Do Nuns Know How to Love?

Blog Published: June 15, 2007
By Sister Julie

I spent my blogging time this morning reflecting on and responding to a question from “An Ex-Candidate of an Order.” I thought I would share it with you because I want you to keep Ex-Candidate in your prayers and because I’d like to hear your reflections on this as well.

Do you think nuns/sisters know how to love? Can you describe ways you love? I think this is the question that I struggle with in thinking of whether I want to enter a religious order. I felt like the sisters in the order I was in were very distant and not capable of opening up. I’m not sure if that means that I may be called to marriage since I want to love deeply. What is your experience?

Dear Ex-Candidate … Absolutely I know that nuns/sisters know how to love. I wouldn’t be here otherwise nor do I think that religious life would be able to survive without love. The center of religious life, as with all of life, is a personal relationship with God, a love relationship, if you will. That love overflows in all of our relationships, behaviors, attitudes, etc. I know this sounds trite, but without love, we got nothin.

The ways that I love and other nuns/sisters love are very much like the way you or anyone else might love. Within my community, I love in many ways. First, I care very deeply for each one of my sisters and hold them with great regard and love. I tend to our common values, mission, prayer and life together. I make sacrifices for my community and choices I might not otherwise have made because I love who we are and what we are about. On a personal level, I have a variety of friendships within the community, each of which is nourishing and life-giving to me. Being with my sisters there is an unmistakable feeling of joy, delight in one another’s company, and love. Sure, we have struggles and misunderstandings and the like (as in all relationships) but the tender care we have for one another is always palpable to me. Depending on our relationship, we talk at various levels about our relationship with God, our joys and our pains, hopes and desires. We share mundane things like a good sale at the grocery store and deep things like discerning a change of ministry. We also show our love by praying and playing together.

Outside of my community, again I love in many ways. My family and friends are just as dear to me than ever. I have two small nephews whom I adore and I delight in being “The Aunt”. I am passionate about my ministry and I try to bring the love and care that I experience in my relationship with God and my sisters to each encounter I have with people — be they friends or strangers, likeable people or otherwise — and with all of God’s creation.

Your desire to “love deeply” is very beautiful and a precious thing to know about yourself. I’m sorry that you had that experience, but I want to assure you that it is not typical of religious life. Yes, we sometimes struggle to know how to love and to show that love. We have good days and not-so-good days too. But in the end, we know that we’ve thrown our lot in with one another, we’ve given our lives to God in the company of one another. That knits us together and holds us together through thick and thin.

Any lifestyle — religious life, ordained life, single life, married life — can be about loving deeply. It depends on where you feel called, the particular contours of how that love seeks to express itself.

Hang in there with the soul-searching and questioning. Keep coming back to your heart’s desire to love deeply which is from God and let it be the light that guides you. My prayers are with you, my friend. Sister J

Archived Comments

Lily June 15, 2007 at 8:11 am

I would just like to add my two cents here. I have never met a nun/ sister who could not or would not love. Every one I have met, no matter order, dress, or profession, has been in love. They love their sisters in their community, the life they live, the people they serve, Jesus Christ, their families and friends. I have never met a nun who was not a loving person. They are, as one nun said ‘Spiritual mothers’ called to love the world as their own. I am sorry, ex-canidate, that you did not meet more of these people, who I believe repressent the majority of nuns and sisters. God Bless.

Sister Julie June 15, 2007 at 8:31 am

Thanks for jumping in, Lily. I like that you said about “Every one I have met … has been in love.” The phrase “in love” struck me because we don’t simply love but we are persons who are in love and we pray that that characterizes everything we do and are.

Martha Mihaly June 15, 2007 at 11:50 am

Sister, I should think that a person without the ability to love deeply would also lack the qualities that make them candidates for religious life…compassion and empathy.

Sr. Maria Sally June 15, 2007 at 2:38 pm

I’ve been reading John Paul II’s reflections on the Theology of the Body for a class I am taking this summer. He describes both marriage and consecrated celibacy as ultimately being about love and sacrificing one’s self for another (whether that be one’s spouse or God himself). A sister chooses to give her life completely over to God in selfless love, which flows out into the entire community which all other Christians are called to form. If a person is not able to love or know what love is, it would seem her or she would never be able to fully realize his or her Christian vocation…no matter what vocation that might be. One can’t be a follower of Jesus and not live a life of love. I have to say the sisters in my community are some of them most loving people I know and if that were not true, I don’t think I could stay. One of the things that attracted me most to my community was seeing how the sisters loved one another, those they ministered to, and above all the Lord.

