When my mother asked me: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, I answered without a moment’s hesitation: “A Mom!” But then, after a moment’s reflection I asked : “But do you have to get married to be a mother?” My mother replied, “Yes, of course”. And I said, “But I want to marry a good-looking man.” Mom said, “If you can find him,” and I said, “But I’ll go and find him! Around five, years old I already knew exactly what I wanted!
I still smile when I think back on the decision of a convinced and determined little girl. But I’ve smiled even more since discovering, with joy and wonder, that deep down, this dialogue has been the guiding light of my life.
Being a mother
The desire to be a mother has always been strong in me. When I was little, I wanted at least twelve children, two more than my mother who had ten! But what could I do when, later on, I realised that even twelve would not be enough for me? But what does being a mother mean if not giving life so that others can live? I soon realised that giving my life through marriage alone would not be enough. I realised that there was another kind of motherhood: the motherhood of a heart that loves with a love that goes far beyond numbers and bonds that are visible to the eye. That’s when children become more and more numerous, because they come from a love that, has its origin in another Love that has been bestowed freely and since all time. Giving life has become for me what love demands and this has pushed me onward, even in difficult times. This absolute love was the strength that gave me the courage to say no to marriage and to say yes day after day to the Lord “who loved me and gave his life for me”.
As I reread my life, I’m happy to say that I’ve received the gift of motherhood. I see it in the faces of women young and old. Those disfigured by drugs and prostitution whom I met in the neighbourhoods where the fraternity where I lived was located. Some relearned to live because they felt welcomed and worthy of love, thanks to the little bit of tenderness I gave them. One of them, who had never known her own mother, often told me: “You are my mother”. Giving life also took many other forms: accompanying the little sisters for whom I was responsible, feeling compassion for many neighbours who were sick, misunderstood, suffering, despised, elderly…, working in the factory with many others and earning my daily bread by the sweat of my brow…
But giving life has a price: mothers are called to not to keep their children for themselves, but to let them go their own way. I too, like every mother, have learnt to let women and little sisters go their own way. It doesn’t matter if they’ve forgotten me, if the relationship has been lost over time: I know that my life continues to be given to them…
To marry … a handsome man.
Yes, my desire as a little girl was right. To marry means to bind one’s own life to that of another, to make a covenant in a lasting and faithful mutual love where the “you” and the “I” become “we”, as is the case with God’s covenant with humanity. This covenant has never been lacking throughout the centuries and throughout history. God has never stopped looking for his people, even when they turned their backs on him and wandered far away…
On the day of my First Communion, at the age of six, I felt very strongly that I was his forever. That’s when my religious vocation took root. The ring I’ve worn on my finger since the day of my final vows is a sign and a reminder of fidelity to God.
Yet life has not always been straight or easy. As an adolescent, as a young woman, as a little sister, I sometimes fell in love with someone… These are the contradictions of life, because at the same time, I was convinced that married love would never be enough for me! This awareness brought me close to women who were going through distressing times and helped me to understand the suffering of all women on the road to love. I wanted a love that was infinite, unique, faithful and absolute. Only God could give me that love.
When I became a little sister, love for Jesus and the desire for a love that was also human in its expression struggled together, with the advantage going sometimes to one, sometimes to the other. In the darker moments, when I was “tired of always having to think of others”, when the loneliness of my heart became stronger, when God’s plan led me, out of obedience, to change communities or lose those I was living with and go start again somewhere else, when, at the time of the crisis at turning forty, I had the impression of having failed in everything… How many times have I longed – sometimes to the point of tears – for “a man’s shoulder” on which to lay my head and find tenderness… There have been moments of aridity, of incomprehension, of emptiness, of the Lord’s “absence”… In spite of all that, the Love of Jesus, the God made man, always won out and led me day after day… And so joy returned once again, gushing forth from the deep source of my heart.
I’ll go and look for him
Yes, I have found the most beautiful of husbands… in keeping with my childhood desires. “My heart has said of you, ‘Seek his face’. It is your face, Lord, that I seek; do not hide your face from me.” I met the Face of God in the face of Jesus of Nazareth, the face of the carpenter who shared the ordinary life of everyone, a face transfigured by his encounter with the Father, a face of compassion for those who are hungry, poor, sick, imprisoned…
My desire to be with Him and like Him led me to the Fraternity of the Little Sisters of Jesus. In their charism I found the two essential aspects of my search: the call to a contemplative life centred on prayer, and solidarity in the sharing of poverty, work and friendship with everyone, especially with those who feel that God is distant or absent from their lives and history, and have taken their distances.
I found you, Lord, in my factory mates in Lebanon when they explained to me by signs what I had to do because I didn’t understand Arabic. I found you in the hours of adoration of the Eucharistic Bread… We used to take it to a friend’s house during the nights we spent there during the bombings. I found you in the faces disfigured and destroyed by drugs and prostitution. I found you in the mother and her newborn baby during the mad race to find a hospital that could take them in. I found you in the face of a little sister who forgave me for not understanding her need for trust, I found you in the faces of elderly neighbours or those who feel alone and abandoned. I have found you in long silences, contemplating your Presence and listening to your Word.
I’ll go and look for him…In fact it was you who found me “before I was born” and who continues to find me today as an elderly person among elderly people… You seek me and find me in my limits, in the somewhat austere daily routine that I share with other little sisters: it is together, as companions, that we await the definitive encounter. Today you’re not asking anything extraordinary of me, except that I let the hidden joy that sometimes comes to the surface gush forth.
You and I are like an old married couple who have lived through springs and winters with their joys and sorrows. We don’t have much to talk about other than what our lives have already said, and that’s enough for us. Sometimes I’d really like to hear your voice telling me that you’re there and that you love me… Today I hear it not in your voice but in your Word which is my food. I know that one day we will see each other face to face, and then I will see myself as a wife, a mother, with many unknown children, and I will know that they were born of your and my love, of this covenant that will never end, because it has always been there.