God’s way of teaching and entering a heart is beyond our understanding!
I wasn’t brought up a Catholic because my parents were followers of Kejawan, a traditional Javanese religion. My father’s extended family were all Protestants, while on my mother’s side they were Muslims of strict observance. When I got to class five of elementary school I began to do sholat (Islamic prayer) and to fast in the same way as the other children, without anyone telling me or guiding me. I think that was the first seed of my deep desire to be in relationship with God the Creator.
After graduating from elementary school I continued my studies in Solo. My elder sister, who had already become a Catholic, enrolled me as a catholic student. So I found myself in the group of catholic students without having the slightest idea about the catholic religion. As time passed, without anyone telling me or pushing me, just as previously I had begun to study Islam, now I decided to join the catechumenate. I was baptised when I was in class 3 of junior high school.
I was quite faithful to praying … but becoming a sister was far from my thoughts. I wanted to work outside Java, to get a lot of money and visit new and faraway places. I liked travelling. Later, however, it was as a sister that I went beyond the borders of home and got to know the culture of other nations.
Francisca Yohana Sri Winarsih (Inez)
After graduating from senior high school I continued my studies at the Institute of Agriculture in Bogor. It was at this tertiary educational institution that the history of my vocation began. Two important events were the starting point. I began to ask in my heart “Lord, why did you create me? If life has a purpose, what is it? If this life is your will and has a purpose, how must I fill my life to make it meaningful?” The second important event took place when I was attending Mass on vocation Sunday. After coming out from Mass, I was aware of a question from the homily which seemed to be meant for me personally: “God is calling. Who will respond if I don’t?” Heroic, that’s how I felt. There was an urging to answer the call, to sacrifice and live in a different way for God. I began to dream: what will happen if I respond to this?
I began to think about the possibility that I might a sister … God began to disturb my mind and heart. This disturbance pressed on my soul; I wanted to make it disappear but I couldn’t do so. God led me step by step as a teacher leads a student. I graduated from university and spent two years pondering and weighing. From the church directory I knew there were very many religious congregations. But at the time the only congregation I had any acquaintance with was a Franciscan one. My thought at that time was, “Is there really any difference between congregations? Don’t they all wear a habit and not get married?” How naïve I was! Later I learned that each congregation has its own charism and spirituality.
In hesitation and anxiety about the rightness of my choice, I knocked on the door of the Franciscan convent. I was well aware that there wouldn’t be a sign or a sure answer in this searching, but what I did know was that I was following the deepest urging of my heart and for sure God would guide me. For three years I went through the program of postulancy and novitiate. I felt I began to know God in my life and I responded to Him wholeheartedly.
At that time I was helped by the best formators. I was taught how to know myself and to know God, to mend what was wounded as well as to embrace weakness. Some teachers were priests from the Society of Jesus. From them I got to know Ignatian spirituality and the spirit of “magis” – to be more. I learned about serving-honoring-glorifying God in the simplest of daily activities, in everything.
My first vows were in 1992. My journey went on, as I continued to learn and began to teach, for another four years. But in 1996 my time of joy as a Franciscan sister came to an end. I was not accepted for renewal of vows. This was a time of great darkness.
When I reflect back on that event, I’m aware that it was both the lowest point and the turning point in my life. It took a long time for me to realize that this was the moment when I was born again in a new way. God, who knew me so well, was going to lead me to a new place – the place that he wanted. At that time I wasn’t able to understand the purpose of his heart and so I complained, repeatedly, with all my strength; I was angry … with many people but also God.
The next three years were really a very hard time. Just like the people of Israel who were angry, fed up, weary, grumbling, complaining, demanding and following their own will, so was I. I had many questions and not even one was answered. It seemed that, after a long time of being silent, God began to speak.
When in 2006 an earthquake struck Bantul the FCJ sisters supported the efforts to help people rebuild their homes. Some materials from the devastated houses could be used again, some had to be thrown away, and some new materials were added. Foundations and supporting pillars were rebuilt in a new way, hopefully better able to withstand any future earthquakes. This, too, was what God did for me: helped me to rebuild my life again with some old materials that were in ruins but still usable; helped me to rebuild on a firmer foundation.
After a two year process of rebuilding, I found the new building to be more beautiful than the old. My keywords were: “Always journey on and don’t let me stop because of despair.” That was the beginning of my new life. I re-wove my relationship with God and at the same time I was healed and restored by Him. My faith became simpler, and for sure God and I were more able to be honest with each other.
As my studies came to an end, it already seemed clear that I was going to live my life as a single woman.. It wasn’t a matter of deciding whether to be single or not, but something deeper, that God was questioning … That sense of God’s urging was so powerful that I went to see a spiritual director, a Jesuit priest. He said to me, “That restless feeling you have, that lack of peace, is perhaps because you are in the wrong place.” He gave me a card with the name of the congregation of Sisters FCJ. Of course, I didn’t immediately accept it. I felt fear and worry at the thought of entering religious life for the second time. I put it off for a long time. Finally I sent a letter introducing myself to Sister Barbara FCJ in Yogyakarta.
For two years I went to and fro between Yogyakarta and Jakarta – joining together with others in the d’Houet group, a group named after the FCJ foundress, Marie Madeleine d’Houet, for young women who were interested to know about FCJ. Two more years passed, still without the courage to make a decision. While I still wasn’t able to be sure, Sister Marion asked me if I was ready to become a postulant. I answered, “Yes.” I felt full of worry, but every time I went into the deepest centre of my heart, I felt calmness, peace. Still I said, “Lord, give me a sign.” In prayer God answered: “You will not be given a sign. Now ask your own self. What do you most desire from your life? What do you hope from your life? Whatever you choose will have my blessing.”
I made my final vows on January 3, 2010, happy and proud to be an FCJ sister. God’s way of teaching and entering a heart is beyond our understanding. My journey to this point had many twists and turns, but its beauty is indescribable.
(To read a fuller account of my story, click here.)