Legacy and spirit

Three days ago we celebrated the feast of St Philippine Duchesne, and with it, we began to commemorate the bicentenary of her journey, with four companions, to America in the spring of 1818. Today we go back in time to 1800: we leave the ocean's vastness and wide-open spaces of Louisiana and Missouri, and find ourselves in a Parisian attic, at a clandestine Mass just a few years after the infamous Reign of Terror and the guillotining of priests and religious. As with 1818 we find ourselves with a tiny group of women; fervent, generous, courageous women, taking a huge risk into a largely unknown and uncertain future.

And thus, 217 years ago today, the Society of the Sacred Heart was born, as Sophie and her first companions committed themselves to God in this fledgling community, trusting that somehow, what they were doing would be for the healing and rebuilding of their shattered society. We will probably never know exactly what they thought they would accomplish or achieve; whether or how much they felt daunted by the brokenness and needs all around them, what doubts or fears they may have had... but we do know that they must have had faith, must have believed that this was a venture worth undertaking, a risk worth taking. They must surely have believed that, small and obscure though they were, they had something to offer, through both contemplative prayer and educational mission; through zeal and desire and, above all, through an open-hearted, wholehearted love born in the depths of the Heart of Jesus.

Today, wherever we are, we too find ourselves, if not in shattered societies, then most certainly in wounded, troubled ones. We live in a world of contrasts, of suffering and beauty, goodness and heroism alongside - and often emerging from - violence and pain. We too can feel daunted, powerless and helpless in the face of so much brokenness: but it is precisely at such moments that we are called most strongly to welcome once again the grace of our vocation, to give our lives in compassion and communion, in contemplation and generous, God-revealing love. This is the legacy and the spirit bequeathed to us by this tiny band of courageous, faith-filled women, and especially by Sophie. We can do no less.