By Rev. Sr. Juliet Ezenwaka (SJS)
Before focusing on the topic of this discussion, it will be good to first consider the concepts religious women and religious life. Religious life is a form of consecrated life that is: canonically erected by the Church within institutes, of liturgical character, publicly professing the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience), established in communities, giving witness to the world.
The religious Life deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus — the chaste, poor and obedient one — are made constantly “visible” amid the world and the eyes of the faithful are directed towards the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven.
In every age, there have been women (like Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joan, Therese, Joan, etc), who, obedient to the Father’s call and the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, to devote themselves to him with an “undivided” heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.
The essential components of the religious way of life as a particular form of consecrated life include public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience professed freely to God and accepted in the name of the Church. This profession obligates and liberates the consecrated religious sister to strive to love as God loves and to abide in his love.
Public witness or visible presence in the Church, witnessing to the Person of Jesus Christ who is present here among us loves us to the end and gives rise to this great hope. A life lived in common according to the charism of the founder or foundress.
Through a certain separation from the world proper to the charism of the institute, consecrated religious are called to be salt and light—a prophetic counter-cultural sign—whose focus is on God who illuminates all things.
A corporate apostolate which gives concrete expression to the purpose of the institute and is a source of unity and identity among its members. The spiritual life of the consecrated religious is nourished with prayer, the Eucharist, the Word of God and critical reading of the signs of the times. The main categories of consecrated religious who profess public vows are:
Consecrated religious nuns (women) live and work primarily within the enclosure of their community setting, and have given their lives in support of the Church through prayer and hidden sacrifice.
Every religious institute or congregation has an apostolate and mission on which it was founded this means that it must be instituted by the founder and its members are meant to follow the spirit of theirs. Apostolic religious sisters’ communities are frequently engaged in works related to education, health care, communication, social work or administration, for example.
All religious, whether exempt or not, take their place among the collaborators of the diocesan Bishop in his pastoral duty. This means that for it become an institute of consecrated life, it must have a right from the principal Bishop of the diocese where it is stipulated.
From the outset of the work of evangelization, the missionary “planting” and expansion of the Church require the presence of the religious life in all its forms. “History witnesses the outstanding service rendered by religious families in the propagation of the faith and in the formation of new Churches: from the ancient monastic institutions to the medieval orders, all the way to the more recent congregations.”
Different forms of religious orders are as follows;
Active religious: Active religious sisters are those who divide their time between private prayer, communal worship, and service work. Every religious congregation is usually dedicated to a particular apostolate, such as teaching, missionary work, preaching, and caring for the sick, the poor, or the neglected. However, prayer is still a priority in active orders, and specific times are set aside for being with God.
Religious Life is distinguished from other forms of consecrated life by its liturgical character, public profession of the evangelical counsels, fraternal life lived in common and witness given to the union of Christ with the Church.
Contemplative Religious (nuns). Institutes completely devoted to contemplation, composed of either women or men, are for the Church a reason for pride and a source of heavenly graces. Through their lives and mission, the members of these Institutes imitate Christ in his prayer on the mountain, bear witness to God’s lordship over history and anticipate the glory which is to come.
In solitude and silence, by listening to the word of God, participating in divine worship, personal asceticism, prayer, mortification, profession of evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) and the communion of fraternal love, they direct the whole of their lives and all their activities to the contemplation of God. Cloistered contemplative sisters and brothers live apart from the rest of the world in monasteries and convents under papal enclosure, meaning that access to them is restricted.
Consecrated Virgins: These are those who felt the call to consecrate themselves exclusively to Christ in a private manner. In recent times there has been a revival of this vocation, by which a woman makes her private consecration in the presence of her bishop.
Consecrated by the diocesan Bishop, these women acquire a particular link with the Church, which they are committed to serving while remaining in the world. Either alone or in association with others, they constitute a special eschatological image of the Heavenly Bride and of the life to come, when the Church will at last fully live her love for Christ the Bridegroom.
Having discussed the meaning and different forms of religious life, permit me to go into the discussion proper. Following the past discussion on this topic, it is assumed that this person in question has finally concluded that she will become a consecrated religious. From the last edition, we discussed how one can discern her vocation as a religious; today we are taking another step toward what one is expected to do having decided to become a religious.
First, it is good for you to know that just as there are different forms of religious orders also there are different congregations belonging to those specific orders. These may include; Immaculate Heart Sisters, Carmelite, Sisters of Jesus the Saviour (SJS or Saviourite Sisters), Dominicans, Daughters of Divine Love congregation, Benedictines, Handmade of the Holy Child Jesus congregation, Daughters of Mary, Mother of Mercy (DMMM), Daughters of Providence for the Deaf and Dumb(DPDD), Holy Family Sisters of the Needy etc. And these congregations belong to different founders with different missions and apostolate.
So for one to belong to any of these congregations, one must decide whether she wants to be an active or contemplative religious or order of Virgins. When you are through with that it is good and appropriate for you to seek information from a Priest or someone who will not mislead you.
Another important thing you should know will be that it is good for you to study different religious institutes to know their apostolate, mission and charism. This will enable you to make a rightful choice or decision regarding which one to choose. This is because as a person you may be interested in education, but because you didn’t ask questions you may end up applying to a congregation whose apostolate is caring for the sick and suffering and then you see yourself being frustrated.
Also, try to know where the congregation is situated. There are a lot of religious congregations in and outside the country, so it is proper you find out where the congregation or institute of your choice is located.
Another question you should ask is who is their founder? This is because there are a lot of congregations or institutes without a proper founder or foundress. You can imagine what such a congregation will look like. A lot of religious are regretting the initial choice they made simply because they did not seek the right direction when they were about to make the journey to religious life.
Finally, having gone through all the processes mentioned above, it is now time for you to make a move. Since you have examined yourself and have concluded that you want to live a consecrated life. It is time to go get a form from the congregation of your choice. Time, they say, waits for no one. Pick coverage and go, you will not regret it since this is coming from you and no one is forcing you into taking action. After the interview, you will be asked to come back for a living-in or experience for a few weeks, to enable them to examine you properly and you on your path will study them to know whether you will be able to continue since it’s a journey for life.
Note it is always encouraging that one keep mute even as one proceeds, to avoid discouragement or any form of regret later on.