Nuns and Sisters: To Inhabit the Habit, or Not?

The old-fashioned habit that was worn by women religious for several hundred years is a romantic garb.

It is, in its own way, more high fashion than anything coming out of Paris, Italy or New York today. It harkens back to the days when Europe was going through a prolonged cold streak, when buildings where the common folk lived went mostly unheated.The habit began as the fashion of the day and, as time moved onward and the fashions of the days changed, it became an icon of religious identity for the women who wore it and those who saw them.

The habit meant something rather grand, speaking as it did of the mysteries of the sealed-off world of the convent and lives lived according to vows of lifetime commitment to Christ and His Church. The habit, when worn by Ingrid Bergman or Audrey Hepburn, was not only living religious icon, and high fashion; it was high Hollywood, as well.

No wonder the laity longs to see its return and many young girls like to wear it. But given that it is bound to be a rather uncomfortable and hot dress for today’s climate and an altogether unwieldy one for much of today’s work, no wonder so many other nuns were only too happy to shed it.

Fifty years on in this experiment of habit-less nuns and sisters, the question remains: To inhabit the habit, or not? Should nuns and sisters wear this garb as it always has been, or should they wear a modified version of it, or, should they abandon it altogether?

I am not a nun or a sister. I don’t, as we say here in Oklahoma, have a dog in this fight.

What I want from sisters and nuns is the same thing I want from priests: Authenticity of purpose and fidelity to Jesus.

I do think that it serves an important purpose for God’s vowed ones to be identifiable in public. Priests wear the collar. But they don’t wear it on the basketball court or the swimming pool. They take it off to go out for dinner with their friends and family.

From what I’ve seen, sisters and nuns try to wear their habits at all times, even when they are engaged in physical enterprises which make it clumsy or even dangerous. I think that is kind of extreme.

Maybe the question should be more along the lines of what should nuns who are active in the world wear for a habit, rather than if they should dress like civilians. As I said, this isn’t my fight. The only reason I’m writing about it is because I see a crying need for sisters who will engage in ministries such as human trafficking, prostitution, and other crimes of violence against women. 

The truth is, many of the women who escape from these things are unable to relate to any man in a healthy way, and that includes priests. They are deeply wounded, maimed even, on a spiritual and emotional level. They need people of God to work with them, and it would be very helpful if at least some of these people had the authority of religious vows.

It can’t be men; not in the early stages. It has to be women. That, to me, means sisters. The reason I bring up the habit is that I can see that a full-bore, head-to-toe habit might be a barrier between a sister and the people they are ministering to. Victims of this kind of terrible violence have enough survival barriers they’ve created inside themselves without adding more with something like the clothing you wear.

To me — and I’m going to say for the third time that I’m out of my depth here — but to me the question about whether or not to wear a habit should revolve around what purpose it serves. I think women religious should wear something that is uniform to their calling and that distinguishes them from the laity. But I also think that transporting middle ages fashion to the 21st century may not always be the best way to go.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to wear this type of habit. It’s fine. But for certain kinds of ministry, it would interfere with the sister’s ability to minister. On the other hand, dressing like just anybody who walked in off the street would hamper that ministry, as well.

I mentioned the collar and black and white clothes that priests wear because I think they are a good solution. It is a distinctive and uniform look that anyone who sees it recognizes as clerical garb. At the same time, it does not inhibit a priest’s ability to walk, run, sit or drive a car. Priests even wear short-sleeved shirts in summer, which seems kinder than wearing a full habit to me.

Priests also take their clericals off when they want to play golf or go jogging. They even take them off for private social occasions.

Why can’t sisters and nuns exercise the same common sense in their clothing?

I’ve read that the orders which use the full habit are growing while those that don’t wear a habit are declining. I don’t know if that has to do with the habit or with the spiritual practices and mission of these orders or what. I would like to think that young women are joining religious orders for much more important reasons that what habit they wear.

As I said, my interest in this comes from what I see as a crying need to have women religious in certain ministries. The lack of women religious to help in the fight against violence against women is a sadness to me. I know that they could make a profound difference for the good, but there are not women religious to do this work, at least none that I know of.

This is a rambling post that goes off in several directions and doesn’t come around to any conclusion. That’s because I’m thinking this through as I type.

What do you think about all this?

Also, do you know of an order of sisters who might be interested in the kind of work I’m talking about?

The Church needs nuns and sisters. It has to have them to do the work of evangelization that it has set for itself.

Where are all the good people dead: In the Heart, or In the Head?

Here are the facts.

