Sr. Maria Serra Garcia discovered her vocation on a slow, winding journey in which God showed His love and faithfulness. Agnieszka Ruck

Religious life ‘is about falling in love’

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • March 19, 2020

VANCOUVER -- Discovering one’s vocation, whether it happens in a surprising instant or over many years, always feels the same way, says Sr. Maria Serra Garcia. It’s always like falling in love.

“Sometimes it happens from moment number one,” like love at first sight, Garcia told The B.C. Catholic. “And sometimes, there is a learning about and growing yourself into the position of being able to receive the gift of the other.”

For Garcia, it took a few years to discover that a subtle prodding in her heart would lead her to a lifelong journey with God as a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist.

It began for her, as it has for many, during a difficult time in early adulthood. She felt distant from her faith and was stumbling through college life, when she went home to visit her parents one weekend and realized they’d been acting strangely.

Her parents, who went to Sunday Mass and prayed the rosary on occasion but hadn’t made their faith more personal than that, were changing. Her father seemed to have calmed his short temper and could be found reading the Bible in his spare time. Her mother, “one of my best gossip partners in the world,” had lost interest in gossiping.

“I said: ‘These are not my parents. What’s going on?’ ”

Her parents had begun going to prayer meetings with the Charismatic Renewal that had apparently inspired them to take the Gospel more seriously in their lives.

“That made me wonder about things,” said Garcia, who was born in Colorado.  “Seeing their journey and the changes happening in them helped me to be open to give a chance to deeper day-in, day-out, living your faith.”

One day in 1986, while visiting her parents, she was having a particularly bad day. Swarmed with troubles, she was cleaning her room to clear her mind when she came across a pamphlet from her mother. It had an image of Jesus crucified with information about a nearby group of sisters who hosted prayer meetings on Friday nights.

She looked at the image of Jesus with His arms spread wide and said: “Fine. Let’s see what you got.”

She started attending the prayer meetings with the sisters. A few weeks in, she started wondering what life would be like as one of them. “It scared the living daylights out of me! I stopped going.”

She wasn’t going to become a sister, was she? She had always assumed she’d get married and have children, just as soon as she found the right guy.

“I stayed away for about a month and I noticed that I was going back into old patterns. I thought: ‘I don’t know what you want for me, God, but all I know is I keep messing it up. You want what’s best for me and you know what’s best for me. I don’t. All I know is I want to do whatever it is you want me to do. I don’t care what it is, just show me.’ ”

She distinctly remembers that conscious decision to surrender to God. It was June 8, 1986. She was 22. In tears and seeking comfort, she called the sisters whose prayer meetings she’d abandoned.

“Ever since then my life has never been the same. Ever. It’s been a wild ride.”

Even after that dramatic conversion moment, her vocation discernment was on a slow boil. She decided the community of sisters she’d known was not the right fit and started considering the vocation to married life again. She even came close to becoming engaged a couple of times, but “God had His hand on me and it never was quite right. Eventually, I became convinced that I do have a religious vocation.”

She heard about the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, founded in 1973 with 12 locations across Canada, the U.S., Italy and the Holy Land. Although they did not match all the criteria on her list, she decided to give them a chance.

Garcia entered the community in 2002 and made her first vows in 2005. “It took me three years to come to a point where I could say: ‘Okay, I’m ready. I can do this.’”

Six years later, she made her final vows as a Franciscan. Now, she’s the service and justice co-ordinator for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, involved in various projects from Hispanic ministry to care for the elderly and isolated.

“Step out. Follow your heart — that sounds so cliché —  but follow your heart and really beg the Lord for His will to be done in your life and step out. He will guide you. He is faithful,” she said.

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