Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Not To Start a Religious Order

So, one of my tasks this year is to read a lot about the Society of the Sacred Heart and its history and spirituality.  I've just started reading Madeleine Sophie Barat: A Life by Phil Kilroy, and I'm up to the point where she meets Philippine Duchesne.

(Click here to get it from

I'm struck by the significant difficulties that the Society faced at the very beginning.  First and foremost:  the French Revolution forced much of their work underground.  Even more than that, Sophie and Philippine both wanted to join religious orders that already existed (the Carmelites and the Visitandines) but could not because of the political climate. 

Perhaps, if life in France in the late 18th century had not been so tumultuous, the Society of the Sacred Heart would never have formed!

Other problems plagued the "little Society" from the beginning:  associations with priests and bishops who were under suspicion by the political and/or ecclesiastical authorities (one priest who was distantly connected to the fledgling community was found guilty of illicit sexual activity), leadership sometimes doubtful at best, and the general chaos of building something out of nothing with relatively little available expertise.  It's a miracle that the Society survived at all--doubtless the work of the Holy Spirit on overdrive.

The story is really fascinating from the start, and Kilroy's account is full of details and fun to read (at least for a historian like me).  I'll keep posting as I go through the book and the others that I will be reading as well.

The Society's beginnings are also a reminder to me that things worth doing are not necessarily easy.  I'm asked sometimes whether it is difficult to be the only novice right now.  The answer is yes, it is sometimes hard, but I'm also fully convinced that this is where I'm supposed to be, doing the work that God has called me to do.  Sophie knew that too--while she did not feel she was a fit leader, she knew that it was the right thing to do, the will of God.  My challenges are small compared to hers.  I look to her for guidance.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Today's first reading is from Proverbs 30:5-9:
Every word of God is tested;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Add nothing to his words,
lest he reprove you, and you will be exposed as a deceiver.

Two things I ask of you,
deny them not to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, "Who is the LORD?"
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.

I take this to be a reading about simple living, though other things come into it too.  The wisdom here seems to say that if we live simply and have just what we need without extra, it will be easier to recognize the presence of God in our lives.  Having just moved, I know my world is not as simple as I would like it to be--I have more things, more books, more food, more than I need.  Americans in general live less simply than others, and I am undoubtedly American.  Maybe I need to move every year or two in order to remind myself that I don't need so much stuff!
Simplicity is more than possessions, though.  Life can be so complicated.  Work schedules, play times, exercise routines, obligations that we take on ourselves:  all these things add up to a lifestyle that requires me to move from one thing to the next without really taking time to consider who I am and why I'm doing all these things.

My life in the last three (or more) weeks has felt very complicated and hectic. Finally, this week, it's beginning to feel more regular and less like I have to run from one activity to the next.  

I was told that the years of novitiate are about spending time with God, and that many of the things that have become an ordinary part of my daily life will be set aside for a time.  That made me nervous.  Now, I am grateful, and I hope that I can take full advantage of this year of prayer and discernment.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Official Opening of the Noviceship Year

Yesterday, on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, we celebrated the opening of my year of being a novice!  All of the Religious of the Sacred Heart who live in this area, along with some from out of town, joined us for Mass, followed by supper.  Our provincial, Paula, gave a reflection and presented me with a pin carrying the symbol of the Society.

It might seem strange to celebrate such a happy occasion on the feast dedicated to sorrow.  But the Society's dedication to "being the heart of God in the world" forces us to see, feel, experience the sorrows of all people in our world, and even of our world itself.  Just as the Mother of Jesus felt his pain and experienced sorrow out of her love for him, so we are called to feel the pain of those around us, of those we love.  Right now, for me, it's a call to awareness of what is happening in our world and how I might help those who are suffering.

The celebration last night was accompanied by an outpouring of love for me from my religious sisters across the country.  I cannot begin to express how humbled and grateful I am for this powerful love and support!  I am being held up by the prayers of many, and by the generous grace of God.  Thank you all, and know of my love and prayer for each of you!

This little post is hardly sufficient.  Words cannot express the warmth that is in my heart.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I'm a Novice!

My new neighbor and friend

It's official!  I moved to the novitiate a week ago, and I am a novice!

Amid all the chaos of moving, packing, unpacking, finding my way around in a new city, it has taken a while to sink in (and I'm sure it will continue to sink in).

What does it mean to be a novice?  Well, I'm still learning that part, but I know that it means I am given more time to spend with God in prayer, and with my community.  It also means that I will be learning about religious life both at home (where we will talk about the Society of the Sacred Heart and how we live in it) and in a class with other novices.

In prayer today, I was reading the alternate first reading, from Paul's letter to the Romans:
Brothers and sisters:  We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose.
I know in my heart that I am called by God, and that helps me through the challenges of a new city and a new way of life.

Blessings to all!