The other day I attended a talk about the Rule of St Benedict and creating community. One thing that struck me was the speaker's description of the tumultuous, violent times in which Benedict lived; the turmoil, conflicts and uncertainty following the fall of Rome and its empire. And in the midst of all this instability, surrounded by struggles for power, Benedict wrote a Rule centred on prayer, stability, openness and gentle love.
And then I thought of my own Society, founded in the aftermath of the French Revolution, in a time still filled with fear, division and mistrust. Several other new congregations began at the same time, or were refounded from the ruins of communities which had been forcibly dispersed. Like Sophie, their vision and desire would have centred on rebuilding their broken society and healing its pain and division: in Sophie's case, through the education of hearts as well as minds, and helping people discover the love of God's Heart.
Benedict in the sixth century, Sophie in 1800; and countless others throughout the centuries, founding communities and movements in the midst of conflict, corruption and upheaval... They all saw and experienced pain, fear and disunity, and faced them head on, desiring only to bind and to heal, to console and unite; to pray and to love. And they were joined in their endeavours by great and generous hearts; people hungering for God and for a better world, and utterly convinced of the power of contemplation and love.
Last month, I wondered about the post-Brexit vocations - the women who will join the Society in this country in 10 or 15 or more years' time. Will they, I asked, want to join us regardless of our internationality or because of it? Will they actively want to create communion, be one body, with sisters our national politics are trying to break us away from? But now I'm left with a wider, more urgent question. In these times will people feel called to give their lives in radical love and service, not in spite of the fear and division but because of it? Will they come to religious life, and to our Society, filled with passion to go to the heart of the world with the attitudes and tenderness of Jesus, to bring hope, unity and healing?
We're told that desperate times call for desperate measures. My prayer and hope is that these desperate times will call forth not desperation but today's great and generous hearts, who hunger for God and for a better world, and who are utterly convinced of the centrality of prayer and the power of God's love, with which we can indeed cast out fear...