'I was being called to religious life'

Mon, Jun 4, 2012, 01:00

MY FAITH:I ENTERED religious life at the age of 28. I had never planned to enter religious life and just expected that I would do something normal like marrying when I met my “soul mate” after university. I suppose the image I had then of nuns was of something black and white and cut off from the world.

When the opportunity came in September 1983 to work in Paris and finish my thesis, I took it and ended up living in a flat in Pigalle. Through a series of chance meetings with a priest of our order at my brother’s wedding and an unplanned trip through France, visiting the founder houses of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, to Lourdes, in those first few days of moving to Paris, my life was turned upside down forever.

In Lourdes I had what I can only describe as an overwhelming, profound and intimate encounter with God and with it the sense that I was being called to religious life. I was terrified and yet it was an experience that was also in some way compelling. So much so that I only spent a year working in Paris before entering. It is hard to put words on what the experience was. All I can say that it was an experience that has become part of the fabric of my being, that I couldn’t turn my back on and still can’t, even in my darker moments of struggle. There has never been any other such experience. My faith, which had been handed down through the witness of family, community and culture, was something I took for granted until that moment.

Seeing my mother praying beside the fire with her beads and her prayer book and a coffee to hand influenced me and indeed communicated a “homely image” of a God who was accessible in the ordinary bits and pieces of life. Over the years I would say that my faith has deepened through the shared journey in community and through good and sustaining friendships, inside and outside religious life, where I feel free to talk about what is deepest in me. One of the most stark and yet most strengthening experiences I have had, on a faith level, has been accompanying one of our sisters very consciously facing her imminent death and witnessing the serenity she had as she made a final act of faith and surrender in the face of the unknown as she had done 40 years before, on entering.

I believe in life after death. I believe that those we have loved and who have died are still somehow very present to us. I don’t think our present bodily form is big enough to contain the mystery of the presence of God that awaits us and I know that the God I will meet will not be aloof, but will . . . be present to me.

Sr Mary McCloskey (56) was in conversation with ROSITA BOLAND. She has just celebrated her Silver Jubilee of Profession, as a sister of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Ranelagh, Dublin.