Discerning religious life

This article was written by Mark Reidy and was published in The Record on 22 October 2015.

Year of Consecrated Life Report - Amy drawn by joy and mission to serve others

When then 11-year-old Amy McCabe first encountered Sisters from the Missionary of God’s Love (MGL) community in 2008, she recalls feeling drawn not only by their jovial and loving nature, but also to their mission to youth, people living in poverty and those on the fringes of society.

God had planted a seed says Amy, which, seven years later, has led the Perth teenager from the sunny shores of WA to the colder climate of Canberra, to discern the lifestyle for herself.

“What grabbed my attention was when I heard that their call was to spend their life serving those rejected by society – the unaccepted and lonely, as well as young people, who are desperately searching for meaning and love.

“These were the people I felt a calling to serve – the people I can imagine Jesus would love to hang out with.”

Eighteen-year-old Amy is now in her eighth month of a three-year discernment period at the Community’s formation house in Canberra, endeavouring to learn more about herself, the MGL Community and God’s call for her life.

It’s a transition the former parishioner of St Bernadette’s in Glendalough is embracing with zest but which, she acknowledges, is still adjusting to. Coming from a close-knit family, with four brothers and one sister, Amy says she misses her family and friends, but is grateful for the love she continues to receive from them.

“My family are all super supportive and encouraging of me to follow my vocation,” she shared.

Amy’s mother, Shannon, along with father, Brendan, are also having to acclimatise to life without their fourth child, although her choice to discern a consecrated life has come as no surprise.

“Although we miss her terribly, we know this is a natural progression for her,” Mrs McCabe shared. “She has always had an intimate relationship with God, and it has grown deeper over time.”

It was a call Mrs McCabe recognised during her pregnancy with Amy’s younger sister in 2007.

When, due to ill health, Mrs McCabe couldn’t accompany her older children to daily Mass, Amy would continue to walk to the nearby church with her older brother.

This longing for a deeper connection with God took a significant step during the family’s trip to World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008.

“It was a profound moment for her,” Mrs McCabe recalled. “A moment when she recognised that the love of God she was experiencing was a love she needed to share with others.”

Throughout her teenage years, Amy’s deepening spiritual relationship was nurtured through her family as well as the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community in Osborne Park, of which the family are members.

MGL are the consecrated sections of the Disciples of Jesus Community, made up of the MGL Sisters founded by Sr Patti Jo Crocket in 1987, and the MGL Priests and Brothers founded a year earlier by Fr Ken Barker.

Amy’s connection and affinity with the Sisters over the years has provided her with an understanding of their mission and this has helped ease her into the first year of discernment, a period known as the pre-novitiate year.

“It is all about trying this life out, learning more about myself and God’s call for me and whether it fits with the MGL lifestyle,” she shared.

Despite the challenges of life away from family and friends, Amy’s experience has so far been positive and her love for the Perth beaches has been replaced by the mountains, rivers and lakes surrounding Canberra.

“I love praying among nature, so this is perfect for me,” she said. “One of my favourite places to walk is a hill near our house which catches a magnificent view of the sunset.”

The weekly routine of the women in the MGL novitiate house is both structured and wide-ranging, comprising communal and personal prayer, ministry and outreach and recreational and fun activities, providing those discerning with a well-balanced perspective of community life.

The structure is flexible and moulded around the Community’s mission trips, retreats and the running of youth camps.

Amy described Mondays as a “sisterhood day” where the priority is to spend time with one another, with activities such as bike riding, gardening, picnics, craft or other group bonding activities, with the aim of forming closer relationships and becoming family for one another.

There are two days, she said, dedicated to study in which Sisters and Priests from the MGL Community provide teaching, including Scripture, the catechism, and the MGL vision. Another day is focused on ministry, incorporating visitation to those who are sick, lonely or house-bound.

There are also visits to an all-girls school which includes running a lunchtime youth group and teaching Religious Education classes, as well as organising an afternoon tea to share God’s love to those living in government housing.

Fridays are days of prayer spent in silence, which Amy looks forward to at the end of a busy week. “It is a beautiful day that I’ve really come to appreciate,” she said. “Where I can have quiet, uninterrupted time with God and give full attention to Him.”

Reflecting the lifestyle of many families, Amy said that Saturdays were spent with chores and household responsibilities as well as spending time with friends, catching up on assignments or just relaxing.

On Sundays, novitiates join with the Disciples of Jesus Community for their prayer meeting.

The entire week is underpinned by a structure of daily individual and communal prayer, including Mass, adoration, Rosary, praise and worship, intercession and the Church’s morning, evening and night prayers.

It is this foundation which provides the spiritual structure for members to effectively minister to those they reach out to, a ministry Amy says is both her biggest highlight and challenge.

“Often, I feel an immense sense of inadequacy and lack of wisdom when I’m confronted with people’s brokenness and pain,” she said. “But it is also beautiful to be able to offer God’s love and compassion to those crying out for it.”

Such encounters, Amy believes, are assisting her on the journey of self-discovery as she learns how to love but, more importantly, she believes she is being drawn into a deeper encounter with Jesus through the people she meets.

At this point in time, Amy has no doubts that she is where God wants her to be and, although she is loving her time of discernment, she has not yet made any long-term commitments.

“It is a time for me to have space to see if this is the place God is leading me to be,” she reflected.

“To see if this is where I will find joy and fulfilment as the person God has made me to be.”

PHOTO: Supplied - Perth teenager Amy McCabe (front row, second from left) with fellow MGL Community members.