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

Friday, 22 June 2018

The best thing in the world

The other day work took me to a primary school, where I admired displays of RE work. On one wall, several children had written about being called and chosen by God, and what they thought this meant. Mostly, they wrote of discipleship and following Jesus and making him known, but one child began their contribution in a most arresting way: I think being called and chosen by God is the best thing in the world. To which I could only respond with a hearty Amen!

And indeed, anyone reading this who knows - truly, deeply, knows - that for which they were created and to which they have been called, will surely attest to that. Be it marriage or religious life, radical service or giving one's life to a cause; whether or not our starting point is God or our language that of vocation, knowing our true call can bring with it a sublime joy, even though what lies ahead may well feel daunting, appear too immense, or undoubtedly bring more challenges and further, deeper searching all along the way. And yes, when you know that this call and choice come from God... then it is indeed the best thing in the world.

Today I am quietly celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of my perpetual vows. Fifteen years (and more from before) of God's patience and tenderness, his fidelity, grace and strength. Fifteen years of ever-deepening journey into the depths of the Heart of Jesus, of mission and learning, and weathering some hard times and pain together, in love and with love. Fifteen years since I publicly professed my perpetual YES to God's amazing, humbling, awe-inspiring choice and call, at times baffling, while simultaneously utterly right... and certainly, for me, the best thing in the world.

I prepared for my profession as part of a group of twelve, and most of us were professed together, so on this shared anniversary my heart embraces all these companions from ten other countries on every continent. And some of my prayers are also heading towards a monastery here in England, where later today a friend will become a novice, entering a new, more intense stage of prayer, personal growth, preparation and ongoing, focused discernment of her call. As she ponders and searches and discovers, may she too come to know God's call and choice, and know them, truly, as very much the best thing in the world...

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Ambiguity, abundance and the Open Heart

Here in the northern hemisphere there is a real lushness to June: a greenness, a blossoming of wide-open peonies and poppies and roses, greenery and flowers tumbling, cascading over borders, an abundance of life all around. And it occurs to me that this is very right for the month of the Sacred Heart; a wide-open Heart, source of an abundant outpouring of love, and of so much life, in all its fullness and abundance.

And yet, alongside all this life, our world is full of so much pain, injustice and legalised cruelty. Today, World Refugee Day, there are children crying for their parents near the US border, boats sailing precariously on the Mediterranean and people fleeing bombing in Yemen and elsewhere, to name only a few instances of suffering and desperation - and people who are indifferent or uncaring.  Last week I wrote about this co-existence of beatitude and pain, and how both can be held within the Heart of Jesus. And then the other day, as I was dipping into the letters and conferences of Helen McLaughlin RSCJ (Superior General of our Society from 1982 - 1994), I came across something which struck me as containing a very relevant message for these mixed-up, suffering times, and for the signs of life and hope to which many of us cling.

In June 1984, as per a Society tradition, Helen gave the group about to make their perpetual vows a name and devise (motto), which she then expanded on in her conference. The group's name was The Open Heart, with the devise “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance” (Jn 10: 10). Sometimes the connection between name and devise is immediately apparent; at others, it is only clear to the group, who have lived the experience which makes them both significant, if only to them. Here, the link corresponded with my own summertime thoughts, springing from our spirituality, on the open Heart, life and abundance.

And then I read on, as Helen expanded on all this...

This Heart is open, not as a public place or a “pensione” is open, nor without pain or difficulty. If this Heart is open, it is because of a wound... This opening leads us into a new life. From this Heart, because it has been opened, springs a source of living water... In the whole Gospel, Jesus reveals to us that He is Life, but this revelation culminates in this image of the open Heart... He did not come to give life to an ideal world: no, it is a wounded Heart that gives life to a world full of ambiguity, of suffering... this bursting forth of life, this superabundance of life, springing from a Heart that has been touched by suffering.

Here we have a paradox as breathtaking as it is bold. Jesus is Life... but this culminates in a body which is dead and disfigured... and yet it is from the very heart and depths of this that he is able to give life, in abundance and in perpetuity. And Jesus is fullness and strength, though his Heart was wounded - is still wounded; and it is precisely this wounded Heart that gives life to a world full of ambiguity, of suffering. And it is this Heart, too, which holds all the ambiguity, all that is dead and in need of healing.

Probation conferences are addressed to a particular group, at a particular time, but their calls and challenges can be universal, and rarely grow stale. So today, for me, there is the reminder that today, tomorrow and afterwards, we have this mission to give life, there wherever the Society may send us, to everyone whom the Lord puts in “our road”... and that somehow, quietly, mysteriously, it is always a wounded Heart that gives life to a world full of ambiguity, of suffering... 

