What is a charism? Each community has a unique charism. A charism is a gift from the Holy Spirit, which gives the community its identity. You can’t pinpoint a charism in one word: the unique way of life of each community is their charism. It includes their life of prayer, their spirituality (Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, etc.), their communal life and their apostolic works. Charisms are a gift to the Church in response to a particular need at a particular moment in history. (See Vita Consecrata: # 36)
What are the vows that sisters take? The vows a religious sister takes are essentially a deepening of her Baptismal promises. The vows are the response to God’s invitation of love to each person, to be consecrated totally for His glory and the salvation of souls.
The vows are a radical living out of the Christian life by committing to live as Jesus Himself lived: poor, chaste and obedient.
- Poverty frees each person from the goods and anxieties of the world to live totally for God. Detachment and dependence on one’s community are essential. A spirit of poverty is not enough. Each community must live the vow of poverty both in fact and in spirit. Jesus gives us the ultimate example of poverty on the Cross.
- Chastity frees each person to love God above all things, and in turn to love each person one encounters in a holy, wholesome and detached way. It entails giving a total gift of oneself to God through a celibate life. It also has an eschatological (pointing to our final goal) value: by saying that God is enough, the religious remind all people that our home is not here, but hereafter, to be united totally to God in His Kingdom that will have no end.
- Obedience is the free renunciation of the will, allowing the sister to be conformed to the will of God the Father, just like Jesus was obedient unto death. Obedience also entails trust–trust in God’s providence, and that His will is what fulfills the deepest desires of the human heart. In religious life, obedience in practice includes submitting to the direction of one’s superior, who acts as God’s representative in the community. (Source: See Perfectae Caritatis, #s 12-14 also Directives on Formation, #s 13-15)
- Some communities have a tradition of taking an additional vow. For example, The Little Sisters of the Poor take a vow of hospitality and the Sisters of Life take a vow to protect and enhance the sacredness of human life.
The Formation Process
Formation is a lifelong process of helping the religious conform her life to that of Christ.
- Postulancy (six months to two years): This is a time of initial formation and continued discernment. The postulant lives in community and participates in the daily life of the sisters, learning about how the community prays and what its apostolate (work) is like, and experiencing life in community. The postulant is free to leave the community at any time.
- Novitiate (One to two years): Building upon the postulancy experience, the novitiate is a time more set apart for prayer and study. Built into this time is hands on exposure to the community’s apostolate. This is also a time of more intentional separation from family and friends, to focus more time on developing one’s relationship with God. A novice promises to live the life of the community and takes on a religious habit, but is free to leave the community at any time.
- Temporary Professed (Three to six years): The temporary professed vow to live in poverty, chastity and obedience, which are renewed (usually) each year. Those in temporary vows commit to living the vowed life for the duration of the year(s) that they’ve committed to. They are incorporated into more of the community’s life and apostolate, and may be sent for further studies to help prepare them for teaching or other works of the particular community.
- Final or Solemn Professed: Sisters who profess final or solemn vows have discerned that the religious life is truly their vocation, their call. They are espoused to Christ forever. Even though the sister has made this commitment, she will participate in ongoing formation throughout her whole life.