Part 2 of Sr Eileen’s story
However, things began to change in 2010 when the desire to better know God became increasingly strong. A ten-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land proved life-changing, particularly an experience there that prompted the feeling that God wanted more from me. I had no idea what that ‘more’ might be. A priest friend advised I commit to remaining open and that I give God time. How to do this: by saying yes in as far as practical to whatever arose. In this way, he suggested, I could grow in awareness of what God might want of me.
Wise advice. Having always been a thinker, I began now to go now with my instincts, making decisions and saying yes to opportunities without thinking them to death! Instead, I followed my heart! Having never done an Alpha course, I accepted an invitation to join the team in my parish. In Alpha, they say that the small group discussions are where God really works. I found these incredibly exciting and life‑giving. Courses on Scripture and a Certificate in Holistic Spiritualty had a similar effect on me as the discussions at Alpha. I discovered numerous courses and talks on scripture and faith-related topics that I could attend and I couldn’t get enough of them. It was if my desire for God and ‘God stuff’ was becoming greater and my hunger for knowing God seemed insatiable. During that time, I realised very clearly that I could no longer be satisfied with a life that wasn’t very full of God. Then, I began to spend time really asking God to show me in some very obvious way what to do.
It seemed as if God answered quite quickly and in a manner I could not ignore. God also answered with the clarity and specificity that I needed: Dominican sisters. Within a few weeks, I had met the vocations coordinator and left that first meeting knowing that I needed to continue exploring that life. That September, I began the pre‑novitiate. Over the next fifteen months, I attended assemblies, took part in a Congregation course, visited various convents, and stayed with several communities. Repeatedly, I was struck by how at ease and at home I felt. The sense that this might be right for me grew stronger so that asking to enter novitiate became inevitable. I knew leaving my family and my home would be difficult, but I knew also that I had to try, that if I didn’t I couldn’t be at peace. The words of this English postulant resonate with my experience: “Entering religious life was a decision born of love. It was an acknowledgement that my life has slowly and concretely rearranged itself around the love of God, and around that relationship as the one I prize above all else.” I began novitiate in January 2013 with little idea of what was ahead, but with a firm trust that God would be with me.
Novitiate is a special time. For us, these two years are a time to embrace Dominican life, grounded in communal and personal prayer, study, community, and ministry. The novitiate provides the opportunity to realise that we are Dominicans in every part of our lives – be these ordinary or extraordinary – and in all that we do, including the mundane tasks of everyday life. Thus, for me, all of life in the novitiate was my discernment. This time gave me the space to listen to God and fostered a deepening of my relationship with God. During my novitiate, I was privileged to receive enriching and exciting opportunities. I also experienced significant loneliness, worry, questions, doubts. Despite these struggles, or perhaps because of them, I flourished. Even on the darker days, I had peace at some deeper level and knew a strong desire to continue in Dominican life, to serve God in the way of Saint Dominic. During my novitiate, I learned more of my love of God and more about myself. For me, the sense of call – of being where God means me to be and where I need to be – changed and deepened and grew stronger. In 2015, I made First Profession with joy and with the hope that I would continue to grow into my relationship with God.
Making First Profession is far from the end of the process. It is to take another step in response to God’s call and to continue to journey with God. For me, that journey is literal as much as metaphorical! As followers of Saint Dominic, as itinerant preachers, we are called to be mobile for mission, to be willing to go where God and the world needs us. Since 2015, I have moved four times, each time called to uproot and to resettle, to adapt to changes in community, ministry, parish, surroundings, and even accents. Transition times are not easy, but each time I have been carried both by the familiarity of community prayer and by the prayers, support and love of my sisters.
Back to Covid-19!
This time is surely difficult with its end seeming increasingly elusive or distant – but it’s not all bad of course. Like me, despite the distractions and busyness of everyday life and the strain of living in this very changed reality, I expect you find yourself blessed by more time and more heart/head space. I hope that you too are graced with moments, however brief, of simply being present. This time offers a chance to wonder, to question, to think, to ask where God is, and then to find God when looking at – or listening to – nature or in so much that is positive in our great and little actions in response to this situation. Maybe you spend time imagining life post‑lockdown. Perhaps you find yourself wondering if you have a vocation to religious life or to priesthood and exploring what this might mean for you. This exploring is part and parcel of discernment.
This present time is gift. Seize that gift! Welcome it! It offers the space and silence needed to hear the voice of God – ‘a sound of sheer silence’ (1 Kings 19:12) – and perhaps to find within the courage to heed that call and to respond by saying yes, however tentatively. Consider saying yes to God! It’s just a first step! You will not regret it. You might just live to rejoice in it!
Even in the hard times, when the joy of my yes is somewhat dampened, I am sustained by my trust in my God who walks with me always, who always has and who always will: ‘Remember how the Lord your God has carried you, as one carries a child, all along the road you have travelled to reach the place you are now’ (Deuteronomy 1:31). God does no less for you.