What is Formation?
When a young woman is considering the possibility of entering Religious Life, one of the greatest fears that her parents confront is that their daughter will lose her most unique and beautiful and precious traits. They may wonder, “Will the Nuns brainwash my daughter? Will they make her a robot or clone? What means of coercion do they use? Dangling from the toes? Bread and water for weeks? Solitary confinement? What really happens behind those walls!!!”
Have no fear! When a young woman enters Religious Life, she embarks on the greatest of adventures. And this journey will lead to the deepest joy and most profound peace possible on this side of heaven.
As Christians, we are called to ‘put on the mind of Christ’ (see 1 Cor 2:16). Although this is the vocation of all members of the Church, Religious direct all of their energy and time to this end. We all know that by the time we enter Religious Life, we have inherited a whole set of half-truths and some blatant lies (stemming from original sin and personal sin, from the influence of the world, and from poor formation.) God wants to free us from the darkness of error and bring us to the fullness of LIFE! This does require a kind of brain cleansing which is, in reality, more of a heart cleansing. When we put on the mind of Christ, we learn to love as He does. Religious are called to strive for perfect charity- for perfect love. This entails embracing the life-long process of becoming more and more like Christ.
Religious Life is called to be a “school of love” (St. John Paul II) and a “college of Christ” (St. Teresa.) In this school we strive to love as Jesus loves; in other words, to acquire virtue. Virtues are good habits that make it easier to love. In every religious family, there are stages to formation. Each stage has a particular purpose which builds upon the previous stages.
Candidacy (1-2 years): Formation in our Community begins with Candidacy. Young women (in dialogue with our Vocation Directress and Community) discern that God is inviting them to enter more deeply into the process of vocational discernment with our Community. The Candidates reside at one of our apostolates, live in community with other Candidates, join the sisters for prayers, work alongside our sisters and have weekly classes.
Postulancy (6-10 months): Postulancy comes from the Latin word postulare, meaning ‘to demand, to knock.’ With a heart determined to follow Christ, postulants begin their first steps in Carmel. Postulants enter into formation at our Motherhouse and live with the Novices. Each day, Postulants have time for class, prayer, study and simple duties.
Novitiate (2 years): A novice formally enters into Religious Life in Carmel. During the Novitiate, the sisters study the vows, deepen their understanding of Carmelite Spirituality and grow in their ability to live Gospel community. At the end of the Novitiate, the sisters request to make their first profession of vows. They promise poverty, chastity and obedience for one year.
Temporary Vows (6 years): Sisters in Temporary Vows live with the Perpetually Professed Sisters and together share in daily life and in the beauty of apostolic service to the Church. They grow in their ability to integrate our life of prayer and service. They have classes each month in order to review and deepen their understanding of our life and vocation. They request to renew their vows each year.
Perpetual Vows and beyond: For Perpetually Professed Sisters, formation is more self-directed. We are given many, many opportunities for ongoing formation: study nights, annual periods of study, monthly days of prayer, community renewal events, an annual 8-day retreat, frequent access to the Sacraments, and much more. Through all these means, we seek to continue striving for perfect charity until we come to see our Beloved face to face in eternity.
So, parents, don’t worry. Young women, don’t worry. When water is purified, the filtration system removes all that is NOT water. It doesn’t remove the water. When we cooperate with God’s grace, formation removes all that is not us (our self-centeredness, our self-pity and our fearfulness) and makes us truly the best (most free, happy, unique, and loving) version of ourselves. And this allows God to use His beloved daughters, His chosen ones,is to bring His abundant life to the world!