Radio Interview with Sr Theresa shortly before her first profession
I have just taken my first vows in The Community of Our Lady of Walsingham (for photos click here). As the time for my first profession approached, I reflected on the following question:
Why did I choose to join The Community of Our Lady of Walsingham – a new community in its founding years?
When I first met Sr Camilla, at a Youth 2000 retreat in 2007, I had been thinking of religious life on and off for a few years but was still very attracted to the idea of getting married and having children. I was struck by the freedom with which she accompanied me, as I shared my hopes and fears of a possible vocation to religious life. Finding out that this freedom is a vital aspect of the COLW charism – to help people to discern what is truly best for them – their vocation – touched my heart. Before joining COLW, I was a nurse. As a nurse, I could help people physically and emotionally but not so much spiritually – yet I have always been convinced that a relationship with God is the most important thing in life and the only way to true happiness. I want this happiness for myself and for others.
I know that I am only happy when I am doing God’s will. I want to reach out to others, help them to develop their relationship with God so they are able to embrace His will for them and so live life more fully.
There are many beautiful charisms in the various religious congregations but when I spent time reading the COLW website, I felt particularly drawn to COLW’s charism. I was also interested in the practicalities of the life. I have often joked that, when considering what community to join, I was weighing up the answers to the following questions:
- ‘What time would I have to get up in the morning?’
- ‘What’s the food like?’
- and ‘Will I look nice in the habit?!’
Well, hopefully I’m not quite so shallow now! Of course, there were always the other essentials and desires of my heart which the COLW life meets: being able to go to Mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist every day; Adoration; Silent prayer; both the joys and challenges of community life; what I’ve learnt through my studies; how I’ve grown through formation. I would not be without any of these things now. I also have a growing sense of the importance of the charism as a gift for the Church and a responsibility to understand and transmit it. So, there are reasons for joining a community and reasons for staying in a community – and these deepen over time. (Though I still appreciate our Sunday morning lie-ins; the food is nice; and I do like the blue dress!)
One aspect of the unfolding COLW charism is about helping all people to grow in the freedom necessary to be able to follow God’s path for them, whether that be a vocation to religious life, marriage, single life or priesthood.
I often hear people say, ‘we need more vocations!’ (They are often referring principally to priesthood and religious life) – but I say what we really need is more holiness; for all Christians to grow in the holiness of faith, hope, love and courage needed to do God’s will. As that happens, more vocations, to all states of life, will naturally follow. God is always calling … we just need to dare to listen
So the COLW charism attracted me and, though I could have felt daunted when I found out how new the community is and the work that is still to be done in building it up, I can see that God had prepared me to be able to accept it, even in simple ways such as reading a book …
Prior to entering The Community of Our Lady of Walsingham (COLW), I had read the story of Catherine McAuley, the foundress of The Sisters of Mercy. Here was a woman who put her whole heart into loving and serving God by loving and serving his people – especially the poor, the sick, and the uneducated. Catherine dedicated her life to God through her works of mercy. She did not originally intend to found a new religious congregation. However, as God’s plan began to reveal itself, she embraced His Will all the way. Now the fruits of Catherine and her companions’ ‘yes’ to God have been multiplied in the countless good works and witness of thousands of Sisters of Mercy throughout the world. I take encouragement from finding that, for other founding groups too, God’s plan wasn’t crystal clear in the beginning; they were simply people who tried to serve God and to make a difference. The important thing is that, as God revealed His plans, they said ‘yes’ to Him.
People have asked me whether I worry that COLW may not grow (in numbers). I am not worried; the important thing is not the number of people in a community but how much they love. Part of my reason for choosing COLW was the priority they place on good formation – human and spiritual – both for candidates and then throughout ones religious life. I have a desire to be transformed as a person – to become the best I can be. From one point of view, it seems crazy for me to hope to become holy – yet that is what we are all called to be. I know I cannot rely on myself but I must put all my trust in God and make Him my aim, my only goal.
How do I know if I’m doing God’s will? – In a way I don’t know! But I am reassured by this prayer of Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me, I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
The words that particularly touch me are:
‘But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.’
Basically – if I’m trying to do God’s will – I’m doing God’s will!
I also find that there is a certain peace, a sense of faith within me, that this is what I’m meant to be doing. So I am not afraid – I place my trust in God, who says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are Mine” Isaiah 43:1