"The Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father, and the laughing brings forth pleasure, and the pleasure brings forth joy, and the joy brings forth love" - Meister Eckhart
I met a friend for lunch today. After a few minutes we discovered that we had a friend in common, someone neither of us had seen for years, but someone also we had both once been very good friends with, and, in different contexts learnt a lot from. I promised, for my part, I would go on a little search around Facebook and my email address list to try and track down the contact details of our mutual friend. Doing so has taken me on a little trip down memory lane.
Our friend is a priest, and a member of a religious congregation, the SSCC, which formed a most particular part in my remaining a Catholic. I say remaining because, like most cradle Catholics, the decision you get to make is to stay, rather than to become.
The SSCC ran the parish of Holy Cross Church, Bedford, when I, as a teenager, made my Confirmation. I am sure there was a choice about making Confirmation, but I don't remember it. It was what all my friends were doing and what was expected. But, during that process I made good friends with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (SSCC), to give them their full title. In 1997, when I was 17 I would travel with them to Poitiers, where they were founded in 1800 by Pierre Coudrin and Henrietta Aymer de la Chevalrie. It was an international meeting of young people, designed I think to teach us about the history and spirituality of this religious community. Of course, we also went, en mass, to the visit of Pope John Paul II in Paris - World Youth Day. There are many many things I remember about this trip, and quite a few incriminating photos to boot - but you are only young once! Embarrassingly, I think I fainted at the front of a echoing french church, sending a domino effect clatter of chairs booming through the nave. I think I was also asked to shut up and go to bed on more than one occasion. Drink was certainly taken. But looking back, the whole process also did start a bit of a trend. In subsequent years I traveled to Jerez in Spain (by bus!); Zdroj in Poland (also, by bus!); Dublin, Ireland; Arnstein, Germany and Lindisfarne, UK (I fainted there too! How embarrassing!) . I slept in a lot of churches, painted a few church halls, made many friends and sometimes, only sometimes, got in a bit of trouble! (Waking up in a Sacristy doesn't put you on good terms with the PP, apparently - who knew?)
But, today looking through the photos, and being a bit older and more reflective in my old age, I can see it was the spirituality of the SSCC that had me hooked. They taught me a lot about love, acceptance and peace. I fostered a devotion to the Sacred Hearts and to the Eucharist through their work, and I never really lost it. They also taught me to take things easy, to carry burdens lightly and never to make the mistake of taking yourself too seriously. If that isn't part of their charism as it is recorded in the constitutions, it blooming should be! I have since lived and worked with other Catholic religious congregations, but the lightness of heart showed by the SSCC has stuck. As a teacher it has been invaluable! I even laughed at myself today when, picking up my old Bible, peeling back the serious leather cover, I saw the turquoise and purple tissue paper covered in SSCC stickers underneath. Looking down at myself I was wearing a purple cardigan, and a turquoise t-shirt. Although my Bible for some reason has become more serious and somber, I apparently, have not! So thanks SSCC for teaching me the one valuable lesson in spirituality I really treasure. The shortest sentence in the Bible is, Jesus wept. With you I learnt, Jesus laughed.