, heart-skipping moments; in times of reflection and of living our mission; or in times of returning and being recalled, after any forgetfulness.

And today, God gently reminded me that any remembering isn't all mine, so that I chuckled as soon as I saw the response to the psalm: The Lord remembers his covenant forever. Yes indeed: I can forget, be fickle, vacillate or have second thoughts, but God, in his great and enduring fidelity and love, remembers and unwaveringly keeps his covenant forever.

And yes - just to reinforce the message, today's brief sun cast lunchtime rainbows around my room! God's playful, unforgettable symbol of his unforgettable covenant; and something surprisingly sweeter than the Ben's cookie with which I treated myself this afternoon!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

And opening their treasures...

On Saturday in Armagh, an Irish novice made her first vows in the Society. The greeting she gave at the beginning of the Mass is now on our website - in it, she gave a brief explanation of the meaning of the vows and the mission to which she was pledging herself. The vows I make, she said, will challenge me every day and I thank God for that, because they remind me to go beyond myself. With God's help and your prayers, I will grow in freedom, to live in God and for God, and become more open to the Spirit...

While Barbara was expressing her response to the Love which had called her, I was in London, at the final profession of vows of a friend in another congregation. She had opted for Epiphany readings for her Mass, and there is indeed so much in the story of the Magi which speaks of call and commitment: the journey and quest and tenacious, faith-filled following of a star... the bringing of gifts, all richly symbolic... the revelation of Christ... the undoubted change in their lives... It is an all-too familiar story, depicted in countless paintings and cribs, in which three Magi arrive, each one bearing a single, easily-identifiable gift, small and light enough to be effortlessly carried.

But on Saturday, what struck me about the Gospel was that it says Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts... No little boxes or jars here; no gifts carefully weighed and measured out, bringing only what was necessary, but whole chests and coffers, laden with treasure, poured out and offered with unmeasured generosity. And this, of course, has to be what lies at the heart of the commitment Barbara and Carolyn each so gladly expressed on Saturday: the treasure of her whole life and energy, her gifts, limitations, vulnerabilities and potential; the opening up and pouring out of her love, and her capacity to love more, and to keep loving.

And this offering of our every treasure and outpouring of our love is what we are all called to, not just the day we make our vows, but every day, as we seek to live them as fully as possible, and allow our hearts to be opened and expanded. Yes, we can hold back or measure out our gifts, but in the end, the "gain" is never as rewarding! This is the heart of the challenge of which Barbara spoke, and the source of our delight in responding. As Barbara said in her greeting, and the joy on Carolyn's face so evidently attested: My experience is that this is where I will grow in love of God and others. It is a beautiful life - a life to be recommended - lived in the love of God!

Please pray for Carolyn and Barbara, as they begin to live their vows and mission, for a deepening of Saturday's joy and generosity; and pray for all of us, too, that we may never cease to open and offer our treasure...

Thursday, 5 January 2017

We have found the One...

Over the past few weeks I've had several conversations in which one of us has strongly recommended something we have enjoyed - a film, a book, a TV programme, an ice cream parlour - which we believe someone else would also appreciate. We have tasted something, found it to be good, and want others to have the same pleasure. This desire to share something good with those we love is a very sweet yet basic instinct; one we can almost take for granted, but for which we are invariably grateful. We might mistrust advertisers and all their claims and promises, but we trust our friends, especially the ones who know well or share our tastes and interests.

Yesterday and today, the Gospels show this lovely instinct at work in the early disciples, as Andrew and Philip, having spent time with Jesus, each rush off to find and bring a loved one to him - one who they are sure will enjoy his company as much as they have. We have found the Messiah... we have found the one... they announce, even in the face of incredulity and scepticism. Come and see...

And this instinct, this desire for someone else's enjoyment of something good, has to be what lies at the heart of any sort of evangelisation, and any sort of vocations promotion. Certainly, I realise it is what lies at the heart of much of what I write here about being RSCJ, our call and the Heart of Jesus. I have found my treasure, found the richness of journeying to the heart of the world through the pierced and open Heart of Jesus. I have found a way of life which gives me life and untold joy, enables me to grow, and to love as abundantly as possible, and to live the paradox of freedom in vowed commitment and fullness through giving. With RSCJ worldwide I too can say we have found the One...

