Guest blogger, Sister Sarah Hennessey
Sister Thea Bowman sings the old spiritual song. My vows have already been made to the Lord. When I was around 12 I first began to really experience God. That led me to become an active Quaker and to seek God through silence and service. Somewhere along the way I had a distinct moment when I knew I had fallen in love with Christ and then when I knew I had fallen in love with the People of God. Both have been essential to my journey.
Quakerism has been described as a religion which is communal mysticism. Community is essential and I found my love for community soon shaping my choices. From a Quaker college, to a year as a lay volunteer with Catholic sisters, to teaching at a Quaker boarding school I lived in small groups, prayed together, and sought God through communal means. My love of Hispanic culture led me to Mexico, from there to the Franciscans and then into the Catholic church, which I experienced as a wider and more diverse community.
Fishbowl Not Pedestal
At times I feel that formation has turned me inside out and then left me in my confusion to put myself back together again. Now I look at it differently. Incorporation demands conversion, but I am not alone. My sisters are with me, at varying levels of intimacy and personal skill, to both challenge and support me.
I entered my Franciscan community after only being a Catholic for two years. I struggled with the title of “sister,” the public notice and appreciation, and centuries of baggage that were all new to me. A distinction during novitiate helped me name how I felt about becoming “a religious.” Being on a pedestal is not helpful to me or to anyone else and some of this relational model still hangs over from our past. However, I am called to be in a fishbowl. I have made public vows to Christ and the church and people should be able to look at me and see that I am at least trying to live how I say I do.
Fear and Awe
I feel a prior claim to religious life. I also believe that this commitment is my free choice. I am coming home to Jesus, the People of God, and these particular FSPA women through my “yes.” I believe to make perpetual vows is to live them and repeat them on a daily basis.
I find religious life to be deeply intimate. Like the cross, the horizontal plane of relationship with others and the vertical call to deep union with God intersect daily. I need to pause and listen deeply before making this lifetime commitment and I know that listening needs to happen in relationship.
When I meet other new members of Catholic orders I am always struck by how there is no fear around diminishment. Yes, religious life will change drastically in my lifetime. We have many losses, particularly at every funeral. But I firmly believe that this is a dynamic opportunity for religious life to remain fed by its source which is Christ.
In making vows I feel my emotions most intensely, particularly fear and awe. There is no little amount of fear as I commit my life not only to God, but to this community of women and this church. But I have voiced my fears and they have heard me and they still want to journey with me. Together “we done made our vows to the Lord.”
Sister Sarah will profess her final vows with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 2011. This is her fourth guest blog entry.