To have everything

When I was about fourteen one of the retired nuns in the community at my convent school had a golden jubilee of vows. The school - presumably at her request - presented her with the most modest of gifts for such an occasion - a new breviary cover. As she thanked us effusively, promising to pray for us whenever she used it, I understood, in a strange, inchoate sort of way, the inner freedom and detachment to which she was witnessing. But I can also remember thinking, very definitely: It must be awful to be a nun - you do it for fifty years, and all you get is a cover for your prayer book... I'm not sure what, exactly, I thought we should have given her - just that fifty years of vows deserved something a lot grander than a book cover.

Thankfully, memories of Sr Angela's breviary didn't prevent me from responding, years later, to God's compelling call to religious life; to embarking on a life which isn't at all awful, and in which, over the years, I have come to a deeper understanding of that simplicity of heart which makes someone genuinely grateful for the gift of a breviary cover. Our vows commit us to seek a lifestyle which is simple and unpretentious, to strive to reduce our needs and to pool all our resources in a "community of goods". If we have enough, then really, we have "everything" - certainly everything we need.

And so I understood perfectly when one of my RSCJ sisters, who recently celebrated a milestone birthday, said she didn't want any presents. Of course, this was mostly disregarded, though gifts were simple. I saw one sister explaining her choice of gift; I didn't hear what she said, just the final line, uttered jokingly: I mean, what do you give the woman who has everything?

What do you give the person who has everything...? A question often asked, jokingly or not, with reference to material wealth and possessions. In this respect, my sister does not already "have everything"... except of course, that she does: she has God, totally, and a life centred in him. That, most definitely, is everything.

Give all, said St Madeleine Sophie, and you will find all. Give, said Jesus, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. (Luke 6.38) And elsewhere he extravagantly promises a hundredfold for all that his followers give up for his sake: not a hundred houses or fields, but something infinitely more precious - his very self; his life and love, and an abundance of grace and joy therein.

My sister last week, Sr Angela forty years ago, have both discovered and live the truth of those promises. As for me, I will admit that as yet I'm nowhere near Sr Angela's detachment; hopefully, it won't take me until my golden jubilee (in 2046) to have simplified my needs and wants a good deal more. Hopefully, well before then, I too will be a woman who has everything, because she has the entirety of God.