I have always had a fascination with sisters. Many years of Catholic schools and fabulous religious role models sparked an interest that I have never been able to totally extinguish. As a curious first grader, I remember asking my favorite teacher, Sister Christine, if she had long or short hair under her veil. My reward for being so bold was a sneak peek of her beautiful wavy hair beneath the heavy gray cloth. It was enough to make me giggle then, and even now as an adult, it makes me smile.
My obsession with sisters has, for me, bloomed into a profound reverence for their dedication to live a life of faith and their steadfast obedience to serving God’s church.
I think until now, I have viewed the life of a woman religious with admiration and respect mostly because I know that I could never do it. Chastity, Obedience and Poverty. Three virtues that I encounter multiple times on a daily basis. I have the ability to say YES or NO at any time to these temptations and weave in and out of each of these with little thought or hesitation. Yet a sister makes a vow to commit herself entirely to the Church by saying yes, and only yes, to these three challenges. The vows she makes are an expression of her faithfulness to God and her devotion to open her heart and focus entirely on Him.
Saying YES to these virtues is saying YES to God, and, in essence, choosing to abandon everything and follow your heart. “Be it done to me according to thy word”—Mary’s response to the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation—Her fiat, or YES, serves as an example to trust in God completely and say “yes” to the experience of knowing God.
Young women enter religious life as a candidate, then a novitiate, then complete temporary vows and eventually Final or Perpetual vows. Each congregation may vary slightly on the process of entering religious life, but the phases are meant to be very deliberate in providing structure for allowing growth and development in the ministry.
An invitation to witness a sister taking these vows can be a very humbling and moving experience, as I found out when I had the honor of attending the ceremony of Sister Yelitza Ayala, of the Hermanas Dominicas de Fatima in Puerto Rico who professed her temporary vows on July 5, 2015.
The event was attended by the entire congregation of sisters, many of whom flew in for this sacred event. Her public announcement of her intentions brought tears of happiness and had us on our feet clapping and smiling from ear to ear. Soon after, she made her way to a private chapel to don a new veil with a crown of thorns—to symbolize her acceptance into the life and her commitment to Jesus.
Perhaps the most moving part of the ceremony was when she lay prostrate on the ground before the altar to show humility in acceptance of the role she will now play as God’s servant. Wrapped in a cloak, she lay motionless on the cold marble floor of the church. A tiny black cocoon on a white stretch of floor just waiting for the word so she could bust out and emerge as a beautiful butterfly.
As she stood, she looked for the face of her Mother Superior, Sister Mariola, and soon walked over for an embrace that would symbolize the welcoming of this young woman into a new family. Click here to see how Sister Yelitza is living out her vocation in the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.
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