The Habit Witnesses to the Self!

A few weeks ago, I shared some thoughts about the value of religious wearing habits.

That brought a wonderful response from inspired by Sr. Lisa Doty who shared a moving story on her blog that eventually got adapted into a slightly smaller feature at Patheos, and it seemed like a series was born: The Habit of Witness.

This series is not meant to in any way denigrate the wonderful service to the church and to the world that so many sisters do so beautifully and meaningfully while dressed in ordinary clothes. But people are fascinated by habits, and the religious who wear them have some great stories to share, about how the outward sign of their consecration is used by the Holy Spirit. I hope to have a few friars and monks adding their two cents to the mix, soon.

In the meantime, read this lovely entry from Dominican Nun Sr. Mary Catharine of Jesus, from the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, in New Jersey. I was struck by the notion of the habit as both a daily gift and challenge to the nun wearing it, as it witnesses to her, too:

Imagine the scene: a little café full of people, either bustling about or chatting at tables while warming their frozen hands around steaming cups of java. Two nuns walk through the door and it seems like all eyes turn their way. One patron calls out, “Sisters, you have made a lot of people happy today!”

We smiled our biggest smiles, the words warming our frozen cheeks. But what does one say to that?

I felt so small, so human, and so humbled that I just wanted to drop down on the floor and say, “I’ll try harder, I promise!”

Most nuns and sisters could tell numerous stories about people’s reactions to the habit — all good; all humbling; all manifesting how the habit speaks a universal language and points to the reality of God. People notice the wedding ring and wonder why I wear one, while children respond to the habit most perceptively, asking, “Are you God’s wife?” There are the smiles as people walk by, the waves from across the street.

But the habit is primarily a witness to the person wearing it.

Sr. Mary Catharine provides some explanation to the pieces of the habit, and ends on a beautifully joyful note. You’ll want to read it.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

    I love this! I’m glad that you will continue the series. God bless you!

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  • Cromagnum

    Some of the best advice I recieved, and still remember, was from the Nuns wearing the habit. The garb that honors God amplifies thier holiness, which in turn creates a greater impression on our souls.

    We expect and very often see a solemn and spiritual outlook from those who wear it. It is a sublime witness to Christ, thier lover.

    Go Nuns! With your beautiful habits, give honor to God, and remind us to stay on the path to see Him in the next life.

  • The Sanity Inspector

    ‘…many nuns are truly unknown and unsung heroes. In any case, I think I’ve noticed a crude and imperfect but serviceable way to judge which women’s religious communities work, are constructive and faithful, and which are not. The more old-fashioned the habit, the more Catholic the nun. The more distinctive the dress, the more removed from the world, and the more faithful. A nun in a veil probably prays; a nun in a two-piece suit with nothing on her head but a gray crewcut is somewhat more likely to be thinking of spirit winds and new ways to refer to Jesus as “she”. ‘
    – Peggy Noonan, John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father, 2005

  • Lisa Mladinich

    What a beautiful and important new series. Kudos to Elizabeth Scalia for recognizing a great series when she found one, and thanks be to God for our precious, faithful nuns!

  • Valerie

    I remember one Christmas season when we went ice skating with some sisters and brothers on the ice rink in front of the city hall in Paris how all the eyes were on our group. A little girl even said:’Oh wow sisters can skate!’

  • Annie

    Thank you Elizabeth!
    I wonder how many of the sisters who no longer wear their habits regret that decision. Surely, some of the old styles were impractical, but perhaps they could come up with something that could function for today and still be that visible witness that inspires us so much!
    I would love to hear the opinion of one of those sisters … if you’re out there!!

  • Tota Tua

    when the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist were on Oprah for a Lisa Ling piece, they explained that their habit was their daily reminder of their marriage to God. One of the “older” sisters then said,”… that when the marriage isn’t working, she knows it is her problem, because it can’t be His.” Oprah laughed in agreement.