Lifting the veil
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
This issue of Sharing & Caring lifts the veil a bit (no pun intended) on what goes into the “Making of a Sister.” We’ve probably all heard about novices (the people) and novitiate (the place or process). And we’ve probably all asked the question: What really happens? Hopefully, after you have read through this issue, you may have a better idea of what the women you meet or work with go through to finally be called Sister.
One of the words you may notice as you read the different articles is “discernment.” For some people, discernment means a decision-making process where the pros and cons are weighed and a solution emerges. For others, it is a holy conversation with the Divine, asking for guidance to be open to where the Spirit of God is leading. The focus of these two definitions is totally different: the first focuses on the product, the decision; the second focuses on the process of listening and testing things out and of one’s relationship with God.
The process of discovering our life’s vocation is the latter process. Discernment is the holy conversation with God that leads us to ever deeper union with our Lord and Savior. It starts by our asking the question: Where do you want me, Lord? If we want to make a good decision, we need to make a knowledgeable decision. So when we find that question being asked within our hearts, our first step is to gather information.
For a woman considering religious life, especially if she does not know any Sisters personally, the first thing is to research and explore. The internet has become a great way for women to find out some things about a religious community, like what kind of ministries the members are involved in, where they are located, and most importantly what their spirituality is like. The next step in gathering information is getting to know some Sisters personally. A good way to do that is to participate in a service project with a community, make a retreat guided by a Sister, attend a day or weekend gathering to explore with other women what religious life looks like. All the time this is going on, the discerner is asking: Is this where you want me, Lord?
The most serious information gathering becomes a two-way street when the woman asks to begin the official formation process with a community. Now she may live with a group of Sisters, praying, ministering and sharing life with them. At this time, the community also enters the discernment process and asks God: Is this woman a fit for us? Will she be able to live the vows and community life the way we live them? Does she have the inspiration of the charism of our community? Is her call to ministry compatible with what we do?
When a woman asks to make a life commitment with the community, it is the moment when both the woman and the community say “Yes, this seems to be God’s will for all of us together” and “Thank you, God, for the gift of this woman’s life.”
All during that time this holy conversation is continuing. In the end, it is not about the decision of whether or not to become a Sister. It is, rather, the ongoing, life-long process of desiring to do the will of a God who wants only what is good for us. Hopefully this is what everyone finds as they search out their individual life call.