An Accountant Recalculates - Sr. Colette's Story
If anyone had told me when I was studying to be an accountant, that I would give it all up just over a year after I qualified, I would have thought they were crazy. And yet that is exactly what happened.
I grew up in a fairly normal Irish Catholic home, in which we practiced our faith. It was something I very much took for granted. I never gave up the practice of Sunday Mass – it was just something I did every Sunday and it didn’t cost much to do it.
I studied Commerce and thoroughly enjoyed the social scene at University. After University, I decided to take up accountancy and so began several years of working full-time and studying in the evenings, with exams twice a year. Coming up to exams, I used to find that I became more ‘fervent’, praying that I would pass. Of course, the fervour would die down when the exams were over, and I would resume my social life.
However, as I went on, I began to question, interiorly, whether God really existed. If He did, then it was not fair just to come to Him when I needed something. If He really did exist, then what we are told about Him in the Bible was true and there had to be much more to my relationship with Him. If He didn’t exist, I could just forget about Him. One thing I knew for certain; my relationship with Him was not satisfying. In fact, I could not even call it a relationship, as there was no relating going on.
A friend and I watched a video on Medjugorje (a place in Bosnia where Our Lady has appeared for many years). I was fascinated by it. Some time after that, I met some young people who invited me to a prayer meeting which I began to attend. I just loved it. I was so amazed to see all these young people – there could be up to a hundred on any given night! They all seemed so happy and they radiated great joy. I was struck by their vibrant faith. When they shared how Jesus was working in their lives, it was apparent that God was not a remote Being, but was very close to them. And I was really struck by the fact that they were not “holy Joes”, but very ordinary people, from all walks of life. It took away the fear I had that if you were to take God seriously, you’d end up becoming a nun.
I wanted what they had.
Eventually, my friend Maura and I got the opportunity to go to Medjugorje. While there I had a very deep experience of God’s love for me. It happened during the consecration at Mass. I had often heard that God loves each one of us, but it meant nothing. But suddenly I was swept off my feet. I felt utterly loved by God and knew for certain that Jesus was truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. I was totally overcome and could not believe the intense feelings of love that I had for God. I cannot even begin to explain the deep feelings of peace and joy that I felt. Nothing in my life compared with it. I got a great love for prayer, because now, it was not just some dry formulas that I had to repeat, but a living relationship with Someone whom I loved with my whole heart and who I knew loved me.
When I came home from Medjugorje, I spoke to a priest about my experiences. At that stage, I loved God so much, that I wanted to do whatever He wanted, even if it was to become a nun. I was hoping that it wouldn’t be that but I was open to whatever the Lord wanted for me. He suggested that I finish out my studies and look at the vocation later.
So, I threw myself into living. I still enjoyed my social life very much. As well as that, I had several relationships, because marriage had always been in my mind. I met many new friends and we used to socialise together. But, I never felt totally fulfilled, even though I enjoyed myself. I began to see the power of prayer at work in my own life and in the lives of others, both spiritually and physically. For instance, I had a boyfriend who had severely damaged his back in a car accident, which meant he had had to take a year out from work. His back was instantaneously healed one night at a prayer meeting. In my own family too, great things were happening through prayer, with all of them experiencing God’s love in their hearts. We saw many miracles.
Eventually, I qualified as an accountant. I remember the deep sense of emptiness that I felt that day. I had spent so many years slogging for those exams and now that I was qualified, it meant nothing to me. I couldn’t believe it.
Maybe it was the disappointment of that day, that made me realise that I had to look at the vocation idea again. Gradually, as I wrestled with the idea of becoming a nun, it became something that I wanted as well. It was not an immediate thing. I knew, though, that I had only one life to live and to give myself to God, who is love, was the most beautiful thing I could do with it. Eventually, I it became clear that I would have to tell my family what I was considering. I am the eldest of three girls and we are a close family. I knew they would be devastated.
It was very hard telling them. It was bad enough telling them that I was thinking of becoming a nun, but that I was thinking of entering an enclosed order was even worse. The day after I told them, my father was giving me a lift to work. He told me, with tears in his eyes, that whatever I did, he was proud of me. I was so glad of the moral support of having him behind me, but it broke my heart to see him cry and to know that I was causing my whole family such pain. I felt that it was my fault that they were suffering so much and yet, I knew deep down it was something I had to do.
The following weekend, I went away – I needed a break. My sister gave me a letter as I was leaving. I remember taking it out to read it in a coffee shop and the tears spilling down my face as I read the very moving words about her interior struggle with my decision. It was heart-breaking for me. At that stage, it would have been so much easier to put the whole idea on indefinite hold, but there was no turning back the clock. When I went to Mass that Sunday, I got great consolation from a reflection that was printed in the parish newsletter. I was convinced when I read it, that the Lord was with me and knew what I was going through. The reflection went as follows:
“Life’s most painful choices are not always between good and evil. If that were so there would be a lot fewer quitters. No, the most painful choices are often between the good and the best. In other words, the things that tempt us to abandon our goal are not always bad. More often than not they are good, and that is what makes it so hard to resist them. We forget what was once precious to us and exchange it for something else that is less good but more immediate. If we wish then to remain faithful, we must be prepared to meet difficulties, especially from inside ourselves. We have to go forward at such times in bare faith, simple hope, and love without sentiment. “
The next few months were difficult. Eventually, I applied to the Poor Clares and was accepted. It was a decision that I had to make in faith. God had given little hints, but no big signs. I can see now that He was asking me to take a leap in faith and to trust that He would give the reassurance afterwards. That is one way He uses to make our faith grow.
A few months after I joined the community, my mother got cancer and had to have major surgery. It was a time when my beliefs were really put to the test. I believed that prayer was all-powerful and now I was given an opportunity to put that into practice. And the Lord blessed that in a marvellous way.
On a rational level, it might have made more sense to go home and look after my mother, but I entrusted her to God. And He really looked after her. She said afterwards that she really felt carried by prayers and that it took no more out of her than a visit to the dentist. It was a great turning point for my entire family, as even up to the time I entered, they found it difficult. Now, at least, they found it easier to accept. Since then, as they see that I am happy, they are happy for me. Over the years, they have come to a deep appreciation of our way of life and are very supportive, which has been a great blessing for me.
It has not always been easy, but then I never expected that it would be. I didn’t think I was coming to a holiday camp. I knew I was committing myself to a radical way of living the Gospel and I wanted to live as fully for God as was possible. It is a wonderful vocation, living as we do, with our lives centred on Christ in the Eucharist. We carry all people in our hearts, and present them daily to the Lord. I have never regretted coming here. I thought before I joined, that I was making a big sacrifice and doing a great thing in giving myself to the Lord. However, the more I live this life, the more I see that it is I who am on the receiving end, with God endlessly showering His love on me. So, everything has been a huge gift of grace and I want to spend my life in thanksgiving to God for that.
Watch the Video of Sr. Colette speaking about Eucharistic Adoration.