It takes approximately 3 to 4 years of formation, learning and in some cases, I dare say, (unlearning) as a candidate, postulant, and novice in our community to become a Carmelite Sister. It seems like a lifetime of waiting before one is finally approved to pronounce vows as a full-fledged Carmelite Sister. And it will truly be a lifetime of growing as a Carmelite Sister, one day at a time, allowing God to form us on this journey through life.
On Profession Day, parents walk their daughter to the altar and then leave her there to ascend the steps of the sanctuary herself and to enter fully into her new life in Carmel. It is always such a profound moment. At least it was for both me and my parents, and I’m pretty sure my other sisters would say the same. It is a time for tears and tissues, if you know what I mean.
Here’s a secret that I haven’t shared. Yes, there are some things that this Irish storyteller keeps to herself. Well, I may have shared once or twice, but the opportunity hasn’t come my way, you know, the right place, the right time, the right people, to let someone into your personal life. Today, though, as I think back to my Profession Day, and let the memories of that wonderful moment come to mind, I am remembering this one small part. Here it is.
I clearly remember that every single day of my postulancy and novitiate in the late afternoon, a few minutes before our afternoon Holy Hour, I would position myself at the end of the driveway entrance and turn west toward the setting sun AND our beautiful Sacred Heart Chapel. I would imagine I was holding a lighted candle surrounded by white flowers. Then, slowly, as if I were the bride in a wedding procession, I would envision the day of my vows and my parents on either side and slowly walk down the garden “Rose Path” as gracefully as I could, with the music to the traditional “O Gloriosa Virginum” playing in my mind as I walked up the steps into the chapel, down the aisle and right on into the entrance to the sanctuary.
I was a postulant for 6 months, that’s approximately 180 days, and a novice for two full years (that’s another 730 days – for a grand total of 910 times that I made this meditative, slow-moving, processional walk. Each day during my “practice” – I must admit – I looked at the glass entrance to the chapel and watched myself walk up.
And each day, I said to myself, “Who am I that the Lord chose me? Who am I, among all of God’s people, to be His in such a profoundly intimate way? Am I preparing myself well enough? Am I giving it my all? Am I doing it right? And then as I entered the chapel and walked up the center aisle of the chapel, I would say “My God, I’m one day closer.”
Eventually, both my postulancy and novitiate were completed. I was approved to make my first vows. My eight-day retreat wrapped me in a total, prayerful silence. On the Solemnity of the Epiphany, I made that walk. I pronounced my vows. I will NEVER forget those moments.
We Catholic Sisters from time to time are asked, “Why did you do this? What did you become a sister?” And I always think to myself, “How can the spiritual be explained in physical terms?” In his book, Song of Bernadette, Franz Werfel wrote this now-popular quote, “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” This is a good answer for us to give, also.
Every July 16th, on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, our novices pronounce their vows to God. Our novices come from different places, different backgrounds, just about everything is different EXCEPT all we have shared vision and values AND we were all called by the same Someone. Please pray for our Sisters who will profess their First Vows this July 16th: Sister Laetitia Therese, Sister Joseph Francesca, and Sister Mara, and for Sister Julianna who professes her Perpetual Vows on July 20th.
The lighted candle, the ring, the incense, the prostration before the tabernacle, the rule of life (constitutions), the changing of the veil from white to black, all of these have deep meaning.
Our foundress, Mother Luisita, once exclaimed, “I belong to God.” Of course, everyone belongs to God. He is our Creator, our Savior, and our Sanctifier. After pronouncing the 3 vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, our baptismal consecration reaches a full flowering in Carmel’s Garden. “Yes,” I can say and likewise all my Carmelite Sisters, “I belong to God” in a new union sealed with vows. And each day of our religious life brings us one day closer to the final consummation of heaven.