Reception of Franciscan Novices June 12, 2011 by Sister Louise Hembrecht
Good Afternoon, Sisters. Congratulations Sister Regina Rose and Sister Leslie. You have completed the Postulancy. The time of postulancy is a time of transition into religious life. It is a time of learning and you have learned much. Some of what you have learned is very simple. You learned to wear a skirt and stockings every day. You re-learned to eat at regular times, on real plates with real silverware, eating cooked, not microwaved food, sitting at a table with other people.
You learned to pray, not only when you felt the need to pray, or there was an inner enthusiasm for prayer, but simply because it was time to pray. You learned to pray with the Church, Morning and Evening Prayer, saying psalms of celebration and praise when you didn’t feel like celebrating, psalms of desolation when your spirit was high. You have begun to learn that prayer goes beyond yourself, even beyond your own relationship with the Lord. You have begun to learn that prayer is more than praying for the world, it is praying with the world. You learned that oftentimes prayer interrupts work, study, play, and even a championship football game. You learned that when it is impossible to pray with the whole community because of another commitment or responsibility, like catechizing, you find another time to pray. In other words, the Postulancy has taught you that wanting God to be the center, the focal point of your life and all that you do involves concrete choices and sometimes a sacrifice or two. Postulancy has prepared your for the Novitiate by helping you slow down and go beyond the world of activity, even the good activity of service.
There have been formal lessons, too. You’ve taken theology classes, studied prayer, had instructions that have been practical and theoretical, that have focused on human growth, human relations as well as spiritual growth and relationship with the Lord. You have read, reflected on, and discussed various books and articles on Francis and Franciscan topics and on general theology and spirituality. You’ve attended workshops and conferences, shared in music ministry in various nearby parishes, shared your vocation stories, had mission experiences. In other words, much has happened since you first came.
But now, drawn by God’s love, you begin a journey that is beyond your imagining – a journey that will be filled with challenges and wonders, grace and trials. You have lived with us these past months and now through a process of mutual discernment, have responded to God’s call to come aside and learn more. These years of novitiate will provide a unique time to learn about our life, to study the vows, to reflect on and live community life, to deepen your faith life, to center your life on the Eucharist, and to grow in love of God and the realization of God’s tremendous love for you. At the end of the time of your novitiate, you will discover that you have not mastered these lessons, but have only begun. You will realize that you have taken only a small step and that all of religious life is a journey into the mystery of God’s love.
During this time of novitiate, you will study the Rule, Constitutions, and Directory of our Congregation. You will come to know more the nature and purpose of our lives, the Franciscan spirituality we practice and our family history. There are times you will be amazed and edified by the faith, courage, and hard work of the Sisters who went before you. There are other times you will laugh. I’m sure you have already heard and will hear more silly stories of novitiate experiences for example some of the shenanigans that took place while scrubbing the bakery hall (that was before my time), or of other stunts pulled, sometime successfully, sometimes not.
These studies and stories will root you in our tradition and bind you to us through bonds of common experience. You will also study and practice the evangelical counsels so that you may truly be grounded in the reality of living the vows in the simple events of day to day life. In other words, you will come to a deeper love of the Lord and union with Him. There will be some restrictions on you during novitiate – some physical separation to give you time to reflect and study and also to give you an opportunity to enter fully into the novitiate community. You will wear our habit and will be asked to perform common tasks. You will have the opportunity to share in the joys and sorrows, the hopes and dreams of those who share the novitiate with you.
There will be challenges for you. There will be days that you will want to serve and only serve – forming a relationship with the Lord in whose Name and for Whom your life of service is rooted will seem too difficult. You will need patience and trust that the days of Novitiate, the quiet, slow, learning about prayer, the experience of Community, the simple tasks are all preparation for an evangelical, apostolic life in which contemplation and service, love and service, are so intertwined that you lead others, not to yourself, but to the Lord. You will need to trust the experience of the Community and the wisdom of the Church.
Sister Leslie and Sister Regina Rose, at first glance there might seem to be little similarity between your two religious names. However, in reality, they are very much alike. Sister Leslie, you asked to keep your Baptismal name; Sister Regina Rose, you asked to change your Baptismal name slightly. Instead of being called Karol Rose – a name you did not use and we did not call you, you asked to be known as Sister Regina Rose. Thus your Religious names give witness to the relationship between your Baptismal consecration and your future religious consecration.