Ex Candidate from an Order June 15, 2007 at 5:47 pm

It is good to know that there are sisters who think like that. Maybe I just need to explore more. Today, I was actually looking at a photograph book of Mother Theresa’s ministry. And I could see how she loved the poor in her country (although Mother Theresa was amazing and I can’t imagine ever doing even a little of what she did)… it said in it that she told someone she takes care of the poor in her country and we are called to take care of the poor in our own countries. It was so clear looking at the pictures how her prayer overflowed into her ministry with the poor. It was inspiring. Mother Theresa said she saw the face of Christ in the poor. The photographer said something like he saw the face of Christ in Mother Theresa. And the photographer spoke of how loving she was in the little things she did toward him. It reminded me of what I had hoped for in religious life. So maybe I need to keep looking because there must be orders out there that have Christ at the center and are loving.

I think it is easier for me to see how in marriage there is love because I grew up with amazing loving parents. But I haven’t seen how sisters love. I just know that God calls us to love one another so I want to love. Thank you for all the thoughts so far that people posted! I’d love to hear more if anyone has any!

Br. Dominic-Michael OHS June 15, 2007 at 8:44 pm

Dear ex-candidate, whatever you do, don’t confuse mushy emotionalism and extroversion with love. Often the deepest love is the most subdued and quiet…like a powerful current deep in the ocean. It may seldom ripple the surface, but dive down and it will sweep you away. I speak as a male, so take it for what its worth. Don’t judge another’s ability to love by appearances alone – get to know them and open your heart up, offer your love first.

RedheadedCyclone June 15, 2007 at 9:10 pm

Mother Teresa also said that it is not to do great things… only small things with great love… 

Jennifer June 15, 2007 at 9:52 pm

Dear Ex-candidate of an Order, Thank you for having the perserverance to keep coming to this website. I am happy that you are once again able to see that there are religious orders out there who do, in fact, put love and Christ first. When this is done, it shines through to others, as you saw in Mother Theresa. I am an Affiliate to a Benedictine community, and as someone who has been exploring religious life in this past year, I would love to see you continue to search and journey along with the Lord and see where He leads you. Whatever your vocation is, please do not be put off by one negative experience. Keep going!! I love to be in dialogue with anyone in discernment. I therefore would love the opportunity to begin an email discussion with you if you are interested. If so, please email Sr. Julie and she will send your address on to me; we’re friends! In any event, keep looking!

Donna June 16, 2007 at 8:20 pm

The charge of any Christian is to love. This applies to married folk, religious, ordained, singles, etc. It seems some people are naturally able to love more than others. I don’t know if it is a matter of nature or nurture – probably a little of both.

I think sisters fall into the same categories as any other people. I’ve met some who are remarkably kind, concerned and giving. I’ve seen others, much less in number, who seem aloof and uncaring. But most of them seem to fall in between. As far as the older sisters are concerned, I remember hearing they were formed/trained NOT to have any close relationships with other people, that includes ordinary, nonsexual, intimate relationships. Perhaps this is why some of the older sisters appear so aloof and detached. Just a theory.

I really like what the one poster said. Just because one isn’t emotional and sentimental doesn’t mean that he/she is not loving. On the other hand, just because someone is doting and sweet doesn’t mean that person is loving. Perhaps one needs to dig beyond appearances.

A Catholic Mom June 16, 2007 at 11:18 pm

I’ve always been taught that a vital part of human love was wanting what was best for the beloved. That’s why a mom can reprimand her children very strongly in the name of love. (Time out or a swat on the behind for going in the street.) Seeing a mom yelling at her little one, it’s difficult to see the love, but it is there none the less.

Perhaps the sisters that ex candidate visited wanted to be sure that she knew that the life of the sisters was not all laughter and prayers and that there were regular difficult days as well. This is true of all lives, married, single or religious. Wanting the best for her, they let her see that their community didn’t offer the joy she needs to fuel her spirit.

I pray that she finds the best relationship for her faith journey. In the end, being married 34 years I can honestly say that my relationship with God is the only one that has not let me down. Husbands can fail, children can stray from the church, friends can do things that are sinful… Only the Good Lord is rock solid. The others we just have to love as best we can.

Ex Candidate from an Order June 16, 2007 at 11:27 pm

Hmmm… the older sisters did say they were trained to not have close relationships.

But I was with all older sisters which might explain it.

I’m not sure formation has evolved either. I remember many times in my formation I felt I was expected to be cold… and not express emotions. It felt like an expectation. Like when another person in formation left, I was very upset… as was another person in formation. In fact I started crying and I felt like a freak in the room since everyone else sat straight faced! Both of the people in formation (myself and another) were told not to talk about it and it was our own issue. We only found out after we both left that both of us were upset. Because only on the outside of the convent were we allowed to express how we felt. Actually after both of us left, we found we felt the same way about many things, but we weren’t able to share those feelings in the convent.

