Open, listening, giving hearts

Today's Gospel tells us how Jesus called together the twelve apostles and sent them out. Ten years ago, on Thursday 6th February, I was one of twelve women - from eleven countries and all continents - who were called together, to be eventually sent out, after almost five months' preparation.

My companions and I had gathered in Rome for "probation", a time of intense preparation for making perpetual vows. Probation is a precious, privileged time: an oasis in which we can drink deeply from the well of prolonged prayer and reflection; a time filled with graces and challenge, personal and communal growth, and sealed by the strong, tender friendships which develop in the group despite linguistic limitations and differences in culture and mentality.

As per tradition our Superior General opens each probation with a conference suggesting an attitude or focus for the group. In our case she suggested four attitudes, four ways of disposing our hearts to receive all that would come, to share our gifts, and build together an international, intercultural community. And although they were given for a specific time and context they are, really, timeless and universal. I want to summarise them here in order to share them, but really, in the process to remind myself, and be re-inspired to live them.

First came open your heart: to the beauty and goodness of each one, to all you will learn... open your heart in reverence and awe before the action of God in each one's history... open your heart each day to whatever awaits...

Then take the time to listen TO your heart: to your deepest desires, to the pattern of God's love throughout your life; to become more contemplative, to grow in intimacy with God and in self-knowledge and integration.

Then listen WITH your heart, allowing your heart to be touched, moved and changed.

The final attitude flows from the other three - give with all your heart, desiring to "freely give" what you have "freely received", to share yourself, becoming more attentive and sensitive... to welcome opportunities to be of service, conscious that nothing is small when it is done with love.

And the beauty of it is, that's just what we all did... and that generous, loving listening, opening and giving was part of what made my probation just so precious and memorable, and ensures that our friendships endure, across time and continents. So today I pray in gratitude for my companions and the team, scattered around the world, and pray that, ten years on, we can all be renewed in our desire and capacity to live and love from our open, listening, giving hearts.