Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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Paris and London

This galloping girl has galloped around Paris and London and is heading off to Wales to make retreat tomorrow at the beautiful St. Beuno’s.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

The past week has been an incredible adventure with great friends. I spent two and half days with my friend, Catherine, a member of La Xaviere Missionaire de Christ. She generously housed me, showed me her city, and welcomed me into her community for shared meals and prayer. She took me to Montmartre and the University of Paris, where Ignatius and his companions spent much time. I was fortunate to be able to attend Mass at the Martyrium of St. Denis – the location where Ignatius and his first companions made their personal vows to serve God – celebrated by a Jesuit friend from Canada. I visited churches, gardens, important squares and landmarks, and interesting shops (La Procure and La Bovida), and of course, walked along the Seine. It was a whirlwind visit and just enough to have a taste of the beauty of Paris (and what an appetizer!).

With Catherine at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Now I’m in London and have spent the past three days exploring the city, visiting a variety of sites to satisfy my interest in both World War II history and Mary Ward history. I was fortunate to meet the London IBVMs and enjoy dinner and conversation together, and I was delighted to spend a day with my Congregation of Jesus sister, Theo, seeing Mary Ward’s London together – visiting churches where Mary Ward would have prayed, the neighbourhoods she lived in, and of course, Lambeth Palace, famous for the daring graffiti she left for the bishop. And later, taking a riverboat jaunt to Greenwich, a DLR trip back westward into the city for a visit to Westminster Cathedral and a walk past Buckingham Palace (for a day’s grand total of over 28,000 steps, according to my Fitbit). Today, I spent hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, absorbing the spiritual and historical legacy of that great building, and thinking quite a lot about Christian unity.

The stained glass in St. Etheldreda’s, London, where Mary Ward likely attended Mass

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Tomorrow, I head off to Wales to make retreat, to finally slow down after a busy year (since last summer’s retreat) and spend some time with the sheep and walking the hills (unless my aching feet protest too much), absorbing all that I have taken in this last while.

The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, at St. Paul’s

I think I’ll end this post with a lovely poem I came across in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields earlier this week, that accompanies the surprising and beautiful East Window, which is inspired by ‘Jacob’s Ladder’:

In No Strange Land 

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air –
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumour of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars! –
The drift of pinons, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places: –
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry; – and upon they so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross.

You, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry, – clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Gennesaret, but Thames!

– Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

East Window, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London


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Galloping Girl

Summer has officially begun and I am setting out on an adventure! Mary Ward and her companions were (derisively) known as ‘galloping girls’ – forever on the go, setting up foundations and schools across Europe. Well, this galloping girl is off on her own European adventure. First stop: Paris. For a delightful weekend with the always delightfulLa Xavière Missionaire du Christ Jésus. My friend, Catherine, will meet me and be my guide for the weekend. I’ve never been to Paris before so am thrilled to have the opportunity. I will see a little bit of the Paris St. Ignatius would have known (and I will think about where in Paris Mary Ward’s companions would have been – I think Winifred Wigmore may have spent some time there). And then, I will be off to London to begin my Mary Ward extravaganza! But more about that in future posts.

Mary Ward and companions – the ultimate galloping girls

I am very much ready for a bit of a break and for something new. The academic year was very busy and intense (though rich and rewarding), and the spring has proved to be equally busy and fairly intense itself. I took a spring course on the history of the Second Vatican Council, and I have been busy planning activities for the fall and next year.

IBVM Artists Gathering at Maryholme Spirituality Centre
May 6-18, 2019

Of course, the spring was also filled with many moments of blessing and grace: meeting the incredible Loretto artists at our gathering in May, attending the ordination of my Jesuit friends to the diaconate and to the priesthood, and an absolutely gorgeous celebration of religious life: the first profession of Melinda Uy, a newly temporary professed Sister in the Loretto Canadian province. We are together now in formation here in Toronto and I am so blessed to have her as a companion. She was a galloping (llama) girl in Peru in April/May and now I am galloping off to Europe. The Lorettos really don’t know how to stay in one place…

So, now it’s off to meet new people, to learn, to explore, and to enjoy!

Sr. Melinda Uy, IBVM – the new Sister on the block


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A life rich in the living of it

I’ve taken a break from writing my blog for the past couple of months. I’ve been immersed in my theology studies and activities at school and in community. Life has been so rich in the living of it that I haven’t felt compelled to write about what has been going on. But I’ve started to feel that longing again to write, so I will continue as I can amidst the hustle and bustle of life.

Centre Island amusement park closed up for the winter.

