By Sr. Romina Sapinoso
It’s been three months since I started novitiate with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. This is HUGE. Novitiate is the stuff many sisters get lots of their stories from. You know, the stories they don’t tire of telling each other and us, younger ones. I personally love listening to sisters in the community share how their novitiates compared to mine, or more precisely, how DIFFERENT their novitiates were compared to mine. I’m pretty sure that all sisters, old and young alike, agree that it’s a good thing the novitiate has evolved. After all, most of our sisters entered in circa 19??. In keeping up with the changing times, it is but natural that we would have a new and updated Novitiate 3.0, 2016 version. The way I see it, the operating systems have been significantly upgraded while striving to keep the essentials of formation in tact. These last three months in the “nunnery” have given me the opportunity to engage in dialogue and learn much valuable information, build many new relationships, be amazed and wowed by the lives of the sisters, and last but definitely not least, share many good laughs with these wonderful women of God. Though my experiences so far probably don’t hold a candle to the stories that were shared with me (and don’t yet elicit as many fond memories and laughter), they definitely have blessed me with a special appreciation for this time. So here are the top three things I have come to embrace in three months of novitiate:
1. Doubt and questions about what in the heck you are doing here are okay. I love the stories of doubt and later clarity in their own discernment that sisters impart with me. One of my favorites is from Sister Annina, 100-year old wisdom figure to me and to many others in the community. I once asked her during my retreat that she directed if she ever thought about leaving religious life. She said, “Every single night of my novitiate.” She wasn’t kidding. She did pack her trunk every single night, ready to leave the next day. One of the other sisters in her band always asked her to stay “just one more night.” Annina ends the story with a huge bright smile and sparkling eyes as she says the words, “And here I am, 83 years later, still a Sister of Charity!” I would certainly add, “And a most inspiring and delightful one at that!”
2. Go back to basics. On a particularly discomforting week of discernment, I spewed out my doubts and fears, uncertainties and questions on my discernment journey to my spiritual director. Wise as he is, he told me to picture a kite. Everybody experiences some amount of delight when they see a kite soaring mightily against a clear, blue sky. His point was, we rarely notice that this kite, in order to not be ravaged and blown away by unpredictable winds, is firmly tethered to the ground by an almost invisible string. He asked me, “What is your string? What keeps you afloat yet firmly anchored to solid ground? When you know your foundation, all other questions become secondary.” This suggestion from him moved me to look back at how my journey got me to this present time and place. It made me look carefully at the bigger questions and not be bogged down with the little ones, always trusting and opening to the movement of the Spirit within. I went searching again for reminders of what he referred to as my foundation. And lo and behold, surprise, surprise, it’s God.
3. You can and should ask the difficult questions about a religious vocation. That’s part of a healthy discernment! Early on, I’ve made a commitment to be genuine and honest in this discernment process, to ask questions and seek out the community’s and my own answers to them, with the guidance of the Spirit. And you know what? The sisters have too! I am blessed to be journeying with folks who, though not perfect, are real and realistic. Sisters are human and embrace their humanity. This makes them way cooler than I ever expected. Seriously though, I can be confident that they do not give me answers that will sound good but those which they know will help me see the lived reality of religious life to better inform my process. Words cannot say how grateful I am to be on this path with such awesomeness (sisters).
|The Bayley House Novitiate Community|
I’m ONLY a quarter of the way into my canonical year. Or I can also say, I’m ALREADY a quarter of the way into my canonical year. In any case, it has been just a remarkable pilgrimage so far. I can say with certainty that this time has truly been and continues to be a gift for me. I am assured that God knows the desires of my heart and I myself, am being made aware of them during this period of genuine discernment. Wherever the road leads, it is my sincere hope that I can look back at this year and say, we (myself, the community, and God) held fast to the truth of this journey together.