My latest column is published over at the Global Sisters Report. It’s my attempt to engage the pesky and sometimes polarizing question of distinctive religious dress (aka habits) in a helpful way.
I am blessed to have younger religious friends, women and men, on both sides and in the middle of the distinctive dress question. Some of my sister friends are in communities that wear a habit. Most of my sister friends are in communities like my own that transitioned to simple dress almost 50 years ago, before we were even born. And some belong to communities that wear a habit for prayer, liturgy and ministry, but dress simply the rest of the time. This seems to be an option mostly for male religious, although I know a few sisters in this category.
As younger post-Vatican II religious, we made a decision to enter communities that have already made communal decisions about this question. We go where we feel at home. But in my experience, we do not judge those who make a different choice. We do not deride our peers either for wearing an “anachronistic costume” or for being a “plain-clothes nun.” Those labels belong to other generations, or perhaps should belong to none. Our attitudes of respect and inclusion affirm the both/and nature of the question today. Left to our own devices, over time, I believe we can heal this polarized division and in turn help heal a rift in religious life and the church. We find our common ground in the habits of love we develop, which form us as religious and shape the witness of our very lives as ones who follow Jesus in a particular way.
Head over to Global Sisters Report to read the whole column.
2 thoughts on “Habits of Love – Global Sisters Report”
It IS a polarizing topic, isn’t it? It amazes me sometimes how negatively vocal people can get over it (usually those who are ‘for’ the habit). I’m not talking Sisters; I’m talking about lay people, people who I feel should let the Sisters decide for themselves.
When I entered religious life, I joined a community that wore a simple habit and veil. It was only after I left (90’s) that they chose to let go the habit and let the individual decide. Most opted for plain dress, and generally in various shades of Franciscan brown (although not always), lol. Some go for plain dress with a veil. Those who retain the full habit are varied age wise (not all seniors in other words) but they are in the minority at this point.
What I love about how it ended up is how organically it happened, how it came about gradually, and how they all really did accept the changes. There was no schism, no exodus. Now it is Sister in veil alongside Sister without. It is the habit of LOVE that matters, as you put it.
If a community of Sisters can accept the differences, why can’t we on the outside?
I think it’s romanticism, nostalgia. You know? Despite all the changes in society and daily life, people seem to want to hang on to certain things with a death grip. Especially when it comes to the Church. When people talk about traditional communities that are ‘bursting at the seams’, it gets me so frustrated sometimes. It isn’t a black mark against those communities that aren’t—that are aging out. There is room in the Church for everyone and each community has their place and role. Those communities that are aging out gave their ALL to the Church for decades, centuries.
Today what I see with religious life is the great varied rainbow of charisms and ministries and Sisters who continue to work with God’s people despite being older in age, despite being of lesser numbers, despite being judged. Those that really KNOW Sisters know that it’s not about the habit at all.
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Susan, Thank you for your wonderful reflection on dress. Just recently I shared my experience with a pilgrimage group I was leading, where I simply said – for myself – I’ve come to see that religious garb is rooted in a medieval world. More importantly, my mantra has become: I am not a medieval woman and desire to express myself in simple everyday dress. I was amazed, a few hours later, one of the 35 year old women on the pilgrimage shared her most recent faith struggles with me, simply because I shared this insight with her.
What I am reflecting on, it is in both our personal and communal discernment, that I discover that there are a variety of options today. I treasure the days that I wore our habit and I am delighted today in having the option not to wear the habit. It is who I am, and what I believe that is most important! And it is also who we are and what we are about as a religious congregation that is just as important!
Our world today is filled with complexity that cannot be reached in any ONE way. it takes discernment and reflection to discover the inner core of who we are, and to share this gift with the world around us.
Thank you for your sharing!