Spirituality of the Heart: A Process Approach

Chris Chaplin, msc

Given at the 2019 General Conference in Busan, Korea.


It has been said, “A healthy church is a missionary church”. This might lead us to an end of the “managing decline” approach to leadership, in favour of looking for signs of life in the Spirit. A General Conference is a good opportunity to evaluate our structures to ensure they serve the mission, if not, then let us not use old skins to hold new wine.

Change can be painful. It supposes that we have agreed to make ourselves vulnerable for the short term. If you ask people to choose between change and death, some will choose to die. However, we have already begun the process of transformation. We know how to share our experience, confirming our missionary energy, without denying our difficulties. We can also readily admit our own resistance to change and acknowledge that the primary limiting factor is usually our own attitudes. We know that doing so makes change happen more freely.

On the 7th March, just days before the conclave that elected him, Cardinal Bergoglio told the

Cardinals, Evangelizing presupposes a desire in the church to come out of herself. The church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents and of all misery. When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. The evils that, over time, happen in ecclesiastical institutions have their root in self-reference and a kind of theological narcissism. In Revelation, Jesus says that he is at the door and knocks. Obviously, the text refers to his knocking from the outside in order to enter but I think about the times in which Jesus knocks from within so that we will let him come out. The self-referential Church keeps Jesus Christ within herself and does not let him out. When the Church is self-referential, inadvertently, she believes she has her own light; she ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives way to that very serious evil, spiritual worldliness. It lives to give glory only to one another. Put simply, there are two images of the Church: the Church which evangelizes and comes out of herself, the Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidente proclamans; and the worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself. This should shed light on the possible changes and reforms which must be done for the salvation of souls. Thinking of the next pope: He must be at man who, from the contemplation and adoration of Jesus Christ, helps the Church to go out to the existential peripheries, that helps her to be the fruitful mother, who gains life from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelising. [1]

Our being MSC doesn’t call us to come out of ourselves. Coming out of ourselves is why we are MSC. This is the ecstatic nature of religious vocation, to go out beyond ourselves, as did Jesus, following him. Yes, he is at the door and knocking, not in order to join us, but to call us out to join him. Otherwise it is on our terms. Being drawn beyond ourselves is the point of conversion and this is true for us as leaders as much as for our members.

As leaders within the Society we are frequently called to the peripheries. We know the experience and how challenging it can be. There are times we know the frustration of encountering in our members a great indifference towards the mission that calls us out of our sense of contentment. Jules Chevalier recognised the egocentrism and religious indifference of his time; the mal moderne. Pope Francis points to the same reality. It is an example of the self-reference that can be found both in individuals and systems. It is present within our own Society and even our own leadership – not in a deliberate way, but part of the human experience. At the individual level, I am the voice I am listening to. Systemically, the automatic patterns of thinking and acting are the voices we listen to, albeit often without critical awareness.

If I can quote Juan Rodriguez[2] for a minute. At a recent meeting, he spoke of a “stove-top” understanding of community. Four disconnected burners, all burning separately, not connecting that the gas is the same in all. There is a new way of being msc in this age. A deep conversion/transformation is needed. Old wine splits new wine skins. There is a need for credible living of community witness not just individualistic witness. A New Paradigm – challenging the questions, who are we? To whom are we answerable to? Who is sending us? This is not a time for a new document, but to be an authentic community focused on mission.

In Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, we read,

I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37). [3]

He says that mercy is the first thing the Catholic Church is called to bring to those peripheries.

The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.[4]

In the light of challenging images given by the Holy Father, let us consider some questions we invite the General Conference to explore.

What is the purpose of leadership? Who are we leading? What leadership is appropriate for our times? Is there an approach to leadership and mission specific to our own spirituality? What characterises MSC leadership? How does our spirituality shape the way in which we enact leadership; leadership of our own members, as well as our leadership within the Church and within the wider society in these times? As leaders with our members and as ministers with the marginalized and poor how do we “come out of ourselves” to go to the peripheries? How might we fan the flames of our missionary energy?  How do we bring the mission especially when we meet with ego-centrism and indifference?

The General Leadership Team began to ask these questions when it took office two years ago. The questions have taken a sharper focus as a result of our accompaniment of leaders and members across the Society during this time. Of course, the questions didn’t just begin then, each one brought with him a history.

