By Natalie Salameh
I thought it would be nice for me to share my personal conversion and vocation story with you. Since joining the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light in January 2014, I have been asked by many people, “so what is a girl from Sydney, Australia doing in Dartmouth, Massachusetts? You’re a long way from home.”
This is true, I am a long way from home (and my Aussie accent gives me away every time), but Jesus’ Sacred Heart is the real home, and my following testimony will tell you why.
I originally discerned religious life when I was in high school and was just fourteen years old. I used to dream of the day that I would enter the convent. My discernment continued and at sixteen, I asked a community of nuns in Sydney to accept me as a postulant. My request was turned down because I was too young, but at the time, it was a huge blow that was hard for me to accept. However, God had other plans because he tends to write straight with crooked lines!
To be honest, I lost interest in pursuing a vocation to consecrated religious life. I immersed myself in my studies, and I found to my surprise that I loved academia, and gradually came to be consumed by it. I went on to University where I studied Economics and Political Science, with hopes of one day having a political career. Thoughts of a religious vocation were long gone, or so I thought.
After my studies, I got an excellent job with our third tier of Government in Australia, Local Government in the Industrial Relations Unit. I spent six years working my way up the ranks. I found that the more and more I progressed at work, the less happy I became. Indeed, if I could sum up my feelings back then, I would say that I felt empty and very much alone.
I had a gaping void in my heart, which I was filling with all kinds of worldly distractions such as nice clothes, and dining out. I even bought my very own home, hoping that this might solve the problem! I often wonder what God was thinking when he was allowing me to pursue these earthly objects. I often picture Him shaking His head at me in disapproval. But No, he was waiting for the right time to tap me, his daughter, on the shoulder with the utmost mercy and compassion, and remind me that only he can fill the void in my life. And this is precisely what Our Lord did.
I recall vividly back in January 2013, kneeling down in prayer and imploring the intercession of St. Rita of Cassia, the patroness of impossible cases, petitioning her to take away my feelings of emptiness and loneliness. I remember telling her that I felt guilty asking for something more, when I had so much already, but I said to her that something was missing, and I didn’t quite know what. I asked God through her intercession to send me what was missing. So what was missing? It was Jesus.
Shortly after that I had some very powerful stirrings of the heart towards Our Lord Jesus. I had always gone to Mass every Sunday, but I found myself constantly preoccupied by him. All of the sudden he was there in every thought, in every word, in every prayer; he was there in everything and everyone I encountered. These feelings of longing for God, of longing to be near him, close to him, beside him, surrounded by him cannot be fabricated, no matter how hard you try. This was God’s call, he was beckoning me to come, to leave all for his sake. At the time these feelings stirred, I was left utterly confused, not really knowing what was happening to me.
When Mother Marla Marie and Sr. Therese Maria were on mission in Sydney back in February 2013, I remember hearing them speak about how they discerned their call to religious life at one of our youth group meetings at my parish of St. Charbel’s. After they had finished speaking, something penetrated deep within me and struck a chord, perhaps because I was experiencing something similar to them.
I knew that Mother Marla Marie and Sr. Therese Maria were speaking again on the Voice of Charity Radio Station. So I tuned in to hear and my old feelings of wanting to enter consecrated religious life stirred again with renewed fervor. I came to realize that the Holy Spirit was gently leading me towards the Maronite Servants, by planting a seed of yearning in my heart.
The Holy Spirit gave me the courage to email Mother Marla Marie only two short days later and explain to her what I was experiencing. I met her and Sr. Therese Maria at my parish on the eve of their departure to the U.S. I recall speaking to Mother Marla Marie that evening and finding peace at last.
I visited the Maronite Servants for in May, to get a glimpse of religious life and to see the Maronite Servants in action. Not only did I find my true calling and vocation, I found my home. The rest is history.
A vocation, whether it is to the married state or religious life, is fundamentally a gift from God. In the words of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, “Our concern then should be to know the will of God. We should enter onto the path that God wills for us, not by “forcing the door”, but when God wills and as God wills…”
My message is to all the young women who are searching for goodness, happiness, truth and beauty. I was searching for it too, but I was looking in the wrong place. The world can’t give you lasting joy, but that’s the first place we all look for it. Stop looking for it there because you won’t find it there! “Whom else have I in the heavens? None besides you delights me on earth” (Psalm 73: 25).
For those interested in discerning religious life with the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light, please contact Mother Marla Marie at firstname.lastname@example.org.