Habits Revisted

Blog Published: December 20, 2006
By Sister Julie

In my post TIME magazine article on nuns, veils, and blogs, Hans wrote a thoughtful comment about habits and his experience with the habit. He aptly notes that the modern view on habits is quite mixed. Here are some of my thoughts.

Since the Second Vatican Council called for the renewal of religious life according to our founding charisms, the following decades were filled with religious women and men testing out what exactly that meant. For 40+ years there has been much change and soul-searching in religious communities as we continually and prayerfully return to our founding charism as the Church calls us to do. Many habits have been adapted, readapted, and adapted again. Veils aren’t always worn with the revised habits — Canon Law does not mandate that the veil be part of a woman’s habit. Nor does Canon Law require that the habit be worn at all times. The Church does not see sisters/nuns that wear a habit resembling modest secular apparel as opposing Church teaching or somehow less of a nun or less of witness to Christ. Our Rule of Life is reviewed by and approved by the Church just like every congregation’s. The Church is well aware of how each define the habit.

Be assured, habits will never leave us. Nor do I think they should. They do serve as a sign of consecration and witness in the world. But, habits are not the only sign of consecration and witness. A sign of consecration and witness to me are nuns who commit themselves to live in one place and allow the Liturgy of the Hours to become the rhythm of their daily life while they pray for the needs of the world. A sign of consecration and witness are nuns who go out into the streets and find the poorest of the poor, the most abandoned of society, and embrace them and prayerfully minister to their needs. A sign of consecration and witness are the nuns who use their advanced degrees in education, theology, medicine, etc. to help shape people and structures to be reflections of the Kingdom of God. Anybody who voluntarily commits themselves before God and the world to live a life of celibacy, poverty, and obedience is living a life of consecration and witness. The evangelical counsels are a powerful way of life that speak for themselves.

There is SO much diversity in religious life. This is what makes it such a dynamic, Spirit-filled presence in the Church and world. There are communities dedicated to the contemplative life, to working in the streets with the poor, to teaching, to healing and health, to the Eucharist, and on and on. Yet each of these dimensions is present in all of our communities. Just because a community is “active” or committed to social justice does not mean that it is not also deeply prayerful. Just because a community is dedicated to the Eucharist does not mean that it is not also serving the needs of people. A nun who wears “secular” habit can be just as much of a witness as a nun in a “traditional” habit and vice versa.

Archived Comments

cs December 20, 2006 at 10:07 am

God does not care what we wear but only that we serve Him. Canon law along with scriptures says nothing about habits, veils, and outfits…. blessings!

Viva Cristo Rey December 20, 2006 at 10:55 am

I absolutely agree with you sister. There are other ways to witness the consecrated life through the diverse gifts the Lord has given us (as you mentioned above) and to each community. That is one of the beauties of our universal Church.

My main concern about habits/cassocks etc. is when they are abandoned in order to “fit” into mainstream society or to makes others more comfortable. Or when people attached an idealogy behind those who chooose to wear them. As a seminarian coming of age without any knowledge of the idealogical battles that took place in the 60′s and 70′s in regards to religious garb, I simply want to be a witness to Christ. For me, wearing a cassock or clerics wherever I go is a part of that witness.

Ive heard and been a part of many stories of inspiration and encouragment in the faith because someone was wearing an identifiable clothing as a consecrated soul. Like an athiest convert who saw a Dominican sister in full habit, sitting peacefully on a bus. They didnt say a word to one another, but something about the sister attracted this young women and the image of her was burned in her memory. And as searched for Truth in her life, that memory lead her to the fullness of the Catholic faith.

Or picture this: A Franciscan Friar walks through a busy shopping mall and the people stop and stare at this strange, medieval scene. Without saying a word, people suddenly find themselves thinking of God and of the transcendent. For a split second, there minds thought of something greater then the %50 off at Macy’s.

Yes, the Christian drama is much more than simply wearing a habit or a cassock, but the grace that can work through it must be uniquely recognized. In our age where society wants all traces of God thrown out of the public square, a graceful sister sitting on a bus with her veil flowing in the wind, is a beautiful intrusion of light in our ever darkening world.

Viva Cristo Rey December 20, 2006 at 2:08 pm

Very true, but that doesnt negate the effect of habits and cassocks on others. Imagine if Pope Benedict came out in a suit and tie during the Sunday Angelus. Would that effect how people percieve him? Absolutely. Dont forget we are visual creatures and colors and dress effect us.