With the assistance of a facilitator the Leadership Team has sought to grapple with the paradigm shift we find ourselves in. Let us say something about that.  The following comparison comes from the methodology of Appreciative Discernment, an adaption by Fr. Bill Nordenbrock CPPS, of the scholarly work on Appreciative Inquiry pioneered by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva.[5]


Our unique mission is seen through the prism of a ‘spirituality of the heart’.  Here, God’s love is embodied in a human heart. We believe that the coming of the Kingdom of God requires change, but we emphasize that this begins with the renewal of our own hearts. New structures and thinking can be introduced only when our hearts are in the process of renewal; otherwise they would have to be imposed by force, which we know usually results in superficial conformity rather than true interiorization of values. Furthermore, only hearts renewed by the compassion of Christ can envision a society in which justice dwells. Hence, MSC leadership and mission is about creating a new heart for a new world. If we want a new heart for a new world we have to listen to our own hearts and listen to ‘the heart of the world’, listen to the deep longings of our time, listening within the Heart of Christ.

Our former Superior General, Fr. Cuskelly, made important contributions to such a spirituality of the heart. In the first place, he defined the meaning of the word ‘spirituality’, as distinct from devotional practice. A person may have various devotions, but we speak of spirituality ‘when a person’s central intuition comes into a person’s life and under its special light transforms the whole of one’s spiritual life’. Cuskelly gives an outline of how he sees that spirituality of the heart describing a religion that has become interiorised and habitual. It indicates that:

  1. We have to go down to the depths of our own souls in a realisation of our profound personal needs of life, of love and of meaning.
  2. We must find, through faith and reflection, the answer to our own questioning in the Heart of Christ, i.e. in the depths of his personality, where man’s yearning and God’s graciousness meet in redemptive incarnation.
  3. Then, fashioned by these forces, our own heart will be an understanding heart, open to, feeling for, and giving to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. We will not be discouraged in the face of difficulties.
  5. We follow Christ who ‘loved with a human heart’ as Vatican II reminds us; he shared our humanness that we might know that over us all is the everlasting love of the Father. In God’s good time the omnipotent love of God will have its way. It is this love in which we have learned to believe.

The former Assistant General and Australian Provincial, Fr. Dennis Murphy MSC later wrote,

When Jesus began to preach, he called for conversion, for a change of heart. He continues to do the same today. His call for a change of heart is based on God’s coming to us as a Father who loves us. This love is revealed not only in the words and actions of Jesus, but particularly in his own deepest attitudes and values, that is in his ‘heart’. These two movements of revelation and conversion take place in the heart of an individual, but of necessity they go beyond the individual too, for they change relationships between people and hence should create a new form of society. Thus, there is a third movement in the teaching of Jesus – mission into the heart of the world.

The movements highlighted here, revelation, conversion and mission, do not take place in chronological order. Each implies the other and they continually interact. If any one of them was neglected, we would be untrue to the teaching of Jesus. They sum up also what Father Chevalier saw in the Heart of Christ and what we speak of today as a ‘spirituality of the heart.’[7]

In the movement of revelation, we see two movements. There are moments of encounter when the experience God’s love breaks through into consciousness, or we wake up to the need for change, or the sufferings and joys of others and of creation stirs deep emotions.

It is one thing to encounter these realities, but another a when I wait with these encounters to the extent that they shape and influence how I live my life and the choices I make. This influence is the result of a growing intimacy between oneself and the experience. The deeper I relate with God, the world or myself, the more reality reveals to me about itself and the more I come to know who I really am, and glimpse more of the Mystery that is God in this reality. Catherine of Genoa says, “My deepest me is God.”[8]

Thus, we can say that there are four movements[9] in which a spirituality of the heart is developed and brings about transformation: creating a new heart for a new world: These four movements, Encounter, Intimacy, Conversion and Mission, create a framework for all our undertakings which parallels the emerging paradigm we have already spoken of.  We can consider the movements of our spirituality in the light of the contemporary model of Appreciative Discernment and its comparison of the two paradigms of organisation change. [10]


Through the chance encounters of each moment, opportunities are present to be aware of God’s unconditional love in the realities of one’s life: that is in what is.  I encounter the unconditional love of God and I realise that God loves others in the same way.  God’s love beckons even if I don’t apprehend its voice and respond. We filter this experience according to already pre-existing dispositions within us. And yet love makes itself known to us unexpectedly again and again, in fleeting moments of allurement[11].  I am left with an invitation, but am I free to follow, or do I just continue with “life as normal”.


