In recent months many people asked me why I chose to enter religious life. The quickest answer I can give is because I believed it was what God wanted me to do, and it afforded me the opportunity to devote myself entirely to Christ.
I didn’t always feel this way. I converted from a non-religious background in April of 2005 following the final illness and death of Pope John Paul II. Prior to this I lived a very secular life, and I’m not embarrassed to say a very sinful life. Not embarrassed because God quite literally saved my life I believe.
My journey to faith was very long and slow. God announced himself to me in a very dynamic way when I was 21, however being young and foolish I was not ready to answer him. God called again when I was 24 with the same result. Again when I was 28 when I felt I might be prepared to listen to him, but alas I was still not ready to follow him. Eventually when I was 34, having sought happiness in all the places apart from the only one that could truly give it to me, I finally got to the point I think where the Lord had made me see that apart from him all pleasure is empty and happiness outside of Christ is an illusion.
My conversion was somewhat overwhelming as not only did I feel a great desire to start going to church, but I also felt a strong urge towards the priesthood. Me! Ha ha. I literally laughed out loud when I first realised this. However, God knows us so completely and he certainly knew what he needed to do to get my attention.
I won’t describe the next four years in great detail; suffice to say that with each yes I gave Him, He gave me grace in greater measure. I discerned almost constantly during this time and was blessed with some wonderful guides, friends and advisors. I still tried to twist and turn away from this calling at times, but the one thing I just couldn’t seem to get away from was a growing love for Jesus. He melted all my defences one by one to the point that when I eventually gathered up my courage and said my big YES, it was the most incredibly thrilling and exciting feeling.
I eventually worked out that God wanted me to live in community, and because he knows I love a challenge it seemed he wanted me to become the first brother of COLW. I began the formal application process with the community in September 2008 and started to mentally prepare to leave secular life.
The Christmas holiday that year was very intense for me following a period of intense doubt around whether I was called to marriage or not. In the New Year having thought, prayed and meditated about as much as I could, it seemed I couldn’t escape from the doubts that I had and with much regret having discussed these at length with Sr. Camilla I decided I couldn’t go forward with my application at that time.
Jesus however knew I wasn’t saying no. He reminded me He was the key to my happiness! He started whispering in my heart again just a few weeks later. I wriggled and bought a car. He whispered a bit louder. I wriggled and started dating again. He cleared his throat with an ‘Ahem’ and I turned and looked at Him. As soon as I did my heart burst into flame all over again I KNEW I had to test my vocation in community and so after consultation with Sr Camilla I joined COLW in July 2009.
I continued my discernment as I progressed from Aspirancy to Postulancy. I also had some therapy as I knew I still had some issues to work through and some learning to complete to become a whole person before I could make a truly free choice to follow God’s will for me. As the formation model of the community taught me to become more reflective I gradually began to discern a calling to marriage rather than the religious life.
After much discernment and consultation with my therapist and spiritual director I took the decision to leave the community. I reflected on why God had called me to join the community in the first place as I’m still sure He did. I understand now that He wanted a time of healing for me and He knew that it was in the charism of COLW and the support of the community that I could get this.
I am getting to know myself more deeply and trying to face up to my fears about life. I remain open to Jesus’ love, and that of my dear sisters at COLW. In time I pray that God will bring me to wholeness so that I can receive His love more fully and unashamedly, and perhaps then I will make good progress towards union with Him.
I would encourage anyone considering giving themselves to God to be patient, open minded and above all honest with themselves. If you can do this then Jesus, our friend, teacher and saviour will lead you to where He wants you to be, i.e. the place that will make you most happy. Just be generous in spirit and courageous in your determination to surrender to the Lord’s will for you. God bless you in your discernment and in the choices you make.