Heart's ease - an infusion was said to help mend a broken heart

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Sunshine and grief

We are in mid-June: our days are mostly full of blue-skied sunshine; blooms and greenness abound, and balmy, light evenings languidly stretch out for hours. Today, though, London's sunshine is cloudy and permeated with grieving, and green has a sad significance, as we recall the devastation and death in Grenfell Tower, already a year ago. And there is anger mixed in with all this, at inequality and injustice, fatal cost-cutting, blunders and the treatment of survivors.

We can often find it hard to reconcile sunshine with anger or grief. My parents' funerals took place in February and November, in wintry cold and beneath a brittle, chilly sun, which matched how I felt, much more than unending blue skies and blossom. And yet, sunshine and grief can and do go together - they often have to. And the other day it occurred to me that the same can be said of my last two blogposts. They also don't appear to co-exist, or even belong in the same week. On the 6th June I wrote of a singing silence; of beatitude and balm, tranquility and birdsong. Two days later, for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I wrote about the pierced Heart of Jesus; about pain and woundedness, the anguish of humankind and our call as RSCJ to go into this Heart, in order to go to the heart of the world.

Beatitude and pain, only two days apart... and somehow they can and do co-exist, and are part of the same whole. Somehow I can marvel at dragonflies and unexpected poppies, even as I can grieve, not only for Grenfell, but for what our world is so awfully becoming. Sophie Barat once wrote that There is room for all in the wide wound of Jesus, and surely there is room for so much more; surely the Heart of Jesus is big enough to hold all the world's chaos and grieving alongside all its beatitude and joy. And somehow, my heart is able to hold something of all this too. Our Constitutions say that the pierced Heart of Jesus opens our being to two things: the depths of God and the anguish of humankind; and it is my life in those very depths of God which enables me to also live in so much ambiguity and pain, to reconcile sunshine with grief - and, crucially, to hold on to hope, that it may be kept alive.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Into the pierced Heart

Despite all the beauty, sunshine and life-filled greenness of June, it feels as though we are living in a season of woundedness. Each news programme, and much of our daily paper, seems to be dominated by a multi-layered collage of tragedies, violence and pain. The earthquake in Guatemala has vied for our attention with conflict, injustice, violence and divisive policies elsewhere. Here, we have entered several weeks of poignant, raw and tragic anniversaries: the attacks on Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Borough Market, Finsbury Mosque... Next week it will be a year since the devastation of Grenfell Tower, currently being relived through its public inquiry; later this month it will be two years since the murder of Jo Cox. And rumbling away beneath all this, the ill-treatment of the Windrush generation, the virulent mess of Brexit, the effects of government-imposed austerity on the already poor and so much more. And then there are the people we know, coping with illness, bereavement, unemployment and more.

Crucifix in our motherhouse chapel
Yes, it is a season of woundedness - and where better to bring all this than the pierced, open Heart of Jesus, whose feast we celebrate today? Today at Mass we will hear again the Gospel account of this piercing, breaking open: an act of senseless violence against a vulnerable, defenceless body; an act of hatred which, unwittingly, released an unending torrent of love. Entering into this Heart, in order to go to the heart of the world, with all its joys and complexities and suffering, can open us to pain, but it is fundamental to our being RSCJ, and to our mission of love. Our Constitutions remind us that The pierced Heart of Jesus opens our being to the depths of God and to the anguish of humankind... and in the same single movement, it is the anguish of humankind which brings us back, time and again, into the pierced Heart; back into those unfathomable depths of God.

In her feast-day letter to us all, our Superior General referred to this fundamental call, when she wrote We are called as Religious of the Sacred Heart to enter into the mystery of the open side of Jesus, to enter into Christ’s suffering and the suffering of humanity and allow the depth of this suffering to transform us from the inside out into women of hope.

To allow this suffering to transform us into women of hope... I'm so glad she reminded us of this, knowing how easy it can be to give in to despair, and be overwhelmed by all the anguish we see and feel. Instead, somewhere in all this, there is hope - there has to be hope - and the certainty of redemption. That is the central mystery of the open Heart; an atrocity transformed into an outpouring of love - the source of all our hope.

So today, as all of us around the world renew our vowed commitment, may we also renew our hope, and our willingness to enter deeply into this mystery of the pierced Heart, and into the depths of God. And may this lead us all to live with greater love, knowing this is what our bruised and wounded world so desperately needs.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

In praise of... a singing silence

A couple of weeks ago, in glorious sunshine, I visited Oxford for a meeting. Being able to spend some extra time there, and to spend some of that in The Trap Grounds, was both blessing and balm. London may well be my city; it may well be vibrant and colourful and alive, but it's also noisy, meaning I have to search for oases and pockets of calm and silence.

The Trap Grounds is an urban oasis on the edge of a small city. Bordered on either side by a railway and a canal - with which it shares its resident swans and ducks - and managed entirely by volunteers, it is a few acres of calm and wild loveliness. Here I have picked blackberries, glimpsed kingfishers, watched newly-hatched cygnets take to the water and followed the gradual yet distinct unfolding of each new season. Here I have walked and prayed, in a blissful quiet rarely found away from the countryside. Apart from the muffled rumble of passing trains and the occasional squeal or shout from other visitors, the only sounds to be heard are those of its feathered residents, who make this a truly singing silence.

Sitting by Kingfisher Pond, the balmy air replete with birdsong, a stilling sense of beatitude enfolded me. I hope this little spur-of-the-moment video (even with a distant train!) can convey something of that, especially for anyone else caught up in the noise and bustle of big city life.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Union and conformity

It's June, traditionally regarded as the month of the Sacred Heart. In honour of this, and our forthcoming feast, I uploaded onto our website a reflection written by one of our co-workers. In it, she recalls her first encounters with RSCJ, and their effect on her, especially as she began to discover the Heart of Jesus and its significance for her in a new way.