Even now that I left, at best I hear from other people that the sisters were upset. But the sisters don’t talk to me anymore. It’s weird. Defnitely not what I grew up with or how I treat people I have a relationship with. So maybe I need to learn from it as well.

I’m not sure if it’s too big of a gap for me to live in though. Because I think I do value relationships and need to feel that love. And I like to express my feelings.

Brigid June 17, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Dear Ex Candidate, I loved all the imputs. I entered at the time when we did not talk about someone leaving and we were not to have particular friendships. But I always felt a close relationship with my fellow classmates and all the other sisters in formation. The stress was on a deep love relationship with God.I think the ideas already mentioned the real meaning of love and the sacrifices we are willing to do and do without for the sisters in community. I have a very close bond with other women outside of my community. I hope and pray you find the love you are searching for.

stillwondering June 17, 2007 at 4:45 pm

I understand how this person felt about her experience with community life. Especially about hidding your feelings. That was my experience also. I now know that there are many communities were that is not the case. Where I was for many years was a community that also lacked love for oneself and one another. Much has changed today but not always. Some communities are still stuck. I pray for you as you journey to find your way. God be your constant companion.

Donna June 17, 2007 at 6:27 pm

Ex-candidate: Far be it from me to know whether or not you are called to religious life. And I also don’t know whether your experience is typical these days. But here is an analogy: The average woman or man dates, let’s say, 3-4 people before he/she gets married. Does the fact that boyfriend/girlfriend 1, 2 and 3 didn’t work out mean that the individual is not called to marriage? Not necessarily.

My point is perhaps you need to explore other orders to determine whether or not this life is feasible for you. I’d assume you could discuss your experiences with any vocation director and see how she responds. If all seem to be similar to the one you experienced, perhaps this life isn’t for you. On the other hand, perhaps your situation was more of an isolated situation than not. I suppose you could only find out if you ask around.

Another Sister Julie, CSSF June 18, 2007 at 2:00 am

I was fortunate to have a handful of sisters near my age when I entered a community of mostly “grannies.” And when I was sent on mission to a parish, our administration encouraged us to form support groups with sisters our age, even if it meant we needed to travel 20 miles to see each other.

That’s not to so say that we can’t grow if we are only surrounded by older sisters. I’ve learned something from each sister with whom I have lived. Sometimes I learned how to keep a childlike heart into my 80s. Sometimes I have found sisters that have been through the fire of life’s challenges and have become as pure gold–women of great faith, courage and wisdom. And finally, others have taught me what I hope I never become–embittered, suspicious and cold.

But no matter the sister, so matter how she “turned out” in her old age, one thing kept her faithful to her vows and in solidarity to her congration/order: In some way, to some degree, she loved. Much. You can’t live this kind of life if you haven’t loved, if you don’t love. And you can’t know religious life without finding love in return.

Sister Julie June 18, 2007 at 7:51 am

Brother Dominic-Michael makes a very good (and eloquent) point: “Don’t confuse mushy emotionalism and extroversion with love.” Love takes time. Often, I’ve found, it has something to do with learning other people’s “language” of love. For example, one sister would always make a point of sitting with me at lunch even though we didn’t have many indepth conversations. We didn’t know each other well, but she must have known how scary it can be to walk into a room full of people you sort of but don’t really know. Another sister taught me how to play cards (Spite and Malice, of all things). Every time we played, she’d invite other nuns to the game and that way I got to know different sisters in a casual environment.

Ex-Candidate from an Order June 18, 2007 at 11:35 pm

Thanks for everyone’s comments. I do remember how different sisters did little things. I think it is hard to remember since almost all the sisters have cut off communication since I left. But I guess all your comments reminded me of some of those things. And someone else I know did too! But I do remember those daily conversations and little ways the sisters showed that stuff. Maybe it is those little things.

“Another Sisters Julie, CSSF” really did strike a chord. There were those sisters who reminded me of what I want to be when I’m old. And those sisters who reminded me of what I don’t want to be. But maybe they both showed me something.

Thanks so much for all of your thoughts! I really do appreciate your time and thoughts!

Gayle OSF June 20, 2007 at 1:28 pm

Here’s my off-the-cuff musings on the subject. I too as a younger sister have wondered about how our sisters relate to one another. I think the old taboo about “particular friendships” may still be hanging on. As one in formation, I am expected to “pour out my heart” often and sometimes seemingly on command. Rarely does another sister pour out her heart to me, which leaves many relationships feeling one-sided. I am still trying to see if it is because I am still in formation, so relationships are still not equal or something else. Often my questions and attempts to begin to get to know a sister more deeply are greeted with platitudes or “I don’t know’s”. I am blessed to have some younger sisters too and we bond and share well. I am not sure it any of this is what “ex candidate” noticed, but sometimes I miss more of a relational piece with many of my sisters, but I keep trying!

