21 September 2016: Celebrate Being Alive

 

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Pilgrims – celebrating friendship – in the footsteps of Marie Madeleine. 2014.

“A birthday,” said my daughter, “is to celebrate how long you’ve been alive.”

 

We worked out how old Marie Madeleine would be if she were still with us today: two hundred and thirty-five.

Though the years are numbered, one can say that her spirit lives on with each story told, each memory shared and every time we pause to reflect on her life. To celebrate Marie Madeleine’s birth and life, we need not ceremony or lavish feasts, but hearts that are open to meeting her, and in turn, God’s gifts to the Church.* We can read about her, as my daughter has done so tonight in curiosity and interest, or we can hold near to us, what knowledge or insight we’ve gained over the period we’ve known her. We can reflect on the physiological aspects of her life: her birthplace, the family to which she was born, the time period in France, and ponder their significance or effect; or we can look at her legacy in the lives of her direct descendants, or the order of nuns she founded, and in the lives of many whom she continues to inspire.

Today is also the International Day of Peace, and I draw from the words of the newly-canonised St Teresa of Calcutta: “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Celebrate being alive, with those nearest to you, may they be your family, your community or whomever lives in your heart.

 

*We remember that Marie Madeleine has been declared Venerable by the Catholic Church, formally recognising her saintly virtues. Here is a Prayer for Healing, which you might like to say:

 

More details about the Cause for the Canonization of Marie Madeleine can be found on the Society’s web site.

 

 

Day 31 of #31DaysWithIgnatius

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A friend sent me this picture a few years ago on the feast of St Ignatius, with the note: ‘When too much St Ignatius Loyola is not enough!’ 😁

Today, dear people, is the feast of St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the #Jesuits and father of #IgnatianSpirituality. He is a gift to the Church and to humanity, over the ages. To the #FcjSisters he is a patron and fellow #companion. To me, he is a guide whom I can follow, and a friend whose counsel I can seek. I believe in the community of #Saints and so celebrate them.

Who is St Ignatius for you? What have you learnt about the love of #God for you, through his intercession or example?
#31dayswithIgnatius #godinallthings #fgiat #LoyolaPress #gratitude #foundiggy#catholic #saints

In celebration of Ignatian Spirituality, and to mark the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola (31 July), I have taken on the challenge of posting a picture a day that speaks to me of the lessons learned from all things ‘Ignatian’; including ‘finding God in all things.’ Here it is, as posted on Instagram (@fcjAustralia).

Day 8 of #31DaysWithIgnatius

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St Ignatius said to his #Jesuits – “Go, set the world on fire!” No, not literally, but apostolically. Go and live the #magis – the #more – in a way that seeks to know Christ more fully, to love him more deeply and to follow him more passionately.

Even in the small quiet moments, one can still #celebrate with #joy and #gratitude. And #sparkle.

In celebration of Ignatian Spirituality, and to mark the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola (31 July), I have taken on the challenge of posting a picture a day that speaks to me of the lessons learned from all things ‘Ignatian’; including ‘finding God in all things.’ Here it is, as posted on Instagram (@fcjAustralia).

Our Lady’s Blessing

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“Our Lady of Tenderness” Icon, written by my own mother, Cecilia Tan, 2012.

For Mother’s Day today, we pause to remember the maternity of Marie Madeleine, but also of the many sisters who followed in maternal likeness. We continue to pray for the Society, and for the FCJ Sisters; that each may continue to strive toward and serve in the likeness of maternal selflessness, warmth and compassion. We remember our own mothers and mother-figures too.

We ask the intercession of Our Lady, the model exemplar of motherhood to inspire and encourage us in our mission as companions of Christ. We do so, in the recitation of the FCJ Society prayer,

Our Lady’s Blessing

Holy Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Queen, Superior General of our Society, our Mother, Mother of the Novices, Postulants, and Companions in Mission, and Mother of all those to whom we are sent, pray for us.

My good Mother, beg of your divine Son to give us his blessing, and please give us yours also: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Faithful to the End: In Memory of Sr Teresa Hennessy FCJ

Teresa Hennessy shakes hands with young Miles.

Sr Teresa Hennessy FCJ is greeted by a youngster at her Jubilee celebration, 2014.