  • Fifteen year old girl attends a party in one of the elite zip codes in this country.
  • She drinks. Maybe she drinks too much. Maybe her drink was doctored.
  • What is certain is that she was raped by boys she thought were her friends.
  • The boys put graphic photos of the rape on the internet.
  • The girl hanged herself.

I have had to deal twice with situations like this in my job as a representative. One was a girl who killed herself after a gang rape by five men who took photos and showed them around, including to the police. When the police told the girl there were photos, she went home, got in the bathtub and killed herself with a shotgun blast to the face.

The other girl tried to kill herself. After four days in critical care, she survived.

I’m going to post an excerpt of an article about the little girl who hung herself. I want to talk about the attitudes that show through this article. I have no grievance with the person who wrote it. They’ve just fallen into our societal trap of cleaning up what should be faced and excusing that for which there is no excuse.

The article begins by saying that 15-year-old Audrie got drunk at a party and when she woke up, concluded that she had been “sexually abused.” Let’s get our terminology straight. She concluded, probably due to some grisly physical evidence, that she’d been raped.

Remember that word: Rape. It’s ugly and people don’t like it. But the word isn’t the real ugliness. The ugliness is living in a society where 15-year-old girls can be treated like this and then suffer the further indignity of having reporters try to clean the horror up for the perps with the use of “soft” expressions like “sexual abuse” to describe what happened.

These upstanding young men posted “graphic” photos of their rape of their friend on Facebook. After Audrie saw the photos on the internet, and endured the mockery of emails and texts circulating about what had been done to her, eight days after she was raped, she hung herself.

According to our reporter, “the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.”

Is that what’s this “case” is about? “Sexual abuse” and “callous” use of technology? 

If we accept this kind of bland obfuscation of the brutal rape and murder by suicide of this young girl as a problem with technology and “cyber-bullying,” we need to burn our Member of the Human Race Card and go sit in the corner with the trolls and monsters of our deepest darkness.

To paraphrase a line from the movie Grosse Point Blank, where are all the good people dead:  In the heart, or in the head? 

Let’s get one thing clear: I don’t talk about misunderstood mass murderers and rapists who are otherwise such good people on this blog. You won’t see sweet-face lists of these young men’s accomplishments and wonderment about “how could such fine boys do this?” You’ll not read a word of sympathy and grief if they get sent to the prison where they belong, no matter how much they cry for themselves when they are sentenced.

They were without pity for Audrie. I don’t care if they bawl their eyes out for themselves. I hope they spend the rest of their lives in jail. I don’t think they should ever breathe another free breath again.

If you do something like this, then I put you in the monster column. The only way to get off that column is to manifest extreme remorse and humble grief for what you have done, coupled with a willingness to admit that you have in fact done it and that you are willing to do anything it takes to make up for it and to change. Even then, I want the proof of a changed life, and I mean a really changed life.

Nice people do not rape their friends. They do not — ever — treat other people like things. They do not take photos of their raping and then post them on the internet, along with sending emails and texts to taunt, degrade and destroy their “friend” socially. What these men did to this girl, the rape, was physical torture. What they did later was emotional torture. What this young girl faced was social death.

People who treat other people like this are monsters. They will remain monsters so long as they continue to excuse, defend and deny the utter depravity and sub-human cruelty of what they have allowed themselves to become.

From The Washington Post:

SARATOGA, Calif. — Fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott passed out drunk at a friend’s house, woke up and concluded she had been sexually abused.

In the days that followed, she was shocked to see an explicit photo of herself circulating among her classmates along with emails and text messages about the episode. And she was horrified to discover that her attackers were three of her friends, her family’s lawyer says.

Eight days after the party, she hanged herself.

“She pieced together with emails and texts who had done this to her. They were her friends. Her friends!” said family attorney Robert Allard. “That was the worst”

On Thursday, sheriff’s officials arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, who committed suicide in September.

The arrests and the details that came spilling out shocked many in this prosperous Silicon Valley suburb of 30,000. And together with two other episodes recently in the news — a suicide in Canada and a rape in Steubenville, Ohio — the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.

“The problem with digital technologies is they can expand the harm that people suffer greatly,” said Nancy Willard, an Oregon-based cyberbullying expert and creator of a prevention program for schools.

Santa Clara County sheriff’s officials would not give any details on the circumstances around Audrie’s suicide. But Allard said Audrie had been drinking at a sleepover at a friend’s house, passed out and “woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable.” She knew she had been assaulted, he said.

She soon found an abundance of material online about that night, including a picture. (Read the rest here.)

What if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”


What would the world look like today if Jesus had said yes to Satan?

What if, when Satan offered Our Lord all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus had said yes?

What if, like the Saturday Night Live skit, dJesus, Our Savior had used his powers to force people to bend their knee to Him?

