Growing into the life
Ongoing Formation – Stages on the way…
Having made contact with the brothers or sisters, there will be an opportunity to come and live alongside as an Enquirer for a short period to get a better feel for the way of life. If it feels right to take the next step and the community is in agreement you will return to your own home to continue the process of discernment and to complete an application form, which includes providing references, and a medical questionnaire, before being invited for an interview. If accepted you will be admitted as an Aspirant, one who has been invited to come and test their vocation to the religious life. A date will be arranged for you to come to one of the houses to begin that process.
When you arrive you will be admitted as a Postulant and receive a Tau Cross as a visible symbol of your association with the community. During this time you begin to live community life and get involved with some of the daily tasks, so that you are able to deepen your experience of this way of life. After a three to six month postulancy, if you and the community feel it is right, the next stage is to begin a three to four year period as a Novice.
As a novice you receive the brown habit and a rope with a single knot signifying a commitment to the community. During this period you are accompanied on the journey by the Novice Guardian, undertake some study and receive formation in the Franciscan way of life, and can expect to experience different aspects of the life in various houses. The novitiate can be ended by either side at any time.
In consultation with the Novice Guardian and the Minister Provincial novices can apply to be allowed to make vows. If elected by the Provincial Chapter novices make their First Profession in vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) and receive a rope with three knots to represent these three vows.
Living a vowed life
The vows are commitments that we make to a way of life that makes demands on the whole person. The vows are not ends in themselves, but are a way of helping us to live the gospel, to follow more closely in the footsteps of Christ and to share with others the love of God. Despite what people often think the vows bring with them an immense amount of freedom and liberation.
As Franciscans (in common with many other religious communities) we take the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Poverty – The person called to the religious life feels a desire to live simply and the vow of poverty means assuming a new relationship with things. This means living with our brothers and sisters in simplicity with an openness of heart – sharing all that we have both materially and spiritually. This vow expresses dependence on and trust in God’s care for us. We receive no individual pay, but any income goes into the corporate ‘pot’ to be shared as needed and so we live as a family having all things in common.
Thus the vow of poverty endeavours to encourage us to seek the riches of Christ, to be found not in material possessions but within our own being, in our relationship with Christ and in our relationship with others. We are encouraged to have our heart set on that spiritual home where our treasure lies.
Chastity – This vow is about “giving ourselves in undivided love to Christ, in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God and in his love for all” (SSF Profession Service). In other words the primary relationship is that with God. The calling to celibacy is a vocation in its own right and those who embrace this calling do so because that is how they believe God is asking them to serve him. It is a vow of immense liberation. There is a greater availability to God and a greater freedom to respond to where God might be calling us to be as there are no other committed relationships to consider. In making this commitment there is a mutual love and care for one another, to which we witness in our daily relationships and through which we endeavour to make the light of Christ shine to all whom we meet.
Obedience – This vow is about listening and responding to God, as God’s will is made known through the people and situations of life, and is firmly rooted in prayer. Those living this form of life commit themselves to listening to God through the decisions of the community and through those who are appointed to positions of leadership. If we look to Jesus as an example, his obedience points to the Father’s will and was made possible because they were united as one in and through prayer.
After a period of three to seven years First Professed brothers and sisters can apply to be elected to Life Profession by the Provincial Chapter.