SR BREDA'S STORY
“There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised in the Gospel by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and speak to others of our friendship with Him.” Pope Benedict XVI.
One can say the same about a vocation to religious life and it is this which prompts me to share my own vocation story! Recently a memory from my first week in the monastery came to mind – each time I entered the chapel and looked at the Exposed Blessed Sacrament on the altar a wave of praise and thanksgiving welled up in my heart to God for bringing me here! Now fifty odd years later I still feel the same gratitude to God for the gift of my monastic vocation as a Dominican Nun.
What drew me to Monastic Life?
I would not have stood out as a particularly religious, and certainly not as a well behaved child but as a family we attended Sunday Mass, said our prayers and Rosary etc. From a very early age God had planted in my heart a desire to give myself totally to Him. At first I wanted to be a missionary sister and go to Africa or Asia to convert the world – I probably got the idea from missionary magazines to which my parents subscribed.
In secondary school I looked forward to finishing my Leaving Certificate and joining the Holy Rosary or Columban Missionary Sisters. Of course all this was my secret and not one about which I spoke to anyone! Then when I was sixteen – the Christmas before my Leaving Cert to be exact – I had a moment of insight when I became aware that as a missionary I would be tied down to one place and maybe due to war or other circumstances I may not be as effective, as I had childishly imagined, in bringing the Gospel to the people I longed to reach. Simultaneously, I felt in my heart God calling me to contemplative life (let me clarify that this was not a ‘voice’ or anything extraordinary but a gentle conviction). I believed that through a life of prayer and sacrifice I could reach out beyond the cloister walls to the whole wide world. While I wanted to respond to God’s call I must admit that I experienced a lot of fear – in fact I was scared of the unknown as I did not know any contemplative communities. I knew that the Poor Clares and Carmelites existed but where???? I also knew that St Therese was Patroness of the Missions. I was afraid to tell anyone that I was thinking of enclosed contemplative life as they might think I was crazy – indeed there was a sneaking fear within that I was in fact crazy! I tried to forget about it and began to read as many missionary magazines as I could lay hands on but somehow I could not totally suppress the little niggle within.
Now I was working in Dublin, having come up to the Civil Service with some friends after Leaving Cert but still wanting very much to give my life to the Lord. Providentially I happened to be living just around the corner from St Saviour’s Dominican Church and attended Mass and evening devotions there regularly. Eventually I got courage to speak to one of the friars about my dilemma – hoping that he would tell me to forget about this idea of contemplative life and focus on being a missionary. But NO – instead he suggested that I visit the Dominican Nuns in Drogheda – I had never heard of Dominican enclosed nuns!
Once I had met the community and spoken to some of the sisters my fears were allayed. But how was I to tell my parents? While they did not fully understand why I would enter an enclosed community so far from home – before motorways Drogheda was a long way from Tralee! – yet they supported me in my decision and for this I’ll be eternally grateful to them. I entered the novitiate shortly after my eighteenth birthday and the rest is history. Have I any regrets? No! I can identify with Blessed Reginald, one of the first friars of the Order, who said that he had no merit because he experienced such joy to be in the Order! I can only marvel at God’s goodness to me.
But this does not imply that life in the monastery is a ‘bed of roses’ where one can escape from the trials and challenges of our modern world! The call to monastic life is primarily about seeking the face of God and growing in an ever more intimate relationship with Him. As our Book of Constitutions tells us: “our whole life is harmoniously ordered to preserving the continual remembrance of God ...... striving to have the same mind as Christ Jesus.” As in any walk of life, so too in the monastery, once we embark on this journey of intimacy with God the first big obstacle I meet is myself (my sin and my selfishness) although it may take some time for me to recognise it. So we tend to take flight and try to run away from ourselves and become ‘busy’ with all kinds of distracting activities – even good ones and especially good ones! Yet if we remain still and empty we come to realise that our poverty is the meeting place with our loving Saviour who has come into our world to be ‘God with us’ and to save us from our sin and selfishness. Here too is born our desire for everyone to come to know God’s love and mercy and experience the joy and hope of living in His company through all the circumstances of one’s life – whether they be painful moments or happy ones. It is in the midst of our own struggles and temptations, our doubts and darkness that we are one with all humankind in their pain and anguish, despair and helplessness and in this way perpetuate Dominic’s gift of bearing sinners, the down-trodden and the afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of his heart.
Rather than confining us, our vocation as Dominican nuns opens us to the breadth, the height and the depth of God’s love, made manifest in the Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus – a love which is celebrated daily in the Church’s liturgy – that same love which transforms the poverty and apparent uselessness of our life and gives it its hidden apostolic fruitfulness.