One of the great treasures I have been enjoying is the gift of friendship. I feel very wealthy in friends these days, which is a big shift from when I moved to Toronto four years ago and knew practically no one. Bit by bit, I have met a wonderful miscellany of people – at school, in the community, and through various ministries – and I have been blessed to make a number of good friends. People who ask interesting questions, who laugh with me, and who challenge me to try new things and to see life from different perspectives.

Petite admiring the Canadian autumnal flora. 

At home, I feel especially blessed by friendship. I have been growing deeper in friendship with the younger sisters who are living in the Loretto community – Melinda, Maria, and Petite. I feel such a shift in my heart these past few months. After feeling lonesome for so much of last year, lonesome for peer relationships, and female friendships, in particular, I find myself gifted with these fantastic women and a joyful solidarity.

With Melinda and Petite.

A couple of weeks ago we went out to Centre Island to enjoy the autumn day. It was a great adventure – a time for spiritual conversation, laughter, and discovery. Being with these women made me think of Mary Ward, who was ‘apt for friendship’ and who said, ‘Let thy love be at all times rooted in God and then remain faithful to thy friend and value him highly, even more highly than thy life’.

Following the boardwalk to Ward’s Island.

And, of course, I also thought of Malcolm Guite, who wrote about old ways renewed by friends, in “Prayer/Walk”:

A hidden path that starts at a dead end,
Old ways, renewed by walking with a friend,
And crossing places taken hand in hand,

The passages where nothing need be said,
With bruised and scented sweetness underfoot
And unexpected birdsong overhead,

The sleeping life beneath a dark-mouthed burrow,
The rooted secrets rustling in a hedgerow,
The land’s long memory in ridge and furrow,

A track once beaten and now overgrown
With complex textures, every kind of green,
Land- and cloud-scape melting into one,

The rich meandering of streams at play,
A setting out to find oneself astray,
And coming home at dusk a different way.

Cloud-and lake-scape melting into one.


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Mary Ward Week 2018

Tomorrow marks the final day of our week-long celebration of Mary Ward. We began with her birthday on January 23rd, and on January 30th, we remember the anniversary of her death.

As one Institute – the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Congregation of Jesus – we have been praying together this week with a beautiful booklet of reflections written jointly by IBVM and CJ sisters and friends. I would like to share a couple of excerpts here that continue to speak to me.

“The felicity of this estate was a singular freedom…to refer all to God. Being grounded in this (the virtues of freedom, justice and sincerity), we should gain at God’s hand true wisdom and ability to perform all such other things as the perfection of this Institute exacteth of us.”
[From Mary Ward’s letter about the ‘Just Soul’ experience, St. Omer, November 1, 1615]

 

Mary Ward had free and open access to God. How free she was, a woman with a burning desire to follow the will of God despite her suffering. She invites us to follow her way, knowing that we are one with many companions across the world. We are all seeds which will bear abundant fruit in the places where we live.

We are the descendants of an incomparable woman
We abide in truth
We love sincerity
We are a voice of justice,
We live in freedom and refer all to God
We are carriers of Christ
We are contemplative in action.
We desire more
We love to Be more
We love to Do more
We give and reach out more.

[From Cecilia Insuk Lee, CJ (Korea) and Selvi Adaikalam, IBVM (East Timor)]

What emerged as a key element of the conference (“Friends of Mary Ward”) was the sense that we are not called to be about living in the past, but rather to be willing to embrace this new thing that God is doing in the hearts and minds of all those who love and follow Mary Ward.

The virtues Mary Ward wrote about in 1615 after a very significant prayer experience are not only an ideal for sisters or women in general; they are relevant for all those who want to follow Jesus today. Mary lived out these virtues – freedom, sincerity and justice – and became for us, her companions, a vivid model and example. Even in times of trial and darkness, when her faith was put in danger by the Church’s leaders, she chose to follow the path of truth. Her attitude is a lesson for us in the 21st century. Our society needs the sincerity and transparency proposed by our founder, and as Mary Ward’s friends, we are called upon to live them in our context.
[From: Ann McGowan (Mary Ward Centre, Canada) and Anu Tampu, CJ (Romania)]


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Witness to hope

Photos courtesy of Facebook – Canadian Women’s Foundation

Yesterday, like thousands of other women across Canada, I gave my voice and my feet to the collective cause of women’s rights. I joined the throngs of inspired and lively women gathered in Nathan Phillips Square to cheer and to raise one another up, but most importantly, to listen attentively to each other. In an act of communion and solidarity, we joined together as women with diverse beliefs, backgrounds, and visions for the future of Canada, but with the common understanding that the only way to make lasting change is to work together.

