|By Sr. M. Clara|
That is the way many conversations begin—with a phone call. What about our conversations with God? How do they begin? Most often they begin with our making the sign of the Cross, but not always. That is when we call upon God, although, even in that, that is always first with God’s inspiration. When God wants to talk with us, how does he begin the conversation?
Reflecting back on my vocation story—my “call” from God—while it was unbeknownst to me at the time I do think that the plan was actively put into full motion by way of a phone call.
I don’t remember the specific hour but I do remember the day. It was January 10, 1987, when, standing beside the table in the dining room of our family home, I heard the phone on a small stand in the corner of the room begin to ring. Standing nearest to it, I picked it up and said, “hello.” After identifying who I was and saying that my mother was standing nearby I received the word that my father had just died.
From that moment on, death, to me, became a very significant part of “life.” I was thirty years old at the time when I received that phone call. I was happy with my life as it was. I had a secretarial job which I held for many years and I enjoyed that work very much. I was not married. I dated now and then but not often. Never, however, did the thought of my having a religious vocation come to mind prior to that moment nor did it come to mind at that time, even though I had a sister and an aunt who were religious sisters and I had an uncle who was a priest.
My father’s death, while not expected at that very moment, was not unexpected either insofar as he was in the hospital at the time with diminishing health and had been in poor health for some time. For quite a number of years he lived with the lingering effects of a couple of strokes. In the aftermath of his funeral—that evening, the next day and so on—I felt peace within me and life went on somewhat as usual, yet too something was very different. Every time I reflect back to think of a word to describe the experience of my father’s death the word “draining” comes to mind. I was full of life, not depressed, yet there was a sense of emptiness. When the hearts of two persons are united and one of those persons die, the life—the heart—of the other person is poured out—is “drained”—as well. While my daily activities remained the same and I was able to experience joy and was very thankful that my father was no longer suffering, something inside of me was now parched and a sense of thirst was developing without knowing what I was thirsting for.
Somewhat immediately around the time of my father’s death a new priest was assigned to our parish as an assistant pastor. His voice was strong, his eyes penetrating and his words, when preaching, were incredibly moving. His preaching seemed to both quench my thirst and, at the same time, intensify it.
Every Sunday, if he—Father Michael Sheridan, now Bishop—processed in as the main celebrant for Mass I was especially overjoyed and could not wait to hear his homily. Months passed and life went on as usual, but with an anticipation of the next Mass coming with a sense of joy as if there was a “special invitation” to which I was responding but which I had not yet received.
Then it happened—another phone call on February 8, 1988. Just a little over a year after my father died one of my sisters, my godmother, the one who also happened to be a religious sister, died from cancer just two weeks prior to her forty-seventh birthday. We all knew she was dying and just a day or so prior to receiving this word we, my mother and my siblings and I, were all gathered around her bed as she spoke of her approaching death. The word I always find to describe my experience of her death is that it was very “beautiful” and the aftermath of her funeral left me with a sense of “wonder.” Beautiful may seem like a very odd word to use when referring to death, but what was so beautiful was the way in which she gave witness to the fact that death is not meant to be a passive event in our life—not something that happens to us—but is an important event in which we are meant to actively participate and she did that very joyfully, very “beautifully” in union with Jesus, her spouse.
While it was not at the same time as my sister’s death, it was far too soon, in my estimation—it was within the same year as her death—that Father Sheridan was transferred from our parish to another parish. While such transfers are a normal thing in the life of a parish and in the life of a priest, that announcement was a true blow to me. All I knew is that he held a key to something very important to me but I did not know what that something was. I wrote a letter and there came an invitation of sorts and words of welcome.
As days passed my thirst remained as strong as ever. It was not long that I discovered that the parish where Father Sheridan was now pastor was not far from the place where I worked. Not only that, but there were two early Masses there every day and while there was an associate pastor at the parish what I discovered was that Father Sheridan, not always but most often, celebrated Mass at the same time each day. After attending daily Mass there for a couple of days to see what might be possible, time-wise, and after discovering what I did, I asked my boss if there was any problem if I arrived at the office a few minutes late so that I could continue to attend daily Mass there. My boss, being also Catholic, was very understanding and all was well in that regard.
With my thirsting and with my wonder, one thing led to another and to my surprise I heard “the call of God” to live a religious life. There was not a specific day, not a specific moment, nor specific words, just an interior sense of knowing. The key that Father Sheridan held was the Word himself—Jesus. When Father preached I heard the Word speak and I listened. I listened as if Jesus was speaking directly to me. When Father was transferred I had to follow the Word and I did.
It took a bit of time and a little traveling to reach the right Community for me. I prayed, I listened, I followed. After a little weaving, which I think was providential, I came to the place where I was meant to be.
Conversations now often begin with a look at my finger, not hearing but seeing the “ring” which speaks of two hearts that are united. When the heart to which we are united is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there is a continual outpouring, a continual emptying and a continual reception and filling, a continual exchange of love, a continual exchange of life, from one heart to the other: a repeated satisfying joy and a thirst. Such is the prayer of the heart. May the call of God—unique and personal to each of us—bring everlasting joy to all.