What's the difference between nuns and sisters?
Technically, nuns are cloistered (they never leave their convent or monastery) and religious sisters are active. They all live a life consecrated to God and profess the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience; some orders profess an additional vow or two that is specific to their order.
What is consecrated life?
The word “consecrated” means set apart solely for God.
The word “life” refers to the person’s state of life, their status in the church, which ultimately defines what responsibilities and rights apply to them.
Therefore a person who is considered to be living the “consecrated life” is someone who, living in a stable state of life recognized by the Church, has dedicated their whole life to God in imitation of Christ through the public profession of the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience.
What are the Evangelical Counsels?
In Poverty, consecrated persons live a radical dependence on Christ for their material needs. In Chastity, consecrated persons give witness to their special and unique bond with Jesus Christ. In Obedience, consecrated persons sacrifice their own will to become God’s instruments in the world.
“The Consecrated 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" in the midst of 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.” - Vita Consecrata #1
How do I know if religious life is for me?
Just as a couple discerning marriage spends time getting to know each other and determining whether or not their lives “fit” together, discerning the religious life requires that you get to know some communities to discover whether or not you “fit.”
Here are five questions you can ask yourself to help progress along the path of discerning God’s plan for you.
Am I drawn to live religious family life with this particular community?
The term community usually refers to a particular group of religious who reside and work together as a family. As you interact with the religious sisters of a community, ask yourself if you feel drawn to live this community family life with them.
What do they do?
The apostolate is the mission of the community. It is the work it has been “sent” to do to share in the mission of Christ in the world. Is it concerned with basic physical needs like food, shelter, or healing? Is it more spiritual or intellectual, like teaching or preaching, counseling, or liturgy? Is it more hidden, such as prayer or penance for the conversion of the world or reparations for sins?
Whatever the apostolate, is it something in which God has instilled in you an interest?
How do they live?
Every religious community has a rule of life, which governs every aspect of community life, from their habit, spirituality, apostolate, even how meals should be taken and how the members interact with one another.
Where do they come from?
What is the history of the order? Who are the founders? Are there any saints from the order? Inspirational members who’ve lived the rule of life perfectly offer the community examples to emulate and pray to, as well as give them direction, both personally and as a community, from the examples of their lives.
Who are they?
This is the ultimate question to ask, and it is answered with their charism, the way in which a particular order witnesses Christ and shares in His mission, at a particular time and in a particular culture.
In a general sense, a charism is a gift from God which helps build up the Church. For religious communities, the charism is the soul of the community, that which gives it purpose and motivation, and animates its action. Just as each person is distinct and can be identified by his personality, a religious community is identified by its charism.
The Next Step
As you get to know different communities and answer these questions about them, the most important question for anyone discerning a religious vocation is this: Who has God created me to be?
Spending time with God gives Him the chance to reveal this to you. You should also spend time with religious communities to see if you “fit”: visit them, experience their spirituality, their community life, and their apostolate. Learn more about some nearby religious orders, and contact them as a means of continuing the process.