Sr Thérèse’s Vocation Story
Although I grew up in a Catholic family and attended Catholic schools, I never thought I would become a nun. There were no religious communities in my local area and I didn’t have any contact with nuns during childhood. In my late teens I went on a few youth retreats run by the Sacred Heart Fathers and this was when my personal relationship with Jesus began to deepen and I could claim my faith as my own.
During my first year at university, I began to attend daily Mass and to pray more regularly. Then, in August 1997, I travelled to Paris for the World Youth Day with Pope St John Paul II. The theme that year was “Master, where do you live? Come and see.” (John 1:38-39) I took this as a personal invitation to grow closer to Jesus in my daily life. The thought of religious life entered my head for the first time but I dismissed it. While in France, I also visited Lisieux. Until then I knew very little about St Thérèse but some of my friends encouraged me to get to know her. I bought a copy of her autobiography The Story of a Soul.
Around six months later, I hit a turning point, realising that my future was wide open but that I had no idea what I was being called to do. The thought of religious life kept recurring but I kept pushing it away. I prayed that I might know God’s will for my life but was adding, as if in small print, “As long as I don’t have to be a nun!”
That summer I attended the wedding of two friends. The celebrant was preaching about the love of the bride and groom for each other and how it meant they were always present to each other. I looked up and my eyes met a statue of the Sacred Heart. I realised then that Jesus had become the most important person in my life and that he was calling me to spend my life with him. I still didn’t want to admit that this might mean a call to religious life.
Soon afterwards I found a vocations pamphlet from a Carmelite monastery. It began with the challenge of the Prophet Elijah: “Why are you halting between two ways? If the Lord is God, follow him!” (1 Kings 18:21) The same day, I came across these words of St Teresa of Avila from her Life: “On the one hand God was calling me; on the other I was following the world. All the things of God made me happy; those of the world held me bound. It seems to me I was trying to reconcile these two things."
Both these quotations seemed to speak so directly to my experience that they were the final prod I needed to give in to God and to admit to myself that I might have a vocation to religious life. After months of struggling, I now experienced a sense of peace and joy. I felt God was calling me to a life of prayer, centred on the Eucharist, lived both in solitude and community. This seemed to point to Carmel but I knew I needed to explore it further.
I made some weekend visits to Thicket, staying in the extern part of the monastery. I encountered a joyful community and felt deeply attracted to their life of prayer, spent mostly in solitude. I also visited other religious Orders but did not feel the same pull. The next step would be to arrange a live-in, a two week stay inside the enclosure. It was very different to my expectations. I never imagined Carmelite life would be so busy! But underpinning all the movement between work, choir and cell was a deep stillness, presence and joy. I felt it was what our Lord meant by living life to the full.
I was struck by the simplicity of lifestyle, the silence, the starkness of my Carmelite cell, the joys to be found in simple things like sharing chocolates at recreation. My mind was made up and I knew I wanted to enter and thankfully my community accepted me.
It’s often said of religious life that we enter for one reason and stay for another. We grow, as does our way of life and charism over time and our response has to adapt to the needs of the moment. But that relationship of love with Jesus which led me to Carmel will always remain.
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Sr Mary of Nazareth's Vocation Story