As one body, we listened to the passionate voices of young women working hard to make their communities safer and more responsive to the needs of women. We listened to stories of pain and suffering: the brutal treatment of Rohingya women in Myanmar, and the equally brutal treatment of our own indigenous women in Canada. Their stories are our stories. We listened to the voices of women, rich in life experience, counsel sustained passion and patience for what they know may be a lifelong struggle for justice.

Each individual voice, expressing a unique story and perspective, was a vibrant part of the whole, the common voice of hope. Hope for the future and an unwavering belief in a Canada and a world that can be different and will be different. Not just some day but in our day. Our feet embodied the hope that filled us as we marched through the streets of downtown Toronto. We gave witness to our solidarity and to our commitment to improve the lives of women, to work as long as it takes, and to not back down in the face of opposition.

As a religious sister, I am called to witness to hope, and especially to the hope that is rooted in my Christian faith. God is with us. We are working with God to build a more just world so that all may enjoy the fullness of life. As a Mary Ward woman, I am called to service, particularly in response to the needs of women and girls in our time. On January 23, we will begin a weeklong celebration of Mary Ward, the feast of our Institute. We will honour our foundress who believed in the capacity of women to do great things. May she continue to inspire our Institute to work for the good of women and all of society, and may she intercede for our world in such need of healing.

Mary Ward, pray for us.

 

There is no such difference between men and women that women may not do great things. I hope in God it will be seen that women in time will do much. Women should and can provide something more than ordinary.
– Mary Ward


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Welcoming the New Year

A frosty start to 2018.

A new year has begun.

The start of a new year always excites me. It’s a clean slate. A fresh beginning, with so many possibilities for what lies ahead. Like many people, I perform a little ritual each year. I spend some time taking stock of the previous year and I look ahead to the new and see what changes I might want to make to my life and what I might want to accomplish.

I like to make extensive lists of resolutions, mapping out the different components of my life – health and well-being, spiritual, economic, etc. I savour the act of setting goals and making plans to accomplish them. I find it energizing. And even if I don’t accomplish what I set out to do, I don’t get down about it because each new year gives me a new chance to do things differently.

This year, however, I don’t feel drawn to the same kind of lengthy list-making. My list is shorter and perhaps more integrated than in past years. This year I am doing some pondering along the lines of the IBVM vow formula and the two ancient commandments: to love God with all of my heart, my soul, my strength, and my mind, and to love my neighbour as myself. I am taking time this week to recall how I have loved over the past year as well as how I have not loved.

As I peer into 2018, I notice my desires for the year. How do I desire to love God with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my strength, and all of my mind? How do I desire to love my neighbour as myself? I know that there are many areas of my life to work on – my relationships with others, my prayer life, and aspects of my health and well-being – how do these affect my ability to love? Where is God calling me to be and to act? This year I have set no goals for perfection, but I have a deep desire for transformation, for greater openness and a greater ability to give and to receive love.

Just as Pope Francis’ 2015 homily in New York City has been a touchstone for me these past few years – his reflection on “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” has given me consolation and inspiration – so too has the poetry of Malcolm Guite become a touchstone and guidepost for me. His poem Be Opened haunts me. There is no better word for it. The poem is Malcolm’s reflection on Mark 7:31-37, the healing of the deaf and mute man. This beautiful poem speaks to me of my desire to give and to receive love even as it reminds me of my many flaws and limitations. It rouses a deep yearning within me. I want to be opened, broken wide open, by God, so that this desire to love can be realized and manifested in the small actions of each day.

And so, as 2018 unfurls, I am guided by my heart’s deepest desires. As I face each day’s challenges, and as I fret about some thing or other, I will listen for God’s transformative words: Be opened.

Be Opened

Be opened. Oh if only we might be!
Speak to a heart that’s closed in on itself:
‘Be opened and truth will set you free’,
Speak to a world imprisoned in its wealth:
‘Be opened! Learn to learn from poverty’,
Speak to a church that closes and excludes,
And makes rejection its own litany:
‘Be opened, opened to the multitudes
For whom I died but whom you have dismissed
Be opened, opened, opened’, how you sigh
And still we do not hear you. We have missed
Both cry and crisis, we make no reply.
Take us aside, for we are deaf and dumb
Spit on us Lord and touch each tongue-tied tongue.
– Malcolm Guite


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True life is brimming

This is my first blog post as a professed member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What a thrill! I now write as a Loretto Sister. (I can’t stop smiling as I write this!)

