Turning 50, celebrating 50 years of covenant, is an important milestone in our personal and covenant lives. What is the grace, the challenge, the joy or the difficulty? From France and England come these testimonies. Happy Anniversary!
Rediscovering free intimacy with God
Muriel d’Hoffschmitt, consecrated sister, ccn, Maison Cana, Pothières
« You will make the fiftieth year a holy year, and you will proclaim liberation for all the inhabitants of the land. It will be a jubilee for you: each of you will return to his property, each of you will return to his clan. This fiftieth year will be a year of jubilee for you ». (Leviticus 25, 10-11a)
This chapter of the book of Leviticus tells us what a jubilee is for the Jewish people. The word jubilee comes from the Hebrew Yobel, which means « ram » or « ram’s horn ». Every fifty years, the sound of this horn opened a special year for Israel, a holy year. A year particularly devoted to God, rest and social renewal.
A few weeks ago, as I was reading this text, I thought it shed some light on something I was going through. I’ve just spent a year in Switzerland, in Bethanien, serving the community, already in my fiftieth year. During the Community’s General Chapter at Hautecombe Abbey, I had the joy of celebrating my 50th birthday on 9 August (the same birthday as Father Laurent Fabre, the founder of our community). I am now in the process of settling in September 2023 in Les Pothières, in the Cana house in the Lyon region. It’s through this text from Leviticus 25 that I’d like to share with you some of the things that are on my mind…
A holy year :
This fiftieth year in Switzerland has helped me to rediscover a gratuitous intimacy with God. The mountain setting has been a daily source of wonder for me. It’s all about lifting up your eyes and turning away from yourself to find help and peace in God, the essential, as Psalm 120 says: « I will lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where will my help come? Help will come from the Lord who made heaven and earth ».
Contemplating creation has always helped me to find God, in the beauty of the landscapes, the harmony and diversity of the colours, the fragrances, the animals, all the life that teems everywhere! But nothing beats the grandeur and immensity of the mountains. The snow-capped peaks catch my eye and arouse praise from the depths of my heart. God created all this for me, to show me his love, his tenderness, his goodness. Creation brings me into an intimate relationship with the Creator! So this Holy God, who seems far away, becomes very close to me, his creature. He touches my soul, awakening me to life and hope. Before this immensity, I also feel very small, I put myself back in my rightful place as a creature in dependence on God.
« The man who marvels leaves himself, forgets himself, is freed from himself, comes into contact with an infinite reality that fills him! He breathes, he discovers the orbit of his soul, the immensity of the reality that loves him and that he never ceases to pursue », wrote Maurice Zundel.
A Holy Year that was more centred on Him, as Teresa of Avila put it in a succinct phrase: « Solo Dios basta », « Only God suffices ». Very often, I’ve been able to experience these words, to find peace in a moment in the chapel, by day or by night, simply by reiterating my love for Christ.
I love the prayer of St Nicholas de Flue:
« My Lord and my God, take from me all that distances me from You. My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to You. My Lord and my God, detach me from myself so that I may give myself entirely to You. »
Proclaiming liberation :
At 50, I can also contemplate how far I’ve come and proclaim the victory of Christ in a freer life following him. I was brought up with a strong sense of duty and work, generosity and self-sacrifice, without necessarily having much space to express my feelings or needs. This has shaped the way I live and give of myself in the community.
However, lately the Lord has been inviting me to move from being a « bulldozer » to being a « little hoe ». I’ve always been ready to go abroad as a missionary, to help with a new foundation or to take on new challenges. But God is inviting me simply to be a little hoe in his hand, doing simple, humble and joyful work in the image of his heart. It’s not a question of doing great things, of being a missionary far away and shining out of pride, but of being a missionary of love where the Lord needs me: in my case, being a housewife at Les Pothières.
Like the words of Philippians 3:8: « For his sake I have lost everything; I count everything as rubbish, so that I may gain one thing, Christ », I must be prepared to lose everything in order to gain Christ, and to be seized by Him. Leaving behind my desires for efficiency and « doing », to be more « available » to the unforeseen events of the Holy Spirit in everyday life, in the gratuitousness of relationships.
50 years means giving thanks for the road we’ve travelled, for the goodness of God! I give thanks for the family I grew up in, and for the faith and values passed on by our parents.
I give thanks for my brothers and sisters who continue to nurture this family spirit (they all travelled to Switzerland to celebrate 50 years in Bethanien!): the joy of singing life, praying and sharing.
I give special thanks to the Lord for the revelation of his love for me at the age of 16. This encounter with a loving God transformed my life and opened up my call to consecrate everything I am to him in religious life. God is faithful, he is patient, he is merciful… and so are the brothers and sisters with whom I have been living this magnificent adventure of community life for almost 30 years: the joy of a shared treasure!
