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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Feast of the Sacred Heart ... a message from Superior General Kathleen Conan, RSCJ

Feast of the Sacred Heart is celebrated on June 7, 2013

Message below is from Superior General Kathleen Conan, RSCJ


Ref. No. 13/106

June 7, 2013
Feast of the Sacred Heart

Dear Sisters,

As the General Council reflected on the letter for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we sensed that not only we, but also the Church and the Society, are at a new moment.  We have heard from you, and from so many others, that the words, the gestures, the actions of Pope Francis have captured our hearts and awakened our hope.  They call us anew out of complacency to be who we as individuals and as a congregation want to be.  While there are challenges, ambiguities and complexities in living out the calls, something of our core desire has been awakened. Something of our spirit is being renewed!

There are new moments in the life of the Society as well. Throughout the year we have heard how the reflection in the JPIC process has given new impulse to our hearts and choices. The call from the international formation meeting to conversion in our community life, our interior life and our understanding of poverty has evoked a desire for and commitment to renewal at the core of our vocation.  It is interesting now to notice that they also left us with the conviction: “We feel the need for deeper reflection on our sense of church. ”

At each of the regional meetings in the past year, those of Latin America and Africa, there was a renewed sense of cor unum.  We had the experience that when our unity is strong, we appreciate, respect and value our diversity.  Each region committed to “think region,” to have some common foci for the next few years and to think together in a new way about the fragile areas in the region.

We sense this new spirit in the midst of a world where violence and devastation continue to be the daily bread of so many of our sisters and brothers; where economic crisis affects more and more people. It is a world where exploitation and trafficking of persons is ongoing; where creation continues to be endangered by our choices; where hearts and minds of people of good will are overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges.  Yet at the same time we know in our own hearts and, in those of so many, a faithful commitment to justice and inclusion. We know that we are called to educating in a way that unleashes creativity and passion for building a world of peace; to developing relationships and communities of life and love.

The readings for the Feast this year offer us a way to live God’s love in a world in need of shepherding.  Let us ponder these texts in the light of some of the calls Pope Francis has offered us as he begins his ministry.  Let us ask that our hearts be opened by and to the Spirit, that we may be renewed at depth in our call and capacity to live the tenderness of God’s love and renewed in zeal to seek out those who are lost and on the margin, gathering them into community, offering them nourishment and refreshment.


In the mass to begin his Petrine ministry, Pope Francis called us to care for creation with “goodness and tenderness 2.”  For many of us, his exhortation to live tenderness, to not be afraid of it, echoed that of our own vocation to live the “strength and tenderness of Jesus’ love for each one” (Constitutions 62).  In the Constitutions we recognize that we live our call to tender love with different nuances according to the time and situation in our lives.

Our elderly sisters by their wisdom and their tenderness bear witness to God’s faithfulness and the joy of belonging to Him.”(35)  Sisters, your wisdom and tenderness have been fashioned throughout your lives as you have let the sentiments of the heart of Jesus shape your own.  You have been the shepherd to so many children and young people; to persons in situations of distress in community centers, soup kitchens and clinics; to your sisters with whom you live and the lay collaborators with whom we work.  You have sought out the lost, carried them to security, accompanied them on their next steps, offered compassion and nourishment.  Your hearts have been molded by the heartaches of others as you have felt their pain and been a presence of tender, patient, faithful love.

While at this moment in your lives some may be more aware of the suffering or discouragement which can accompany illness and diminishment, may you know our gratitude for the journeys of your hearts.  You are strength and encouragement for our own journeys. We admire and bless your desire that God continue to shape your hearts in tenderness.  

Our younger sisters too have a special call to tenderness.  We know that what we say in the Constitutions in the section on the novices expresses our vision of what we all hope to live as Religious of the Sacred Heart.  In that spirit, we say to our newer members, “discover the wealth of (your) own affectivity and extend towards others an affection which is honest (vraie), tender and faithful.” (88)  The prophet Ezekiel (Chapter 34) offers us images of such tender, faithful love:  reaching out to the wandering; healing the sick; binding up those whose bodies or hearts have been injured; seeking out green pastures where people will be nurtured.  