Brigid IHM December 22, 2006 at 11:18 am

I get the same respect for the students in ordinary clothes as I did in a habit. When I go to a mall or out to a restaurant I don’t want people looking at me to see what I buy or eat just because I am a sister. Every sister wears a community ring and either a pin of cross of her community. I want people to hold the door for me because I am a person not because I am a nun in a full habit!

Lily December 25, 2006 at 10:27 pm

In responce to cs, habits ( or ‘religious garb’) is mentioned in Canon Law, Can. 669 §1. Religious are to wear the habit of the institute, made according to the norm of proper law, as a sign of their consecration and as a witness of poverty. Now this does not reguire a full habit, but it does imply ( at least to me) common dress. Many people say that ‘habits were the common dress at one period in time’ and that is why they wear regular clothes. This is, of course true. But all of the nuns wore the SAME dress.

I am 16 years old and discerning religious life, and all of the orders I have looked into wear habits. Like a school unoform, which when you where it shows that you are representing your school. A habit shows that you have dedicated your self to God, and that you are a bride of Christ and represent His Church on earth and your Order. Most other discerning and entered women I have talked to have all said the same thing: “It is an honor to wear it, and was a special request of our late Pope.” Just my two cents, of course.

Liz December 28, 2006 at 11:26 pm

I agree with Lily, I also am a 16 year old girl discerning religious life, and I would definitely want to wear a habit. I mean, if you are a nun, wouldn’t you want people to know it? Like, our priest at our parish doesn’t always wear his black outfit and the collar, and it annoys me, because you should be proud to wear it to represent Christ, and also, I think religious should wear the habit because when they are out, what if there is someone that just needs someone to talk to? How would the person know, “oh, that is a nun, I am sure they would help me and listen to me” if you get what I am saying. And I also would wear it to honor the request of John Paul II. That is my opinion.

Jen December 31, 2006 at 10:03 am

Maybe it’s an age thing, but when I was half the age I am now, I thought following things to the absolute letter was how one best lived one’s witness. (This was when I was first looking into becoming a Benedictine Oblate and professed Benedictine/Trappist life.) For instance, I was a strict vegetarian, because the Rule of St. Benedict said so. Older Benedictines gently cautioned me that holding a 1500-year-old document literally wasn’t always the best way of going about things. And I made a lot of people around me miserable for having a cheeseburger.

But as I got older, my vocation as an oblate changed…it’s something I’m less able to articulate, but it’s more a part of me. It’s not in the externals, but how my life is shaped to God’s Word and love. Like the Rule says, “Your way of acting must be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Sister Jeanie Reese January 2, 2007 at 11:06 pm

I also believe that sisters should wear a habit to set themselves apart from the world, as a witness of their fidelity to our Lord as his bride, we are brides of His not of the world. Our habits are our armour, blessed garmets to cover our human form. If we choose to be a bride of Christ, we should be proud to show others that we are.

Macrina January 3, 2007 at 9:46 am

I am delighted to have just discovered your blog! Having only recently started reading some blogs I was rather perturbed that most of the Catholic blogs I’d come accross were so super-conservative. Its good to know there’s something else.

For what its worth, here are some reflections on the habit issue from someone who wears a (relatively traditional) habit:

- There are very diverse expressions of different forms of religious life that have arisen in different historical contexts. To force all of them into a one-size-fits-all identity that makes up “a nun” is to greatly impoverish the richness of the Church’s tradition. Habits are traditional monastic attire but when Ignatius founded the Jesuits he explicitly departed from this (as well as other) monastic (and also mendicant) traditions. However, when women tried to do the same thing they were not allowed to but were forced into the one-size-fits-all model of “nun”. This is perhaps most starkly seen in the struggles around enclosure, which prevented new congregations of apostolic sisters from responding to their callings. (Interestingly enough, it also limited the ability of monastic women – Benedictines and Cistercians – to be true to their calling by identifying them with a sort of enclosure that is more appropriate for second order mendicants, but thats another story!)

- As a monastic I value the habit because it is part of our tradition and because I find symbols, bodiliness and the material world important in expressing our identity. However the real sign of monastic consecration is not the habit but the cowl, something that is not worn all the time but only in church or for formal occasions. I do get concerned when people are so identified with the habit that they cannot bear to be seen in anything else – I am the same person (with the same commitments) irrespective of what I am wearing! (In our community we do wear other clothes for work etc).

