Surprised by Love: the Joy of Religious Life
Living in a culture that is obsessed with riches, pleasures and power, life with the Lord Jesus who was poor, lived a simple life, and had no honours of this world, is definitely not attractive. Yet bitter experience has shown again and again, that this culture in which we are living, leaves people empty hearted, deeply dissatisfied, and profoundly sad. If only we could learn from history; but we tend and want to forget so that we can try out things for ourselves.
Fifty two years ago I left my family home in order to start on a love journey with the Lord Jesus. I have never felt sorry about this step of mine, nor ever had the chance to do so, because Jesus has always been utterly faithful. An urging desire I find in my heart is to share with others my wonderful treasure: a great freedom for the Lord, and a detachment from what is not the Lord.
Fifty years ago! That is half a century! One might say things were so different then from now. I think that I may safely presume that those who think and talk this way will in turn be themselves faced by these same remarks. Humanity will remain humanity, and Jesus will remain Jesus.
‘Religious life’, in its various forms, for men and for women, is really personal dedication to Jesus, lived with others who also are dedicated to Jesus. It is not dedication to an ideal or to an organisation however holy, but to a Person. Experience has shown again and again that dedication to a person is intensely risky because it involves self-giving, self-surrender, total love, with no preconditions. It means a letting go of control over one’s life, a losing of all one’s own including life itself. This is the only True love, because it is a journey into one’s heart. Deep in the heart of each person there is an intense desire for True love, but this love has to be given if the person is to receive it as a precious gift (and not as some form of payment). This is ‘religious life’, and it was on this journey that I embarked more than fifty years ago. As I grow deeper in this True Love, I find myself confiding more and more with my Lord Jesus, “You have always been True Love, and how late have I learnt to love you.”
I have always experienced the Lord Jesus as profoundly attractive. Fourteen years of study did not dampen my affections for the Lord. On the contrary my studies have helped me to deepen, to purify, to clarify and unify, my dedication to the Lord. After my formal studies I have always continued to read and study, and these have unfolded to me the rich personality of my Beloved, and have opened my heart not only to the Lord, but also to mankind. I have come to realise ever so internally that my vocation is Love. (1John 4:8)
After I came to Malta, as priest, from my studies, in 1972, the Lord Jesus, through my superiors, asked me to share in his various initiatives in favour of his people: in St. Philip School, in the Apostleship of Prayer, doing some writing for publication, studying economics at the local university (I was allowed to join the course because I was considered a ‘mature person’), working in a hospice for the dying in London, a few years in Libya to serve catholic foreigners there, sharing with a group for evangelisation (ICPE), getting involved with the Charismatic Renewal and with retreat giving at our house in Gozo. Finally here I am at our house in Naxxar with time to reflect on the past and make sure that I do acknowledge it as God-filled. I do not consider that past as a reality parts of which I would rather like to forget. It is the Lord Jesus himself who leads me into the past I lived so hurriedly so that I might appreciate his mercies and love and experience how True he has always been, loving me.
I now find myself being progressively detached from all that is not the Lord. Only he has walked with me, all the way, and shown himself fully trustworthy. In centring on the Lord I have found my internal love horizons expanding and opening up to all, to all of humanity, past, present and future. (1Thessalonians 3:12) I am often reminded that my stay on this earth is coming to an end, and yet my mission to all of humanity is just beginning. I want so much to see all of humanity loving the Lord as I love him. I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth helping people to give all the glory to God, in his Son and my Beloved Jesus Christ.
Victor Degabriele, S.J.