In the story of Moses and the burning bush, there is first of all an allurement, a seduction and attraction, a fascinating experience (the bush that is burning but not consumed). Moses is attracted to it. Then Yahweh says, “Take off your shoes. Come no nearer.” God is not calling Moses to enmeshment or loss of his own self. Yahweh is telling Moses, “I know who I am, and you are about to enter into an experience of the sacred with me, but stand your ground. Come no nearer.” God honours the other as distinct. So, love is not absorption, love is not a martyr complex where you let other people use you. When you know your inherent divine identity, you are truly ready to participate in the sacred dance of intimacy. And in the dance of love there must be at least two[12].

To stand my ground in God, requires me to be at home with myself.  This is at the heart of authentic conversion; a foundation on which healthy growth and transformation can happen.  It is a process of self-awareness in which my real identity is confirmed and affirmed – that I am created in the image and likeness of God.  God’s identity is love, so my true identity is love.  “Between God and the soul there is no distance.”[13]   This love makes personal transformation, professional development and spiritual growth sustainable and safe.  When we go into our depths, we will meet our vulnerability, we will meet our woundedness, but that is also where we meet God, for “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself”.[14]  Love demands that I be open in my vulnerabilities.  Love enlarges my perception of myself, God, others and all creation. 

The gaze of God receives me exactly as I am.  The love grows in and between us, gaining strength, and empowering for mission.  The God of surprises is in constant Self-revelation. The two essential elements of self-revelation are trust and faithfulness. Intimacy requires respect for the space that needs to exist within and between us. Mutual love is a participation in a greater love to which it points, allowing space to move, forming new patterns and seeing God, creation, other and my own self as always new.  There is a call to be grounded in ourselves and in God’s unconditional love which enables the kind of personal conversion (shift of perspective) that serves mission.


We all want resurrection in some form. Jesus’ resurrection is a potent, focused, and compelling statement about what God is still and forever doing with the universe and with humanity. Science strongly confirms this statement today with different metaphors and symbols: condensation, evaporation, hibernation, sublimation, the four seasons, and the life cycles of everything from salmon to stars—constantly dying and being reborn in different forms. God appears to be resurrecting everything all the time and everywhere. It is not something to “believe in” as much as it is something to observe and be taught by.[16]  When we are guided by the principles of spirituality of the heart this resurrection, or conversion, is what takes place in those who participate in sacred intimacy.

The mutuality of intimacy demands vulnerability. Vulnerability in intimacy invites us often to step into the unknown, into the mystery of the other, or even the mystery of oneself.  The old small-self yields to a self now more capable of embracing the expanded mind, heart and will that the new understanding requires.  Our model of this openness is the Sacred Heart, who draws us to imitate the extent of his charity for all.  Imitating him, one’s life becomes more authentic and grows in moral and religious integrity.


When God wants something done, obstacles for him are means. He makes sport of human wisdom, upsets its expectations, calls to life what, in its view, should never see the light of day. He gives growth, strength and fruitfulness to what human wisdom had condemned to death. The foundation and growth of the little Society of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart is proof of this truth. [17] 

Jules Chevalier, c. 1870 

In conversion, we are expanded beyond self-interest by a love that extend us past the boundaries of our self. The “returning to our first love” [18]  releases the energy, passion, and joy that gives the inertia needed to undertake God’s mission in the heart of the world.  Anyone who has known this energy and seen it transforming their own life, cannot help but let go into the interior freedom it brings and want to share it by letting come [19] what is placed before them.  Perhaps this is how our spirituality can enable us to willingly accept whatever is asked of us, even when we have feelings of fear. We become other-centred, as Christ himself was; growing in our capacity for service without condition and giving our lives for others.  

In an interview the Martyr, Archbishop Oscar Romero was “asked if he was scared that he would be killed like his friends, Blessed Romero admitted that while he did have a “prudent concern” about threats to his life, he did not experience a “fear that inhibits me, that prevents me from working.” “I feel that while I walk along fulfilling my duty, while I go around freely being a shepherd to the communities, God is with me,” he said. “And if something happens to me, then I am prepared for everything.” [20] 

These four movements, Encounter, Intimacy, Conversion and Mission, create a framework for a process of continuous renewal – strengthening capacity for mission and for a life of integrity.

Hans Kwakman, MSC [21]  has been working on the core elements of a Spirituality of the Heart as lived and promoted by Fr. Chevalier. He uses the titles ‘Awareness’. ‘Encounter’, ‘Formation’ and ‘Mission’ which he borrowed from a talk given by Sr. Merle Salazar FDNSC, who used them as a summary of the description of a Spirituality of the Heart, given by Fr. Cuskelly MSC in his book, ‘Man with a Mission.’  He also notes how the writings and practical approach of Pope Francis are clearly a modern understanding of a Spirituality of the Heart.  Hans has offered these points of view to add to the reflection.

