Vaster far than any ocean...

Today is a significant anniversary in the Society of the Sacred Heart: two hundred years since the day when that little band of RSCJ led by Philippine Duchesne first set foot on American soil. It's an anniversary not only for our sisters in America but for all of us, as on this day our true internationality began. The Atlantic voyage had taken more than two - no doubt interminably long - months, in variable, often stormy weather and conditions which were cramped and full of privations.

I wonder how often, in between storms and recurrent bouts of seasickness, Philippine stood or sat on deck, looking out over the ocean's seeming infinity. She had grown up knowing the breath-taking majesty of mountains; the endless vastness of the sea would have been an entirely new experience for her, and a new experience of the vastness of God. There's a hymn we sometimes sing at Mass - I rather fancy that if had it been around for Philippine she would most surely have quietly sung its first verse, whilst gazing out beyond the horizon...

Vaster far than any ocean,
deeper than the deepest sea
is the love of Christ my Saviour,
reaching through eternity.

It was still Passiontide when the Rebecca had sailed out of Bordeaux: Easter and Eastertide, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi... all these had happened while they were afloat, heading slowly, and at times perilously, towards their destination. When, after more than two months at sea, the Rebecca finally docked at New Orleans early on the Feast of the Sacred Heart it surely felt like a heaven-sent blessing - not merely to have arrived, but to do so on this loveliest and most special of days for RSCJ. They had left the ocean behind, but the vastness and eternity of Christ's steadfast love disembarked and remained with them, as they began their new mission in this new and hitherto unknown land.