But 50 years is a very short time, it’s a first jubilee! The last Dominican sister in Bethanien, whom I greeted before I left, is about to celebrate her 100th birthday. She is a fine example of fidelity that allows Christ to spread the fragrance of his presence in the world. May we too share this fragrance!
Returning to her clan
After 24 years of mission abroad (outside France), it was undoubtedly time to return to the « clan », a return to the heart of the community. When I arrived at Pothières, I remembered my first commitment to the Community, right here at a Eucharist on the terrace. It was a return to my roots!
Jesus asked me again: « Do you love me more than these? Yes, Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you » (Jn 21:15-18). May this love of Christ make our home a Bethany where Jesus loves to come and rest, meet his friends and share the good wine of Cana… which improves with the years.
« This fiftieth year will be a jubilee year for you » YALLAH! f M. d’H.
A Marriage Jubilee
Charles and Felicity Hadley, married, ccn, Storrington, England
It is a strange coincidence that at about the time that the Chemin Neuf Community was born, we were married in a beautiful, small country church in Somerset (south west England) by Felicity’s father. So this year we can celebrate a double jubilee for us and for the Community.
Felicity had said she would not marry a Vicar or someone with a receding hairline and Charles had said he would not marry before the age of 30. Charles was working for an international bank and soon to go to Paris and then Hong Kong. Felicity was not so keen to travel and though Charles was in the first graduate intake, the bank still operated the rules for school-leavers which decreed no marriage until completing the three year posting in Hong Kong.
Anyway, Charles gave up his job and we were married just before Charles started his training for the priesthood (he married her for her money!). For his curacy we went to a parish in Suffolk and met the Third Order of the Society of St Francis. We felt the radical attraction of St Francis. On leaving Suffolk we became Franciscan Tertiaries, grateful to belong to an apostolic Order with a personal Rule of Life and a place to share without the trappings of our parish roles.
Tertiaries take the call to poverty seriously. As well as financial hardship, Charles also found in his ministry that many people suffered emotional poverty, starvation even, in their lives, their relationships and even their marriages. There was little joy; and humility, love and joy are the Three Notes that mark a Tertiary.
We met the Chemin Neuf in 1992 as part of a sabbatical journey around several of the New Communities in France. Many people in these communities told us about the impact of the CANA Week on their marriages and their families. Couples who felt they needed time together to talk and share in a safe place, that there could be more to their marriage, who wanted to renew their joy, to go deeper in their love for each other found the CANA Week to be a grace-filled space.
So, of course, we asked the Community (Jacqueline in fact) if Chemin Neuf could start something in England. And when, nine years later, we joined the Community Laurent encouraged us to continue as Tertiaries and deploy the charisms of Francis and of Clare.
So what is our joy as we celebrate this Jubilee Year? What is the joy of marriage?
Marriage is a call to commit yourself to your spouse, an invitation to become one flesh. The couple take pleasure in each other’s company, they enjoy doing things together, they celebrate each other’s achievements and interests (Charles learnt to love opera and to name plants and butterflies from Felicity, Felicity learnt to love peanuts and travelling and both of us already loved dark chocolate), they make space for each other, they affirm and encourage each other. Their joy is to be together. Their model is Christ Jesus, who gave himself unconditionally to those he loved.
But there is a second call. Sooner or later, the truth of who l am and who my spouse is emerges and challenges my happiness. This is the second call, the call to go deeper, to discover the rich hidden treasure of marriage. It is an invitation to accept myself and my spouse as we really are, to acknowledge my poverty or a lack of something, my inadequacy, my suffering.
Felicity and I in our marriage had to respond to this second call. Our love was tested, we struggled. One of the themes of the Cana Week ponders on the fact that “Love = Happiness and Suffering”. We should not be surprised if there are times of suffering in our marriage. “With Jesus in the marriage, the cross is at the heart, but he opens the way for us to resurrection”. Working through times of suffering together brought us new joys and understanding as we learnt by grace to accept each other as the people we really are. No marriage can survive and become a source of rich and enduring joy without sacrifice.
A big joy of CANA (like all Chemin Neuf missions) is to invite the Holy Spirit to inspire everything and then to see the miracles of grace that happen when people open up to Him/Her. Renewal in marriage is very often part of a renewal of a person’s commitment to God. Fifty years ago (July 28th) we committed to be together for life, to give ourselves fully to each other.
In ministry together in four parishes and a University Chaplaincy, as Franciscan Tertiaries, as members of the Chemin Neuf Community in neighbourhood and in life fraternities (Jerusalem and Langport), we have tried to welcome the Holy Spirit in all our decision-making.
Getting to a Golden Wedding celebration does not mean that honouring that commitment has been easy. And we are certainly not “experts”. But we know that if we acknowledge our poverty and rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the strength to fulfil our promises, then we will have access to a never-ending source of joy. C. & F. H.
Cet article fait partie du numéro 78 de la revue FOI
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