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Strong and stable

The times in which we currently live are very volatile, fast-changing and unpredictable, with very little certainty in our politics, which are both unsettled and unsettling. Conclusions drawn and questions asked in today's newspaper articles and editorials could well be out of date long before tomorrow's is printed, overtaken by unforeseen events from Westminster or elsewhere. And as our country faces immense changes and challenges, our government, which, in last year's elections, famously promised to be "strong and stable", has proved - to general derision and consternation - to be just as chaotic, fragile and unstable as the rest of life can be.

And it is against this backdrop, filled with chaos and change, that I find myself celebrating the twenty-second anniversary of my first vows, and giving thanks for the enduring strength and stability of God. So much has altered, broken, proved to be transitory, since the 14th December 1996 - but not God. Through every h…
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To know the wilderness as love

If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go... 

~ Terry Tempest Williams

Sunday's Gospel introduced us to John the Baptist, the "voice of one calling in the wilderness". When we think of wilderness we can't help picturing somewhere barren, desolate and inhospitable; somewhere bleak, where life is stripped back and full of hardship. And when we speak metaphorically of a "wilderness experience", we mean a time of trial, intense confusion and inner drought, while "wilderness years" are endured by those who have been excluded from influence and recognition. The wilderness is not something we welcome, or expect to find welcoming; and whilst our eyes might feast on the vast sweep of a desert's stark beauty, it can be hard to imagine ever knowing it in the way we know love. We can fear it, respect it, romanticise or admire it from afar... but love it? And know it as love...?

And yet... and yet... according…

What could God do... if I said...?

As today's feast of the Immaculate Conception began to unfold, my social media feeds increasingly contained images, prayers, poems and reflections, many of them focusing on today's Gospel of the Annunciation. But this was the image which especially caught my attention: Sr Mary Stephen's Annunciation - with some especially arresting words added on by the Vocation Scotland Facebook page.

What could God do with my life if I said let it be done unto me...?

My first thought was to wonder how this question might challenge any young person discerning their future, maybe feeling nudged towards religious life or priesthood. I imagine, if that young person is anything like I and countless others have been, that this question could begin with trepidation. What could God do with my life, with all my dreams and ambitions, my very pleasant present, my plans for my future... if I dare to let him in, dare to say let it be...? But the journey into God takes us beyond fear, and so the questi…

Hope and unquenchable light

It has begun. Advent, a time of expectancy and journeying, of stillness amid so much busyness, has begun. And, as with every year, it began not with fanfares and flamboyance, but with the simple lighting of a single candle - the first of four.

Last night I sat in our darkened prayer room, watching as the single, solitary flame grew in strength and brightness, casting shadows into a steadily widening pool of light. I watched the darkness soften and glow, saw the light's reflection in windows. And I remembered that the first Advent candle symbolises hope - and this felt so very right. Because in these despair-inducing times of darkness we so need our sources of hope - in this case the reminder that a single, solitary flame holds the power to dispel and soften even the darkest of darknesses. The certainty, too, that this light will meet other lights, and multiply. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1.5) - and will not overcome it.

So where do…

Homeless Jesus

Last Sunday, feast of Christ the King, the Gospel presented us with Christ hidden in the poor and most vulnerable; in strangers, prisoners, the sick and those in need of practical love and compassion. And since then, whenever I've opened the photo gallery on my phone I've been faced with the most recent ones I took, only a couple of days before that Gospel: photos of Homeless Jesus; Christ the King lying in disguise, his face shrouded and anonymous, recognisable only by the indelible wounds on his feet.

This sculpture can be found in major cities around the world. Mostly, it is outdoors, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of city life, as much a part of the scenery and ignored by many passers-by as the street homeless themselves are. This one, however, is indoors, in one of the side chapels of Farm Street Jesuit church in central London. In the hushed beauty of this sacred space, in an atmosphere of prayer, and watched over by a statue of his Mother, this sleeping figure is s…

Unyielding in hope

Earlier this month members of my Province were each given a small booklet of short reflections to help us prepare for the feast of St Philippine Duchesne, celebrated a few days ago. One reflection caught my attention in particular: it consisted of this single sentence - Let us learn from her how to contemplate the Heart of Christ, a Heart broken but unyielding in Hope. 

