A plethora of feasts today! Ten years ago I was in Mexico, joining in the celebrations for Our Lady of Guadalupe, which I'm sure are happening around the world wherever there are Latin Americans. The Church gives us St Jane Frances de Chantal, foundress of the Visitation - Philippine Duchesne's original congregation. But in the Society today is a kind of semi-feast, because it's the birthday of our foundress, Madeleine Sophie Barat.
The mere fact that Sophie survived her infancy is nothing short of miraculous: she was born two months premature in 1779, at a time when infant mortality rates were high, even for full term babies. She also came through a childhood marked by revolution, social upheaval and Jansenism, with the latter intensified after her religiously zealous brother took over responsibility for her. She was scarred, physically and psychologically, by fasting and penance and the underlying cold, perpetually fearful theology which had little room for a God of bountiful love and mercy.
And yet, somehow, just as a tiny, seemingly-fragile flower will push up through a crack in concrete, she too came through. Not only did she live to 85, but more crucially, she was the generator of our spirituality of the Heart and the foundress, motivator and lifelong leader of our congregation dedicated to making known the abundant, all-embracing love of the Heart of Jesus.
The other day I attended a session on Sophie given by her main current biographer, Phil Kilroy RSCJ. At one point she was asked a question - I can't remember exactly what, something to do with what was Sophie's main ideal for people. I cannot remember the question but I can remember the long silence as Phil considered it, and then, eventually, the answer: that Sophie's main aim was to be transformed into the love of God, and to transform others into the love of God.
Wow, I thought - WOW. Not to be transformed by, but to be transformed into the love of God. The work of a lifetime.... and the adventurous quest of a lifetime! What a challenge for all of us who follow in her footsteps... and what a grace of bequest.
And what a lovely birthday gift from Sophie to all of us who heard that reply, and were reminded of what lies at the heart of our vocation...