Last week I left the parish and went to accompany some novices in their retreat. I had a four month stretch that had left me exhausted and drained. This made the request by the Novice Mistress to preach the retreat very appealing to me. I knew that I needed some refilling. I had planned to spend the time also to reflect about my own ministry, taking advantage of the quiet environment of the retreat.
We began the retreat by focusing on the very first motivation each one of them had at the time they decided to leave their homes for the convent in order to begin their formation. On the following day we contemplated the call of Samuel and how it was not as obvious for him to recognize the voice of God as we may think, and how he was helped by Eli. Then we looked at the call of Moses and how he felt that he was neither worthy nor capable of the mission God was giving him, because he was a murderer and a stammerer.
After that we looked at the Faith of Abraham and how he always trusted in God even in very unlikely circumstances. We then listened to the teachings of Jesus on the cost of being his disciple, how we need to deny everything for the sake of the kingdom, take up our crosses and follow Him. Then we ended with the promise of Jesus to all who left everything for the sake of the kingdom, how they would receive hundred fold all they had left and in addition eternal life. on the last day we celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation.
During those 6 days I had the privileged opportunity to meet all the 26 novices, who shared with me their vocation stories, their present feeling about it, their doubts and challenges. But what interested me most was the vocation story of each one. Everyone had a very unique vocation story and a motive that made them make that leap of faith to join the convent. Each story was different and revealed to me something about God and how differently he calls each person for his mission. Some stories embodied a long process and various promptings like Samuel’s until finally the person gave in to the persistent voice of God. Others were so sudden and powerful like that of Moses.
However, common denominator in all of them, was how each of them, at that kairos moment, became so much convinced that to leave whatever they were doing or thinking and go to the convent, was the right thing. It was for them as though some mysterious hand was pushing them to go to the convent. Actually majority shared that it was way after joining the convent that they began to evaluate that moment and even doubt whether they made the right decision at all.
What I learnt from this was that, when God calls us, he makes it so clear and powerful that we don’t get to doubt. We just follow the heart. Once we have made the move then he lets us free to slowly discern what mission he want us to undertake. The process of discovering our purpose and charisms begins.
I also discovered that God knows that to make that leap of faith needs a powerful thrust, and afterwards he guides us through the months and years making it clear his mission to us. Just like Moses, God used something very attractive like the burning bush that was not being consumed in order to get our full attention. Later on he would discuss with us about the mission and even bargain about it.
Towards the end of the retreat something as much striking as the vocation stories came to my mind. During the sharing I said that the novices also talked about the challenges they were facing especially from one another. Most of the challenges ware based on negative competition and mistrust. I asked myself how could that happen when each and every one of them had such a beautiful vocation story and over and above a dream and desire to fulfill the will of God in their lives. In fact all of them had something in mind about how they would like to serve God after their formation. I thought, if all these beautiful vocation stories, could be joined together and become one huge vocation story, how much good would they have made.
So I suggested to all of them to make a point of listening to the vocation story of the mates in order to understand that they were all trying to respond to the call.
This negative competition is not only found in the formation houses but also among religious and clergy who are working together. Negative competition brings about envy and jealousy that leads to infighting and the ones who suffer the consequences are the innocent people they serve. I concluded, therefore, that the differences should not bring conflict but beauty.
I can say that the experience was so much enriching and renewing for me as it was for the novices. I actually benefited more since I got to share their many stories.