AWARENESS – Encounter

By a Spirituality of the Heart, P. Chevalier, intended to provide an answer to the ills of the time; indifference and selfishness. Indifference to faith in God, the Gospel and the Church, as well as selfishness in relation to the needs of the underprivileged, the poor and refugees. Even today, Pope Francis speaks of the existence of “global indifference” and “collective selfishness” as two widespread social diseases that might ruin society.

P. Chevalier and Pope Francis point out that the ills of society, namely “indifference” and “selfishness”, find their source in people’s hearts. By saying so, they do not speak as sociologists or politicians looking for social causes, but as shepherds of people. The cure of the ills of society must begin in our own hearts and in the hearts of as many people as possible.

We believe in the presence of God’s Spirit in our hearts. That belief makes us aware of the fact that our hearts are enriched with the gifts of the Spirit enabling us to live together as good people and to build a better society. It is important to make ourselves aware of these gifts in our hearts Such an awareness gives us self-confidence and the courage to act

ENCOUNTER – Intimacy

However, these gifts of the Spirit are often buried in our hearts under the dust and stones of everyday life so that they do not give shape to our relationship with our fellow human beings and are limited in giving direction to our lives as a whole. Therefore, indifference and “selfishness” are still at work in our own hearts. Both P. Chevalier and Pope Francis point out that precisely the encounter with Jesus in the Gospel can heal us from these inner obstacles and can renew our hearts.

In the Gospel, we meet Jesus, who loves with a human heart and works with unconditional love. They reveal the deepest values of his heart, for which he was willing to give his life, in order to spread among all people, love without boundaries, justice for all without distinction of race or religion, fraternal and sisterly communion based on forgiveness, and above all trust in God’s love. Jesus reveals to us that God the Father himself cherishes these values in His Heart and has implanted the same values in our hearts through his Spirit.

FORMATION – Transformation or Conversion

According to P. Chevalier and Pope Francis, the formation of our hearts is an essential element in the practice of a Spirituality of the Heart. First of all, we need to become aware of the obstacles in our hearts which have come from our upbringing and formation. We must also learn to listen to the voice of our hearts, through which the Spirit of God leads us to make the best decisions in the circumstances in which we live.

MISSION – Mission or Emergence

Both P. Chevalier and Pope Francis emphasize that we are all sent to live and promote the values, revealed by Jesus – the values of his heart. As leaders we are sent to do so with our members, as much as in the wider society as well. In this way we contribute to the healing of the ills of society.

Mary, whom we venerate as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, is our great example and inspiration in the field of awareness, encounter, formation and mission. For us, she is the outstanding Missionary of the Heart, while during her whole life being inspired by a Spirituality of the Heart.


Our understanding of the world is rapidly changing and what we once considered immutable now shows itself to be in a constant state of transformation and movement. We are confronted with this state of flux in the quantum, personal, communal, planetary, and cosmic dimensions. Our experience of our humanity is no exception to this and the constant exploration of motivations is increasingly important for people to live authentic lives with integrity.

This is the purpose of a process-oriented approach. It requires a person to engage with and explore the subjective experience, values, principles and meaning inherent in their perceptions and judgements. It helps them to clarify their motivations and discover consistencies and inconsistencies between the ideals that they aspire to and the actual realities that influence their lived behaviour.

When we use a process-oriented approach, reflecting on experience, sharing this with others and evaluating what is discovered, being in process itself shifts one’s perspective. This shift in perspective is the beginning of transformation, expanding one’s world-view and opening a person to new and more wholesome possibilities. While outcomes to problems are desirable, participating in the process itself is transforming (conversion).

Intellectual and moral conversion involves a shift in my criteria of decision-making from an ego-centred perspective to a perspective that is self-transcending and considerate of the whole. Religious conversion is a falling-in-love with God enabling a falling away of ego-centrism. Our

Spirituality is a dynamic process built solidly on a deep contemplation of experience that leads to lasting change and energy to go beyond oneself.

The model of Appreciative Inquiry offers five processes that align with our spirituality;[22]

  1. Choose the positive as the focus of inquiry
  2. Inquire into stories of life-giving forces
  3. Locate themes that appear in the stories and select topics for further inquiry’
  4. Create shared images for a preferred future
  5. Find innovative ways to create that future.
  6. Seek Synodality (Collegiality). 