- While I am fully in favour of retaining the habit, I do have a problem with the veil with its suggestions of both the subordination of women to male authority and the bridal imagery that it conveys. I long for a habit that would truly express my baptismal-monastic identity without making me feel that I am somehow co-operating in something I don’t believe in! And I find it ironic in this regard that in some congregations of sisters the habit has been disgarded while the veil has been retained – I would have done it the other way around.

- Before entering, and when discerning etc, I also found it a pity that while male religious (generally, in my context) wore a habit they were not so totally identified with it that they wore it all the time, whereas for women religious it was generally an either-or option; they had either totally discarded the habit or else were totally identified with it to the extent that one could not imagine what they would look like without it. While I appreciate the habit, my religious and monastic identity must build on my human identity – I need to be seen as a human being (and a woman at that) before being seen as a monastic. (Again, I think that the veil plays a role here as our faces do tend to look very different with or without it).

- When I go out (which I don’t do very often) I sometimes wear my habit and sometimes don’t, depending on the situation and the practicality as this is something that our community leaves to the individual’s choice. I am not particularly convinced by the witness argument in respect to the habit: I don’t think that drawing attention to myself by wearing medieval dress is especially evangelical. But at the same time I also find it healthy to see a certain plurality in dress: I am pleased see people in traditional Islamic dress on the street because at least that ensures that not everyone is reduced to a neo-liberal,western consumerist “sameness”. Perhaps wearing the habit would have the same effect? But I think it depends on what message it conveys and that depends inevitably on the context and is not always clear for me. Is it really a witness or is it a counter-witness? I’m inclined to think that I would more readily wear it in public if I could wear it without the veil because I would then be less hesitant about the message it was conveying… but, that might be an illusion!

Just some thoughts, sorry for rambling on for so long, but its good to reflect on these issues!

Sister Julie January 3, 2007 at 11:09 am

Macrina … many thanks for your comment. You touch on a number of important issues regarding the habit. I am most grateful for the historical perspective that you bring. I also think it is important to think outside of our immediate cultural context — nuns are not the only ones who wear veils or religious garb.

One of my IHM sisters who worked in Africa for years said that the African women in her area who were married wore veils to show that they were married and unavailable. That got me thinking. In the Catholic Church marriage is a sacrament that not only unites a man and woman, but also serves as a visible symbol of God’s love and his desire to become one with us (“the two shall become one”). Such a powerful symbol yet one that is made visible only by a ring on the finger. Should married people too wear religious garb to give better witness to this symbol? I know this sounds outlandish, but marriage vows are no less significant than religious vows. Food for thought…

Lily January 4, 2007 at 6:52 am

Religious women got the veil from married women!!! When nuns began to form active orders, they needed something to show that they were not available for marriage. One way to do that was to wear the garb of a widow, which many did. Another way, however was to take their ‘bride of Christ’ status in the most literal way possible, by wearing the garb of a married women, which included at te time a veil and wimple.

I definitely want to wear a veil, I have enough bad hairs days as it is, when I am a nun I dont want to have to worry that it is scaring people, becuase no one will see it!

pamela January 7, 2007 at 2:06 pm

The world needs some kind of witness from everyone who has consecrated themselves to Christ. No matter what their state in life. To that end I (a married woman) have bought 4 of the same exact outfit. I have always dressed simply. I have “junkers” to wear in the house. When I go out I change. I also wear a 3 inch crucifix. A lot of people stop and ask me for prayer, or just to talk. We are called to witness where we are, with the gifts that God has given us.

This “debate” will be eternal (literally). What I like about this blog is that there is no animosity. I wear what I wear because I sincerely believe that is what God asks of me. Let each do the same.

Sister Julie January 8, 2007 at 8:06 am

Thank you for your comment, Pamela. I appreciate what you wrote about how you show that you are consecrated to Christ. Though we do not have a common habit, I have often thought of doing what you have done. There’s the witness factor and also the simplicity of life. You’ve given me something to ponder. Sister J

Hans January 9, 2007 at 7:35 am

The habit is an outward expression of an inner reality, and it’s this inner reality or condition which dictates behavior. A habit, though not a requirement for holiness, can remind the wearer of “what’s inside”. If one IS a nun with or without the traditional habit (and I agree with this), then behavior appropriate for nuns would be the same in either case, would it not?

