May 3; World Day of Prayer for Vocations & the Habit

The Benedictine Suscipe; “Accept me Lord, as Thou hast promised, and I shall truly live
A Benedictine of Mary makes her First Profession

I want to invite all the People of God to reflect on the theme: Faith in the divine initiative – the human response. The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: “Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really “have ever greater faith and hope in God’s providence” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer.
– Pope Benedict XVI, January, 2009

More photos at Kansas Catholic

On this Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us celebrate the slow-but-steady increases we are seeing in the priesthood and religious life. In covering the wary anticipation of some progressive sisters to an upcoming apostolic visitation of women’s communities in America (active, not cloistered), I wrote:

Religious Life for women in the United States will be defined in the next few decades by those orders that manage to thrive in a world where the values of chastity, humility, and obedience are misunderstood. What is “new” and “it” at this moment in history–younger women taking back the habit and the breviary (even as they establish a variety of ministries in preaching, in the streets, hospitals, schools, retreat houses, and elsewhere) and expressing fealty to Rome–is as counter-cultural and even radical as [these progressive] sisters used to be.

In the late 1970′s I heard a teaching sister say that the shedding of religious habits was a good thing, because it emphasized that sisters were “nothing special; that we are all special in God’s eyes.”

I recall thinking “that’s wrong reasoning,” but I didn’t understand why. Now, I do.

This sister gave an example: “when we were in our habits, a fellow with an Italian Ice barrow would always insist on giving us free ices, but why should he? Why shouldn’t we pay like anyone else? Why should we deprive him of his living because we were in a costume?”

Putting aside how unlikely it might be for an Italian Ice seller
to go broke because of a few free scoops of sugar-water, what is clear, now, is the sister’s horizontal and earthbound thinking, which had some breadth but neither height nor depth. As with the “horizontally-focused” masses and hymns that over-emphasize the human part of church, Sister was embracing the beam of the cross without considering that the vertical post is necessary if anyone is to be raised up.

The Horizontal beam is us; humanity and the world, necessarily reaching out toward each other. The Vertical post is our reaching up together from the earth to the heavens, to the Eternal. Also necessary. That’s the part Sister had forgotten.

Sister had a delusion;
she justified forsaking the habit with themes of solidarity, compassion and humility but in truth her story illustrated egoism and presumption. She bemoaned a possibility of cheating a man from his wages. In fact, she was cheating that man, but not in the way she imagined. She was cheating God, too.

The Ice-barrow man was not giving Sister a free ice because she wore a habit, but because a man who loved (or at least respected) God saw an opportunity to demonstrate that love in a small, simple way. Her habit gave silent witness to the community of faith, a reminder that there are people out there giving up everything for Christ and ultimately for us. Sister might say correctly that she was “nobody special.” but her habit identified her as one mysteriously espoused to the man-God wholly worthy of praise, honor and adoration; not she, not sister, but the Christ represented by what we used to call her “wedding clothes.”

The habit, in fact, was voluntarily undertaken as a means of self-effacement. It was paradoxically meant to make Sister, “nobody special” to the world; to obliterate her individuality and make her one of many, one part of the same body, one part of the collective hive, because religious life is socialism on a small-and-voluntary scale – which is the only way socialism can truly work. Taking off the habit may have helped sisters “celebrate their individuality,” and that is not a terrible thing, in and of itself; we are each fearfully, wonderfully made.

But the “ordinary” clothes also made the ordinary world more ordinary. Suddenly, there were no outward indications that anyone was praying at all, no reminders that we could and should pray, too. Suddenly, there was no one to make a man think of Jesus for a moment, and scoop up some frozen sugar-water.

The Italian Ice was for God, not for Sister. When she took off the habit, the Ice-man stopped noticing and responding to God at random moments in his day, and finding ways to say “thank you,” to Him.

Perhaps clearing an additional dollar a day, the Ice-man was substantially poorer, for it.

So, in the end, even with the best of intentions, Sister “Nobody Special,” in her need to feel fellow-kinship, humility and “unspecialness,” served her own satisfied ego, when it would have been much more humble of her simply to say “thank you” to a free cup of ice, given and accepted in the love of Christ.

Rather like Holy Communion.

She never cheated the man from his living. But she cheated God of a small devotion. She cheated a man of his chance to demonstrate that devotion. She cheated herself of the privilege of reminding the world -by her mere presence- that all creation is extraordinary and beloved. She cheated the rest of us, because we loved being reminded of that.