The general leadership team has embodied of this process-approach to Spirituality of the Heart through accompaniment. Accompaniment into the complex reality of life is a characteristic of a spirituality of the heart. It is a journeying with; a companioning; a walking together; an engagement in allowing another to tell their story. Accompaniment is non-judgemental process of listening and empathising and taking into the Heart of Christ. Good accompaniment enables us to sense we are fully accepted and that we have a sense of God’s love for us. This promotes an awareness of self, of other, and of God, and leads to acceptance and affirmation of the realities they have become aware of. 

Accompaniment is a listening to and reflecting back of hopes and desires, in the light of the hope and desires of the Congregation. It builds relationships, using a personal approach that leads to openness, trust and in living the culture of the Gospel. 

“To say that a person feels listened to, means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It’s a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.”[25]

For this objective we propose a contemporary schema of accompaniment that is found in Theory-U by Otto Scharmer in which he outlines four dimensions of listening.  Each successive dimension allows for deeper levels of authenticity and integration in an organisation’s understanding of itself and how it lives out that understanding.  The model parallels closely the four movements of our own spirituality, culminating in our communal life in the Heart of Christ. 

Here in this place we see a new world emerging within ourselves and in Society.


This dimension of listening is what we recognise as the movement in a spirituality of the heart referred to as ENCOUNTER.  Scharmer calls it DOWNLOADING. It is a process of listening from habits, reconfirming what I already know, and seeking out what confirms me in my prevailing belief systems. I listen to God, to the other, and to self, but through myself and my own habitual perceptions and judgements, so that my responses have more to do with what I expect to hear than with what is actually being said.  I am the reference-point of my listening world – a self-referential leadership, a self-referential church. Nothing new penetrates the bubble.

1 Samuel 3:

The Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do…. As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

ABZALÓN – First Sharing from Experience.

We have found communities where there is a systematic disconnection, I have experienced that at some communities just by listening a few minutes to a confrère, I have been able to discover some details of his life.  Then when I am with another member of that same community and the subject comes up, the one who has been living for years with him, is surprised, he knew nothing.  These are not things of stealth; they are ordinary but important things.  I have found confreres who are not aware of anything about the congregation and not for lack of information.  Some ask me about a brother MSC, of whom he is a friend, but they did not know that two years ago he became a bishop. 

Personal Reflection: Write what strikes you.

Share on this at your table.


In this dimension we begin to engage in INTIMACY.  We let the data talk to us and we notice disconfirming information.  Instead of listening through my habitual judgments, I suspend them and keep an OPEN MIND to facts that may not align with my own thoughts and that may even challenge my prevailing beliefs.  Imagine two people from different faith traditions listening to one another in an open and interested way. They hear doctrines that they do not personally believe in, but refrain from holding the other in judgement.  The connection that happens through an open mind makes space within our thinking and opens our curiosity.

The factor that most disconnects us from having an open mind and limits our capacity to hear the facts another is presenting is the VOICE OF JUDGEMENT. This voice of judgement takes the listener back to the previous dimension of downloading in which he filters the facts through his own habitual judgements.

1 Peter 5:1-3

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

ABZALÓN – Second Sharing from Experience.

In some accompaniments to the communities we have found confrères whose experience has been that the leaders only call them to ask for something, for things of work but not to ask how they are or how is it going personally or about ministry.  When we have been with those confrères, we have discovered that by opening our hearts they are very much in need of being listened to. Especially those who live in remote areas, far from leadership centers. It is difficult for us to conceive of a leadership that is only management. We are aware that we have a management responsibility, but that does not replace presence and listening. I have accompanied leaders who spend more than half of their time in office things or solving problems.  We have to do it, but for that we have leadership teams.  Encouraging, necessarily needs presence and openness of heart.  To be with our confreres in their reality. At least open your mind to our confrère’s reality as well as to our confrère’s lives.

Personal Reflection: Write what strikes you.

Share on this at your table.


The third dimension of listening is EMPATHIC. This is the movement of the heart in which a moral and religious CONVERSION is enabled, because we see the situation through the eyes of another.  This dimension connects the listener to the emotional communication of both herself and the other she is listening to.  This is listening from within the depths of the human person to the story behind the facts, the body language, the tone, the unsaid statements that are intimated but verbally unexpressed.  Doing this requires an OPEN HEART, using our feelings and our heart to tune into another person’s point of view. This open heart enables an emotional connection which draws one into a deeper respect, compassion and reverence. Here we are more available to the mystery of God’s love and the sacred space created in the relationship. We begin to change and allow God and other more space in our lives. 