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Sunshine and grief

We are in mid-June: our days are mostly full of blue-skied sunshine; blooms and greenness abound, and balmy, light evenings languidly stretch out for hours. Today, though, London's sunshine is cloudy and permeated with grieving, and green has a sad significance, as we recall the devastation and death in Grenfell Tower, already a year ago. And there is anger mixed in with all this, at inequality and injustice, fatal cost-cutting, blunders and the treatment of survivors.

We can often find it hard to reconcile sunshine with anger or grief. My parents' funerals took place in February and November, in wintry cold and beneath a brittle, chilly sun, which matched how I felt, much more than unending blue skies and blossom. And yet, sunshine and grief can and do go together - they often have to. And the other day it occurred to me that the same can be said of my last two blogposts. They also don't appear to co-exist, or even belong in the same week. On the 6th June I wrote of a singing silence; of beatitude and balm, tranquility and birdsong. Two days later, for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I wrote about the pierced Heart of Jesus; about pain and woundedness, the anguish of humankind and our call as RSCJ to go into this Heart, in order to go to the heart of the world.

Beatitude and pain, only two days apart... and somehow they can and do co-exist, and are part of the same whole. Somehow I can marvel at dragonflies and unexpected poppies, even as I can grieve, not only for Grenfell, but for what our world is so awfully becoming. Sophie Barat once wrote that There is room for all in the wide wound of Jesus, and surely there is room for so much more; surely the Heart of Jesus is big enough to hold all the world's chaos and grieving alongside all its beatitude and joy. And somehow, my heart is able to hold something of all this too. Our Constitutions say that the pierced Heart of Jesus opens our being to two things: the depths of God and the anguish of humankind; and it is my life in those very depths of God which enables me to also live in so much ambiguity and pain, to reconcile sunshine with grief - and, crucially, to hold on to hope, that it may be kept alive.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Into the pierced Heart

Despite all the beauty, sunshine and life-filled greenness of June, it feels as though we are living in a season of woundedness. Each news programme, and much of our daily paper, seems to be dominated by a multi-layered collage of tragedies, violence and pain. The earthquake in Guatemala has vied for our attention with conflict, injustice, violence and divisive policies elsewhere. Here, we have entered several weeks of poignant, raw and tragic anniversaries: the attacks on Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Borough Market, Finsbury Mosque... Next week it will be a year since the devastation of Grenfell Tower, currently being relived through its public inquiry; later this month it will be two years since the murder of Jo Cox. And rumbling away beneath all this, the ill-treatment of the Windrush generation, the virulent mess of Brexit, the effects of government-imposed austerity on the already poor and so much more. And then there are the people we know, coping with illness, bereavement, unemployment and more.

Crucifix in our motherhouse chapel
Yes, it is a season of woundedness - and where better to bring all this than the pierced, open Heart of Jesus, whose feast we celebrate today? Today at Mass we will hear again the Gospel account of this piercing, breaking open: an act of senseless violence against a vulnerable, defenceless body; an act of hatred which, unwittingly, released an unending torrent of love. Entering into this Heart, in order to go to the heart of the world, with all its joys and complexities and suffering, can open us to pain, but it is fundamental to our being RSCJ, and to our mission of love. Our Constitutions remind us that The pierced Heart of Jesus opens our being to the depths of God and to the anguish of humankind... and in the same single movement, it is the anguish of humankind which brings us back, time and again, into the pierced Heart; back into those unfathomable depths of God.

In her feast-day letter to us all, our Superior General referred to this fundamental call, when she wrote We are called as Religious of the Sacred Heart to enter into the mystery of the open side of Jesus, to enter into Christ’s suffering and the suffering of humanity and allow the depth of this suffering to transform us from the inside out into women of hope.

To allow this suffering to transform us into women of hope... I'm so glad she reminded us of this, knowing how easy it can be to give in to despair, and be overwhelmed by all the anguish we see and feel. Instead, somewhere in all this, there is hope - there has to be hope - and the certainty of redemption. That is the central mystery of the open Heart; an atrocity transformed into an outpouring of love - the source of all our hope.

