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Have you ever woken up one morning and realized that something important in your life might change, will change, or has changed for the better or the worse? Has that realization left you confused, anxious, or fearful? Maybe it is time to ask the deeper question: What gives your life meaning, purpose, direction and strength in an ever changing world? There are so many areas of your life that can change without your choice such as sickness, death of a significant person in your life, age, work, etc. Only spirituality can keep people really secure, motivated, focused, and truly happy. We Missionaries of the Sacred Heart would like to share our MSC Spirituality with you.
The spirituality of the heart is the foundation of the MSC Spirituality. Following the way of the heart helps people experience the compassionate love of God as revealed through the humanity of Jesus, symbolized by his pierced heart. Spirituality of the heart looks at life by seeking to experience and understand the movements of one's own heart and of the heart of Jesus. In a spirituality of the heart, right relationships with God, with others and with oneself, are important. Relationships are explored by experiencing and understanding four movements in a relationship: encounter, intimacy, conversion and mission.
In the first movement of a spirituality of the heart, one encounters Jesus Christ in many ways: through Scripture, in the sacraments, in life situations, in prayer and meditation, through other people. Sometimes people can recognize his presence and sometimes they are not sure if or how he is present.
In the second movement of a spirituality of the heart, people long for a deeper, more intimate encounter with God in Jesus. They long to experience his love as personal, unconditional and faithful. The greatest human need, if people are to find meaning and happiness on earth, is to learn to believe in God's love for them and to allow His love to transform their lives. (Fr. Jules Chevalier, MSC) Human hearts hunger for unconditional love - everything and everyone else will eventually leave them unsatisfied.
Living a spirituality of the heart means learning to live each day with trust in God's love. We have come to recognize and believe the love God has for us. (1 Jn. 4) God's love is already present and will never change. God's love is unconditional; we are loved because God chose to love us. St. Paul tells us that God loved us when we were still sinners. God's love is faithful; we can turn away from God but God cannot turn away from us because God's nature is faithful.
Recognition of God's love can come only from God within, who speaks to the heart. When people meditate on the Gospels, they allow Jesus to touch their hearts; they begin to know God's personal love in a way that is beyond feelings and thoughts. No sermon, retreat or talk can convince people of God's love. People can affirm the message and life events can offer an experience of God's love, but only God can convince our heart.
It is not enough to recognize God's love. There is also a need to accept his love. Francis Thompson wrote: I fear, having God, I will have naught besides. People usually hesitate to accept God's love and his offer of intimacy. There is an innate fear of getting too close to God. People fear that if they get too close to God, they wil have to give up too much that they enjoy in life. Instinctively, people know that God's love is demanding and will become the primary relationship of their lives.
This fear of getting too close to God can block intimacy, can block an experience of God's compassionate love and stop people from letting go of whatever is blocking their spiritual growth.
To accept God's love means to accept Jesus' invitation into a relationship with himself and with the Father. Jesus tells us: "I no longer call you servants....I call you friends. It was not you who chose me; no I chose you...." Jesus invites each person into friendship and relationship with him; we can respond to this invitation daily.
The third movement in the spirituality of the heart is conversion. When people experience God's personal, unconditional and faithful love, they are moved to desire a change of their hearts and minds. Mostly, they are moved to let go of whatever might block their relationship with God and growth in their relationships. All the spiritual writers teach us that letting go is the most effective way to participate in one's spiritual growth. The MSC tradition speaks of the necessity of turning away from anything that limits our capacity to love and be loved.
People usually fear having to change. They want to get rid of obstacles to love without having to change. If we are able to accept and trust God's personal, unconditional and faithful love, we cannot remain the same. We start this conversion by choosing to be willing to let go and to allow God; both are necessary for transformation - as necessary as breathing in and breathing out. Spirituality of the heart teaches people to open their hearts to God. We need to be open to receive whatever gift God wants to give us and to allow Him to touch our hearts and transform our lives.
This transformation happens in and through life events. Books, retreats, and days of recollection do not change people. Life events change people. Books and retreats may give an awareness of the possibility of change, but real change happens in life. One of the great gifts of the spirituality of the heart is that it integrates life and thought; life and Scripture; life and reflection. We can only grow spiritually by becoming immersed in our own life. To do that, we need to experience our daily losses and disappointments and the feelings of anger and sadness that accompany the. We only grow by taking up our cross.
Life is a series of letting-go events, especially as one moves from one stage of life to another.
Spiritual growth includes a challenge to be patient for God's transforming action. This demands that we are prepared to wait until the Lord comes to transform our lives. In Matthew's Gospel, the parable of the give foolish bridesmaids, they were not prepared to wait for the coming of the Bridegroom. Scripture tells us to be prepared for we do not know the day or the hour. Prayer prepares; perseverance strengthens; kindness makes us ready to receive. Being patient is the first step to learning about the love that transforms.
The fourth movement of the spirituality of the heart is a desire to share. The movement of conversion, of letting go and allowing God, highlights the importance of telling stories. The way people most easily talk about conversion experiences is by describing how they were, what happened, and how they are now. What was their human condition? How did the events of their life affect them, especially with regard to their ability to trust, to love and to receive love? What was/is their experience of intimacy, of a closer relationship with God or another? How did this love change their way of thinking and acting their way of relating?
When people listen to each other's stories about hurt and loss, about intimacy and change, they affect each other. People experience growth in community. Growing spiritually is a community process. When people are hurt they go into isolation. Isolation is a symptom of being hurt and of the destructive power of hurt. When people share stories, they are invited out of isolation, into relationship again.
The fourth movement of a spirituality of the heart is a desire to be a new person, in a new relationship, and allow this transformation to affect all of one's relationships. The mission is to share the experience of intimacy and conversion with others, by words and actions. It is a gift offered, not a compulsion urged. It is freely received and freely given, to anyone who wishes to receive it.
Sharing one's story gives the message of Jesus' flesh today. The focus is on Jesus and what he has done in this life, so that people might remember Jesus and be grateful to him. Ultimately people share their faith, hope and love with others in such a way that they, in turn, will share their faith, hope and love with still others.
By Fr. Peter Campbell, MSC
Father Peter Campbell, MSC, served as Director of the Life's Healing Journey Retreat Ministry for over thirty years before retiring in 2007.