I have found all this, found the One who is the source of far greater and longer lasting joy than an ice cream or a film or novel... so how could I keep from wanting so many others to find and know and experience the same treasure for themselves...?

On Saturday I will be at the final profession of vows of a friend in another congregation. At the same time, several of my sisters will be in Armagh, where a novice will be making her first vows as an RSCJ. Simultaneously, these two women will be proclaiming publicly that they have found the One to whom they wish to give their lives, and whose love they wish others to come to know. May they, and all of us present at each ceremony, spend our lives and activities in the same proclamation, and like Andrew and Philip, be impelled to invite others to come and see, and experience life with Christ for themselves.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The new year has begun

Wishing everyone a happy new year, and all the blessings and opportunities a new beginning can bring. May we all play our part, however small, in making 2017 a kinder, gentler year, bringing ourselves and our world closer to God's dream for us...

Thus went the New Year's Eve greeting I posted on Facebook, echoing those posted by several of my friends and RSCJ sisters. Courage... peace... love... solidarity... caring... light out of darkness, hope for the future and building a better world, one small act at a time... These were by no means empty words or platitudes, but born from our urgent, heartfelt desire for our world to move out of the fear and loathing into which it has been plunged - a movement in which we must all play our part. And in the midst of all this I heard from someone who has just finished a 30 days retreat, recounting a heart-opening time filled with tenderness and calls to love and love more, and her fervent desire to live this as fully as possible.

And then, having dug out the Patron Saint Generator, I clicked and paused and clicked again, and got my patron for 2017: St John Eudes, about whom I knew very little, except that he had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart. As that Heart is the source of all the love, tenderness and compassion our world so desperately needs and we are called to offer, that alone makes him an excellent patron for the year ahead.

And thus the new year has begun, with all its challenges and opportunities, and so much that is unknown and unsure, except for the certainty of God. And so, in these words of Hadewijch, which yesterday crept quietly into my Twitter feed...

The new year has begun. Now must God grant us with love, that we may be able so to begin it. That it may be of value for Love.

Friday, 30 December 2016


Contained within serenity, the word serendipity - a happy, accidental chance, or the luck of finding unsought pleasant or valuable things - somehow has a magical, ethereal quality. And indeed, there has to be something magical, something truly effortless, about those pleasant things which land, unbidden, in our laps from time to time.

Yesterday, towards the end of a well-muffled walk, I had a moment of photographic serendipity. It was an icy-bright day, in which a brittle sun never quite managed to reach the crisp frost underfoot, and only a few, mostly dog walkers, were out along the canal. I had been round the Trap Grounds, and taken several photos: leaves frilled with sugary frost, and bare branches etched against a brilliant blue sky; trees dully reflected in ice, and the slanting sun turning grass and moss and melting frost to crystal and gold. Walking back, I stopped to observe a lone swan on the canal, placidly nibbling at the opposite bank. All through summer the canalside community has been keeping an eye on our resident swans, noting Mr Swan's injury and prolonged absence and Mrs Swan's admirable single parenting of her five cygnets. Instead of the weather, perfect strangers have discussed this family, swapping sightings and theories about missing swan whereabouts. In recent weeks I had seen unaccompanied cygnets - adult-sized but still mottled and brown beaked - but never a completely lone adult.

She was not alone for long. I had already moved on several yards when a loud beating sound caught my attention; a male swan skimming the water, landing noisily then swimming about, his wings and plumage puffed up around him. Something made me turn back and pull out my camera. As I later discovered, the absent Mr Swan is believed to have returned to reclaim his mate - certainly, the swans clearly knew each other, and the hitherto lone swan showed no alarm, even when a hanger-on arrived a minute later. Ignoring him the two swans swam forward in greeting: they paused, and in a timeless courtship ritual stretched and arched their necks... and then, in a fleeting moment of tenderness, they touched beaks, their necks forming a perfect heart.

An iconic moment, briefer than a wave; one universally captured in so many romantic images, memes and sculptures, now happening right before me. And I... I somehow clicked my camera at just that perfect moment, that perfect heart, before they separated and resumed their gliding around.

I had taken a lot of lovely photos on that walk, of sunlight and frost and reflected light, but this... this was something special. This was a moment as fleeting as a dappled shadow, a "photo op" which could not be planned and waited for. This was serendipity: magical, unexpected, unearned, and all the more delightful for being that.