Sr Mary Teresa Hennessy FCJ, formerly resident of the St Albans FCJ community passed away at Caritas Christi Hospice in Kew on 7 February 2015, after a long battle with cancer. She had recently celebrated 65 years of religious profession with the Faithful Companions of Jesus and this is my personal reflection of one aspect of Teresa’s life: her faithfulness.Letter from Teresa Hennessy FCJI was very touched last year in 2014, to receive a handwritten letter from Sr Teresa Hennessy FCJ. It was a welcome surprise since I hadn’t written or given her anything and thus she had ‘nothing’ to give in reply. When I opened it, it became clear, the intention of her note – it was in response to a general letter I had sent out to all the sisters for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (full text available here). Teresa had written it in May, but it had only reached me in August. Nevertheless, I read with eager eyes, what she had to say:

Thank you for your encouragement to us in our efforts towards Vocation Promotion. Unfortunately you have caught me during a month spent mostly in hospital but Vocation Promotion has been dear to me during my 65 years as an FCJ but I was particularly impressed by the themes you proposed for us today viz. the manifestation of truthfulness in one’s living, our call to the ‘magis’ and our witness to God’s love in imitation of Pope Francis in his living his exalted office in simplicity, truth and justice.

What really made an impression on me was the next point in the letter:

…Prayer for Vocations and for Perseverance in Religious Life is the most important of my activities today… This intention seems to me of great importance particularly at this time in history when permanence is so important yet so feared by many. Yet our God is ever faithful – we know in He whom we believe and who loves us so.

It is not only life-giving and encouraging for a person in my position to receive support in the work of vocation promotion, but on a deeper level, a wonderful gift to be able to see the enduring faith and fidelity of one woman’s love for God through her vocation. In her humility and acceptance of the state of her physical life as one no longer spritely or even able-bodied as she once was, Sr Teresa still embodied and lived out faithfulness to her vocation, to God and to her sisters, to the end.

Before she moved to Caritas Christi Hospice, which was to be her final residence in this life, I had the honour and privilege of meeting and conversing with her. She took the condition of her illness with courage and even grateful acceptance for the life she had lived and for the people whom she had encountered.

I was very proud to be a messenger to her on one occasion, after having met Bishop Eugene Hurley of the Darwin Archdiocese. He had asked me to send Teresa his regards and to tell her to contact him. They had worked together years ago in the Philippines and Teresa began to tell me of their wonderful friendship in those days. A few days later when I checked on her, she had told me that she was just sitting down to finish her letter to him.

Despite her limited capacity to do very much toward the end of her life, she did what she could do, with the utmost care and sincerity of heart, echoing the words of another (Blessed) Teresa: “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

I am sorry to have not known Sr Teresa for long or to have enjoyed a greater level of intimacy with her, but for what she has given me and for the small moments we’ve exchanged, I remain grateful and inspired to in my own way, be faithful to the end.

-Geralyn Anderson, February 2015.

Perhaps you have memories of Sr Teresa? You’re welcome to share them in the comments below.

Reflection: We are Everyday-Teachers Met with Hope

I do not consider myself to be a teacher or leader or spokesperson with authority but this morning, it occurred to me that part of Christian-living means that we are everyday-teachers met with hope. To be Christian is to be hopeful and by our example in choosing God, we become as models and teachers to one another.

Parenthood is a domain in which I find myself living this out. What looks like clutter and a mess of children’s things became for me, an actual encounter with hope. At school, they’ve been learning about Advent. At the shops, they ask for advent calendars with chocolate inside. A few weeks ago I found a neglected plush advent wreath I had bought years ago and decided it was time to mend the broken pieces and make a replacement for the one candle that went walkabout. And today I found rather unassumingly among the mess, a deliberately placed solitary purple candle, with the other three tucked away.

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Someone’s little hands had removed the four candles I had put in place so that they would not go astray and rightfully let one stand.

I am continually humbled by the presence of children, for their wisdom and simplicity. But today, it is hope that stands out for me. Children do soak things up, they do listen to what we say and watch very closely what we do. But when we can see the connection that has been made, for me at least, it is a sign of God’s hope in the world, the kind of hope we hear echoed in the words of St Paul to the Corinthians:

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way…
God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:4-5a, 9)

With St Paul and like St Paul, I give thanks to my God for the graces given to each one of us, especially through children. The FCJ Sisters began from this lived experience of caring for children and always through instruction, formation and education. To be Christian is to be hopeful: not only because we await the presence of God-with-us through Jesus Christ, Emmanuel at Christmastime, but also because of God’s first faithfulness and love for us found in everyday moments.

