Community is the key

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Image: Several Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Two years ago I started living with the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart. In my life B.C. (before community), I could only speculate on what this experience would be like. In fact, I had only a vague notion that community was important. I felt drawn to religious life for several reasons, one of the biggest being my desire to live with other women united in prayer and purpose. The united part mattered a lot. Our prayer and purpose spring from community.

When I was knee-deep in the application process (a dizzying array of interviews, a medical exam, recommendations, and written materials), my best friend asked me why I needed to enter a religious community in order to live a life of faith and service. She wondered why I couldn’t simply pray and minister to people while living on my own like a “normal” person. At the time, I couldn’t come up with an adequate explanation. Both during the application process and after acceptance, people were quite curious about my choice. Upon telling people that I was entering the convent, I was greeted with looks that said, “She must be nuts” or “She must be a saint.”

KP duty: Preparing and cleaning up after meals can be a challenge. We try, but rarely succeed, in staying out of each other’s way.
KP duty: Preparing and cleaning up after meals can be a challenge. We try, but rarely succeed, in staying out of each other’s way.
Actually, neither is true, and I found their puzzlement frustrating. For some, no amount of explaining could satisfy them.

Shortly after I moved in with the community, I shared some of the reasons I felt called to religious life. Instead of skepticism and confusion, the sisters responded to my words with knowing nods. Then the revelation hit: They get it. Their response was not surprising. Rather, it was the contrast between the reaction of my sisters and everyone else that was striking. I realized I couldn’t begin to try living this kind of life without being surrounded by those to whom this life makes sense. Community is the key.

Not to imply that community life is perfect. At 29, I had hoped I was experienced enough to understand that community is not synonymous with utopia. I tried to expect the best and prepare for the worst, just in case. Though community is not perfect, I have seen and been a part of many of the joys that living in community can bring. I was fortunate to move into a household of four sisters, ages 30 to 84. The four of them were very supportive during those fuzzy first weeks when I knew I had that deer-in-the-headlights look.

Though I had lived with my parents and brothers, a college roommate, and a cat, moving in with four other women was . . . interesting. Yes, that’s a good word: interesting. Five of us in the kitchen preparing Sunday dinner or cleaning up after supper is quite interesting. Our choreography needs some work. We try, but rarely succeed, in staying out of the others’ way.

Living with people accelerates the process of getting to know them. As the months went on, I learned their preferences and, more important at times, their quirks. My perhaps unrealistic goal was to slip quietly into the household and be as unobtrusive as possible. I knew I couldn’t avoid some ripples, but I didn’t want to make waves. I think we all adjusted rather well.

A sense of humor is essential. We laugh a lot in this house. If everyone is in the right frame of mind, all it takes is one errant syllable during evening prayer to start us giggling. Also, joking and teasing with each other is a community pastime.

Community is designed—among other reasons—to fulfill the needs of its members. I needed tangible signs of love and acceptance, especially in those first few months. Fortunately, Franciscans are hug people, and a warm embrace is a very tangible sign of community. On a deeper level, I was drawn to this particular community because of its joy. Community is the love the sisters have for each other. It’s a shoulder to cry on. It’s coming together to pray. It’s sharing our faith, knowing that whatever diverse tasks we perform, we do them for God and God’s people. It is taking an interest in each other’s lives, asking questions, and listening to the answers. It’s seeing the inherent value of every member. It’s being both comforter and comforted. It is learning how to balance the needs of others with my own. It is working through hurt. It is being forgiving and forgiven.

My journey into community has just begun, and I realize that my views of community and religious life will change and evolve. However, what I’ve experienced so far makes me want to see where this journey will take me. It is only the beginning.

Sr. Gayle Rusbasan O.S.F.
Sr. Gayle Rusbasan O.S.F., is a Campus Minister Assistant at the University of St. Francis. She is a Franciscan sister of the Sacred Heart.




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