Each step of my journey has been full of gifts – and ‘gifts are of their nature surprises’!!! But it all began out of inner struggle: I was 21, life seemed pointless and aimless. People around me seemed happy but mostly because they were looking forward to a holiday, or to a party, or to other things that I liked and enjoy as well, but they were temporary, once they were over then the only thing to do was to begin to prepare for the next one!
I wanted more out of life: I wanted to be happy but not just in ‘spurts’. I felt very disheartened and alone because I was looking for something but I did not know what so I did not know where to look or who to talk to about it! One day I came across a book “The Story of a Soul” with a photo of St Thérèse of Lisieux on its cover – I knew a bit about Thérèse but what made me buy the book was the photo, I had no idea that a Saint had ever been photographed! I was still on page one when this came to me: ‘I am loved by God’ and ‘I want to love God with all of me - I am going to be a Nun.’ I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me yet it was all so clear. A huge flood of joy and happiness rose up in me and I felt the presence of God so intimately, like being with a good friend.
I knew that there were lots of different kinds of Nuns but I felt very attracted to two ‘kinds’ which seemed to me to be opposed to one another: One was to be a missionary – like St Francis Xavier, I wanted to go and tell the whole world about God’s love for every single person; the other was to be a contemplative – to live a life, like Therese, dedicated to prayer. I did not know which to choose so I prayed: “OK God you are the One who is calling me, so you choose - it is over to You now!”
I knew He would answer me but I had not expected it to be so quickly! That very day, in London, I met two Nuns who said that they were Poor Clares!!!! I did not know anything about this ‘kind’ of Order but when later, someone explained a bit about them, I knew, without doubt, that this was His answer: ‘Graça, be a Poor Clare’! I knew that this was what I had been looking for and this was going to be for the whole of my life! The whole thing was becoming a reality and I couldn’t wait …
Everyone who knows me knows that I love speed because I do everything at 100 miles an hour (something I have to work on all the time) but there is only one thing in which I am very slow: Trust! As soon as I encountered objections I began to lose trust in myself and in God. And so eleven long years went by; during which I lived a ‘dead’ life, I lost interest in life and avoided any reminders of the fact that I had once wanted something so much. I carried a weight of sadness and guilt around with me because I knew I had let God down as well as myself.
It was only in my 30’s, after encountering God anew through the Bible, that the longing to become a nun surfaced again. I felt HIS love in me very alive, (just like it had done before) but this time this love triggered off a longing to embrace every single human being with this same love. At the time I was being helped to pray with the Bible by a Jesuit priest, Fr Hawe, and it was he who suggested the Poor Clares in Arundel. I was quite fearful but I agreed to spend a weekend at the convent in Arundel; I did not want to speak to any of the nuns, only to spend time alone with God. It was then that I discovered what contemplative prayer was – I named it: “Just Being!” I had never been aware of praying in this way before – there were no words! It was strange and yet familiar; it felt like when I was little, floating in the sea with a rubber ring around me – I felt safe and a deep peace enveloped me. By the end of the weekend I knew that God was indeed saying yes to me and I answered yes! Our yeses had met!
I left full of joy but worried too: How can this ever become a reality? I wanted to join straight away, as quickly as possible –now I wanted speed! As I had expected there were lots of difficulties and problems which delayed things. Throughout this phrase came to me: Love has brought me this far. I did not know where I had got it from but I kept saying it and hearing it in me; when things got tough I repeated it and it reminded me of God’s love for me and that He was looking after me and not just me, but also all those who were opposing the idea. When people asked me how I knew this life was for me, I answered that when my sisters had got married I had asked the same thing: How do you know? The answer that they gave me was the same I had to give: “I just know!” It is a knowing from ‘within’ which may seem illogical.
It was another two years before I could join.I had imagined that in order to become a Poor Clare I had to be forced into a ‘mould’, and then at the end of the ‘formation’ time I would be popped out of that mould and: Here you are, a brand new Poor Clare!!! This was not at all what formation was like; instead I was gently led to find who I am and, in doing so, to discover that to be a Poor Clare was to be my real self! This was such an amazing thing to me.
There was one thing that still puzzled me because I still felt very drawn to be a missionary – ‘How could that be as I was now in an enclosed community?’ The answer came as I learnt more of Francis and Clare and experienced prayer more fully; then what Thérèse had helped me see came alive: through prayer my every act of Love reaches the whole world. I don’t know how else to explain this except to say it in one word: love.