Wednesday, May 2, 2007

ROAD to VOW-age

In response to my "Great News" post on Religious Life Rocks Jenny KT commented and asked the question: "What's up with three years?"

Very good question!

Ok...I have just been approved for 1st profession which puts me in the category of temporary vows. I am still in the initial process of joining the community. This time of formation allows me to be a "full member" of the congregation AND continue the discernment process to see if this religious life thing continues to be a fit for me.

When we begin the process the community gets to send in letters and recommendations about you. I also had to pick 5 people to do a formal evaluation of me. I submit an extensive self-assessment and my novice minister evaluates me as well. All of this is collected and a group of sisters (whom are kept anonymous) make up what's called "The Review Board". They read through everything and make recommendations on whether or not I should be accepted for vows and also identify areas of strengths and areas of growth for me as I continue to integrate into community. This recommendation and all of the materials then go to the Provies who read through everything and discuss. They make the final decision...gotta love the Provies. All of this process is quite affirming...not scary...affirming!

We can request 1st vows for 1, 2, or 3 years. I requested for 3 because I AM READY. I mean I AM R-E-A-D-Y. It's like this: 1 year...and you barely get into it and then you are going through the process again. 2 years seems too short, but's like "vow me baby" and I can just live!

Plus...I'm just at this really good place with my discernment. I know this is where I am called, I am at home, and it is in such a grounded place that I requested to make vows...3 years seems like the right thing for me. I'm glad the Provies agreed.

So now you ask, "So 3 years...then what?"

Well...three years and then I can either request final vows (FOR LIFE! LIFE! LIFE! LIFE! LIFE! LIFE!) or renew for up to 6 more years until requesting final vows. It's a process....we keep discerning. If you ask me today what I'm thinking...I think next stop LIFE ladies! But that's getting a little ahead of myself.

So that's why "3 years"...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

TAU Cross

The Tau Cross (right) is the symbol for our Congregation. The Tau (in the middle; it looks like a slanty "T") is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet and the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is the symbol of our guy, St. Francis of Assisi chose for his followers. He read a passage from Ezekiel which said, "The Faithful of God shall be marked with the Tau on their foreheads." So Franciscans everywhere (men, women, lay, religious...) use the Tau symbol to identify them as Franciscan.

For the SSSFs, the whole cross is our identifying symbol. It is unique to our congregation. ALL of our sisters, no matter where they are in the world have the same Tau cross. For us it holds the meaning of our Franciscan values and life and it is a symbol which reminds us that we are consecrated, commissioned, and committed.

When we are received as a novice and become "Sister" we receive the Tau cross. This picture is the Tau cross on our Congregational constitutions Response in Faith (RIF). The Taus come in many different shapes and sizes. We have "Big official Tau" (right) and little Tau necklaces, little Tau pins, Tau rings. My students call the big one--Tau Bling--ahh generational language. There's me on my reception day with the newly received Tau cross. ever see a Sister wearing that can say, "Hey...You must be one of those rockin' School Sisters of St. Francis! I read about that Tau Cross on Sr. Katy's Blog" won't they be impressed!

That's your Nunspeak lesson for today. Ciao!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lesson #1c--FORMATION

Okie-dokie...the 2nd half of the process...

Step 3—Novice (2 years)

So you boogied through the affiliate year and said to the community, “Yup. I’ve discerned and I want to be a School Sister of St. Francis.” And the community says, “Yup. We’ve discerned and walked with you…we want you to be an SSSF!” Yay! You plan a liturgy ceremony which is called your Reception (you are being ‘received into the novitiate’). At this ceremony, the Provincial (one of the leaders) welcomes you as a School Sister of St. Francis. You get the title of Sister and also the Tau Cross (which is our symbol). Then…you’re right…we party!

The first year as a novice is the Canonical Year. This is a year of introspection. It’s a full-year dedicated to furthering your discernment and really taking time and space to listen to God and decide if this is the life for you.

I spent a good chunk of my Canonical year away at a Franciscan Novitiate Program (CFN) with 4 other Franciscan novices from different congregations. This year includes some study, some volunteer ministry, and a lot of time for prayer and discernment. For me, the change of pace and s-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n was a bit challenging. You don’t have the distractions that you’re used to and inevitably you have to look yourself in the face and say, “Who is this person and what is God saying to her?” Ugh…heavy stuff. It’s a difficult year, but a good and important one.

Your second year of novitiate is called the apostolic year. It’s the year of integration. You spent all that time discerning, praying, and growing…don’t just sit there…INTEGRATE! Everyone’s apostolic year is different depending upon what experiences you’ve had prior to your convent days! This year you are also getting ready to take your vows!

I am currently an apostolic novice. For me, my apostolic year was finishing graduate school, a little bit of ministry (part-time), a reflection group to study the vows, visiting some of our sisters in other parts of the country, etc.

