What Is the Religious Life?
For hundreds of years Jesus has called people to live together, to pray together and to serve him in a unique way. Religious sisters, brothers, and priests are individuals who live out their Christian faith as members of a larger group known as a religious community. There are many different kinds of religious communities and each community lives according to a particular charism which inspires and identifies them and gives a focus to their prayer and work.
What Kinds of Religious Communities Exist?
There are many religious communities in the Church. Some religious communities serve God through meditation, prayer and solitude. These groups are known as contemplative orders or "cloistered" orders. Women who belong to this type of a religious community are called nuns and the men are called monks. Other religious communities are known as "active" or Apostolic orders/congregations. These orders and congregations are active in the world, serving others in a variety of activities/apostolates. Women who belong to this type of a religious community are called sisters and the men are called brothers unless they are ordained priests.
How Do the Religious Differ?
Each religious order or congregation has its own special charism which forms its identity and mission. The charism envisioned by the founder or foundress is the motivating spirit that is the heart of the religious order or congregation. Some orders and congregations focus on serving the poor, such as the Franciscans. Others, such as the Dominicans, are preachers and teachers. Due to the variety of charisms, each religious order or congregation has a unique identity, mission, spirituality, and set of guidelines for living.
What Are the Vows?
Those who join religious orders and congregations take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They vow to share all their goods in common, not to marry and to obey their religious Superior. Contrary to popular thought these vows are actually quite liberating. They allow the religious sister, brother or priest to remain free to love and serve God and the Church with an undivided heart by putting all of their energy into prayer and the ministry of their order or congregation.
What Is the Process for Becoming a Religious?
After acceptance an individual enters the first step, called candidacy or postulancy. This period gives the candidate/postulant a chance to get to know the community. There is no set length of time for this period. The next step is the novitiate, which lasts between 1-2 years. This period allows the novice to learn more about the charism of the community through instruction, by participating in community life and apostolic service. At the end of this period, the novice makes first/temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience which are renewed on a yearly basis. During the period of temporary vows, a religious sister or brother continues their education in preparation for future ministry within their order/congregation. After having determined, over a period of at least 3 years, that the religious community is a right fit for them, a religious sister or brother becomes a full-fledged member of their community by making final/permanent vows. The entire process can take between 7-10 years.