The disconnection at this level is the result of the VOICE OF CYNICISM, which reveals the filter of mistrust and hurt through which listening is taking place.

Showing empathy is crucial for leadership success and personal well-being, says author Daniel Goleman.  “Sharing something deeply personal… lets us share our emotions and connect with others on a deeper level. If you’re a leader and find it difficult to disclose your emotions to your team, try talking with a colleague first.” 

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

ABZALÓN – Third Sharing from Experience.

Opening the heart. We have been able to experience that when we listen to some of those who we call difficult cases they start changing some of their attitudes.  Sometimes we have been looking at them as individual problems when in fact, they are signs of systemic failures, henceforth we all have a part of responsibility.  By the way when we convert and open our hearts and we consider them not as isolated problems there is more chance of recovery.  They are not the only toxic thing poisoning the system. I have heard brothers in that situation and I have encouraged the leadership team to listen to them.  Sometimes we are afraid to listen to them and we should do it as teams. Open your heart as a team not to judge or condemn, but to seek together the ways of conversion.    As leaders I think we need a lot of conversion, I personally felt invited to that when I open my heart to listening to the mission. Myself I have had to review the way I have been doing may service.

Personal Reflection: Write what strikes you.

Share on this at your table.


Scharmer calls this dimension GENERATIVE listening.  We listen for the highest future possibility to show up while holding a space for something new to be born.  The generative outflow of listening enables a connection beyond the individual.  For us this transcendence is our coming into the Heart of Christ and we recognise the outflowing as the heart-movement of Mission.  It is a movement of transcendence resulting from mutually explored depth bringing us to a higher level.  In the Heart of Christ, we connect to the emerging Whole of God’s unconditional love for the world and the direction that gives to our lives. 

We recognise this direction as the Will of God, wanting for us a life lived completely in the embrace of his Heart.  A shift in identity takes place in me, a shift towards a more authentic self.  It is in the heart of Christ I discover my true nature and what is false is less able to stand in the light that shines here.  This level of listening or connection requires of us an OPEN WILL.  We grow into the willingness to trust that God is directing all our efforts towards goodness and completeness, despite not knowing where we are being taken.  It is a surrender into the benevolence of the Heart of Christ; a LETTING GO.

The VOICE OF FEAR is the disconnecting force that prohibits this movement.  It disconnects us from the trust needed to engage with the mysterious action of God’s Spirit.  When we move past our fears, we begin the letting go that is needed for us to enter into the Heart of Christ.  Scharmer calls this place ‘the source’.  It is a space of wholeness, that is unitive, that connects us to the Mystery.  This is a space in which we find in ourselves a WILLING VULNERABILITY.

1 Kings 3:5-9
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”  Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.  “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.  Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So, give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

John 21:18
When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.


We have spoken of the movement of Mission as the outflowing of ‘life’, of ‘energy’, purpose, commitment, activity, ministry, that comes from a deep connection to the source of all life we find in the Heart of Christ.  This is enabled because we have become willing to move with where or how the Heart of Christ is leading us. John 16 describes this movement in jesus himself as he is moved by the Spirit of the Father.

John 16:13-15
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Mission can be seen as ‘LETTING COME’.  We often associate Mission with our activity, what we do, what ministries we decide to undertake.  If, however, the source of our mission is the Heart of Christ, then an authentic sense of mission requires that what we do finds its origins in obedience (ob audiens – to listen carefully). 

‘Letting come’ is a process of CO-CREATION.  Scharmer notes, “as we let come and crystallize vision and intention, the relationship between observer and observed starts to invert.  Envisioning happens from the field of the future (rather than from our ego). [26] 

Envisioning leads us to Prototyping.  As we enact prototypes, we explore the future by doing.  The relationship between observer and observed continues its inversion.  Enacting happens from “being in dialogue with the whole” (rather than from our ego).

Prototyping leads us to Performing. As we embody the new by evolving our practices and infrastructures, the relationship between observer and observed completes its inversion.  The embodying happens from the context of the larger eco-system (rather than from the small “s” institutional self).

Moving beyond ‘I’, ‘you’, and even the institutional ‘us’ to the new inverted position “in the Heart of Christ’ brings a greater freedom, focus and energy to serve the mission.  We move together from an EGO-SYSTEM to an ECO-SYSTEM in which my action comes from the sphere that surrounds my open boundaries, I in us, or I in now, rising from a future potential.

ABZALÓN – Fourth Sharing from Experience.