You also have a novice minister whom you work with. Similar to the vocation/affiliate director, you meet and talk about your journey. My novice minister and I have done some neat things with different prayer styles. My favorite thing has been when we broke open Scripture together. My novice minister is really brilliant with scripture and she always has these insights that I would never think of; I find myself hearing the scripture passage again down the road and having a totally different experience! It’s very cool.

Step 4—Temporary Professed (3-6 years)

After your apostolic year, hopefully you are still feeling called toward making your commitment a vowed commitment. If the answer is YES, then you make your first vows with the congregation.

We take three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. When you profess vows in our congregation, you become a “full member”. However, because this is your temporary vow period, you still are in discernment before you go and make that life commitment.

Yes…you plan another liturgy and of course there’s another party! At first vows, we receive a simple, gold band to symbolize our vowed commitment. We may take vows for 1, 2, or 3 years and then renew them for up to 6 years. When we feel we are ready (as early as 3 years) and the community is ready, then we prepare for the final stage of formation—Perpetual commitment or final vows.

Step 5—Final vows and On-going formation

When you make your final vows, you are making your “life commitment”. The process of formation is designed to be developmental and helpful in your discernment process. There isn’t much room for hasty decision making.

Just because you make final vows; however, doesn’t mean that you stop discerning and reflecting on your commitment and community life. You move into life of “on-going formation”, meaning we commit ourselves to growth as Sister throughout our lives.

Lesson #1b--FORMATION

NOW...For the first part of the process...

Step 1--Contact (As long as it takes :) )

This is the very initial inquiry stage. It's basically, "Hi, I'm Katy...I'm thinking about religious life, or maybe not, or maybe yes...but I'm going to come and hang with you all for a little while and see how this operation works. (Or if you are hang out for a LONG while...oh like 6 years).

And the SSSFs say, "Cool! Come to this and come to that and meet these people, etc. We also want you to meet with a Sister who will help you figure this stuff out." So you hang out and discern and have meetings with your Vocation Director (Not vacation…although that would have been a nice bonus!) until you're ready to take the plunge...Your vocation director is helpful with the discernment process too...she encourages you and asks tough questions and makes you share stuff with her. As one of my vocation directors put it, “I’m here to help you discern what’s in your heart.”

Step 2--Affiliate (6months-1 year)

(Olden days this was called "postulancy", many communities call this stage "candidacy" or "pre-novice")

This is when you say, "Ok...I think this is where God is calling me. So let's see what living is like." So, when you get the A-OK, to move forward, you get to plan a nice prayer service for your Acceptance into Affiliation. Then you party! Wooo hoo! (Remember, Franciscan = Joy, Joy = pray and party)

As an affiliate, you move in with a living group and live in community. You continue to meet with your director and discern whether or not community life/religious life is a fit for you. Your director continues to encourage and asks tougher questions to help you with this process and your personal integration. You also gather a group of Sisters for a "reflection group" where you learn about the constitution of the community, the history, and some fun things too (We did the enneagram...THAT was an experience!).

The best part of affiliation for me was the ICPN (intercommunity pre-novitiate)! 1 weekend a month you gather with other "pre-novices", men and women, and your directors. They bring in really good speakers to talk about different important things that pertain to entering religious life (remember the culture?). In between the speakers...there is a lot of vegging out and we had so much fun! I found it just a great time to be with peers who were also on this crazy religious life path as well. I learned a lot about myself and community really rocks.

Finally, as an affiliate you remain financially on your own. So I continued my job as a teacher and paid rent and expenses to my living group.

Lesson #1a--FORMATION

Ok...I'm going to do this in several posts because it's so long. This will describe the whole process of becoming a Sister (the School Sister of St. Francis way)!

(aka "initial formation", "incorporation", "welcome to the club"...OK not the last one, but you get the idea)

  • There is a process that we go through from the time we start discerning (there's a good nun word for you all) until you make your life commitment. Once you decide to enter the congregation, you begin the process of "Initial Formation". Different congregations have different "titles" for each stage of formation, but most congregations have a very similar process.

As the Newbee of the group, I have the great pleasure of being in Initial Formation right now! So all of this stuff is very "fresh" for me and exciting for me to be able to share as I move through these stages. Buckle your seat belts, folks, here we go!

Intro to Nunspeak

Hi ya'll-

I've learned since I started hanging out with the Sisters way back in 1998 (yikes!)...that religious life is a culture of it's own! We have rituals, celebrations, foods, clothing, symbols, and even a unique language. Since my other blog is about my adventures as a woman relgious in the 21st century...I thought it would be helpful to have a little guide to the Culture of Religious life. So I'll try to use this space to define terms and give some little background here on that kind of stuff. I affectionately have called this section Nunspeak.

Hooo rah rah...

Peace out!