With hearts overflowing and expanding

Yesterday evening, responding to my greetings for the feast of St Benedict, a Cistercian friend sent me an extract from the Prologue to his Rule, which she thought might speak to my heart:

As we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.

She was right - I was captivated! The words immediately conjured up two memories for me; memories I had never before linked together, until I read those words. The first one was of words from the prayer said at the renewal of vows in the Society, which I had blogged about last year; simpler words, but ones which hold echoes of Benedict's:

Give them the grace to persevere to the end
along the way of your love,
a journey which they have begun with such joy.

But the second memory went back further, to my long retreat in May 2003, just before making my perpetual vows. Ignatian imaginative prayer does not come naturally or easily to me, and yet each time I have made the full Exercises I have received the temporary gift of being able to pray this way during the Second and Third Weeks, when the whole focus is on contemplating and drawing closer to Jesus. Thus, in the Second Week I found myself with Jesus, in boats or crowds, being called and missioned, feeding multitudes, marvelling at the miraculous, eating companionably together or walking, simply walking, overflowing with energy and the intoxicating joy of simply being with him. 

And then, in the blank grief after his death and burial, in my prayer I sat with someone sharing memories of him. What, I was asked, was my best memory? And I remembered those heady, glorious, heart-bursting walks, recalled myself skipping and striding along the way, my heart overflowing with love's delight, and replied Just the sheer joy of being with him... of knowing myself loved so completely and utterly, and trying to love him more and more in return.

Each memory has reminded me of the centrality of love, which is the beginning, middle and end of our call and mission as RSCJ: to discover and make known the unbounded, limitless love of God, pouring from the Open Heart of Jesus. Love given, received and given again... and again... There is an inexpressible delight to being loved, just as there is a deep, overflowing joy to loving. And this was reinforced when I googled in order to find the rest of the Prologue. I eventually found the translation used by my friend, but only after I'd come across another one, which said: For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand...

And of course this expansion, or widening of our hearts, is the result of loving and being loved - and of loving more. Our hearts can only grow through love, never decrease. As love is poured in, our hearts can only widen, just as flexible containers respond to being filled; but as love is shared our hearts do not - cannot - shrivel, because they are still full, to overflowing. Love shared is never love diminished; the love we receive is never exhausted - reasons enough for our hearts to overflow with inexpressible delight!