The Sodality at a year old: first Superior’s report to General Chapter

Superior’s Report
Aylesford Priory

May 17th, 2017

Thank you, first of all, to Sr Gemma, for a truly amazing, renewing and inspiring three days. Last year, after Fr Martin gave us such a good start I thought we would never be able to follow that, but wow, Sr Gemma you certainly have. You are a true daughter of St Ignatius, a true daughter of that strong woman, Mary Ward. You have led us with imagination, insight and good humour. This will go down in my life and for us as a community as one of the most significant retreats.
(Presentation)
We are as, Fr Olier would say, “priests of Jesus”. Without Jesus we are nothing, without Jesus whatever we do is meaningless, Jesus is the centre, the heart, the solid rock of our industry. Jesus is the home, the refuge, our first love. As the Psalm at the Office of Readings put it “I love you Lord my strength.”

So lets pray together Fr Olier’s prayer, Day 6 in The Manual …
And we end that prayer by commending ourselves to the prayers of Mary, our Mother, the Mother of Priests: Hail Mary …
This is the first ever Superior’s Report so I feel something of a weight. I am not going to waste time detailing what has happened over the last year. You can look at Facebook and Twitter for that.

I am immensely grateful to God for this Sodality and for our friendship in it; for this profound sense of community that is developing among us. Most of you will have seen this piece of jewellery I came across, two Hearts, one inside the other, like the hearts of Jesus and Mary. Without Jesus we are nothing, without love we are nothing. They will know that we are christians by our love; how good and precious it is, brothers and sisters living in unity.

We are a dispersed community, but we must never let our love seem dispersed. Keep using the private Facebook group to update us on news and to ask for our prayers. Nothing is too small. We will grow in love as we grow in knowledge of each other. Keep inviting each other to events, celebrations and parties. Fr Michael Bowie celebrates 25 years of priesthood on July 2nd if you are able to get to Margaret Street please do so but most of all send him your love and prayers and offer Mass for him. Michael, dear friend, you have been a great blessing to us and to me, we are grateful.

Keep inviting each other to preach as well, as we visit each other, see where we are ministering, see the context in which we each work we will also grow in love.
We continue to grow steadily, I am emailed by people wanting to know more every week. I have received new members and many aspirants; we are an incredibly young group. I find that enormously encouraging. there is a narrative that the church is in decline; that Anglo Catholicism has had its day. I do not believe either of those things. the young men and women offering themselves in the Sodality are the new life, the new future, the mission priests of the coming years and decades.
The Manual calls us to have universal hearts. As Catholics we must be wherever Jesus is. We must be in Reform and Renewal, Messy Church and Fresh Expressions – how fabulous that the Chaplain of Moot is now a Sodalist. The Manual also calls us to be of cheerful hearts, the spirit of clever cynicism that some in the church adopt, of weary resignation, has no place in the life of a mission priest. Only joy, only love will bring people to Jesus.
They say that the camel is a horse designed by a committee; well the Manual was written by a ‘committee’ but I think it is a beautiful and elegant thing. It demands a lot. Some will not be able to keep it. The Sodality is not for everyone. Some we will have to, in a kindly and loving way, suggest that it is not for them. All of us will fail.
We are one year old. Compared to the Jesuits or to Sr Gemma’s Congregation of Jesus we are babies. We are still in a process of formation. We are working things out organisationally. We have never sought to be other than small and hidden. Growth in numbers is good. But the most import thing is our growth in maturity, in holiness and love.
This morning I placed Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar and our reports on observance of The Manual next to him.

What a great offering of prayer, of priestly sacrificial living. A worthy offering.

One thing struck me for us to work on: the number of us who haven’t got Spiritual Directors. We need to sort that. It’s easy to let it slip. I haven’t got one yet, I moved seven months ago, I put some enquiries out, I met one person and decided it wasn’t going to work with that person; I haven’t done anything since.

Because we live public lives; because we deal with holy things we are incredibly vulnerable; the devil is out to get us. We need Spiritual Directors to keep us real, to keep us grounded.
I am pleased to report a new development: Mother Imogen is going to work on what is needed within the Sodality for those called to single life and especially those who wish to make a formal commitment to celibacy for the kingdom. Please pray for her in that work.
It is a great model of and for the church that we are a Sodality that includes those living the celibate life, those in civil partnerships and those who are married.

Fitting our attempt to be extreme Christians I am sure we will all want to pray for and congratulate Fr and Mrs Hutcherson as they prepare for the arrival of twins in June. For a Sodalist one baby is never enough!
I will end with where I began with Jesus.

Having spent most of my life working with or for young people I know that they want serious, demanding religion. I became a priest, I have often told them, because it is the closest I could get to being a Jedi knight. There is evil in my heart, there is evil in the world, there are battles to be fought. “Such is the high post of duty” Diognetus told us at the Office of Readings this morning, in which God has placed us.
To be mission priests, as Sister Gemma reminded us in the words of Pope Francis, is not to DO mission but to BE mission.

Fr Benson of Cowley puts it like this:

“The eyes need not to see the power of God, if the heart gazes upon it; and, if the heart gazes upon it, the life cannot but manifest it.”
We inherit a serious tradition, to be priests of Jesus, to live as Fr Benson of Cowley would have it, serious lives, as St. Paul put it in the reading at Lauds (Rom 6:11) to look towards God through Jesus.

Such seriousness takes a lot of imagination, love and playfulness, that imagination, that playfulness is what Sr Gemma has led us in so gracefully on this retreat, for which

Let us bless the Lord: thanks be to God.

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