Greater love has no man than this, t
hat a man lay down his life for his friends.
- John 15:13
A vocation to the religious life is gift from God the Father to the individual, a call to be totally conformed to Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the service of the Church. It is the total consecration of self for the love and service of Jesus Christ. The religious stands as a prophetic sign of the supreme good and destiny that all will find in God alone, a reminder to the world that human life finds its finality in God.
Throughout history God has raised up those who desire to live their baptismal consecration in a more radical way in imitation of Christ who was chaste, poor and obedient. Thus the consecrated life 'constitutes... an abiding re-enactment in the Church' of Christ's own way of life.
(Vita Consecrata 22., quoting Lumen Gentium 44.)
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to Himself.
Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for…
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27)
How to Discern
Initially, discernment might seem a bit overwhelming for some - a leap into the unknown, a seemingly lonely exploration into new and strange territory. We know it's not very often you meet others who are thinking and praying about becoming a religious sister, right? (Or at least willing to admit it!) So, what do you do?
Here are a few tips to help you on your way:
Here are two components with a few questions to start off:
Learn about the vocation you're discerning
What are religious sisters and nuns?
What are the Evangelical Counsels?
What spirituality, charism, and/or mission attracts me?
Learn about yourself
What are my motivations and desires in discerning a religious vocation?
How has God gifted me to serve and find joy in Him?
Am I physically, spiritually, and psychologically able to live this vocation?
Fear not, God never forces anyone into a vocation, even if you're the most pious person on earth! He desires your happiness and fulfilment, and also sees the grand scheme of things in salvation history. All we're invited to do is freely cooperate with His grace.
No matter how awkward or scary this might be, the truth is, you can't do this alone. Discernment takes courage and patience, and the willingness to put yourself out there. Both figuratively and literally. So, what does this practically entail?
Talk about it: with a spiritual director, a vocation director, a trusted friend, etc. It often helps to have a sounding board and good advice.
Visit communities: get to know real, living, breathing sisters! (You'll soon see that we're not as scary or angelic as we might look...!) Often religious communities with have opportunities for discernment/vocation retreats, as well as individual visits for further discernment.
Get serious: if you've found a community that you think could be a good fit, go for it! Ask to begin formal discernment, and trust the process.
Vocation is grounded in this simple question: what do I want to do?
Vocation is a choice, a desire that can only be known in retrospect by stepping into it – the grace of God in our will.
RESOURCES FOR DISCERNMENT
Do you like to read?
The Life of St Dominic by Henri Dominique Lacordaire, O.P.
The Contemplative Dimension of Dominican Spirituality by Jordan Aumann, O.P.
Dominican Spirituality: Principles & Practice by William Hinnebusch, O.P.
The Dominican Soul by Fr. M. M. Philipon, O.P.
Short Lives of the Dominican Saints by a Sister of the St Catherine of Siena Congregation (Stone Dominicans)
How do you become a Sister?
The initial stage of formation is known as 'postulancy'. In our Congregation this lasts one year. Postulants live within the cloister as part of the community. It is a time of learning about our life and Dominican practices and customs. Initial formation is also given in the spiritual life, the reading of Sacred Scripture, and in the history and theology of the Order.
Two years of novitiate follow postulancy. The first or 'canonical' year is a special time in which the novice is given more time for personal prayer and spiritual reading; it is a period in which the active apostolate is set aside to enable the novice to grow ever deeper in her relationship with Jesus Christ and with the community in her discernment.
During the second year, the novice enters once again into the active apostolate of preaching and teaching with the community. In addition, there is continued theological and personal formation under the guidance of the novice mistress as she prepares for her First Profession at the conclusion of her second novitiate year.
The period of 'temporary profession' lasts a minimum of three years, at the end of which permanent vows are made.
"By our profession we dedicate ourselves to God, following Christ and leading the gospel life in the Order, so that our Baptismal consecration may achieve its effect more completely... While embracing the self-emptying of Christ, we participate at the same time in His life in the Spirit. In this way, if we are faithful we become clearer witnesses in the Church to the good things of the heavenly kingdom"
(Constitutions of the Dominican Sisters of St. Joseph, Ch. IV).
AND ON-GOING FORMATION
"I espouse you to Jesus Christ. Receive the ring of fidelity, the seal of the Holy Spirit, that you may belong to Christ entirely. May you serve Him faithfully in this life and be His for all eternity. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."- Rite of Perpetual Profession
"Continuing formation... is an intrinsic requirement of religious consecration... [and] is not limited to the initial phase. Due to human limitations, the consecrated person can never claim to have completely brought to life the "new creature" who, in every circumstance of life, reflects the very mind of Christ. Initial formation, then, should be closely connected with continuing formation, thereby creating a readiness on everyone's part to let themselves be formed every day of their lives... None are exempt from the obligation to grow humanly and as Religious; by the same token, no one can be over-confident and live in self-sufficient isolation. At no stage of life can people feel so secure and committed that they do not need to give careful attention to ensuring perseverance in faithfulness; just as there is no age at which a person has completely achieved maturity." (Vita Conscrata, 69)
To fall in love with God
is the greatest of all romances;
to seek Him, the greatest adventure;
to find Him, the greatest human achievement.