These questions strike to the heart of other questions. Why does God allow people to rape, torture and murder innocent children? Why would He allow cancer? Why doesn’t He stop us from harming one another so viciously?

Why, in short, does He tolerate a creation that rejects Him and what He has taught us to do and so often goes in the opposite and entirely cruel and destructive direction?

If He is God, why does He allow so much suffering?

I have heard people say things like this when they were in the extremities of pain and loss. Their question was not so much an accusation as it was a kind of prayer, a cry from the depths.

On the other hand, it has become fashionable in certain circles for privileged people to ask questions like these as a method of self-justification or simply as a way to attack faith. This  nonsense of blaming God for our sins is becoming an increasingly accepted way to brush aside personal responsibility for our actions. Instead of acknowledging what we have done wrong, we point out that someone else is doing just as bad or worse.

Who better to blame for all the sins of humanity than a God who has the power to stop us from harming one another and will not do it? So, the fashion of the day is misplaced blame. We hold God accountable for human depravity.

But what would happen if God stopped us from sinning? What would have happened if Jesus had been the kind of conquering messiah the Jewish people wanted? What, in short, would happen if God was more like us?

I am the first to admit that if I was God every rapist and child batterer on this planet would be a pile of ash. Poof! And they would be on their slimy way to hell.

But God doesn’t operate that way, even when we wish He would.

He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. 

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

Jesus said “No” to Satan’s offer of worldly power. He turned His back on the temptation to use His power for Himself, even for something as simple as turning stone to bread to eat when He was hungry. He said no to all of it, and by doing that took the first steps to the cross.

Our eternal salvation began with that series of “nos” to the prince of darkness and his tempting offers to make right with might.

The truth is that even when God directs us, he always leaves us the choice of saying no to Him. He sets before us life and death, and then He lets us chose. He gives us a radical type of freedom that allows us to literally do our worst, including mocking, criticizing and attacking Him.

When Jesus said no to the control of earthly kingdoms, He was also saying no to the use of force to convert us.

God’s Kingdom is made of free people who freely chose to follow Him. The narrow way is narrow precisely because so many people would rather go the way of power and license, of selfishness and greed rather than give themselves to a Lord Who chose suffering and death over all earthly power.

Why the cross? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross; beaten, tortured, mocked, naked and humiliated? Why was this necessary to save us? Why didn’t He just reach out and save us with a magical touch?

From the beginnings of Christianity to now the cross has been a scandal. It is the subject of mockery from today’s evangelical atheists just as it was the subject of mockery by the Romans. The Romans saw the cross as ignoble. It was shameful, a disgrace, to die in such a manner; proof that the person who suffered it was from the scum classes of society and essentially worthless. The idea that Christians claimed such a victim as their god was, to them, ludicrous.

Today’s atheists are not so class conscious. They hang their critiques on a distaste for the whole affair. They sneer at the bloodshed and suffering and rebuke Christians for what they claim is a morbid worship of death.

But in truth the cross was the greatest gift of love ever given to humankind. The cross was not the only way God could have saved us. But it was the only way He could have done it and left us free.

Frank Weathers, who blogs at Why I Am Catholic, published an interesting post a few days ago. He commented on the Saturday Night Live skit, DJesus, that mocked our Lord by casting him as a violent, vengeful killer who wreaked havoc on everyone who ever crossed Him. Frank raised the question, “What would things be like if Jesus had been this vengeful god the skit portrayed?”

I think another way to ask that question is, What would things be like if Jesus had said yes to Satan in the wilderness?

The answer is probably along the lines of Jesus as He is portrayed in the SNL skit, only much worse than anything we can imagine. People of the first century were accustomed to gods who hungered for power — over each other, and over human beings. Humanity had long worshiped various deities who craved death and demanded that their followers slaughter their children, captives and other helpless ones as sacrifices to them.

How is that so different from our current culture of abortion, euthanasia and meaningless wars? St Augustine said these early gods were in fact demons. If he was right, then it appears these same demons are working through people today. They have not changed their tactics. They have only changed their names and their arguments.

God doesn’t allow suffering. He allows us our freedom and we cause the suffering. God doesn’t rape and torture. He doesn’t send drones, tell lies and ignore the elderly, sick, poor and helpless in our midst. We do that.

What God does is allow us to choose who we will serve. Jesus was born in a stable and died on a cross to open a path to salvation and eternal life for us. He suffered all this because by suffering it  He could both redeem us and leave us free to reject the redemption He offered.

God lets us chose. He sets before us life and death and then He lets us chose. That is the way things are because on that day so long ago, Jesus made His own choice. He said “no” to satan and turned His face to the path that led Him to the cross.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X