Monday, June 18, 2012

The Religious Family

As you may already know, I am a young Catholic woman who has been discerning a vocation to the religious life for a number of years.  I have looked into countless communities, contacted upwards fifty of them, and become close to three.  I have studied their Rules, their community life, their habits, their charism, their apostolate.  I am only a lowly discerner and have never joined, but I know quite a bit about nuns.  And I like them.  A lot. 

As of late, the goodness of nuns has been much praised in the news.  People all over the internet are exclaiming over the experiences they had with wonderful teaching Sisters.  The speak of how Sisters are women of God, and are doing good, and are just trying to be holy followers of Jesus.  I would be very pleased and touched to hear all of this and see all of this support.  However, after reading only a few comments and articles, I realized very quickly that there is an itty bitty problem:  none of these Sister-Praisers even know what a nun is!

“Strike ladies, just strike.  Tell the men in the church to **** themselves”

“Keep doing Christ’s work ladies, let the Pope and his corrupt power driven staff play politics by themselves…”

“the Vatican and the bishops want to rein in the various women’s religious communities?  Good luck, boys! you are up against some of the freest spirits and thinkers in the church. your battle is lost befoe it has begun.”

I have always liked the religious life and have always been open to a religious vocation.  I first became interested in the idea of living in a community, and after a bit of research eventually became attracted to certain apostolates, certain charisms, and the idea of being a Bride of Christ.  I fell very much in love with nuns, all by their feminine selves.  However, despite my interest and attraction I made no move to actively discern or to in any way claim this vocation for myself.  This inactivity continued for three years.  What finally changed my mind?  What transformed mere attraction to longing?  What turned interest into wanting?  No, it was not some new information as to Orders.  It was not some discovery about women.  It was not even the stirring speech my Spiritual Director gave on needing to join to truly discern (though that was a part of it).  What really made me want to claim the “sisterhood” was the priesthood.

I was on a trip with my Spiritual Director, a seminarian, and a youth group.  We were going on a week-long road trip, the primary focus of which was a youth conference.  However, on the way, we stopped to see several religious communities and visit with the Sisters.  One of these Orders was the Nashville Dominicans.  We spoke with them, were given a tour of their convent, and even went to Vespers with them.  It was very beautiful and after it was all over I climbed into the van still wondering at the splendor and peace I felt there.  Then the seminarian with us said from the front seat, “Seeing all those Sisters…it gives me strength.”  He said it to himself, but his tone and his words struck me more than all the beauty and even the Sisters themselves. 

I admired that seminarian (now Father) very much.  I admire my Spiritual Director.  In fact, I know a lot of priests and most of my friends are seminarians, and I admire them all.  Why would I not?  Priests give so much.  They wake up at all hours of the night to bring the Sacraments and comfort to the dying.  They pour hours and years and their health into forming loving, charitable, faith-filled communities out of recalcitrant parishes of self-absorbed and change-despising old people.  They put immeasurable amounts of effort and care into involving apathetic teenagers and teaching those poor, wandering souls what Love is.  And then, inevitably, not uncommonly at a very bad time, they are torn away.  All of the relationships they established and the progress they made are taken away from them and given to someone else as they are shuffled around the diocese from parish to parish.  The whole process begins again, and again, and again, repeating itself in six-or-so-year cycles.  I can only imagine how frustrating it must be; I have seen how lonely it is.  They give so much, they sacrifice so much, and they get so little in return.

When I heard that seminarian say with such feeling, such emotion, that those Nashville Dominicans give him strength…I wanted that.  I wanted to be one of those women who lend priests strength.  I wanted to serve those who serve.  I wanted to be a Clare for Francis.  That was all.  That was what made me want religious life. 

This is not a strange reason to be attracted.  It is quite natural, evident in the very words we use to describe the people involved.  Anyone who knows a crumb about the Catholic Church is well aware that she—while being the sum total of her members, and all together the Body of Christ and His family—has also a sort of “family-within-a-family”.  Father, Brother, Sister, and Mother are very common terms in the Catholic Church, not only on a mundane and physical level, but also in a spiritual sense.  These special men and women devote their entire lives and give their very souls to Christ and His Church, and in doing so form a sort of spiritual family of their own.  Commenters such as the above wish to divorce this family; what they do not understand is that in doing so they would destroy exactly what they claim to defend. 
How can one be a Sister if they do not have a Brother?  How can one be a Mother if there is no Father?  These titles we call our religious by reveal a deeper truth about their vocation: they do not stand alone.  These selfless people are not defined by themselves but find their identity in the other.  To advocate their separation is equal to an act of violence upon a very real family; to shout eagerly “away with the bishops and the Pope; the sisters are the conscience of the church!” is paramount to wishing away the sibling of a sister or brother. 

“You go ladies!! The days of follow the leader are over, especially when the leadership is exclusively comprised of only one gender.”

When people speak like this, I have no idea what they are talking about.  They certainly aren’t speaking of nuns, since sisters would be nothing without priests and the Church.  I can only conclude that they do not know of that which they speak.  Or perhaps they hate religious sisters AND the Vatican, and wish to bring about the destruction of both.  Either way, it offends me greatly for it threatens a family I have long cherished.

As for the Sisters of the LCWR themselves…if the comments attributed to them are true…I feel sorry for them.  I do not know how or why, but they have forgotten who and what they are.  How very sad it is to see women who have given their lives forget what they gave it for!  To see a Sister who remembers not her Brother, a Mother who doesn’t recall the Father of her children, makes me cry.  To know that a woman calls herself a nun, places herself in name at the core of the Church, and then would defy and deny that Church…I really have no words.  I just hope and pray that the reform the Vatican is implementing for the LCWR will cure these sisters of their amnesia. 

 As for me…when it comes to religious life, I do not want to be a woman.  I want to be a daughter to a loving Father.  I do not want to be a single sibling; I want to be a sister.  I do not want to be an old maid; I want to be a mother.  I do not want to marry feminism; I want to marry Christ and serve His Church, and without priests there is no Church.  To call myself a sister without these would make no sense.  I would not be a Sister. 

“Thank God, I mean that literally, your thinking is dying out, as the old right-wingers of Catholicism make their final gasps.”

There are no poles in this issue; you either stand with the Church, or against her.  I do not want your substitute, your broken family, your amnesiac mothers and sisters.  I, along with countless other young Catholic women, want the Church and we want Francis.  I’d be proud to be one of the many, many reasons the CMSWR is growing.

If you want to see some Sisters who know who they are, visit this website: CMSWR
If you want to see how Brothers care for their Sisters, go HERE
And if you want to know more about the Nashville Dominicans, visit their WEBSITE
Please pray for our priests, and those who support them.  They are Fathers as surely as those you celebrated with yesterday!


  1. This beautifully written, especially how you are discerning your call to give strength to our priests. God bless you!