So today, as all of us around the world renew our vowed commitment, may we also renew our hope, and our willingness to enter deeply into this mystery of the pierced Heart, and into the depths of God. And may this lead us all to live with greater love, knowing this is what our bruised and wounded world so desperately needs.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

In praise of... a singing silence

A couple of weeks ago, in glorious sunshine, I visited Oxford for a meeting. Being able to spend some extra time there, and to spend some of that in The Trap Grounds, was both blessing and balm. London may well be my city; it may well be vibrant and colourful and alive, but it's also noisy, meaning I have to search for oases and pockets of calm and silence.

The Trap Grounds is an urban oasis on the edge of a small city. Bordered on either side by a railway and a canal - with which it shares its resident swans and ducks - and managed entirely by volunteers, it is a few acres of calm and wild loveliness. Here I have picked blackberries, glimpsed kingfishers, watched newly-hatched cygnets take to the water and followed the gradual yet distinct unfolding of each new season. Here I have walked and prayed, in a blissful quiet rarely found away from the countryside. Apart from the muffled rumble of passing trains and the occasional squeal or shout from other visitors, the only sounds to be heard are those of its feathered residents, who make this a truly singing silence.

Sitting by Kingfisher Pond, the balmy air replete with birdsong, a stilling sense of beatitude enfolded me. I hope this little spur-of-the-moment video (even with a distant train!) can convey something of that, especially for anyone else caught up in the noise and bustle of big city life.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Union and conformity

It's June, traditionally regarded as the month of the Sacred Heart. In honour of this, and our forthcoming feast, I uploaded onto our website a reflection written by one of our co-workers. In it, she recalls her first encounters with RSCJ, and their effect on her, especially as she began to discover the Heart of Jesus and its significance for her in a new way.

Hilary describes women who were open, relational, inclusive, attentive; women who showed deep love and concern, for co-workers as well as the young people they taught. These qualities are not in themselves grand or heroic or outstanding - although they clearly stood out for Hilary. But as I read and re-read them it occurred to me that they are all descriptors of the Heart of Jesus - very much so. It is open - widely, everlastingly open - and inclusive: there are no border controls, no boundaries or limitations; all are welcome. It is sublimely relational, and overflows with abundant, unconditional love, and in its compassion and tenderness it is certainly attentive and full of concern. 

In reflecting the qualities of the Heart of Jesus those RSCJ were - each in her own way - simply responding to and living out the call which lies at the heart of our vocation - union and conformity with the Heart of Jesus. St Madeleine Sophie said we do this through prayer and studying Jesus' interior dispositions; our Constitutions speak of 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. Through prayer and desire and intimacy, we not only come to know the attitudes of Jesus' Heart, but we allow our limitations and lacks to be transcended and transformed, so that we can become women who radiate his deep, wide-open love and compassion to all those we encounter.

This is not something I consciously think about all the time (though maybe I should!), and I am far from living it totally, but it is something which has been gradually seeping into me over the years. It's a process and a letting go; a grace-filled growing which at times requires a very clear, conscious yes, and at others is almost imperceptible. But it is what we are called to be - what I am called to be - for God and the world, and this reminder, a week before our feast and in the month of the Sacred Heart, feels especially welcome.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Vaster far than any ocean...

Today is a significant anniversary in the Society of the Sacred Heart: two hundred years since the day when that little band of RSCJ led by Philippine Duchesne first set foot on American soil. It's an anniversary not only for our sisters in America but for all of us, as on this day our true internationality began. The Atlantic voyage had taken more than two - no doubt interminably long - months, in variable, often stormy weather and conditions which were cramped and full of privations.

I wonder how often, in between storms and recurrent bouts of seasickness, Philippine stood or sat on deck, looking out over the ocean's seeming infinity. She had grown up knowing the breath-taking majesty of mountains; the endless vastness of the sea would have been an entirely new experience for her, and a new experience of the vastness of God. There's a hymn we sometimes sing at Mass - I rather fancy that if had it been around for Philippine she would most surely have quietly sung its first verse, whilst gazing out beyond the horizon...

Vaster far than any ocean,
deeper than the deepest sea
is the love of Christ my Saviour,
reaching through eternity.

It was still Passiontide when the Rebecca had sailed out of Bordeaux: Easter and Eastertide, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi... all these had happened while they were afloat, heading slowly, and at times perilously, towards their destination. When, after more than two months at sea, the Rebecca finally docked at New Orleans early on the Feast of the Sacred Heart it surely felt like a heaven-sent blessing - not merely to have arrived, but to do so on this loveliest and most special of days for RSCJ. They had left the ocean behind, but the vastness and eternity of Christ's steadfast love disembarked and remained with them, as they began their new mission in this new and hitherto unknown land.