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Superior General Kathleen Conan's Conference to Probanists

We joyfully share with you this beautiful message from Superior General Kathleen Conan to the Religious of the Sacred Heart who will make their final professions Sunday, February 1. Please note that we have shortened Sister Conan’s message, but have retained some of the phrases that have a specific meaning within the Society. You will find an explanation for those words at the bottom.

Please pray for our Sisters as they make their perpetual vows this weekend. We rejoice with them!

We gather this morning for a significant ritual in the life of the Society of the Sacred Heart: to give you a name and devise which reflect your experience during probation and which will accompany you individually and as a group as you live our vocation into the future. With you, we celebrate the work of God in each of you and the life you have lived as a community. All our sisters rejoice as you give over the whole of yourselves to the One who loves you, and make your final profession as Religious of the Sacred Heart.

Each probation is marked by the particular events of the time they are together. In our world these past months, we have known increasing violence and division among peoples, a situation which calls us all to grow in our capacity for dialogue, peace-building and communion. 

In the Church we continue to experience a time of hope, as Pope Francis calls us to live the attitudes of Jesus and the calls of the gospel, to build a world where everyone experiences tenderness, inclusion and access to the resources for living a human life with dignity. In this Year of Consecrated Life, we hear his question, “Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows?” (Apostolic Letter, 21 November 2014)  As you make your final profession, you are committing yourselves to live, in this world of the 21st century, the love with which Jesus loves.

A few weeks ago, as we on the (General) Council listened to your journeys, we were in awe at the ways you have opened yourselves, with trust and courage, to the depths of this love. We are full of joy and gratitude as we witness the graces and gifts you have received and your desire and commitment to live those graces for others in your countries and provinces, as professed Religious of the Sacred Heart.

Listening to the work of God in you, with joy we give you the name:

Offer the gift received

with the devise

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

(Jn 1:16)

Received

In the opening conference we invited you to an attitude of openness: “The experience of probation invites you to openness … and asks it of you.” Each one of you has indeed responded to this call, cultivating within yourself attitudes of trust, welcome, humility and gratitude, developing an “openness of mind, of heart and of will” which have enabled you to receive the gifts that God wanted to offer you in this time. 

An attitude of openness asks for vulnerability of heart, a vulnerability which enables us to be sensitive and receptive both to love and to pain. You have grown in the contemplative aspect of our vocation, becoming more sensitive to God’s presence within yourselves, in others and in all that happens (Constitutions §21).  When you have met the normal resistances to such openness, often rooted in hurt or fear, you have asked for the grace to go beyond them, gently and in trust, so as to be more open to what the Spirit is revealing to you. 

Since the beginning of his ministry, Pope Francis has called us so often to be open to the love of God, and particularly to God’s tenderness. During your probation, this past Christmas Eve, he said,

On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? “But I am searching for the Lord” – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking Him, but rather allowing Him to find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?   

Pope Francis, Homily for Christmas Eve 2014

Throughout your probation experience and particularly during the retreat you have been very open to receive the tenderness of God.  As you have allowed God to love you, you have received from God’s fullness grace upon grace!

The Gift

Let us tell the wonders of his love, the gift, the gifts, which you have received, grace upon grace!

Love

The first, strongest and deepest gift that you have all received is Love. Love experienced in ways very personal to each one of you.  God has revealed to you God’s passion for you, Jesus’ personal love for you.

You have experienced God’s love as mercy, tenderness, compassion; as forgiveness and welcome without question. You are “in love” with the One who loves you, exchanging an embrace, a kiss, a deep gaze. You know the companionship of a faithful friend; you experience a growing likeness in your attitudes, a growing union with the One who is Love. 

Such love is overwhelming! So deep, so beyond your expectations, so personal. You have come to know that God IS love, that God can only love! It is in this love, and this way of loving, that you are called to remain (John 15).

New relationship with Jesus

You have also received the gift of a new relationship with Jesus.  During this time, you wanted to be with Jesus, and it happened! You asked for a renewed relationship with Jesus, and it was given.

You discovered and lived new parts of yourself which are now available to be integrated into your relationship with Jesus. 

This new relationship emerged at times through what you experienced as love or invitation, and at times through pain or darkness. As you waited for the relationship to unfold, for God to reveal Godself, you discovered anew that God is present in everything, is trustworthy and faithful, and has a deep desire to be in relationship with you.

Jesus calls you and invites you into the heart of who he is, wanting you to know his interior life more deeply; to know whom he loves, what motivates him; to learn and live his attitudes. He welcomes you into his life for others: to wiping tears with tenderness and compassion; to sharing bread and fish with those who are hungry; to living with him his ministry with the particular values, gestures and attitudes which he has revealed to you. In joy, you want to live the dispositions of his heart with more congruence, to be like Jesus, to love like Jesus.