Hilary describes women who were open, relational, inclusive, attentive; women who showed deep love and concern, for co-workers as well as the young people they taught. These qualities are not in themselves grand or heroic or outstanding - although they clearly stood out for Hilary. But as I read and re-read them it occurred to me that they are all descriptors of the Heart of Jesus - very much so. It is open - widely, everlastingly open - and inclusive: there are no border controls, no boundaries or limitations; all are welcome. It is sublimely relational, and overflows with abundant, unconditional love, and in its compassion and tenderness it is certainly attentive and full of concern. 

In reflecting the qualities of the Heart of Jesus those RSCJ were - each in her own way - simply responding to and living out the call which lies at the heart of our vocation - union and conformity with the Heart of Jesus. St Madeleine Sophie said we do this through prayer and studying Jesus' interior dispositions; our Constitutions speak of letting ourselves be transformed by His Spirit so as to live united and conformed to Him, and through our love and service to radiate the very love of His Heart. Through prayer and desire and intimacy, we not only come to know the attitudes of Jesus' Heart, but we allow our limitations and lacks to be transcended and transformed, so that we can become women who radiate his deep, wide-open love and compassion to all those we encounter.

This is not something I consciously think about all the time (though maybe I should!), and I am far from living it totally, but it is something which has been gradually seeping into me over the years. It's a process and a letting go; a grace-filled growing which at times requires a very clear, conscious yes, and at others is almost imperceptible. But it is what we are called to be - what I am called to be - for God and the world, and this reminder, a week before our feast and in the month of the Sacred Heart, feels especially welcome.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

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.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Sophie's well

Go to the Heart of Jesus and draw from it, and when you need more, go back to the Source and draw again. 

~ St Madeleine Sophie, in an 1807 letter to Philippine Duchesne

Time and again, as I read things written by Sophie, I come across these words - go... draw - in relation to the Heart of Jesus. In the 1815 Constitutions, for example, the novices were to go to the Heart of Jesus to draw from it a love of charity or poverty. Elsewhere, whether in conferences or personal letters, the same advice; the same words - go, draw, source.

The well in the garden at Joigny
Sophie, of course, grew up knowing what it meant to go to a well and draw water. We who are now accustomed to simply turning on an indoor tap* can easily forget the labour involved, and the need to "go" to fetch water. With our water pipes and plumbing we can easily forget that there are millions of underground springs, and groundwater deep within the earth; an inexhaustible source of something so essential for life and growth. And we anglophones can easily overlook that for Sophie, writing in her native French, the word for a spring is source: thus the Source which is Jesus' Heart is both the origin and its abundant, life-giving stream...

Maybe today, as we celebrate her feast, Sophie is urging us to return to our Source, and to keep returning; to draw whatever we need, time and again, confident that here is a spring which will never dry up! She herself tells us, in the Constitutions she wrote, that we are certain to find in the Heart of Jesus an inexhaustible source of strength, grace and consolation. And elsewhere, she assures her sisters that the Heart of Jesus is open for us... let us go to him to draw the strength and the courage we need.

Today and every day, may we go to the Heart of Jesus, and draw plentifully, knowing that in this Source we will find and receive an inexhaustible, life-giving stream of everything we need...

And a happy feast to you all!

*I know that in many parts of the world people still rely on wells and pumps, but my own closest experience to any of this was the hand-pump in my family home in Piemonte. It was one of the last remaining in the village, fed from a fresh, clear-tasting spring: but by my time la pompa was an optional extra, besides which, a bit of pumping was energetic fun for a child accustomed to taps.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

There is power in love

Yesterday morning I posted a short Pentecost reflection on our Province website, using some words written by Helen McLaughlin RSCJ, a former Superior General, in 1984. They seemed especially appropriate for a world in turmoil, a world filled with pain and violence and division and so much uncertainty and ambiguity. The reflection concluded with these words:

They [the early Christians] were empowered by love because the Spirit is love. This Spirit of love led them to renounce any other means of power, to live by the power of love only, even if this meant the handing over of one's life. Love is the only power of the Spirit and only love can be our power. 

And thus the power of love was in my mind as I drifted into our sitting room to watch the royal wedding. The lead-up has been filled with gossip and speculation, the minutiae in stark contrast to weightier matters and heart-rending, sobering news from Israel, the US and elsewhere. The sight of so much love was therefore heart-warming: whether it was the unabashed radiance of the couple, or the quietly proud love of Meghan's mother, or the many couples present whose relationships are testimony to the enduring, generous love of many years together. 

And then came Bishop Michael Curry, and for thirteen minutes royalty, celebrities and billions throughout the world from Alaska to Zanzibar heard a passionate, truly memorable message about the power of love, the redemptive, selfless, revolutionary, world-changing, fiery power of love. He didn't mention Pentecost, but he could have done, because the power he spoke of is the fire and energy of the Spirit, who is love, flowing and overflowing from the very Heart of Love.

There is power in love, true power and strength... and only love can be our power...This is so clearly what the Spirit wanted the world to hear this Pentecost, to bring us from the shadow of so much conflict and hate. Love is the best language, the one we can all understand, and the greatest strength, because of its selflessness. Love is the only way.

If you haven't already watched Bishop Curry, do - and even if you have, you might well want to watch again. It's on YouTube (of course), and the BBC website contains both the video of the sermon and its full text, as it was delivered.

And wishing you all a Pentecost filled with the transforming, fiery power of the Spirit of love...