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 Amazon.com)


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.

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