A heart that holds back nothing

Who is Philippine for us: a courageous, sensitive woman; a deeply prayerful religious; a lover of poverty and simplicity; a loyal, suffering daughter of the Church; a pioneer into the future who dared to go where few had gone before? She is saying something to us with urgency and insistence....

~ Helen McLaughlin RSCJ, Superior General at the time of Philippine's canonisation.

And so who, I asked Philippine, does she wish to be for us today, on her feast day...? What is she saying to us, and the times in which we live, with urgency and insistence...? And the reply was contained in some other words written by Helen... Philippine spent her whole life entering into new worlds: building bridges, striving to understand other people's experience - in a word, creating communion.

There is a poignancy to reading those words in a world torn apart by the rhetoric of hate and division; a poignancy, too, to celebrating a life spent boldly transcending boundaries, at a time when walls, frontiers and fear dominate. Philippine could easily have remained confined and cushioned by the comforts and wealth of her upbringing; she could have remained in France, and spent herself in ministry there; she could, too, have let herself be constrained by multiple excuses and anxieties. Instead, she moved beyond everything she knew and held dear, into new territories, new worlds - and into the vast, challenging and at times lonely new world of the New World. And in these worlds she opened her heart to the poor and dispossessed, and to so many who needed to know the good news of the abundant, healing and restorative love of the Heart of Jesus.

Philippine didn't do great, world-changing things - but what she did do, and how she did it, was undoubtedly life-changing for so many. She herself knew that her contribution was relatively small, and once wrote: We cultivate a very small field for Christ. But we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements, but a heart that holds back nothing for self.  And hers was surely an open, generous heart which held back nothing for herself, but impelled her to give, love and care as deeply and widely as possible, regardless of race, culture, ability or the many other excuses for divisiveness and holding back. This was how Philippine entered into new worlds and created communion - by holding back nothing for herself.

And as I re-read Helen's words I am reminded, too, of the call which was reinforced at our 1994 General Chapter, to be women of communion, compassion and reconciliation; educators whose hope is continually rekindled and kept alive. May this be Philippine's message and inspiration to us all today, in and for our deeply wounded and divided world: to be people whose hearts do not hold back, but who enter into new worlds with compassion and hope, creating communion by giving, loving and caring as deeply and as widely as we can.

Happy feast everyone!

You can read more extracts from a conference and a letter sent to the Society by Helen McLaughlin RSCJ for Philippine's canonisation on our international website.