An unknown future

Easter was especially early in 1818, and so 199 years ago today it was already the Feast of the Sacred Heart. And this was the day that Philippine Duchesne and her companions arrived on American soil, after a two month ocean crossing, to begin their new mission in pioneer territory.

Everything was new and strange for them. What little they knew about the "New World" and the southern states before arriving there had largely come from enthusiastic or hyperbolic accounts, which were not necessarily complete or accurate. And even with the information which was accurate, they could only imagine or have hazy ideas about how they might adapt or cope. Really, all they could have said they knew for certain when they boarded The Rebecca in Bordeaux was the likely length of their journey, and - all being well - their likely place of arrival. It was, in so many ways, a voyage into a completely unknown future.

I thought of Philippine when I recently came across a reference to a book about discernment by Nancy Reeves, called I'd say "Yes" God, if I knew what you wanted. I wasn't able to discover the book's tone or content, but I was struck by the title. At first glance it seems entirely reasonable... just tell me what you want, God, and I'll do it. But it is in fact written in an entirely conditional mood... I would say yes, if only I knew... The onus is on God to make things abundantly clear - which very rarely happens. Those of us who have entered religious life, for example, will say we felt called, drawn, compelled... but never entirely certain: it may well have felt right, but even so, we couldn't say we knew for sure if this was indeed what God was calling us to. We could only hope and trust it was so, trust in God's loving plans for us, and trust in the ongoing discernment at the heart of our formation processes.

That book title speaks bluntly of all our desires for certainty and foreknowledge, of all the things we like to be sure of and have in place; and equally bluntly, it speaks of all our hesitations, doubts and what ifs. And it therefore makes that voyage to an unknown future by Philippine and her companions even more extraordinary. Their foreknowledge consisted of the broadest of broad brushstrokes, a haziness many of us would baulk at when considering booking a holiday, let alone uprooting ourselves so drastically and definitively.

Except that Philippine did know what God wanted - a heart that holds back nothing for self, as she herself once described it. And her wholehearted, trusting, totally given "yes" to this enabled her to say "yes" to everything else, whether clear or not, including this entirely courageous, heroic voyage to America and an unknown future in a new continent. And for this she has the undying gratitude of the worldwide Society.

Every day, but especially today, may Philippine inspire and help us all to say "yes" as she did - not out of sure foreknowledge, but from a wholeheartedness which holds back nothing.


  1. Thank you, Sister. I appreciate the sentiments as well as the clarity of your writing.

  2. Thank you, Sister. I appreciate your insights as well as the clarity of your writing.

  3. Thank you - any friend of Philippine is a friend of mine/ours! In case you haven't seen it, our American sisters' website has a dedicated bicentenary section, which will have articles and reflections as well as news of all the special events and the initiatives to maintain Philippine's legacy


Post a Comment