I was rather pensive as a child, given to ruminating on things beyond the grasp of my little head.
From around the age of 12, I got into the habit of asking myself ‘so what?’
I love good food (and the occasions when it graced the dinner table were rare) and one time my father was cooking the most mouth watering stew. I was skipping around, happy at the thought when after a while it felt like someone popped my balloon and I thought ‘so what?’ So I’ll be having a nice meal, so what? Does it really matter?
The same thing happened when I had a new pair of shoes or new clothes. I would be quite pleased for a while then this question would just pop up: ‘so what?’ Is that what life’s all about?
When at high school I mentioned this to a friend, she told me that I had a rather jaundiced view of life for someone so young. I didn’t think so. I thought it was a valid question. But my friends all thought I was too serious. I was considered a nerd and they could not believe it when one time they found out I actually had a very good sense of humour. I had them bundled up in laughter. And they learned that about me just when school was about to close.
One night, 20 or so years later, I attended a philosophical lecture at the Cardinal Knox centre in East Melbourne. During question time, the lady behind me said: ‘But that still does not answer the “so what?” ‘ And at once a bell went off in my head. Yes! Finally, a validation of what I had always thought all those years ago.
All through the years, the only answer that, for me, passed muster was God.
The eighth of ten children, I was truly blessed to be born to poor parents who cared much for the poor, and a mother who is so rich in faith. Lacking in a lot of material things, God however showered us with graces no amount of money could buy. It was a childhood permeated by the awareness of God’s presence and providence – an implicit trust that the daily bread will be given.
Birthdays were celebrated not with a party but by going to Mass. New Year’s Eve sees Ma gathering her family for the rosary so that we farewell the old and welcome the new year, in prayer.
When I was in grade 3, my mother got me to read The Count of Monte Cristo which set me off on a life-long love affair with books. This again is God’s way of providing for me. Being shy and not having any spiritual director, the spiritual books became my spiritual guides. I was blessed to have read Opening to God by Thomas Green early on and this was followed by more of his books. Other writers were to follow.
God would send just the right book my way whenever I would hit a spiritual crisis.
I felt a call to the religious life early on but one which I summarily dismissed once I finished university.
When I arrived in Australia at the age of 28, I was excited at the thought that at last I can buy ‘stuff ’. And for a while I got slightly derailed. I wanted to have a nice house with nice furnishings so I focused on work with a view to acquiring some finer things.
My faith was still strong and I loved going to Mass but slowly, ‘stuff’ was starting to matter. But God in His goodness would not allow it and would ever so slightly adjust my track. Whenever I would be able to save up some money, some poor relative or friend would write asking for help. But there would be times when I would be financially okay and there was no one in dire need of my help. Still there would be some kind of unhappiness lurking in my soul and sooner or later ‘so what’ would pop up.
God was serious about re-directing my train.
At 38, after going on a pilgrimage I felt I was once again being called to the religious life and forthwith joined a contemplative order. That didn’t work out. I kept going on retreats and learned that there was a Benedictine community in Melbourne, so I booked a retreat there.
Entering the very simple chapel (with just the Blessed Sacrament, a small cross and a small statue of the Virgin at the back), I felt like I’d come home. The start of the new millennium and there I was, suitcase in hand, ready to try the monastic life.
It was during this time that the ‘so what’ was beginning to be answered. The gut knowing that truly God alone suffices was cementing its hold.
The simplicity of the monastic life was a testament to this. Prayer and Work. And at all times as far as possible be recollected to God.
The rhythm of the Liturgy of the Hours sets the tone for one’s life.
I look at the mountains and my heart proclaims ‘Oh Lord How Wonderful You are’.
Dawn is a joy to behold and dusk is a companion. A rainbow speaks eloquently of His love. Every ray, every dew, becomes God’s tender touch – His ‘I love you’. Some speak more eloquently than others but they all say the same thing.
But the greatest joy was spending hours before Him in the Blessed Sacrament. To be in this simple chapel and know I am before Him who formed me in my mother’s womb.
Yet this is all just part of the many ways of being led home.
In 2007 I joined the Life In The Eucharist program team. It was whilst preparing my talk on the Abiding Presence that another shift came.
Pope Benedict in his essay on the Eucharist wrote that the Eucharist is God as an answer.
I wrote in my talk of this rather comical scenario that popped in my head when I was meditating on this.
It was, like, here I was praying for health, wealth and happiness and God appears saying: ‘Coralie, I love you and I have heard your prayer so here I am, I am giving you myself.’ And I thought, am I living my life as if He is enough, or do I say to Him, ‘Lord, I was praying to you not for you. Just give me health, wealth and happiness’.
But God in the Eucharist is saying, ‘I am your health, wealth and most definitely your happiness if you but know it.’
And then one day at another retreat while on the way home from Mass, I was singing the ‘Supper Invitation’ when the lyrics ‘branch of my vine’ just really ‘hit me for six’. I had to stop walking. I became so acutely aware of just how close that is, to be so connected to Him as to be a branch of Him, and that the sap, that life that flows in Him, flows in me when I come to receive Him.
And the more I receive Him, the more I go to Him in adoration, the more I can say with the author of Ecclesiastes, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
And this is the so what? This is what matters, this and only this is what is important. Everything else is clutter; a hankering for something that never truly satisfies and in the end leaves one with a feeling of ‘so what?’
And the more He fills me with Himself, the more I learn to let go of my attachments. As long as ‘ stuff ’ holds a place in my heart, then it is occupying that which should be God’s domain alone. But He is Oh so patient, never grabbing, always waiting for me to let go. All He does is stretch His hands that I may load my ‘stuff’ in them.
And maybe someday, Saint Teresa’s poem will become a reality for me.
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Faithful endurance attains all things.
Whoever has God wants for nothing.
God alone suffices.