The Quest for God
Because consecrated religious women and men are explicitly about “the quest for God”, religious life is intended to be “a sign” which can and should inspire others to live their own particular calling. It witnesses also to God’s presence and love in the here and now, while at the same time, pointing to our ultimate “homeland,” the heavenly city that God has prepared for us.
Yes, God chooses whom God wills, and God takes the initiative in an individual’s life. Just as with Abraham and Sarah and so many others who have gone before us, we are all called by God to walk in faith, to trust God’s promises to us, to set out on the journey even when we do not know the destination. As Religious, we are called to make the relationship with God the primary and defining relationship of our lives. We are called to make Christ our First Love. And I think it is really important to emphasize this, that our lives are primarily about Love, about being the face of God’s love and compassion to our world, whether that be through the ministry of prayer as in the monastic communities, or through more active involvement in response to the needs around us.
God’s invitation may come in the form of an interior inclination to a deeper spiritual life. It may come in the form of a question or comment by someone who knows us well. There is no limit indeed, to how God may awaken a person to this sense that he or she may be gifted in this way.
Typically, at first, people tend to doubt, deny or try to turn a deaf ear to the little whisper of God that stirs this unsettling ‘’something’’ in their heart. They may consider themselves not holy enough, not good enough, too young or too old, too sinful, etc. Most often, the communication from God is not anything as dramatic as St. Paul’s encounter with God on the way to Damascus, but just God speaking to us where we are in the circumstances and ordinariness of our lives and our relationships. Nevertheless, I believe, each of us is given our own little “burning bushes” or “annunciations” if we have eyes and ears and hearts to perceive them in the routines of our days. That is why regular prayer, and reflection on our experience, is important for the development of a sensitive heart, so that we can catch this still small voice of God amid the busyness of our lives.
In my own case I felt this secret desire from my pre-teen years, and it was sparked mainly, I believe, through reading the stories of “foreign missionaries” in magazines that came into our home monthly. Like many people today, I had no personal contact with sisters, brothers or priests, apart from seeing the priest at church and occasionally when he visited the school. After finishing my education I had an office job, which proved to be very unsatisfying. I was involved in the social activities and relationships of that time and place and while that was fun, it left me wanting more. God was tugging at my heart.
In an effort to placate this persistent little voice I decided I would become a Nurse, thinking that that is a good thing to do with my life – I will be helping people. That was indeed a very positive and growth filled time in my life. But after several years of various kinds of nursing experience in various parts of the UK, the opportunity arose for me to go to Canada. So off I went, again thinking that being in a new country, meeting new people would satisfy this nagging little yearning for something more. Well, I came to Canada and lived in Calgary. I had my job, an apartment, car and all the trappings of singles in those days. I had a close circle of mainly outdoor type friends with whom I loved to hike and backpack and ski on a regular basis. I was active in the local parish. I was still close to my family. Life was good, but you know there was still this sense in me that something was missing. It was a persistent nagging sense of dissatisfaction with my life despite all that I had and all that I enjoyed.
I did a lot of spiritual reading and a lot of praying. I used to feel so frustrated with God, wondering why God was keeping God’s plan for my life so secret and mysterious, when all I wanted to do was live out “God’s will” in my life. Eventually I found a very helpful Spiritual Director and that’s when things began to move. It felt good to have someone to talk to about this turmoil that was going on inside of me. And I discovered there were several other people like myself, considering a religious vocation. After a couple of years of personal and group prayer, discussions, discernment, visits and live-ins with various religious communities, I was still sitting on the fence. Then one day I was walking in the park with a Sister and talking about my life when she stopped and turned and faced me and said “Ann McGill when are you going to stand up and be counted?”
Well, that did it! Being confronted like that by someone I loved and trusted freed something inside of me. It freed me to take the next step. And there are many steps from the time one applies to enter a community to the time one makes final commitment. It takes several years and there are many supports but also challenges along the way. I remember saying to myself after that first formal step that “at long last I am doing what I have always wanted to do.”
There are great “storms” swirling around us in our church and world today, and some may feel like Religious Life and the Church and all of us are “perishing” in various ways. But the Spirit of Jesus is still with us and says to us “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” As the disciples in the boat being lashed by the storm, we too are called to invoke and trust that the power and the Spirit of Jesus will Shepherd us through these turbulent times. As I was thinking about this the words of poet Christopher Fry came to me:
“The frozen misery of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move…
Thank God our time is now when wrong comes up to face us everywhere.
Never to leave us until we take the longest stride of soul we ever took.
Affairs are now soul size, the enterprise is exploration into God.”
Yes, we do live in turbulent times but we are not alone. We are called individually and as church to a radical openness, trust and dependence on God. As the poet says, we may be being called to take the longest stride of soul we ever took.
God is a patient, faithful, gentle but persistent God. If you or anyone you know is sensing that God may be inviting you to become a brother, sister or priest, I encourage you and them to seek out someone who can accompany you and guide and help you along the path as you discern your way forward.