On the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 2015, the Rise of the Roses team gathered at the Shrine of St Brigid, in Faughart (Co.Louth) for a special blessing from the Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin.
St Brigid is a treasured Saint for the Irish People and is credited as being the founder of the first Religious Communities in Ireland. It was appropriate, therefore, that we should gather at her birthplace, to begin our journey around the country celebrating the beauty of Religious Life for women today.
We believe that St Brigid has lit a fire in our hearts, and that Our Lady is calling us to Knock so our hearts swelled with joy as we prepared to embark on this great adventure – a journey of discovery and renewal.
We believe that God is weaving the most wonderful tapestry in Ireland today of people who are opening their hearts and saying ‘Yes’ to Him. We are a small thread in this tapestry but, as St Brigid’s cloak famously spread across the country, we look forward in faith to watching His plan for Religious Life, and for a renewal of faith in Ireland, unfold.
We began our day, as we always do, with a song… asking God to open our eyes, ears and our hearts to help us to ‘see His face, hear His voice and love like Him’. We continued by reflecting on the mystery of the Annunciation where Our Lady, as a young girl, gave her powerful ‘Yes’ to God.
Archbishop Eamon then blessed ten bottles of Holy Water from St Brigid’s well, that we will bring to each of the Convents we visit on our Summer Tour. He spoke movingly about the significance of our pilgrimage beginning at this holy place, where Brigid, the first ‘ Irish bride of Christ’ was born. He remarked that St Brigid, living in a ‘dark age in Ireland’, injected new life into the Church through her faithful love and trust in Jesus. He set us this challenge: “Over these ten visits you will meet many women who have dedicated their lives as brides of Christ. Find out about them. Find out why they chose that life, and about the joy it has brought them. See if you can spread that message to your friends, family and communities … that the Consecrated Life injects new life and new springtime and new hope into the church”
He then blessed the whole team as we prepared to set off on our pilgrimage with our special cross.
In the very early days, whist the idea of Rise of the Roses was still a seedling, we felt strongly that we should carry the cross of Christ to each Convent we visit. Our Cross, as with most elements of our mission, is deeply symbolic.
“It is a humble, plain, piece of wood, slightly rough around the edges, tired and worn out, left forgotten in the corner of a timber yard.
Along the way, week by week, we will steadily work to embellish and decorate this cross.
Just as Jesus transformed the cross (a symbol of torture and death) into a sign of hope, life and love, we will work so that a beautiful piece of art (full of light and life) will emerge from this simple construction.
The pilgrimage on which we are about to embark, and our creative efforts along the way, will also reflect our need for continual spiritual transformation.
We should consider our lives like our artwork …as “work in progress”!!!
When we meet Jesus on the last day, we want to present to Him the most beautiful version of ourselves.
And so we set out with our cross….appropriately carried by the youngest members of our group -“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18:3). We hadn’t designed it this way, but everything somehow felt as it should be… the Cross held by the children, followed by Archbishop Eamon leading the rest of the group. We are blessed in this country to have Archbishop Eamon leading our Church into this ‘springtime of faith in Ireland’.
We all chatted, laughed and sang our way up through the stunning countryside in the most glorious weather. It was almost as if St Brigid herself wanted to showcase her own ‘home turf’ in the most fabulous way!
And then the moment arrived … the moment that we have been praying and preparing for… we came to the first stop on our tour – the Monastery of the Light of Christ ! Standing at the gates were the Poor Clare Sisters – Sr Briege, Sr Pam, Sr Rose, Sr Geraldine, Sr May, Sr Margaret and Sr Joan greeting us with open hearts, beaming smiles and huge hugs!
The ‘garden party’ that followed was one rich with colour, as visitors mingled with the Sisters, and relaxed in the summer sunshine. We then moved to St Clare’s Room where Méabh explained more about the Rise of the Roses mission and we had another ‘sing-song’ (as you’ll discover music will be a special feature of our tour!)
Sr Briege, the Vicaress of the community, then took the floor sharing with us the amazing story of how St Brigid called the Poor Clares to build a monastery at her birthplace. Sr Briege had us laughing out loud at times but also really opened our eyes to the reality of the power of God working through the intercession of their treasured Saints (Brigid & Clare). She went on to explain to us the importance of Religious Life to the Church, and how, contrary to what some may believe, Religious Sisters aren’t ‘shut off whilst the rest of the world gets on with being the Church’ . She emphasised several times how, as Religious Sisters, they “live with the Church, for the Church, on behalf of the Church.” Sr Briege had the whole room in the palm of her hand as she taught us and gave us a taste of the rich spirituality of the Poor Clare Order, and how that this spirituality had a unique ‘celtic twist’ under the ‘mantle of St Brigid’. It was thoroughly intriguing!
Our day moved on to the Rose Planting ceremony where Sr Margaret and Aoidin planted this special flower in memory of our visit and Méabh led us in song. We explained how this rose was a symbol of beauty, love and a promise, and how it represented a new connection between the Poor Clare Sisters and the young women of Ireland, united as we are, in love for Christ.
The Sisters then offered their visitors time to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, write petitions and chat informally. There was such a relaxed feel to the day … it was as if we were all somehow ‘at home’ there. With children playing in the gardens, grandparents comfortable on the couches and everyone enjoying each other’s company, it really did feel like we were part of one big family.
And what does every big Catholic family do at the end of the day? We joined in the living room (community room) for the rosary! The whole day was the perfect realisation of our vision for Rise of the Roses - everyone together, as the family of God, singing, praying, chatting, drinking tea and celebrating one very special part of our family – our Consecrated Sisters.
Sr Briege told us earlier in the day that “Religious Life is like a diamond”. She said, “The charism of each Religious Order is like a facet of the diamond reflecting the life of Christ in a different way.”
We know that every day on the tour will be very different, and it’s important to us that each Religious Order has a day befitting of its own special charism. That’s what will make this such a unique journey. We won’t judge ‘success’ on whether the sun shines or it pours, whether there’s a big crowd or a small intimate one. We simply try to do God’s will and allow Him to work through our efforts. We are setting out to ‘throw open the curtains’ and allow the light of God to shine on the beautiful diamond that is Consecrated Religious Life in Ireland.
As we said goodbye to the Poor Clare Sisters in Faughart, we knew this was no ending, but a ‘sending’ ... a sending with hearts full of joy, as we continue on our journey, leaving the quiet countryside for a bustling City… Join us next week as we meet the Sisters of Adoration and Reparation, 63 Falls Road Belfast!
Another facet of that diamond is ready to shine brightly …….