Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Stages of Formation

I had wanted to first share my vocation story, but I don't have access to the computer on which the story is saved, so I can't post it for another week and a half. In the meantime, I will explain the various stages of formation.

Keep in mind, this is specific to my community, although there are many elements that are the same in others. Don't assume that every community does things in exactly the way I'm going to delineate.

Stage 1: Discerner
This is where I am. Technically, a discerner is anyone who is thinking about religious life. I started this stage as a senior in high school, and had I stayed in school, I would now have finished my junior year of college, so it's been a few years. 5 months ago, I moved to the convent that I am in the process of entering formally, and so since I have not formally entered, I am still a discerner. The way I am doing it, I follow the entire schedule of a postulant, no exceptions. I'll make a different post with our daily schedule. However, I did not have to go this route. I could have selected different parts that I wanted to follow. But as my goal was to enter formally as a postulant, I chose to act as though I were one.

Stage 2: Postulant
A postulant is someone who has formally entered the community, but has not yet made any real commitment. Postulants can decide to leave the community at any time for any reason. They are under the direction of a directress, or a Sister who is in charge of the formation process of a postulant. This stage lasts anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, although it is usually the full two years. Our postulants take college classes and earn their Associates Degree in Religious Arts.

Stage 3: Novice
The novitiate is two years. The first year is referred to as the "canonical year" and is very strict. It is meant to be very contemplative, devoted mostly to prayer. The novice adopts a modified habit...the habit is the same for all the Sisters, but novices wear a white veil instead of a black one. Novices do not take classes. They do various jobs around the house, like working in the laundry and as sacristan in the chapel. The second year, they can take classes again, but there is still a more regimented prayer schedule. After the novitiate, a Sister has to have to discipline to make her own prayer schedule and balance it with her particular ministry.

Stage 4: Temporary Profession
A temporarily professed Sister has made her first vows and adopted the black veil. She has made a committment to the community and it is now more difficult for her to leave. Also called Junior Sisters, these Sisters can either return to college for degrees in nursing, education, or a plethora of other majors, or they can head straight to a particular ministry. We work mostly in healthcare and education, but there are sisters in many other ministries. Junior Sisters renew their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience every year for up to 6 years.

Stage 5: Final Profession
When a Sister makes her final vows, she is a full-fledged member of the community. She is able to be a member of provincial and general councils, and can make the kinds of decisions that would have a large impact on the community along with the other Sisters. At Final Vows, the Sister receives a gold wedding band worn on the ring finger of her left hand, signifying her marriage to Christ and the Church.

* Please note that this is just a very basic description of the different levels. There is so much more to it all that I have written here, but I wanted to give you at least a basic idea of what it takes before you can make your final vows.

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