Now God creates all things but does not stop creating. God forever creates and forever begins to create and creatures are always being created and in the process of beginning to be created. | Meister Eckhart

As we begin this new liturgical year, as we make way to commemorate the beginning of the Jesus story, let us be mindful that wherever we are on life’s journey – young or old, new to the faith or seasoned – by our actions, example and beings, we are teachers to one another, co-creators of life and sharers of good news.

Reflection: In the Footsteps of Marie Madeleine Pilgrimage

The following reflection is a guest post submitted by one of the pilgrims who “walked with us” on the pilgrimage I made earlier this year.

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Image: G. Anderson, 2014.

In the footsteps of Marie Madeleine

Some time on, and I am still in awe of the fact that one woman, who lived 156 years ago is the reason that in 2014, 32 pilgrims, 5 FCJ sisters and one coach driver are gathered in Central France, visiting countless churches, houses, run down country estates, disused chapels, negotiating winding country roads, unsure of which turn to take, in order to find four generations of a family willing to welcome a group of strangers, who don’t speak their language, into their home and treat them like long lost friends.

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The generous spread provided by the de Bonnault-de Bengy families.
Image courtesy: A. Daw, 2014.

It is a fact that we are reminded of as we sit, (at the feet of the master, who is Sr. Mary Campion) in the garden of Rue Coursalon in Bourges, on a very sunny and hot afternoon in July. The group, representing four continents, is grappling with the question, “Am I a tourist or a pilgrim?” “What is the difference?” Someone in the group suggests that the pilgrim is someone who is searching for the meaning of things and I am reminded of the quote from The Little Prince,

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential remains invisible to the eye. | Antoine de Saint-Exupery

And so, our focus goes beyond the facts of the story which is unfolding before us… We begin to glimpse the young woman, mother and daughter who is struggling to do the right thing, against a backdrop of political unrest, social upheaval and is torn between her strong sense of family duty and her desire to seek only the will of God and accomplish it faithfully, as soon as it is made known to her. It is a struggle, not unlike the struggles of this group of pilgrims, nearly 200 years later. Conversations deepen and centre on questions of justice and dignity for individuals and groups in our 21st-Century world. We come to the conclusion that if Marie Madeleine were here today, it would be these same issues that she would want to tackle.

Our own journey has had its own (albeit trivial) problems, including some geographically challenged sheets and pillows while in Amiens, which means rising with the sun to ensure they can be safely returned or packed away, to travel south with us toward Paris.

There is also the wing mirror on the apparently new coach, which refuses to open and means a three hour wait for a mechanic in Bourges. What to do? Make sure that everyone is as comfortable as possible, with something to eat and drink – perhaps find somewhere to sit in the shade, try to fix the problem ourselves, or find a seat at the back of the bus and start praying – and we mustn’t forget our time of sharing, so some of us sit in the park to reflect on what has happened today…

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Pilgrim-companions behind the Cathedral in Bourges. Luckily there was a pub nearby. Image: G. Anderson, 2014.

But NO-ONE complains… Good example does much good. We have witnessed the sisters living out community in its truest sense. We have seen ‘the love and care they have for one another’ and what they have done and continue to do for us. Then, for me, another realisation – we are no longer strangers or friends – we are all companions and Marie Madeleine’s spirit is very much alive and living amongst us! Conversations go deeper again, and there is a dawning realisation that whatever work we ‘do’, if it is done for the ‘good of the other’, then it is God’s work and work that Marie Madeleine would have happily undertaken.

The ‘end’ of our journey lies in Paris, almost where we began, as we arrive at the parish church of St Dominique. Having travelled the labyrinth of roads around France and our lives, we finally arrive on the holiest of ground, to be welcomed with open arms by the church community, who are curious to know where we have come from and who might, like us, be in awe of the fact that one woman, who lived 156 years ago has brought this group of companions together to pray in their church.

And then we are gone…. As quickly as we came, back to our realities and daily lives, but richer for the experience. The ‘end’ of our journey is but the beginning and we are no longer alone in our daily struggle.