It meant we were each special, after all.

Habits are not necessary to the life of a religious; that is absolutely true. They may well be necessary for the life of the world.

Today, please whisper up a prayer or two, for more vocations to the priesthood, to religious life, and for strong marriages, rooted in the ideal of their vocations, as well. It all in a world gives Christ witness, in a world desperate to know there is love.

McNamara’s Blog notes the anniversary of the passing of the Mighty John Cardinal O’ Connor, who founded the Sisters of Life, and gave help, encouragement and room to the fledgling Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Dominican Missionaries for the Deaf, and others. A good fellow to invite into your vocational prayers.

Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George have Sr. M. Benedicta’s Vocation Story, Part I and Part II
Conversion Diary: From Agnosticism to the Priesthood Part I and Part II
Being Christ in the Streets
God’s Dupes? Gadzooks!
Lives Hidden and Suppressed
Ave Maria; The Human Touch
Vocations Flowering
Habits and Vows, Again
Pope Benedict on Monasticism
St. Catherine’s Sons & Daughters
Consecrated Virginity
Poor Clares; What a Waste of a Life!
Christian Exile
We Have a Pastor in Tim Dolan
The Future’s so Bright, they Gotta Upgrade
Monastic Goodies

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • expat

    Magnificent! One of your finest posts ever!

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  • joeh

    I worked in a local german bakery as a teenager. There were 100′s in our city at that time. I went in before school at about 5am. The bakers had already been there for 2-3 hours and when you walked in the aroma alone would add a few pounds. My job was to open the window vents and turn on the fans. The owner knew that this strong aroma which had been confined for hours would now go out into the neighborhoods and cusomers would be drawn into his store. Even if they had not been thinking about bakery goods that morning, the smell was there to draw them in and they came in droves. However, it was the taste that brought them back. The owner saw it like the Catholic Church. Catholics are called to be the windows and doors that let the aroma out, but it is the body and blood of Christ they taste that will keep them coming back. This was often used by the parish priest, one of the bakeries best customers. This was before Vatican II and before the big box bakeries finally drove out the small independents in each neighborhood. Vatican II was about opening wide the windows and doors to allow the full truth and majesty of the Cahtolic Church to go out into each neighborhood carried on the winds of the layity that loved their church. It had been bottled up waiting for release for a long time and the faith was now under attack from many quarters. The layity as soldiers for Christ were to go out as its aroma. These nuns with their habits and clear love of their spouse, Jesus Christ are what the Church thought would be released.

    Instead, we saw the petrid smells of the world brought into the heart of the church by those who did not believe, did not understand, or were not willing to defend with love and knowledge of the full truth of Christ. We had bishops, cardnials, and religious who seemed to have different agenda’s believing it was now their mission to change the truth and tradition of the church and seeing this as the purpose of opening the doors and windows.

    I am glad to see these convents filling with women who are in love with Christ and willing to be his bride, where the habit, and do so with such an amazing aroma. We see it too with many new JP II priests willing to give up everything and live a celbate life for God. We see it with some Catholic willing to go out into the world with force and at times a whip to rid the temple of the dissenters bent on brining putrid smells into the Catholic Church. They are called intolerant but if your family is under direct attack, tolerance is not what is needed, but a strong defense. And who can doubt that today our family, Jesus our brother, Mary our mother, and God our Father are being attacked. How about the attack on the scriptures and on the traditions of the Catholic Church? Some Catholics are trying to bring the murder of babies into our Church saying it is the right of a woman to choose to kill her baby and they are Catholics for Choice to do so. You can tell a tree by its fruit and the supporters of the party of abortion promote this holocaust. Before this, at about the time of Vatican II, this same party was voting in large numbers to continue their attack on the black race by trying to stop the civil rights act of 1965. Many Catholics had been trying to change that party from the party of slavery, lynching, and other terrorist acts on blacks. About the time they appeared to be making some headway with the black issue, the party took up the defense of killing babies which it maintains over 40 years and 50 million dead babies later. for many catholics who had hung with the democratic party for generations trying to change it, this became the last straw and Catholics in large numbers switched. How anyone can be for the putrid air of killing babies at the rate of 4000 a day as a party platform and think they can bring that into the Catholic Church windows and doors still amazes me to this day.

  • Maggie45

    Wow, God has given you a beautiful gift. Thank you for using it so well.

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