A few months ago, I had a memorably off day. I was frustrated, tired and feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t focus on what mattered. My mind was restless, and by evening the prospect of our impending common Vespers and Rosary had made things worse. How I wished I could stay in my room, relishing in my miserable self-pity and resentment, instead of dragging myself to the chapel for half an hour! I couldn’t think of anything less appealing!
But drag myself I did. I stood and said the opening response, ‘O God, make haste to help us!’, my entire body glowering. As we moved through the antiphons and psalms I withdrew more and more into myself, impatiently waiting for the final invocation so that I could hightail it out of there.
And then we started to say the Magnificat. As I crossed myself and said the words of the Virgin Mary, whose spirit rejoiced in God her saviour, my spirit was doing anything but that. God, though, touches us so simply and profoundly.
The Magnificat continues later on: His mercy is from age to age on those who fear him. As those words passed before my eyes and through my lips, they found my heart too. I suddenly realised, in that moment, that despite my inward attitude of separation and isolation, our little community, praising God in this little chapel in our corner of the world, were united in such a profound way. We were united as and for the Church.
As we prayed, I marvelled at the reality that all around the world, millions of people making up the Church would gather to say exactly the same words in their own time, places and languages. In that very moment, my sisters and I were intimately, lovingly connected not just with each other, but with people we had never met and would never meet. That is the unity of my Church, which I love.
My frazzled spirit was beginning to un-frazzle as we moved through our prayers of intercession. As we prayed for our own needs and the needs of others in our world, I felt once again this unity which reaches such a high point in liturgical and sacramental life. As we prayed for peace, I suddenly remembered the words which are said by the priest during Mass following the Consecration: May our sacrifice, we pray O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world. Salvation for all the world, not just for ourselves or for people who believe what we do. I realised again that the Church is always pushing us to look beyond ourselves, to meet Jesus present in those around us, to spread his love and joy and peace as far and as wide as we can. That is the call of my Church, which I love.
That day, it was so easy for me to focus on myself because that was what I chose to do. The invitation of my Church, of her people and practices, is to make any focus on myself not an end in itself, but as something necessarily related to our love of God and of others. My Church offers me the opportunities to discover this interconnected self-identity, my vocation, my own Baptismal call. My personal experiences of God and my increasing knowledge of myself say to me in resounding unison that my call is to live as a consecrated woman, to live in love and for love. This call brings me the richest peace and contentment I’ve ever felt, and it’s only possible because of my Church. This is the peace of my Church, which I love.
Recently I met a wonderful woman who introduced me to a simple and profound prayer: Lord, that I may see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day. The Church provides a beautiful space in which Jesus is revealed to us, in which we can love him more deeply and continue the mission he began. But again, it all begins with us asking for and opening ourselves up to the grace to see. That day in the chapel, I wasn’t seeing clearly. Jesus was right before me in my sisters, in the words of our prayers, even in the True Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, but I wasn’t seeing Him. I’d turned my eyes away. The Church, through the beauty of people, prayer, liturgy and Scripture, constantly directs our focus to Him who is always before us. This is the beauty of my Church, which I love.
Some days we’ll wake up and not feel like being Church. Sometimes we’ll have bad days. But God always comes to us as we are and wherever we are. The depths of our misery, shame and bad days aren’t obstacles for God. Yes, God comes and gently draws our frustrated, restless, rueful hearts back to where they should be. God draws my heart towards the Church, and there I find so much life, strength, comfort, hope, and encouragement that I don’t want to be anywhere else. In and through my Church, Jesus is revealed to me, and I am given the space in which I can most effectively proclaim Jesus, his life and his love to others.
I love my Church!
Sister Sophie Boffa