What is Your Heart’s Desire?
Today is exactly five years to the day when I joined the FCJ Society as a postulant, on Pentecost of 2014. That Pentecost weekend is still very clear my memory. Waving goodbye to my parents at the airport, my eyes misting as I turned away, knowing their unhappiness. Arriving at the airport in Manila, following the careful instructions that had been emailed to me, and seeing two figures - one tall and the other short - waving wildly as they ran up to welcome me. Having a simple lunch in a strange house with people I didn’t know, until someone asked, “How are your parents?” And then, floodgates opening, running to my new, strange room to be alone with painful feelings.
I don’t remember much about my acceptance ceremony, but laugh now to look at the photos - everyone else dressed in nice, formal clothes for the occasion and me standing out in my sleeveless blouse and short denim skirt, not having known what to expect. After that we had a nice dinner, followed by a round of Bailey’s, apparently the sisters’ favourite celebratory drink at special occasions. I didn’t expect to be drinking in the convent, and when I said so they all laughed. One sister - whom I now know is full of mischief - went to her room and produced an apron that read in bold text, “My doctor says I need glasses”, and had below it outlines of wine glasses! She pressed me to take a photo with it on to send to people back home. When I did so, a friend asked, “Why is there a small statue of Buddha behind you on the shelf?” I hadn’t noticed it.
The five years that have followed have been as unexpected as that first weekend. This week I have been turning over the stones in my memory, smiling at some, regretful at others. There are the memories of little children I have loved in different places, with their laughter and innocence; of the beauty of the mountains in Ende; of the mystical call of the Azaan in Yogyakarta; of the smoke and dirt and contradictions of Manila, a city I have learnt to love. There has been much joy, but also pain: of loss; of difficult relationships; of disillusionment. How do I come to terms with all of these? Do I try to weigh all these up rationally, to try and see if the “positive” outweigh the “negative”?
But perhaps to do so would be to miss the point. At one evening prayer this week we sang this song that I have always loved:
As the deer pants for the water
So my soul longs after you
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship you
Hearing this in the context of my reflections really struck me. It brought me home to what I feel in the innermost part of my soul: my deep desire for God and God’s for me - a desire that is as longing and ardent as it is loving. How can I describe this love, this thirst, that has become (however imperfectly) the foundation of my life and choices? I may go through my days only vaguely aware of it, but at times when the veil is lifted I realise - with amazement and joy - that nothing else matters than this; than being held faithfully by the One whom I love at the depths of my being. Perhaps all of these other experiences - the joy and the pain - have only served to strip me of those other things I grasp onto (reputation, approval, success), so that I can discover more and more the treasure that I already hold.
Sandra Schneiders writes in her treatise on religious life that “... consecrated celibacy is the constitutive vow of Religious Life. It creates the lifeform of unmediated quest for God to the exclusion of all other primary life commitments. It integrates the person in terms of a supreme love that makes the life not only make sense to one who chooses it, but has the capacity to bring one to union with God and the power to ground a lifetime of service of the neighbour who is Christ. ... Both the vocation itself and the capacity to live it are gifts from God that... require, if they are to be lived healthily and holiliy, an intense life of prayer, asceticism, and commitment.”
I had only the vaguest of ideas of what religious life was when I first joined the FCJs, but when I read this passage as a postulant, my heart leapt, recognising in it something I had always wanted but had never articulated, even to myself. Reading it again now 5 years on, I still feel that same amazed resonance.
And so I pray for all of us this Pentecost - especially for those of us who are discerning life choices – that we might each discover that particular way of life which God calls us to. And, living it with faith and joy, may we become more and more authentically ourselves, unique and wonderful reflections of God’s own divinity.