Experience of your Self

Another of the gifts of this time has been to come to know yourself in new ways, to know the beautiful person that you are, the person who is the desire of God’s heart!

… In this journey, you have discovered your inner self and rejoiced in your inner life and strength! You have integrated anew aspects of your own person, your life story and your journey in religious life. You have recognized the loving presence of Jesus in your life in ways you might not have known. 

You have come to see your fragility not as a fearful place, but as a place of revelation and of meeting God in trust and love. You have touched once again the truth of John 19:34, that from the pierced heart flow fresh waters of new life. This gift is already bearing fruit as you notice yourself acting with new attitudes, understanding and accepting the fragility and giftedness in others with new tenderness, hope and a commitment to love. 

You “wonder” at what has happened in you and want to live from this new person. You know in new ways that when your eyes are set on Jesus, the various aspects of yourself take their appropriate place and find their direction. You feel called anew to give yourself to God, with the WHOLE of yourself, now more integrated, with new freedom and capacity for love. In your final profession it is this renewed self whom you will offer to God and to God’s way of loving.

Community

You have received from one another and given to one another the gift of community. The Constitutions ask you to create a probation community. From the beginning you have brought to this call your gifts of listening and appreciating, questioning and encouraging, welcoming and reaching out to one another, kindness and sensitivity.

The gift of community is one you have created together. You appreciate the importance of the group in helping you to grow and to follow Jesus. This, you have said, is the kind of community experience you want to live!  Pope Francis calls you, and calls all religious, to be “experts in communion.” (Apostolic Letter, 21 Nov 2014)  While probation is a special time, there is an “expertise” in communion which you have experienced here, that you are called to live in creating community in your provinces, in your places of ministry, and with the People of God.  Our world so needs you to be women who help us learn how to build communion and peace.

Offer 

Your grace-filled, instinctive and chosen response to receiving these and other gifts is to offer them – with gratitude, reverence and generosity. Your experience has led you to the heart of our charism, where Jesus draws you – and calls you - into His movement of offering: into His movement of adoration of the Father and love for all, especially those who are poor (Constitutions § 8).

You desire to offer your best gifts to the Lord, to offer the whole of yourself, and in that sense to consecrate yourself, as you will on the day of your profession, to God and to God’s mission of love.  In so doing, you enter into God’s own desire that you live in union with God and God’s heart, becoming more fully bearers of God’s love to others, co-creators with God of the world of God’s dream. 

Such offering is a graced fruit of your experience, and a choice. A choice you will make once, forever, and also day after day. You want to channel your heart, your love, in mission – to everyone you will meet, to your sisters, to your family, to the people whom you will serve, especially those who are poor or marginalized -- offering to others with open hands and open hearts the gifts you have received. As Pope Francis on Christmas Eve called us to respond to others as God responds to us, so too you pray,

“Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict”.

The last sentence of the formation document, Life Unfolding… Offering the Gift, says, “… as disciples of Jesus we want to continue to offer his gift:…(p.31); and it goes on to describe that gift. Today, we complete that sentence with words from your own experience:  “As disciples of Jesus, we want to continue to offer his gift:  to welcome and to listen – to students, to families, to those in need; to love with tenderness; to wipe the faces of those who are wounded; to approach fragility with compassion; to heal, to free, to restore life; to wash feet with humility; to serve with joy; to reconcile and to build communion; that is, to be like Jesus, to live and share his love.”

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

(Jn 1:16)

Yes, from God’s fullness you have each received, grace upon grace! As you move into your lives as professed RSCJ, this devise assures you that God always wants to reveal God’s self to you, that God will continue to pour out on you “grace upon grace,” entrusting to you the ministry of offering these graces to others. 

The moment of your final profession is approaching! With you, with your provinces and with the whole Society we will celebrate God’s faithfulness and yours as you offer yourselves forever to God and God’s way of loving. We pray that you may always be open to receiving God’s grace! With confidence, gratitude and joy, we send you to offer to God’s people the gifts you receive, to be a source of grace, life and love for others!

Kathleen Conan RSCJ
28 January 2015
Villa Lante, Rome, Italy

Explanations for traditional Society terms:

  • Conference: The Society uses this word for an official message from the Superior General to the congregation. It can also be akin to a blessing.
  • Probation: the six-month period of preparation prior to final profession. Usually done in Rome with a group of international RSCJ. Generally, this group feels a sense of connection throughout their lifetimes, much like a class.
  • Probanist: the term used for the Religious of the Sacred Heart in their last stage of preparation for final profession.
  • Devise: a phrase given to a probation group that will guide their lives as Religious of the Sacred Heart
  • Charism: the gift of the Spirit to a religious community

You might also be interested in Sister Kim King's reflection on the fourth anniversary of her final vows.