A Nun in Ireland November 16, 2007 at 7:55 am

Celibacy means that we are free to love everyone – as Jesus does.

Gen X sister January 11, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Hi – I’ve read this post with interest. I’m a fairly new sister (7 years), Gen X, and fairly expressive. The sisters with whom I live were also trained to be unexpressive and in fact were forbidden to talk about their past, write to their friends, or anything of the sort, never mind have deep personal friendships. Of course, being strong women, many of them did anyway. One sister who died at 99 drove me crazy by never, ever talking about herself or telling stories when I really wanted to hear them.

What’s been interesting for me is seeing how that is changing. Sisters have started sharing. We younger ones, well, we get trained in a mostly unspoken way not to emote all over the place, but we are able to be fairly up front and open with each other. I have found it an odd combination of finding out who I really am and learning to be that person while at the same time feeling as though I were supposed to present a serene face at all times. I’m not like that all the time, so it’s still sometimes difficult, and honestly, I don’t think being like that 24/7 is helpful. I am grateful for the sisters with whom I am able to be free, and I am also grateful to those older sisters who are able to accept the changes we younger ones bring to the community.

And, as someone else said above, I’m learning the language of unspoken love – like the time I was feeling bad about myself and a very mechanically minded sister asked me to show her how to make double-sided copies. First I thought, oh please, like you don’t know how – and then I thought, she’s trying to tell me I can be useful and trying to make me feel better in her own awkward way. She wouldn’t know what to say (she’s one of the ones who doesn’t express anything whatsoever), but she can speak in other ways. I was really touched.

That said, I did value the comment above about taking things to Jesus. I certainly do that – and I’m not always polite about it, either, but even when I’m awful, I find God present with me when I spill my guts. Nevertheless, I am glad when God speaks to me through another sister or other person, as I need that, too. Thanks be to God that God seems to know this!

Ex-Candidate – I don’t know if you’re following this still, but I hope you’ll keep searching. There are many communities out there, and one of them may be for you. If not, well, sometimes you find what you’re looking for when you’re searching for something else! God will keep showing up.

Gen X sister January 11, 2008 at 10:59 pm

PS – I meant to say that the sisters with whom I live know how to love very deeply. They say very little, but when push comes to shove, they are there. Even the ones who aren’t very friendly can turn around and give the most incredible support when needed. In some very difficult times I have felt the most incredible prayer surrounding me, and enough communication to know that every last one of them was holding me in her heart at that time.

It doesn’t mean they’ll emote much. It doesn’t mean that Sr. Mary Whatsit won’t want the room a different temperature than I do, either! But they do love very much.

I’ve had a similar experience of having a few of us in tears while the rest looked quite calm. But we were all upset that day, it’s just that they older ones wait till they get in their rooms to let it out.

I.B. April 24, 2008 at 1:38 pm

Dear Sister, I found this website quite by chance as I was researching about nuns in general. I am fascinated with history, (all kinds of it) but religious history is something that I am especially fascinated about. As a person who is not even of the Christian faith, nuns for me have always embodied strong emotions of devotion, love for the world, selflessness (which unfortunately exists less and less in today’s society), purity and simplicity (that kind that everyone should crave for). I have the utmost respect and love for people of religion who choose to devote themselves to religion, to peace and all good things that are often not represented enough in this world. I can’t say enough about my admiration and gratitude for such people! (And I realize that I am ranting a bit here…so I will cut it short)… In a little over a week I am to enter my university exams (and as such am in a constant state of stress), and although this was not my intention (my intention was to merely read about nuns as a way of momentarily distracting myself in hopes of forgetting about the exams for an hour or two – I love to learn and often find it the best ways of “de-stressing”) but I suppose it was God’s will that I was directed here and have been reading about what you have written for the past hour. I was inspired, the love you have, the peace and tranquility that flows out of everything you have written, the patience…I feel love inside me now, I don’t think I would do it justice if I were to try and express it here with ordinary words… Please include me in your prayers dear Sister (and please, I hope I am not being selfish by asking this of you), I know somehow I will receive it, feel it in my heart and will be a better person, more at peace person all the more because of it and perhaps when the time comes, I shall succeed.

Sister Julie April 29, 2008 at 5:03 am

Thanks for writing, I.B. I hope exams went well and that your stress level is reduced. I will definitely keep you in my prayers.

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