Discovering and integrating the human and spiritual dimensions of the wealth of our affectivity was a key theme at the international formation meeting and is an ongoing process for all of us.  Letting God be tender with us opens up our own capacity to be tender. Growing in tenderness in relationships with ourselves and others teaches us something of how God wants to be with us.  In a spiral way this growth happens, one aspect building upon another, moving together towards wholeness and a fuller gift of myself in loving as God loves.

All of us are called “to reveal the strength and tenderness of Jesus’ love for each one.” (62) Little by little, through growing in the attitudes of Jesus, through our efforts to be God’s heart in a world where love and relationships are scarred by deep wounds, our own hearts are softened, stretched, pierced, healed and strengthened.  Through the heart journeys we touch in our ministries and relationships, we learn to love more freely, to care more fully, to be bearers of God’s tenderness.

For all of us, the call to tender love is inextricably linked to the central relationship of our lives:
“Our union and conformity with the Heart of Jesus widens our capacity to love and to let ourselves be loved…(62)
“…the novices will increasingly centre their lives on Jesus Christ”  (88)
 “Our elderly sisters… bear witness to God’s faithfulness and the joy of belonging to Him” (35)

Let us take this Feast of the Sacred Heart as an opportunity to renew our relationship with God, opening ourselves to God’s love, uniting and conforming ourselves more closely to Jesus’ way of loving, confident that the Spirit wants to shape our hearts to become God’s tender love, that we all may know the joy of belonging wholly to God!


At the Chrism mass on Holy Thursday Pope Francis issued a strong call to those who minister in the church, asking us to be “shepherds living with the odor of the sheep, as shepherds among your flock.”   As we heard this exhortation, did we not find ourselves checking our lifestyle, examining our reality and questioning ourselves? "Do I have the odor of the sheep? Is it obvious that I am one with my sheep? What odors permeate my body, my daily life? Whose scents, whose joys and sufferings, would someone recognize in my heart and spirit? "

The shepherd is among his scattered sheep.  Where are we shepherding?  Francis continues, “We need to go out… to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many masters. ”   We know from our visits to provinces that we are ministering in many situations of marginalization, tending the lost, pasturing the hungry, pouring out healing, empowerment and love.   Yet, can we hear anew the call to go out to the periphery, to seek out those in need?  Where in our current situation are there people on the margin who need a tender presence or concrete assistance?  Are there peripheries in our region, in our countries, in our communities, physical peripheries or those edges of human experience where the piercing of the heart takes place?  Francis asks us to go there, to approach realities which may at first be uncomfortable but which, as we take on their smells and live God’s love, becomes places of renewal and newness of life.

Much of shepherding involves a great deal of patient tending, encouraging, guiding to new opportunities, watching and waiting.  In the daily-ness of life, the shepherdess comes to know her sheep personally, calls them by name and knows their story from the time they were newborn lambs.  It is through her faithful presence and attentive caring that she takes on the scents of her sheep.  Let us renew the habits of heart which enable us to know the sheep God has entrusted to us, to guide their paths and foster their growth.  As their scents and journeys mark and shape our own lives, may we become more and more the heart of God in our world.  

As we celebrate this Feast of the Sacred Heart, let us commit to renewing our hearts in tender love. Let us reach out anew to those on the margins, letting their scents, their joys and struggles, shape our concerns and choices. Let us live into this new moment in the church, taking our responsibility to shape her life, her concerns and her ways of living God’s love among God’s people.

United in love and prayer,

Kathleen Conan rscj
Superior General

[1] Letter from the International Formation Meeting - 3 August, 2013
[2] Beginning of the Petrine Ministry, Homily of Pope Francis, 19 March 2013
[3]  Chrism Mass, Homily of Pope Francis, 28 March 2013
[4]  Ibid

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