21 June 2006


I've been traveling blog-land today, after searching for "Tiber" amongst the blogs, because I wanted to read the thoughts of converts. Every time I get furious at the idiotic choices and empty words of Some Bishops and stomp off, I find myself exposed to Benedict XVI's amazingly clear, flowing exposition, and he draws me back. I'm fascinated, encouraged, admiring ... he is truly filling the role of pater for us. Anyway ... it makes me want to read others, to refresh my memory about how it was all those years ago.

Along the way, I found Musings of a Discerning Woman, a blog by a woman who's going to be a religious sister. God bless her and her order. But I read this, and it just kind of irked me:
One thing that has begun to just annoy me - and which I'm guessing I need to start getting used to - is the focus on one element of my future life as a woman religious. The # 1 question is not "how did you know God was calling you to be a Sister", or "what sort of ministry do you think you will do", or even "do people still do that", but rather different variations of the fashion question:

-Will you wear a habit?
-Will you wear a uniform?
-What will you wear?
-You won't be one of those pants wearing nuns will you? (yes … jeans even!)

Sometimes if I'm feeling generous I politely explain that my community is an active apostolic order and chooses to wear simple clothing like the people we work with (and that the traditional habits were once the simple dress of an earlier age). But the question persists, as do the strong opinions. I think it comes down to an odd mix of an American cultural obsession with the habited nun (after all you can buy nun salt & paper shakers and fire-breathing-nun-themed toys) with a desire to know who the nuns are by sight so they can be sure to be on their best behavior around them. And most of these folks are not Catholic, so maybe that's a factor too.

Note that she says, "my community chooses."
After Vatican II, lots of communities "chose" to do that (among other things).

A lot of communities folded.

I'm not saying that there isn't a time and place for donning street clothes in certain apostolates. But I would like religious to simply consider this: maybe people ask those questions because they want to see religious in habits. Maybe it means something to them. Maybe the desire to see distinctive garb was not magically removed from the human psyche by Vatican II. After all, brides still usually wear distinctive clothing. Police wear uniforms. Nurses have their uniforms, doctors white coats, even painters wear white. Goths wear black lipstick. Why would anyone have their lip pierced if they didn't want someone to see it because it meant something? Lawyers in offices which have adopted business casual for everyday are often advised to keep a full business suit hanging on the back of the door just in case they have to unexpectedly dash to court or meet with a similarly-dressed client. If it's court, the judge will wear robes. If dress doesn't matter, why are these things so?

Instead of the orders "choosing" or "deciding" how to dress ... wouldn't they seek to be led by the one they serve? What does he want them to wear? What will lead and reassure people, help them feel his whisper in their souls, awaken their yearning for mystery and the Love that makes people leave the ordinary choices of life for a life in which he makes the choices?

(Though I guess if one bristles at the notion of a "he" wanting anyone to do anything, the question is moot.)

Just wondering.

Oh, and about that pesky spirit of Vatican Two stuff ... you know, where it was mandated, or permitted, or suggested that religious abandon their habits ... sorry, didn't happen. Pope Paul VI said this: "17. The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved. The habits of both men and women religious which do not conform to these norms must be changed." (Quoted at domestic-church.com.)

Since I'm obviously "for" religious habits for the active apostolates, here are some of my favorites.

Of course, it's probably just coincidental that these orders are being overrun with applicants...


vicki said...

Well, I have little to sy about the habits of nuns. I do know from experience that I have referred women on the edge to the Sisters of Mary here in Ann Arbor where they over free respite and rettreat. That's a stellar habit, yes?

I've been enjoying reading your blog over the past couple days (thank you for coming by and your kind comment). I love how you write and it reads more like a journal- that's nice. It feels as though it's written more for you.

The first time I dropped in it put me in mind of my favorite: Ps 84, 3-12. The image of "even the sparrow has found a place" is one I hold onto at many levels.

Lorna said...

hi :)

haven't been here for a while and I know I promised an answer to something ages ago ... but can't remember what it was now

My thoughts on this are ... when I was growing up I really thought the nuns at school were on wheels - they wore FLOOR length habits and I don't think it was necessary at all.

After Vatican II the habits were phased out - and replaced by modest below knee skirts / tunics and shock horror some of the nuns revealed they actually had hair under their veils ... some even stopped wearing veils altogether.

But they didn't stop being nuns -and when out in the small town the convent was - they continued to behave with decorum.

You are right that nurses etc do have uniforms - though here in Europe not in the traditional sense (as they still do in Australia for example) - and we don't have school uniforms here either!- but I don't think the habit makes a nun.

some orders are dying out ... true ... but I think it's got more with women finding their vocations elsewhere in the community - serving God in different ways that perhaps weren't possible earlier. yet in the blogging world I read blogs of women (and men) who are considering taking up vows - so the pull of God is still there.

In the past in the UK - in history - the second son entered the clergy and if a suitable match couldn't be made for the daughters they were sent off to a nunnery. Hardly always a vocation. I'm glad we're not in those times anymore - and ppl are FREE to follow God in many ways now.

be blessed

Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Hmmmm.... Don't know what to say. Except that I know people have opinions on the habit versus simple dress issue. Hence my original post.

For the record, some sisters in my community (mostly older ones) do wear a habit. It is their choice and it is respected by the community.

Officially though we wear simple dress and our Peace Cross, the outward symbol of our community.

Peace to you.
Susan Rose