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.