A Hole in Your Heart
I thought to share with you the story of my vocation. My vocation began in my heart. A hole in my heart. Maybe you heard Pascal’s intuition of a God-shaped hole in the heart of each human being that only God can fill it. Or more likely Saint Augustine’s saying that “our heart is restless, until it rests in You” (Confessions I.1). But surely you heard Christ saying “those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty” (Jn 4:14).
My vocation, as each vocation, begins with a longing for God, a thirst that only God can quench. My vocation began in my family, with my parents and my grandparents, as well as friends in San Bernardino’s parish in Urbino, the Franciscan friars, I could name them all! I grew up blessed in my blessed family.
But the bliss of the perfect family had to finish. God wanted to strengthen me; I suppose. When I was about sixteen and my parents decided to split. I remember it as extremely painful, the most painful moment in my life. And that hole in my heart went deeper and my thirst for love became bigger. I started looking for things and people to fill it. I was so needy of love that relationships became almost an obsession. And some people instead of helping me, took advantage of my vulnerability. That of course did not help much. And I nearly completely lost trust in people…and in God! However, no matter how hard I looked nobody and not a thing in the world was able to fill the void. Unfortunately, at that time, nobody told me that God is Love.
‘Doing a Jonah’
Meanwhile, I remember one day, I was twenty more or less, sitting on the steps outside San Francesco’s Church in Urbino with a person I loved most in life, and still do, I saw a group of young friars walking down the street, they looked so full of joy that I said “I think it would be cool to be a friar”. She looked at me bewildered “are you serious?”
Yes, I was. Now I know it was God trying to tell me something, but I, very proudly, ignored God and myself too. I did a Jonah. I like comparing myself to the prophet Jonah, not because I am prophet, but because I ran away from God. “Yes God, but my way not your way” – I guess we all said it at least once in our life and we will again. I believed to be a ‘good’ Christian, like Jonah I knew what a good religious should do – Believe in God, go to Sunday’s Mass, say my prayers, go to confession once in a while…you know, the basics. But I kept going my way, religious life was too scary. Pleasure, money, success are a lot more appealing. Why on earth would I leave them? Why would you?
What God Wants You to Do
I became a chemist with a satisfying job in research in a big pharma company in one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, Verona, with my girlfriend. A dream, right? While there, I remember one day sitting at Mass, with one of the people I loved most and still do. I remember hearing Christ saying “if you feed the hungry, if you welcome the stranger, if you clothe the naked, if you visit the sick and those in prison, you will do it to me” (cf. Mt 25:31-41) “Well”, (I turned to her), “I am not doing this”…that voice was very compelling, it is Christ’s in fact… I felt I had to do something, but I was not ready to let go of my life yet, the loss seemed too big a price and I kept walking my way. But God kept working in the background.
Few years later, I lost my dream job and moved to England, in York. I finished a PhD in organic chemistry, but by the end of it I knew it was not my path anymore. I knew it was not filling my heart. Again, one day I was sitting at Mass and I heard Christ inviting me to action
“the fast that I like
it’s to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them;
Then…your HEALING shall spring up quickly” (Is 58:6-8).
Mmmh… healing, that word started unconsciously resonating within me. So if I follow God’s way and serve him in the poor I may be healed as well… I could not ignore the Lord anymore. Plus, He had planned that at this time I had no attachments and no job, so I was really free to choose.
The God of Surprises
However, being a scientist one thing is the idea and another is the practice. Could I really serve the poor and needy? Or is it just a beautiful ideal? The only way to know was to try. So, I found a job as a support worker for disabled people. I did it for one year. It was tough, but I loved it. With time, prayer and reflection I realised that truly I was doing it to Christ himself. It was then that I started feeling my heart gradually filling up with love, day after day. That was a surprise, but God surprises, doesn’t he? God is in the unexpected. The job was hard and it required effort. It was not easy either. For example, to see the face of Christ when the person I was feeding would throw plate and food up in the ceiling and on the wall, was sometimes a challenge!
So, I learned that love is not easy, that requires effort, practice and exercise. Anyway, in the end I knew not only that I could serve the poor in practice, but also that this was helping me healing my heart…God was right! For me, the next logical step was to follow up. If serving the people in need is serving Christ, as he himself told us, and if this service begins to fill my heart and quench my thirst, then what would happen if I go directly to the source of healing?
The First Step
Now this was the most difficult bit of the whole discerning process…making the first step. With a big lump in my throat and as anguished as I was committing myself to a life in prison, I started looking on the internet for ways of living a religious life. After a bit of searching, of trial and error, I met this group of people who went by the name of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Their joyful and down to earth way of living the religious life, their commitment to the Gospel and to proclaim that God is Love appealed to me. Moreover, their involvement in various ministries seemed free and fresh enough to bring the Heart of God to all people. It seemed the best way to answer that voice, to love God by bringing his love to all, especially the poor and marginalised and to let him heal me, to let God fill my heart with his infinite love. So, I asked to be one of them and now here I am
Looking back, starting from a wounded heart I could only go to the Sacred Heart, the wounded, pierced Heart par excellence. Now I know and I am glad to tell you the Sacred Heart is the only place where you have to go to heal your heart and to quench the thirst of love you have.
Looking back, I can recognise the hand of God always guiding me and keeping me safe, using my inclinations and the things I like. He drew me gently to himself. This is ultimately my call and your call, to be intimately united with God.
If you want to know more about a vocation as a brother or a priest with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart you can email Fr. Alan on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 086 7857955 in Ireland / 07526764236 in the UK.