I remember wonderful encounters when some provincial leaders have opened their will and they have let me go into their reality, even personal.  It has been wonderful to hear the life emerging from within leaders who are aware of their need for conversion.  I remember times when some leaders have come down from their hearts to their deepest inner being, to their source of life. That listening is what gives us possibilities and opportunities to retake paths, to make decisions, to recognize weaknesses and strengths. And so, it leads us to live an authentic and marvellous humility (humanity).

There have been experiences in communities that when the possibility is opened to listen to the life which emerges from within each one, the community atmosphere begins to be different, it is a process.  I remember a wonderful experience of a group of msc who lived through a very big catastrophe, with thousands of Victims. And when I was with them instead of speaking to them, I facilitated for each one to expose their pain, helplessness, anguish, uncertainty and strengths.  It was a moment of openness to incredible life, that’s also what the mission of leadership is about: to make it possible the flow of life.  It doesn´t mean that we would care less about our organizational and managerial service, but it does require that we should balance it.

We have been able to hear and contemplate how blocked life is at times in the communities and in the Entities. For this we need a positive attitude, realistic but positive.  We remember at the beginning of our service, we had to go to an Entity from which we had received 80% of negative data, we prayed a lot may we arrive and to be able to feel and listen to the life that emerged from within each confrère.  We found challenges and systemic failures, but we tried to look at them based on the life which was emerging from their inner beings, as a result of it we found more positives than negatives. We could sense their life.  We understood that by being positive and listening in this way, we could we initiate processes of solidarity with ourselves and with the confrères, processes of personal and community conversion.

Jules Chevalier, 1900

The Word, coming from the Heart of his Father, made the world emerge from nothing; and from the Heart of the incarnate Word, pierced on Calvary, I see a new world emerging, the world of those he has chosen. And this creation, so fertile, full of grandeur and inspired by love and mercy, is the Church, the mystical body of Christ, which makes this new creation present on earth until the end of time. [27]

Personal Reflection: Write what strikes you.

Share on this at your table.


A spirituality of the Heart speaks to this era desperately in need of a listening heart – a discerning heart. Pope Francis says in Gaudette et Exsultate;

“Discernment is necessary not only at extraordinary times, when we need to resolve grave problems and make crucial decisions. It is a means of spiritual combat for helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully. We need it at all times, to help us recognize God’s timetable, lest we fail to heed the promptings of his grace and disregard his invitation to grow. Often discernment is exercised in small and apparently irrelevant things, since greatness of spirit is manifested in simple everyday realities.”[28]

Firstly, Discernment is about listening, not decision-making. We listen to the deep ‘movements’, unconditionally and compassionately, without judgment – we let them be what they are. Discernment is listening to the voice of life within, within our brothers and within God’s people, listening to past voices of hurts, resentments, memories, in order to hear the call to healing, wholeness and new life that are present. Discernments calls us out of ourselves – to be bigger selves – the movement of self-transcendence.

We acknowledge the necessity of silence, of time and space for deep listening to take place – time to allow freedom to speak, for hope to be shared, for one’s reality to be acknowledged, and space to grow that creates interior personal freedom to respond maturely to life. When we are urgent, we cannot discern well.

Discernment, while personal, is never private and disconnected from the whole, but finds its context within the community, MSC Society and the Church.[29] Discernment needs openness and honesty and requires us to drop our personal agenda so that we are not defended with judgement, cynicism or fear. Being open to God’s guidance, requires a personal shift from ‘ego-driven’ direction to seeking God’s Will. From an ‘ego-system’ to and eco-system – “eco” denotes the space is a home for all. [30]

We remember that God works within the human person. The desires of the Congregation, Province, and Church are included in the context of the person’s vocational discernment. In the discernment process we should not overlook our motto; “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be everywhere loved, forever.”, rather than focusing narrowly on one’s personal vision.

We remember the words of Pope Francis to us gathered in Chapter,

“I encourage you “to return to your first and only love”. Keep your gaze fixed on Jesus Christ and learn from Him how to love with a truly human heart, to care for the lost and hurting members of his flock, to work for justice and show solidarity with the weak and the poor.”[31]

The 2011 General Chapter said,[32]

The Chapter recommends that Communal Discernment be used as a process for reflection and making important decisions within the Congregation so that we may discern the Will of God and be more obedient and responsive to the urgings of the Spirit and the cries of the people and societies of our day. We ask the General Administration to prepare material to assist us develop this practice.

The 2017 General Chapter said,[33]

We recommend that all MSC gatherings of local communities, provincial meetings and international gatherings make use of the Communal Wisdom process of prayerful discernment. (That includes this Conference.)