Also, you both chose Mary as your patroness and have feastdays of Mary that are close on the calendar. Sister Regina Rose, you chose Mary, under the title of her queenship as your patronress. The title, the Queenship of Mary, has its roots in Scripture when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that her Son would be King of Israel and King of earth and heaven, establishing Mary as queen. Mary was honored under the title of her Queenship from the earliest days of the Church, but the feast was first established for the Universal Church by Pius XII in 1954 when he wrote the encyclical, Ad Caeli Reginam, in which he summarized the history of Catholic teaching on Mary place in salvation. By choosing this feast, you proclaim Mary’s role in your life and in the life of the Church. Your feastday is August 22nd.
Sister Leslie, you chose Mary under a title closely related to your Polish ancestory and history, Our Lady of Czestochowa also known as the Black Madonna as your patroness. The icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa has been intimately associated with Poland for the past six hundred years. Its history prior to its arrival in Poland is shrouded in numerous legends. One legend traces the icon’s origin to St. Luke who is said to have painted it on a cypress table top from the house of the Holy Family. The oldest historical documents say the picture travelled from Jerusalem via Constantinople to Czestochowa in 1382. In 1656, Mary was crowned as Queen and Protector of Poland. Your feastday is August 26th.
Your group title is also related to Mary for you wish to be known as Lovers of the Incarnate Word and have December 25th, Christmas Day, the day Mary brought forth the Incarnate Word, her Beloved Son, into the world. Your choice of this title is an echo of Francis’s devotion to the Incarnation and the Humanity of the Lord and his desire that Love be loved.
In a letter to Religious in 1988, John Paul II quoting Vatican II’s Perfectae Caritatis wrote. “A person’s vocation to consecrate his or her whole life has a special relationship to Christ’s own consecration for the sake of all people.” This is what Novitiate is about. During these years, you are asked, not to broaden your service, but to deepen your life. With Mary as your model, your novitiate will be a time of growth and will form the solid foundation on which your entire religious life is based. You can be assured of the prayers and support of the entire Community.
As has been the tradition, I now direct my comments to all here for whom the novitiate is a memory, whether recent or distant. Our novices are given the opportunity to study Scripture. They study our documents, watch videos on the Franciscan charism and are given many fine books and articles to read and discuss. All of these help lay the foundation for a solid religious life, but we, the professed Sisters of the Community, are the book that the Novices study most closely. It is from us that Sister Leslie and Sister Regina Rose, and Sister Monica too, learn most about what it means to be a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity. At this time, I would like to focus on our title – the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. They will be noticing how we treat one another, the charity, love, respect we show for each other . They will observe whether the love we proclaim to have for Christ is big enough to include others, each other, Sisters from other communities and cultures, all and anyone who becomes a part of our lives.
In describing Francis as the ideal for following in the footprints of the Lord Jesus Christ, St. Bonaventure focused on certain virtues that Francis exemplified: the austerity of his life, his humility and obedience, his love of poverty, his piety, the ardor of his charity, his zeal for prayer, his understanding of Scripture, his preaching of the Gospel with and without words, and his conformity to the sufferings of the Lord. In this list, charity is the pivot on which all the others depend. Bonaventure never gives a clear definition of this charity which is the essence of our title but time and again he describes it in the context of generosity and compassion.
As we celebrate the confirmation of our Franciscan way of Religious life exemplified in Sister Regina Rose’s and Sister Leslie’s desire to enter our novitiate, let us take this opportunity to reflect on this Christian Charity that we proclaim and determine to grow in the generosity and compassion that makes it real in daily life. Like Francis and Clare, let us be caught up in the mystery of God’s love, allowing the poverty of the Incarnation, the humility of the Eucharist, and the charity of the Cross to be evident in the witness we give so that as Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity: Called to Be; Called to Serve, we, like Sister Leslie and Sister Regina Rose continue to grow in prayer and perseverance, that we are always conscious of the needs of the poor, that we continue to grow as peacemakers and that who we are and all we do proclaims the Kingdom of God.
Once again, I turn to you, Sister Regina Rose and Sister Leslie and I want to again assure you both of the support of all of us. We pray that your novitiate years will deepen your resolve to give yourself totally to the Lord. May the Lord bless and keep you.