You did not choose me. I chose you! (John 15:16)
That was where it all began—this venture into the unknown, following an unheard voice, an unseen face, into an unfathomable future. We had a mysterious attraction to this childhood God who suddenly or gradually caught hold of our lives and would not let us go!
Every consecrated person has a story to tell. Having to deal with young Religious, I would often start with these stories. Some stories were long, beginning from the womb of their mother. Others burst in at a very young age—First Holy Communion or thereabouts. Others were drawn in adolescence or teenage or even later. Whenever and however the call came, it just did not leave us in peace, until we made up our minds, one way or the other. The “If you wish…” of Jesus required a willing answer, not a forced one.
What drew most people to the Religious Life was usually a strong inclination towards prayer or a deep-seated urge towards some kind of apostolate. After many years of living as a religious or a priest, most of us can honestly say that we seldom had great difficulties in our prayer life or the apostolate. Very few have gone through the ‘dark night’ of some of the saints. Very few have been persecuted because of their ‘apostolate.’
The Tough Challenge
Most of our difficulties in the Consecrated Life have come from an unexpected area—community living, the give-and-take of living and working together with other persons called to the same state of life. In our youthful enthusiasm, we admired our priests and religious. We thought that because of their evident holiness they must be nice to live with. But once in the community ourselves, we soon discovered the human elements of community living.
As an old and humorous saying has it:
“To live in love with the saints above,
Oh, what heavenly glory!
But to live and grow with the saints below,
Well, that’s another story!”
It is worthwhile to recall what drew us to the Consecrated Life in the first place. Did we find what we were looking for?
Now, several years after our formation days, what are we looking for? Are we satisfied that this is just what we wanted or felt called to? Have we grown … grace-fully?
The real freedom, joy and serenity in Consecrated life come from our intimacy with the God who called us /calls us, who walks with us and sustains us. We were not called merely for something. We were called by Someone! Jesus calls us to discipleship and only then does He send us out on a mission. Giving priority to our work, which we sometimes confuse with mission, at the expense of prayer and gratuitous fraternal love and service, is like placing the cart before the horse. Sooner or later we will burn out, or, if we drag on long enough, retirement will deflate the balloon of our self-importance! How many disgruntled and disillusioned people we see, who seem to have forgotten their first love!
Whatever be our age, Consecrated Life holds its beauty, its attractiveness. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, living the values He proposed, growing in our likeness to Him, relating with others with His unconditional and forgiving love, serving gratuitously without seeking any reward … all these make our life more genuine, more divine, more worth living, more satisfying from a spiritual as well as a human point of view. We become more humane, more mature, more contented, more at peace with ourselves and with others.
This is the real freedom and joy of a life dedicated to God, a prolonged blessing! And it is ours for the asking. He has called us and never goes back on His promises. We may have fallen, but He picks us up again. We may have strayed, but He willingly brings us back again.
He calls us even today. It is never too late. Oh, if today you hear His voice, harden not your heart!
Sr. Esme da Cunha FDCC is a Canossian sister. Her experience includes: College Lecturer in physics, Co-ordinator of Preparation for Final Vows for fifteen batches, member of the provincial and general council.