By Colleen Rowan
“I felt this tugging at my heart and felt God saying, ‘This could be you,’” 20-year-old Sarah Riffon of Morgantown said as she recalled the moment she knew she was called to religious life.
That was five years ago when she was 15 years old on retreat in Nebraska. On July 21, Sarah will answer God’s call as she enters pre-candidacy for the Franciscan Sisters, Third Order Regular, of Penance of the Sorrowful Mother in Toronto, Ohio. The second youngest of four children of Tom and Tracy Riffon and a member of St. John University Parish in Morgantown, Sarah cannot wait to begin her life in service of the Lord.
It was their charismatic ministry that drew her to the Franciscan sisters, Sarah said. Semi-cloistered, the sisters spend half of the day in prayer and half in ministry. They begin each day with adoration and end it with night prayer. “They are very young, very vibrant and they are very charismatic, which is how I grew up,” Sarah said. The average age of the sisters in the order, she said, is 32.
As she reflected on her vocation, she said that the most important thing when finding what one is called to be is having a personal relationship with Christ. “Especially when you’re young,” she said, “you’re going through so much and daunted with the question ‘Who am I?’ … and when you find that personal relationship with Christ you realize, ‘This is who I am; this is who I am called to be.’”
To young people her age who may feel the call to religious life or other vocations such as marriage, she encourages them to embrace their calling, to open themselves up to God and not to be afraid to answer his call. No matter what God is calling you to do, she said, he will be there and he loves you. “Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and fixed in his gaze,” she said. “Our lady … will be there with you, and her goal is to lead children to her son. When you give yourself totally to Christ, that’s when life starts opening up.” This is when one feels free and open to answer God’s call, she said.
As Sarah shared her decision to become as Franciscan sister with her family, she said it was difficult for them at first. “They have to take on part of the vows you are taking,” she said. “When I take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, there is a part of my family that has to take that on as well. They have to take on the sacrifices of not seeing me as often. … As it sunk in, there was a happiness, and peace and a realization that this is a beautiful thing.”
“It was difficult at first,” Tracy said, knowing that she would not see Sarah but a few times a year, not being able to e-mail or call. She visited the convent with her daughter, with reservations and doubts about her decision. However, once there, she felt “peace and joy. … I knew this was where God wanted her,” Tracy said.
Through her formation with the Franciscan sisters, Sarah will spend three weeks in pre-candidacy, one year of candidacy, one year as a postulant, two years of novitiate, three to five years as a junior sister and then take solemn vows. The first four years are formation, she said, which will prepare her for ministry outside of the convent.