Have you ever walked down the street and noticed a policeman, fireman, doctor, or even a priest? You probably noticed them because of what they were wearing. What I find most disheartening is what you TYPICALLY don’t see while walking on the streets are habited nuns. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some nuns roaming about, however, you would never know. I thought nuns, like priests, are supposed to be a visual representation to the world, show they are married to the Church, and are giving up their life to serve it. It marks their life as a living witness and shows their detachment from vanity and greed. I, along with many others, believe that nuns should wear the full habit.
A while back, at the recommendation of my parish priest, I went on a “Where Are You Going” retreat that the diocese was putting on. The retreat was up at the seminary and I felt very uncertain about going, as this would be a step in the right direction for discernment of a religious vocation. I still went, afraid as I was, and put myself into the unknown. While there, we had the chance to talk to some of the sisters, habited and non-habited. Sitting down at the table, I chatted with some non-habited nuns. They told me they were Dominicans I was excited and let them know that I would be heading off to Nashville to visit the Dominicans there. (The Nashville Dominicans are a habited order.) Once I opened my mouth they got up from the table and vanished. My reaction was one of dismay and hurt. Are you kidding me, because I mentioned the name of another order that wore habits I was unworthy of their attention?
After they vanished, I wanted to run and start questioning them. What made them not want to wear the habit? Were they ashamed? Did they think they were giving up too much of themselves? If so, I guess they didn’t realize what it meant have a religious vocation. I believe if you had this type of vocation you would take pride in the spirit of your order and what you have been called to do and want to make that known to the world. Wearing the habit is a sacrifice, to be recognized as a spouse of Christ, to be connected to tradition, to humility, and to a life centered on Christ.
I had a friend that just received the habit from The Sisters of Life. She had sent a letter and told me about receiving the habit and her experience wearing it. She said receiving the habit was one of the best moments of her life. She exclaimed how beautiful and how much deeper she was drawn into Christ’s warm embrace. AMAZING!! She said the first time she wore the habit while in the Bronx, where her order is located; she received some of the weirdest stares. At first she mentioned that it was a bit uncomfortable, she was not sure how to even move in it and of course it made daily work much different. But what I gathered from her letter was that she embraced the habitat as a new piece of her, a visual piece that gave no questions about what she was doing with her life. She didn’t need to tell people what she believed or what she did; they could see it first hand.
I am a firm believer in the fact that part of the reason younger girls are not joining religious orders is that many of the orders are not wearing a habit. If you take a look at thriving orders, they are all wearing habits, they live in community, and have taken the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. At a time when the entire world is in chaos, young adult women are finding solace in these vows and in an order that upholds a tradition. Most of the new orders springing up do not have a common chrism, they do not live in community, and they do not wear a habit. It angers me when I hear that the Church traditions are not important to these new orders. I often wonder if they feel that by organizing a new order that is more lenient and to their liking they will bring in more vocations. If that is the case, what are they giving up, what does the act of laying ones live down for Christ mean to them? It apparently means little to nothing. Not that these orders aren’t doing good things and helping people, but this is not what an order should be, it should be sacrifice and discipline. Mary, Mother of the Eucharist is a newer order that has girls knocking down their doors to enter. They are a great order that is centered on their vows, wears a habit, lives in community, and cares greatly. However, if you know anything about their history, you will find that they branched off from the Nashville Dominicans who have been around for hundreds of years. This I believe is an exception to the rule of new orders. I feel there is much work to be done with newer orders examining their place in the world and if the Church is really calling for more orders to spring up instead of valuing the orders that we have now.
I hope and pray that with the new Bishop in the Cleveland diocese, he will reaffirm the tradition that the Church upholds and put some focus on women’s religious orders. There are a vast number of girls looking to answer God’s call and would like to stay in the Cleveland diocese, yet they feel they won’t find a home. Please pray for the increase of vocations for orders that are staying close to their roots of poverty, chastity, and obedience.