The very first time I met the Benedictine Nuns of Jamberoo Abbey was in 2011. I had just graduated from a Masters degree program in Singapore. I had a well paying job and a promising career path. At the time, I was also actively involved in the youth group in my parish.
And having heard reflections about vocation discernment, I was curious about my own vocation. I remember thinking, “I wonder what God will tell me if I really open myself and ask Him what He wants me to do in life?”
It was then that I came to the Abbey for a 10-day silent retreat. In the beginning, there was a gentle touch to my heart as I sat in the guest section in the church, looking as the nuns came in one by one for the Divine Office. They looked interesting.
Throughout the retreat I was guided in listening to God through Lectio Divina. I found that the more I heard Him, the more I wanted to be close to Him.
When I expressed my willingness to discern further with the community, I was invited for a period of Aspirancy. For three weeks I was welcomed inside their enclosure and was introduced more to the Benedictine monastic life.
I felt strongly that I desired to live such a life though I could not find the right words to explain why.
There were challenges in telling my family and helping them to understand. And as I was still living and working in Singapore, I remember saying to God, “I’ll do my part in applying for the visa. If you want me there, you’ll get me there!”
When I received my visa and got a job in Sydney I concluded, “I guess God was serious about it.”
After migrating to Australia, I spent two years working in Sydney as a software developer. I also volunteered as a youth ministry coordinator in Holy Spirit Parish, North Ryde.
Life was comfortable. There was a part of me that did not want to face the call. I tried to run away and kept myself busy, but there was something in my heart that kept on reminding me of it. I remember hearing these words while praying, “Give God a chance and give yourself a chance too.” After more retreats, prayers, one-to-ones with my spiritual director, and two more aspirancies, I finally decided.
On 31 May, 2015, I entered the community of Benedictine Nuns of Jamberoo Abbey.
We are an enclosed religious order. Unlike an apostolic order, we do not carry out active ministry to address specific needs in the Church, like teaching for example.
Our main ministry is prayer. We do not go out to meet family and friends. This is a big change for me but one which I had prayed about and was willing to embrace.
On 5 February, 2016, I was clothed in the monastic habit. I am now a Novice. I have also taken a new name, Sr Petra.
During the retreat in preparation for the clothing, a particular reflection spoke to me most deeply. It was the passage from John 4 about the woman at the well whom Jesus asked for water.
Jesus said to her, “If you but knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water … Indeed the water I give will become a spring of water welling up inside you.”
I felt God was speaking to me personally, “If you but knew the love of God and who it is that asks you for your love, you would have asked Him and He would have given you a life-giving love.”
I heard His promise to me that when I trust Him, He gives me a love that will fill me up and well up in me which I hope will overflow to those around me so that every person I meet will feel God’s presence and love for them through me.
A lot of people asked me, “Why chose an enclosed order when you are passionate about young people and youth ministry?”
I found my answer from St Irenaeus, “God did not tell us to follow Him because He needed our help, but because He knew that loving Him would make us whole.”
I am giving up my will to Him so that He can make me whole. I do still have a special love for young people. And I do believe in the power of prayer. I believe that our prayer here at the Abbey reaches out to the whole of humankind – and makes a difference!
In the lead up to the recent World Youth Day in Poland, I was praying for the many young people in the world, that God may put a gentle flame in their hearts that they may be sparks that set the world on fire.