Wednesday, February 28, 2007
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.
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 me...you 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.”
(Olden days this was called "postulancy", many communities call this stage "candidacy" or "pre-novice")
Step 2--Affiliate (6months-1 year)
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 living...it 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.
(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!
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...