We are a community which transcends time and space. We are strengthened in our resolve to continue our work with the prayerful support of each other. The prayer, this week, has been powerful. We marvel at how, at each place, the prayer is ‘spot on’, speaks to us, moves us.

For me, it is yet more evidence of the beauty of God’s creation. We have worked together on it, across vast distances, with people we may not yet have known. It has helped shape our experience together and has allowed us to be a community of pilgrims rather than a group of tourists.

Through the skillful and dedicated work of our FCJ guides, Marie Madeleine has been given life and we have all returned home with a new understanding of who she is, the sacrifices she made, and the very real struggles she had in trying to do what she believed God wanted of her.

We give thanks for this very special opportunity and for the many blessings and graces received during our privileged time together.


This reflection was graciously offered by a fellow pilgrim-companion. 

*Do you have your own reflection or pilgrimage story to share? For contributions, and to discuss possible authorship, please contact Geralyn via email: missionandidentity@fcjasau.org.au.

Speak Up on Mental Illness

Keeping-Company.com FCJ SistersThe death of Robin Williams has struck a cord with many people. Many were shocked by it, saying that they could not have imagined someone so uplifting, funny and well-loved, succumb to suicide. But to put it bluntly: that’s life for you, and the indiscriminate and unbiased nature of mental illness. Unfortunately, an uncomfortable silence continues.

And that’s the point of Australia’s R U Ok? Day, appropriately following on from yesterday’s World Suicide Prevention Day. Far from being “just another” good cause or campaign to support, these initiatives seek to dispel social taboos and myths on mental illness and offer support to the multitude affected by this condition, by making connections, encouraging conversation and opening up.

Even if you haven’t personally experienced depression or anxiety, or witnessed a mental breakdown, chances are likely that someone around you has or is going through it right now.

You don’t have to be a doctor or medical professional. You don’t have to be a counsellor. You don’t even have to know them very well or be their best friend and confidante. All you need to do in this kind of accompaniment is to be open-minded, open-hearted and compassionate so we can speak up on mental illness.

Let’s all be a little kinder to one another and to ourselves today. Let’s all be a little gentler and more welcoming with our time, presence and availability. A few minutes or a few words to someone in need can help them and make all the difference. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, click here to access a list of services available. And that’s the truth: there is help available, there is someone willing to listen and there is someone who cares.

Living Courageously

I received a lovely email from a sister wishing me a blessed time on the upcoming pilgrimage, which ended with: “…may you be gifted with much ‘courage and confidence, but above all great confidence.’ -Marie Madeleine.”

Henri Nouwen has the following to say on courage:

“Have courage,” we often say to one another.  Courage is a spiritual virtue.  The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means “heart.”  A courageous act is an act coming from the heart. A courageous word is a word arising from the heart.  The heart, however, is not just the place where our emotions are located.  The heart is the centre of our being, the centre of all thoughts, feelings, passions, and decisions.

To live courageously then is to live from the heart; impassionedly, authentically and humbly.

For Reflection:
• How is your heart? Describe its colour, weight or feel. Is it light or heavy? Does it feel full and vibrant or sunken in and wary? Perhaps there are pebbles resting at the bottom, and you only notice their rattling if you let your heart be moved. Do you know what feelings, qualities or attributes lie in your heart at this moment?

• When did you last have a ‘heart-to-heart’ conversation with a friend or loved one? When did you last have one with God?

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Heart via 'Google Image Search'

Hey, how are you going?

Hey, how are you going? Are you tired? Have you felt swamped under the weight of the various tasks you have to get done? Maybe you’ve been feeling a bit under the weather? Me too.

Let’s pause for a moment to hear God’s word:

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“Abide in me,” says the Lord. “Come to me with all your troubles, worries and sighs. Come to me however you are, as you are, and come and rest in me. You’ve had a tiring day at work. You’re exhausted from running errands. You don’t sleep well at night, and your baby keeps crying. Your loved one is ill and your bills are piling high, stressing you out. Whatever it is, come. Rest in me. Abide in me. Take refuge in my warm embrace and know that I love you and am with you. For in me, you are home. In me and with me, my strength is your strength, my peace, your peace. Beloved one, I bless you and embrace you.”