Through prayer God makes possible what we think is impossible.
Twenty-seven years ago, I took my first vows in a religious community in Italy praying that, one day, we would establish a presence in the UK as my hope was to serve the Church here. Little did I know, this dream would come true but in a way I would never have imagined at the time. So much has happened in these intervening years that I feel as though I have already lived 10 lives! God only knows that it will take eternity to thank him for his mercy, compassion and faithfulness to me.
My passion for supporting people on their vocational journey to the fullness of life and love has grown due to the many challenges I have encountered throughout my own journey. In actual fact, these difficulties were necessary for me to discover that every vocation (whatever it is) is pure grace. The Lord does it all and all we have to do is create the space for the tsunami of his love to fill our hearts and lead us wherever it inspires us. ‘Love and do what you will’ said St Augustine. Life is all about surrendering; allowing ourselves to accept God’s loving hand, which moulds and forms us in every single moment and through every event of our lives.
My own life so far has all been about learning to say this ‘yes’ to a God who gave his life for me. A defining retreat during my university years was centered on the mystery of the Annunciation. During this retreat, my sense of being invited by the Lord to become a religious sister was confirmed, despite my desire to be ‘left alone’ by God so that I could get married. Following a period of intense discernment I joined a Marian Institute in Italy. I spent many happy years in that community, fully immersed in parish and youth work. I left this order just before my final vows, painfully realising that the desire for deeper intimacy was in fact a call to a more contemplative style of life. I left the order with the assurance that the Lord would show me where he wanted me to go.
Returning to England I took up my nursing again, working mostly as a nurse with the terminally ill. I accompanied many people as they stepped from this life into the next with the regret of unwise choices made during their lifetime. It was during this time that I also met a lot of young women searching for their path in life. My desire to support them as they journeyed in their decision-making led to the start of the Vocations Discernment Group. Jesus himself ‘grew in wisdom and in grace’ and now, helping people make good decisions as early as possible in life has become a passion for me. I myself looked at more contemplative options; it was during a graced stay at Ware Carmel that I instantly knew that God wanted me to return to London and set up Cornerstone, a discernment community, and see what would emerge from that.
Ideas of a different way of living religious life continued to come to my mind. I just couldn’t find what I was looking for in the existing communities I visited! Whilst convalescing from major surgery in Feb 2001 these ideas began to take flesh as well as the sense that Our Lady of Walsingham wanted a community dedicated specifically to her. She wanted sisters and, one day in the future, brothers and priests to work in her name and help people discover the joy of saying yes to God’s work in their lives, of living in the kingdom of his divine will. The rest is history as one can say. People often ask, ‘Why start a new community?’ I reply by saying that I can only be faithful to what God has inspired, and confirmed in so many ways, otherwise I would not be true to what is deepest in me. The results do not matter as God asks only for faithfulness and not for success. Everything is in his hands and how things unfold is up to him. Up to now he has provided us with everything we have needed and I do not doubt that he will continue to do so.
Now in this community I am living my dream. Three years ago another high point arrived when I started part time work at the National Catholic Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. This latest gift of God was so unexpected and yet seems so right considering that the inspiration for the name of the community was received in the Slipper Chapel.
Many people believe that our main base is in that small but immensely graced Norfolk village. Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future, we will have our own house there. In the meantime, the diocese has kindly given us the use of the Slipper Chapel Cottage for our work at the shrine. It is at Walsingham that we are invited to remember the joy of Mary at the Annunciation, as she accepted her call to be the Mother of God. Saying yes in the joyful moments of ones life is one thing, but saying yes in the sorrowful and difficult moments is quite another.
Mary, who has accompanied me along this whole journey, has taught me slowly but surely that the painful parts of life are part and parcel of the purifying process that will enable me eventually to love as God loves. Much healing was needed in my own life before I could hear the still small voice clearly and have the courage to follow it with trust.
Jesus wants me to live in his joy, a joy the world cannot give. It is possible to do so when I learn to make faith-filled choices from day to day; when I learn to live in his will and say ‘fiat’, ‘amen’, ‘alleluia’ in ALL circumstances. Only God can satisfy the desires of my heart. This journey into the depths of my being is the most difficult and yet the most exciting and exhilarating journey I have ever made. It far outweighs the travels to many foreign lands I was able to make before entering the convent the first time round.
Pope Francis is shortly inaugurating a Year for Consecrated Life aimed at promoting consecrated life and inviting all religious to ‘wake up the world’ with the testimony of our lives. I hope and pray that what I have shared of my own journey will inspire you who are reading this to dream big and to realise that if people knew how happy one can be in the religious life there wouldn’t be enough convents and monasteries around to welcome the many who would apply to join.