Two weeks ago, I made my first profession of vows. I vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience to God for one year, according the constitutions of the IBVM, in the witness of community, family, and friends. I felt totally surrounded by love as I made my vows. I rested in the love of God and in the love of so many of the ones I love who were there with me. Afterward, how we celebrated!

Now, we are almost at the end of Advent. Christmas is on the near horizon. As I look back on the readings I chose for my first profession, I see how beautifully Adventish (Advent-like? Adventful?) they are.

The first reading I selected is from Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-4, 6), which we do usually read during the season of Advent:

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shone. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Those who have read some of my other blog posts will know that these verses are particularly dear to me. I have referenced them before, when writing about Manila and about New York City, when I have looked for inspiration to the homily Pope Francis gave on these verses at Madison Square Garden in 2015.

My novice director, Jane, noted my love for this homily in the reflection she gave during the profession:

Pope Francis gave a homily in New York City in 2015. His reflection was on Isaiah’s words: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” His words have deep meaning for Sarah.

This is some of what he said.  “In every age, the People of God are called to contemplate this light; a light meant to shine on every corner of this city, on our fellow citizens, on every part of our lives.”  “Go out to others and share the good news that God walks at our side. … “God is living in our cities.”  …”God removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and God opens before us the path of peace – that peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.”   

What strikes me this Advent are the lines: “God removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and God opens before us the path of peace – that peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.”   

I feel a constant nudging from God to open my eyes to the needs of those around me, especially those on the margins of society, and to respond with love. I know that I am being nudged to something more, and especially to look at my own life and to ask myself if I am truly at peace or if this is a superficial contentment. Do I look on those in need as my brothers and sisters? If so, how can I accept injustice? These questions poke and prod me and they invite me to trust that God will show me how to respond.

As a second reading for my profession, I selected an excerpt from a letter Mary Ward wrote to her spiritual director, Fr. Roger Lee, SJ, in November 1615. The excerpt describes Mary’s vision of ‘The Just Soul’, that is, a description of the ideal qualities of a member of her Institute – a woman of freedom, justice, and sincerity.

It seems a certain clear and perfect estate, to be had in this life, and such a one as is altogether needful for those that should well discharge the duties of this Institute. I never read of any I can compare in likeness to it. It is not like the state of saints, whose holiness chiefly appears in that union with God which maketh them out of themselves; I perceived then an apparent difference, and yet felt myself drawn to love and desire this state more than all those favours.

The felicity of this state (for as much as I can express) was a singular freedom from all that could make one adhere to earthly things, with an entire application and apt disposition to all good works. Something happened also discovering the freedom that such a soul should have had to refer all to God…I seemed in my understanding to see a soul thus composed, but far more fair than I can express it.

It then occurred and still continues in my mind, that those in Paradise, before the first fall, were in this estate. It seemed to me then, and that hope remains still, that our Lord let me see it, to invite me that way, and because He would give me grace in time to arrive at such an estate, at least in some degree. That word justice, and those in former times that were called just persons, works of justice, done in innocence and that we be such as we appear; and appear such as we are – these things often since occurred to my mind with a liking of them… I have moreover thought up-on this occasion that perhaps this course of ours would continue til the end of the world, because it came to that in which we first begun.

Again, from my novice director’s reflection: …on the front cover [of the Mass booklet] is our founder, Mary Ward, travelling lightly, moving forward, free, apt for all good works. It connects to Mary Ward’s vision of a just soul that we heard in the second reading.  Here is an authentic person, without attachments, with an attitude of openness, and a freedom to refer all to God.  Knowing Sarah, how could she not be drawn to become like such a person?

During Advent, I reflect upon Mary Ward’s words and I see that these are just the qualities I desire in order to encounter Jesus at Christmastime. Christmas is a time of profound mystery – we read the stories of Jesus’ birth and we ponder how it is that God could come to us in the form of a helpless child. How do we prepare ourselves to meet this mystery? How do I prepare myself to meet this mystery? I look to Mary Ward and see a way forward. Using Mary Ward as my example, I strive to grow as a woman who is free, a woman who is just, and a woman who is sincere. I strive to be a woman who will meet Jesus in the manger at Christmastime and who will follow Jesus as his disciple until the end of her life.     

I think I will end this blog post with more words from Jane, who ended her reflection so perfectly (you can see where I borrowed the title for this post): I end with these words from Sarah’s favourite poet and songwriter, Malcolm Guite. He captures what I feel is Sarah’s disposition right now:

The heart is wide open, the true life is brimming
And yearning to come flowing through
I lay down my burden and walk to the well head
And drink and then bring some to you