I have the good fortune of working in a building with a lot of nuns — both those who wear the habit, and those who don’t.  I can always tell when I’m around a sister who isn’t in a habit.  Oh, she may look like anyone else.  But there’s something different.  There’s something in the way she stands, the simple but sensible clothes, the impeccable grooming and sturdy, upright posture that just says “I’m a bride of Christ.”  When one of these women steps on the elevator, I instinctively find myself standing straighter, patting down the cowlick in the back of my head and silently worrying if I remembered to zip my fly.

So I was pleased to see Elizabeth Scalia tackle the habit issue over at her joint, bouncing off this interesting piece by David Gibson on “traditional” sisters. Elizabeth makes some thoughtful points:

Within the church the subject of nuns and sisters, and who are the “authentic” ones, can get people screaming at each other from the rafters like almost nothing else. You can see it in the comments thread of Gibson’s piece and in pretty much any online piece discussing nuns. There are some who insist that the only “real” nun is a habit-wearing one, and others who argue that the “real” sisters are the ones who have shed the habit and taken on a full engagement with the world, times and trends.

Personally, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle — that the authentic religious life must have within it elements of commonality, prayerfulness and contemplation in order to foster strength within the community, but must also be attuned to (as opposed to “in-tune” with) the times, if a group is to render clear-headed service to the church.

Putting monastic orders aside, because monasticism is very different from the apostolic religious life, it’s worth thinking back, in a very general way, to how most (not all) female religious orders were formed and how their communities developed spiritually and socially.

She does a great job of looking at the history and traditions surrounding a couple of orders in particular, and deftly debunks the idea that the only “authentic” sister is one wearing a veil and long flannel skirt.  Read the rest. 

Things aren’t as simple as black-and-white (or brown-and-beige, depending on your order…)

Meantime, Raymond Arroyo was on CNN the other night, discussing the Dolan-at-GOP-convention story, and when the anchor suggested the Democrats might invite a nun to speak at their convention, Arroyo replied, eyebrows arching heavenward, “If so, hope it’s someone with a habit.  We expect our nuns to have habits!”

And so it goes.

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