Beginning with a half-hour of silent meditation on a passage of scripture or the Constitutions, followed by the sharing of one’s prayer with the group.

Such an exercise in prayerful sharing of our experiences helps form a spirit of accountability, a bond of charity and a path toward healing.

Such sharing will also help bond together men from different provinces and cultures.

[1] Francis: Pope of Good Promise: From Argentina’s Bergoglio to the World’s Francis. Jimmy Burns. Constable. UK. 2015.

[2] Juan Rodriguez, A stop-top community.  Ad limina meeting.  Rome. 2019

[3] Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis. November 24, 2013. §49

[4] Ibid., §114

[5] SEDOS Appreciative Discernment Workshop, Fr. Bill Nordenbrock CPPS, Rome February 2019

[6] Cuskelly EJ, A new heart and a new spirit: reflections on MSC spirituality. Roma: Missionari del Sacro Cuore, 1978.

[7] Cor Novum, no. 1, 1983, pp. 8-9. & Murphy, Dennis, The Heart of the Word Incarnate, Bangalore: Asian Trading, 2003.

[8] Life and Doctrine of Saint Catherine of Genoa by Christian Press Association Publishing Co. (1907)

[9] Cuskelly EJ, Jules Chevalier: Man with a Mission 1824-1907. Roma: Casa Generalizia Missionari del Sacro Cuore, 1975.

[10] SEDOS Appreciative Discernment Workshop, Fr. Bill Nordenbrock CPPS, Rome February 2019

[11] The Jesuit scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), uses the word “love” to describe the cosmic allurement of everything toward everything, a structural, metaphysical shape to the universe, most visible in the basic laws of gravity, electro-magnetic fields, and reproduction, which is drawing the universe forward until a truly cosmic “Christ comes to full stature” (Ephesians 4:13).  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 107.  (See also Ilia Delio, Franciscan sister and theologian.)

[12] Richard Rohr OFM. Intimacy: The Divine Ambush.

[13] Meister Eckhart, Sermon 92, “the soul receives God not as alien nor as being inferior to God, for what is inferior implies difference and distance. The masters declare that the soul receives as a light from the light, for in that there is neither difference nor distance.” The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, Trans Maurice O’C. Walshe, Herder & Herder. Crossroad Publishing Co, NY. p.448

[14] St Augustine, Confessions III, 6, 11.

[15] Blessed Oscar Romero said that he had not undergone a conversion but an ‘evolution of faith’.

[16] Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 86-88, 92-93.

[17] Annales de la Petite Société des Missionaires du Sacré-Coeur: J. Bertolini MSC, Rome 1984 p.1

[18] Address of the Holy Father, Pope Francis to the members of the 2017 General Chapter.

[19] Both letting go and letting come are terms used in U-Theory discussed further in this article.

[20] New documentary reveals rare interview of Blessed Oscar Romero. Junno Arocho Esteves. Catholic News Service 10th December 2018. https://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2018/new-documentary-reveals-rare-interview-of-blessed-oscar-romero.cfm

[21] Hans Kwakmann, MSC. Sessions on Spirituality of the Heart, Cor Vitae Tagaytay Philippines, 2-13 September 2019.

[22] SEDOS Appreciative Discernment Workshop, Fr. Bill Nordenbrock CPPS, Rome February 2019

[23] Formation of The Heart. APIA Formators Conference, Kensington, NSW, Australia. 15 Sept, 2018

[24] The Essentials of U Theory. C. Otto Scharmer. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018. P.27

[25] Deborah Tannen Author and Professor of Linguistics Georgetown University.

[26] The Essentials of U Theory. C. Otto Scharmer. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018. Pp.24-25.

[27] Jules Chevalier, 1900.  Le Sacré-Coeur de Jesus. 1857 Ms. Archives, Rome.

[28] Gaudete Et Exsultate. the Call to Holiness in Today’s World. Pope Francis. 19 March, 2018.  §.169

[29] A Church of Passion and Hope. The Formation of an Ecclesial Disposition from Ignatius Loyola to Pope Francis and the New Evangelization. Gill Goulding, C.J. Bloomsbury, London, 2016

[30] Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. Otto Scharmer. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.

[31] Address of the Holy Father, Pope Francis to the members of the 2017 General Chapter.

[32] Documents of the General Chapter 2011. Statements. §1. Communal Discernment.

[33] Documents of the General Chapter 2017.  Recommendations §2. Discernment.

[34] Communal Wisdom. A way of discerning for a pilgrim church.  Brian Gallagher msc.  Coventry Press. Victoria. 2018.