Generous wine

This time last year I was trying to write my first blogpost for the Feast of St Madeleine Sophie Barat, our foundress - a task made somewhat harder by a strong sense of her telling me that I should not be writing about her, but about Jesus. We eventually reached a happy compromise, with Celebrating Sophie. So this year I approached her oncoming feast somewhat tentatively, wondering just what limits she would impose. Yet again she was unhelpful, and I found myself going up and down a few blind alleys, trying to put together a coherent post on a particular non-Sophie centred but definitely Sophie related theme... until just a couple of days ago.

I had been joking with one of my community, and the word generosity came up. I quipped about generosity being the spirit of the Society... and in a moment knew, just knew - YES, that's what she wants me to write about this year!

The story goes that when Sophie was asked what the spirit of this Society would be, she answered, without missing a beat - generosity. That was it - just one word. She could have said - or added - prayerfulness, or loving kindness or fidelity or any of the other words she used throughout her life when exhorting her sisters to greater holiness and whole-heartedness: instead she chose just one word, which, if lived to the full, is the source from which so much else flows.

And it is a word which she herself certainly lived to the full. There was the overflowing generosity and zeal with which the young Sophie longed to give herself in prayer and service - either as a Carmelite or as a missionary. This was followed by the actual lived generosity of several decades spent entirely in France or Italy (with a single visit to England), whilst she sent others to found convents in mission territories in other continents; the generosity of a woman who, right to the end, was tremendously busy administering an international congregation, but never too busy for time with God and writing endless personalised letters.

This is how my dictionary defines the word 'generous':
1. willing and liberal in giving away ones money, time etc; munificent
2. free from pettiness in character and mind
3. full or plentiful (a generous portion)
4. (of wine) rich in alcohol

There's certainly food for thought in those four definitions, and a tall order in embodying them all - and yet, a truly generous person wouldn't want to hold back! And really, they are inextricably interlinked: what would be the point in being munificent and available and giving God my all if I still hold on to slights and petty matters? But I have to say, it's the fourth definition - precisely because it's the most unexpected - that has most held my attention: and yet for Sophie, daughter of a wine-making family, this extra nuance would have been familiar.

A generous wine is full of spirit and strength; it is stimulating, exalting and expressive. It is warm and rich, open and "honest", in that it doesn't play around or hide its true self; unlike alcopops it doesn't masquerade as something else. It can be sweet and mellow, or fiery and robust; it's strong, but enjoyed in moderation it can be lovely! This, after all, is what it was made for - to bring joy and warmth, and to sustain, especially during long, hard winters.

Today, I'm sure, Sophie is praying for all of us, for an outpouring of the spirit of generosity on all the Society throughout the world: for munificence and freedom from pettiness, and a generosity which is full and plentiful. And I'm sure she is also praying that we too can all be vin généreux... from a premier cru, consisting of vin de très bonne qualité, overflowing in abundance, full of spirit and strength, warmth and an excellent flavour.

Happy Feast everyone