'OUR GOD WANTS US TO BE HAPPY, BEING THE BEST VERSIONS OF OURSELVES.'
an interview with
Sr Valentina Stilo
What were your misconceptions about Religious Life before discerning it?
I grew in a non-Catholic family, so I never went to Mass until when I was 11 and I decided to be part of a group of Catholic children and teenagers, the Youth Eucharistic Movement (Ignatian spirituality). I consider that this is the reason why I did not have any reference of religious people. Religious life looked to me sad and lonely. When I first experienced an intuition of my call to consecrated life, I felt fear, a lot of fear! I felt deeply seduced by Jesus, by his way of being with people, by his freedom and his healing power, I experienced this power drawing me to Him, but I thought that, to be a sister, I should have denied my humanity, my relationships and leave everything that was good to me, like my family and friends.
It took a long time and lot of God’s patience to convince me that His presence in our life is fullness of humanity, of relationship and love; it is richness, creating bonds stronger than the ones of flesh and bones.
Who inspired you on your journey to discovering your vocation?
The main source of inspiration, paradoxically were my parents. I say paradoxically because they were lapsed Catholic so they never brought me to Church, but the way they loved (and still loving) each other, their commitment to education and to the good of people, their constant presence and openness to dialogue with my questions of faith, gave me the space to explore and grow in faith.
Another very important person has been my grandmother. She was a faithful Catholic and I remember her praying the rosary in the darkness of her room… she was blind, but she could read my heart and pray for all of us.
In addition, the person who became later my Confirmation sponsor has been a powerful inspiration for me. Marianna was one of the leaders of the Catholic youth group I was part of and she was my neighbour. On the way to the meetings, we would always discuss about faith and prayer and she would patiently listen to my existential question, she would journey with me to find answers and help me to trust in God when I could not find them. Eventually she consecrated her life to God too and we are still very much in contact.
What was your greatest worry when discerning your vocation?
I was afraid that being religious would have make me colder, somehow less human, and separated from my people. I was afraid of loneliness and lack of realisation.
'His presence in our life is fullness of humanity, of relationship and love; it is richness, creating bonds stronger than the ones of flesh and bones.'
How is the lived reality of your vocation different to how you had perceived it?
It is very different. Slowly the Lord conquered my heart and my will, so I was able to see that what He said to His disciples two thousand years ago is true today for anyone who follows Him:
“In truth I tell you, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land - and persecutions too - now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.” (Mk 10:29-30).
Our God wants us to be happy, being the best version of ourselves, a gift to our world. I discovered that my vocation is the best path through which He will accomplish this plan of fulfilment and happiness. There is nothing to be afraid of!
How has living your vocation brought you joy?
Through knowing better God, the others and myself; through testifying that living His Kingdom, in which, being all different, we have all the same dignity, is possible. It is beautiful to see how God makes Himself present to the world using my/our littleness.
'I discovered that my vocation is the best path through which He will accomplish this plan of fulfilment and happiness. There is nothing to be afraid of!'
What have been the highlights of living out your vocation?
Without doubt the celebration of my final vows in my hometown: I felt I was in Heaven! In a warm and wet day of September, many people came from different countries to rejoice with me because of God’s faithfulness. After many years of tensions between my family and I - they would not understand why I had left the life I loved to follow this path – my father, after the celebration, gave me his blessing saying (I still keep the letter!)
'I though I had lost a daughter and that I had invested a lot on her and her studies for nothing… For the contrary, today I am realising that our family, through you, is part of a bigger family, a family big as the world in which we are all brothers and sisters… This makes me think that we won’t be able to build peace in the world with our cynicism or even with our diplomacy, but only thanks to an experience of peace coming from within.'
This peace is the Trinity living in us!
What would you say to someone else considering Religious Life?
I will not say: do not be afraid… I am still afraid often when God proposes new things to me! Fear is a natural reaction to what we do not understand. If you do not understand, you are on the right path: this vocation does not belong to us, it is God’s, so it is not to be exhaustively understood, but to be embraced. I am not saying that you do not need to use your reason to figure out what god wants from you… quoting St Anselm, “fides quaerens intellectum” (faith requires understanding. However, this understanding is the stretching of our mind meeting our heart; it is the mature capacity of trusting the One who loves us more than anyone else.