Today we commemorate the Society's birth, when Sophie and her first companions made their vows in 1800 in Paris, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. And it occurs to me that Sophie's heart was so clearly united to the Heart of Jesus, in that hers too was a heart broken but unyielding in hope. Broken by the bloodthirsty, devastating events of the Revolution, but steadfast in her hope for the future, and unwavering in her belief in the enduring power of Love - and the equally strong belief, that she and this tiny, fragile group could somehow be part of the rebuilding of society, and the re-finding of its so…

God alone

Yesterday I posted a short reflection on our Province website, for today's feast of Philippine. At the end of a bicentenary year which has lasted longer than a year, and in which we have said and written so much about Philippine, I wondered what she would want to say to us. So, using a photo of the new sculpture of her in the garden of the Cathedral Basilica of St Louis, I invited people to sit down with her, and listen to what she has to say. What, I asked, can we learn from her, to enable us to live, love and serve with something of her spirit and her courage? And, as we end this bicentenary year, what gift would she like us to take with us?

When I sat down to consider these questions for myself, I realised I already knew the answer. One of my sisters had created a calendar for this year with Philippine's words for each month - which has also been reproduced on our website. One day last monthI had been wondering, as I periodically do, how Philippine must be feeling about all…

On razed land life breaks through...

Brexit is a mess, and thanks to Brexit, our country, our government and likely future are also a mess. And not just any old mess, but a scary, tangled, precarious and unpredictable mess, taking up time and energy which could better be spent tackling rising poverty and inequality. Meanwhile, though interpretations and solutions about the Brexit mess might differ, ironically, in our increasingly divided country, complaining about it all seems to be the one thing around which both Remainers and Leavers are able to unite.

And there is little solace or escape to be found in news from the Church, the USA or indeed anywhere else. It isn't only winter darkness which seems to be inexorably descending on us - though at least winter darkness is guaranteed to be finite, and contains within it the hope of spring. No, solace has to come from elsewhere, often unexpected, or pushing through tiny cracks. In such a depressing time, the fleeting joy of a rainbow, a stranger's brief kindness or t…

In praise of... being a sister

On Monday evening I attended the official launch of a report by the Arise Foundation, revealing that nearly a quarter of the Catholic religious congregations in this country are battling modern slavery and trafficking. Individually, religious - and most especially sisters - have founded projects and work, often as volunteers, in frontline services; corporately, congregations have provided financial support, and, in several cases, properties which can be used as safe houses.

I sat through several presentations and a video, describing the work being carried out, whilst also lauding the contribution of sisters. We were reminded that this, for religious, is not about a career but about service, exemplified by the fact that the cumulative amount of time individuals have spent engaged in this struggle is - thus far - 643 years. By the very nature of their vowed commitment sisters are in this for the long haul; but quietly so - it was clear that publicity and prizes are accepted for the bene…

Our war memorial

Yesterday, during a break in our Province meeting in Digby Stuart, Roehampton, I went out for a walk, stopping by the war memorial. Originally erected in 1918, it was renovated and moved to its current location in 1972. At some point names from World War II, the Korean War and a solitary death in the Boer War were added, along with tablets at each end from our convents in Armagh and St Charles Square. However, the majority of the plaques record beloved relatives of the religious and their pupils at the Convent of the Sacred Heart who died during World War I, plus a few army chaplains who may well have been personally known to members of the community.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of war memorials up and down the country: in parish churches, village greens and town squares, and on the walls of universities and major railway stations. Erected after WWI, "the war to end all wars", within a few decades any surfaces originally left bare were used to record deaths from the nex…