Some years ago. I was given the privilege of welcoming my Religious of the Sacred Heart sisters to the funeral of Sister Norah Farnon who had died at the age of 101. The previous evening, I had been shown a notebook which had belonged to Norah, and in it she comments on her arrival at our community in Blyth, Northumberland. What I read has stayed with me down the years. Although I cannot remember her exact words, based on psalm 42, she writes:
'Now I have come to Blyth which will be my last home... to the God who gave joy to my youth, my middle years and to my old age...'
And I thought 'yes, that captures it... some of it....'
Recently I have been struggling with conversations with deeply prayerful people for whom God is the centre of their lives, who are looking at the question of a call to religious life, while feeling equally drawn to marriage and family life. 'Could I not find a partner, have a family, children and God is still the centre of our lives? God is still everything to us?'
Is it possible to feel equally drawn to both? Or is there something different about each call that makes it distinct, and so that one becomes more compelling to me than the other, and can we even discuss this in theory anyway?
And the answer has to be yes, there is something different about each call, so different that they cannot be compared, a person has to discover inside themselves where their call is leading them.
I have been struck recently in vocations work, especially when talking to groups that the kind of questions I am most frequently asked are ones like 'What do you do? What have you done?' In other words, my life is seen in terms of doing things, of service... and yes, it is a life of service to others because how else can I reciprocate God’s love? But that is not the first reason why I came into religious life. I only learnt as time went on that to know God’s Heart, and discover His love I had to love His people because they are in His Heart.
I came to religious life because I fell in love, with Jesus, with God, and that love was so compelling that it filled my life, it was inescapable, it surrounded me and relativised every other relationship or choice that I could make. It wouldn’t leave me alone.
In these same conversations, sometimes people will say, I feel that I would have to give up so much to be a religious, and I think 'What would you be giving up not to be a religious!' and I think of my community and our shared life together... the people I have known... the God who goes on being ever new....
I recently asked some of my sisters 'What happened to make you think of religious life?' The answers were all so different:
- 'This is for me' – the ‘this’ being gift of self to the Lord
- For me it was ‘for whom have I in heaven and what else do I desire on earth?’
- I knew the answer, if the Lord calls follow. What else is there to say?
- I sensed a relationship with God that I didn’t have and I wanted to be part of...
- I would be overwhelmed by God’s presence at unexpected moments and God was compellingly attractive to me...
- I felt that I was being pursued..
- Through my gift of self, God could work...
- I was on my knees in my parish church and I realised God was calling me to follow him more closely...
- It was the witness of a Christian nurse friend, and I heard ‘so can you’
- It then reached a point when I knew that absolutely nothing else would satisfy my longing and desire and that only God could fill that space in my heart. That deep and compelling love of God for me is what gets me up each day...
I wonder if any of you reading this resonate with any of the above...?
Is there Someone pursuing you who makes your heart dance, not only now, but will do all the days of your life? It’s worth thinking about it...
Barbara Sweeney rscj
(This article first appeared in the February 2013 edition of Catholic Today)
Image by Regina Shin rscj, USA