It probably seems a little unusual to offer a reflection on the Year of Consecrated Life as a woman who doesn’t belong to a religious community or institute, writes Natalie Gordon, as she reflects on vocation and the life-changing love and witness of many religious women on her own faith journey.
It probably seems a little unusual to offer a reflection on the Year of Consecrated Life as a woman who doesn’t belong to a religious community or institute.
However, for a long while in my young adult life, religious life was something that I felt called to and deeply desired.
Some days the pull of God’s love on my heartstrings catches me and it’s in those moments that I am obliged to revisit the journey that took me to the convent and then beyond.
I fell in love with the idea of religious life in my early twenties. I had a great Aunt who was a Josephite in regional Australia and even though I never met her, her story seemed interesting and exciting.
One day, whilst praying in the convent chapel next to the school I worked in, the sisters jokingly offered me the ‘tour’ of the convent.
It entirely whet my appetite to know more. Finally, the moment I thought I was definitely called, wasn’t one of thunderbolts and lightening but when the convent superior, or community leader as they are known in Australia, told me a story about how she used to pray daily to God in the very same chapel as a young woman asking him to help her do her work, until she realised the prayer ought to be the other way around.
She knew at some point that it was her asking Him to help Him in HIS work. I was hooked. A lot of time in my twenties was spent trying to find the right place to live this calling. At the same time though, I was forgetting to grow up. So my quest to love God in His entirety was one that meant meeting many inspirational religious women.
It also meant journeying….journeying before it became a popular secular phrase and journeying until there was nothing else left to give except to ask God one winter morning in community prayer to let me know when it was alright to leave the community I had eventually journeyed to.
The journey was soon over.
I also think that these amazing women could see I had a lot of growing up to do still, but nonetheless, they endured the young woman (probably very annoying at times) on her quest to know God’s love.
In this year of Consecrated Life these women do deserve a special mention, and whilst I won’t mention their orders, I will just mention them by name, because they have all helped me to truly know God’s love in God’s time, his Kairos time and not my time, my young and idealistic and persevering desire to want God's love NOW!
Colleen, Ann, Jenny, Veronica, Mary-Clare, Rosemary, Monica, Maria, Frances, Noelene, Kerry, Monica, Julie, Pat, Moira, Lydia, Marg, Mary-Rachel and Mary have all been a guiding spirit of God’s love in my life.
Your witness has woken me up to the world! Now in my thirties the journey goes on. Not entirely convinced that religious life really needs me, it is still something that crosses my mind once in a while. I really do miss the prayer life and the joy of living in community at times.
I know a lot of young women still see religious life as a very real and challenging life choice of radical love and radical witness to the world. These young women need religious women’s witness to be brave and try the life. It’s very definitely not a numbers game.
And God probably isn’t bothered too much about what sort of community young women join, as long as there is a place for those young women to make God’s love known in her own way, through the charism of the founder or foundress of the order.
The mystery of the religious life never dies, the desire to know God in His own time certainly never diminishes. The Year of Consecrated life has offered the rest of the Church a chance to revisit, re-evaluate and share a sneak peek into the mystery of religious life.
For all of those men and women who have given all and followed Him in a courageously loving journey, we thank you for helping us to know God’s undying love for all of us. You are the secret crown jewels of the Church. You are the treasures that offer us hope.
Natalie Gordon is a former associate lecturer at the University of Notre Dame and now teaches in Cairns, Qld.