Growing closer in religious life

A 2009 image of the Stations of the Cross at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington shows the eighth station, "Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem." The station images were created by Pittsburgh artist Virgil Cantini. (CNS photo / Bob Roller)

God and I had been intensely discussing my call to religious life all that summer of 1997. This conversation was not new to me. It had been going on, periodically, for 20 years. This time, it was different. It didn't end as it had in the past. God was being much more persistent.

I had met a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in my parish, Sr. Christine Liegey, and attended a weekend retreat that she coordinated. There I learned about the "unity process" going on between the Newburgh, New York, and the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, congregations. (The communities did become one in July 1997.)

I began to be aware of a desire to learn more about the community, while struggling to hold onto who I was and the life I was leading at the time. It was the beginning of a radical change and a major transformation in me and my life.

Twenty years later, I, along with many others, now begin another journey to which God has invited us — to walk into the future of religious life. We are being invited to create something that will give new energy to our charisms and missions. We are being invited to trust God fully as we enter a time of radical transformation that will involve the pain of letting go of what is, so we can embrace that which will bring new life.

At times like this, I find myself re-experiencing what my retreat director has called "touchstone moments" in my life. This particular moment happened on Palm Sunday in 2002. First vows were four months away. I was back at the same retreat house where my canonical novitiate classes had been held. It was a weekend retreat that my spiritual director, a member of the team, had recommended to me.

As I walked the grounds, I began to sense how different I was from that canonical novice I had been when I first set foot on this property two years before. I became aware of how my relationship with God had deepened in a way I never thought was possible. There was an intimacy with God that was life-giving and grace-filled.

On Palm Sunday, after everyone had gone, I sat for a moment in a favorite spot, enjoying some quiet time before returning to the novitiate house. That was when I experienced my touchstone moment. It left me unsettled and awestruck.

It took time to fully understand what it meant, but the experience has reassured and comforted me in times of great change. Several years later, I was finally able to put my reflections on this experience in writing.

I walk with my Beloved
Quiet and distant he seems to me
Listening but saying little
He is always there, walking with me.
One day he asked me if I trusted him,
As he nailed my hands and feet to a tree.
With each nail I said "yes"
And felt not a thing.
The pain of the nails, he explained,
Was the pain of my life past and that to come.
My Savior stood at the foot of my cross and asked
"Do you trust me?" I said "yes"
"Then come down and walk with me."
I climbed down and walked into the woods with my Beloved at my side.
Out of curiosity, I stopped and looked back, surprised to see myself still hanging from the tree.
I turned to find him waiting patiently for me, hand outstretched.
Wordlessly, he leads me forward, my hand in his.
We walk together through the joys and heartaches of this life.
As the pain in my life rips my heart apart and tears my insides up,
My Beloved walks quietly with me.
His strength and love, filling me, supporting me and keeping me close to him.
When I become weary, frightened or discouraged my God is there.
In the joy and laughter, he rejoices with me.
Just as my Lord's nails brought eternal life to all of humankind,
So my nails bring me to new life in my Beloved.

The journey we are invited to embark on is the paschal mystery — the death of religious life as we know it and its evolution into a new way of being. It is a deepening of our relationship with God into a greater intimacy and closer union with him.

This journey to new life is not one we walk alone. We walk with each other. We walk with our founders and foundresses and those members of our community who have completed their life journey. God walks with us, inviting, encouraging and supporting us.

With God's love, we will continue to live out the charism and mission of our founders and foundresses. We will continue to reach out to those in need, living out the Gospel message and bringing the light and love of Christ to the dark, pain-filled areas of our world today. It is a world that still needs us.

[Maureen Hickey is a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of New Windsor. She is the nurse administrator of Presentation Health Care Center in Leominster, Massachusetts, and belongs to St. Joseph Parish in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where she volunteers as a parish nurse and is a member of the choir.]