Sister Julie January 9, 2007 at 11:26 am

Hi Hans. Thanks for your reflections on the habit. I think you raise a good point — I’m a nun whether I’m in habit or not. My nunness is not determinate by wearing or not wearing the habit. So, if I’m at a bar or playing some hoop I’m not going to hide who I am or pretend I’m not a nun. I also think that it can in fact be scandalous for some people to see religious doing things that are not religion-related. We all know that religious and priests are people like us, but sometimes we don’t let them be human.

Anthony February 25, 2007 at 7:17 pm

I too am a religious, and what I find very disheartening is the fact that most men’s religous communities seem to discourage their members to wear the habit out in public places. I know for my community, 90% of our members wear the habit, but when we need to go out to the store, or to the mall, there is an understanding that you dress in secular clothes, because we may be open to comments, laughing, etc.

I find this to be a very weak reason for not wearing the habit out. I am in my early 30′s, I think we should have the option of witnessing with our habits. For the way people dress today, who cares if people stare at you. At times, I’ve worn my habit out, and people who stare, I go over and explain that I am a religoius, and explain our habut. They are very interested, and you can see that they have a genuine respect, catholic or note. I do not want to wear it for the attention, but rather to convey to our younger generation that this is still a legitimate option in the church. Why should we hide who we are are?? Those of us who are ordained can wear clerics, but it isn’t the same with religious. We have not chosen the diocesan priesthood, we have chosen religious life. The diocesesan priesthood is a wonderful vocation, but I wouldn’t expect them to wear a relgious habit.

Not sure if others feel the same, but I know my communitiy went through a period in the late 60′s and 70′s when most gave up the habit, but now everyone entering is wearing the habit!!

It is a wonderful sign of our commitment. It is also a reminder of who we are when we are out in public, and what behavior is becoming of a monk/religious and what is not. God Bless all of you, whether you are wearing a habit or not.

Sister Julie February 25, 2007 at 8:42 pm

Hi Anthony, Thanks for the message. I like what you said about not wanting to wear the habit for attention but to convey a message about religious life. I agree with you. Though not a habit-wearing nun myself, I don’t think I would have a difficult time adopting a uniform habit if it were simple (not made of a thousand pieces or parts that I cannot pronounce), “modern” (I don’t want to go medieval on anyone), sensible (e.g., I think we could find an economical cool-max alternative to the heavy wool serge for summer habits), and carried a message (I believe in simplicity of life, in following and witnessing to the Gospel, in serving people and all of creation). That being said, wearing a habit is not the custom in my congregation nor in many congregations. Since I belong to a community and this is not just about what I personally want, then I give myself to the wisdom of the community and how the Spirit has been leading us. I’m totally cool with that. I tell you though, aside from the message aspect of the habit, it sure would cut down on deciding what to wear on a daily basis!

Zach March 5, 2007 at 1:01 am

This is a great site. First off all, I would like to thank Lily and Liz for their interest in a topic which I agree with them whole heartedly on. I personally feel that it is important to see our religious in habit. As a 17 year old in a Catholic High School, it greatly troubles me to see a diocesan priest in our school wearing “street clothes.” He is in strict violation of Canon Law. If I were to become a priest I would wear the cassock no matter what I was doing. It is a tangible sign of my commitment to God, and it also encourages others to stop and think about what is truly important in their lives. I have never understood why religious would not want to were a habit or collar. First of all, it serves as a powerful recruiting tool. Secondly, depending on the type of outfit or where you are wearing it, it can be a form of penance just to wear it. Finally, it is important to know if you have a priest or religious in the room. If I need anointing of the sick, it is important that I know who is who. This is just my opinion though.

Linda April 22, 2007 at 7:04 pm

As a former Carmelite of the most sacred heart, I can only dream of wearing the holy habit. I am an aspirant of the secular order of discalced Carmelites in Arizona. I love being married to my husband. He has been a gift to me from God.

I have raised my children i want to live a more spiritual life now that there is time. The holy habit is a blessing from God and was a constant reminder as to my goal in the life of religion – union with him in performing my required duties as perfectly as possible with his grace.

Perhaps this seems idealistic, but, it is seen by the members of his church as an outward sign of the dedication of his religious to his church and family. As a lay person I cannot have the awe and respect that should be awarded to a religious if I don’t know who they are. A person dressed in secular garb with only a small pin or a cross on a chain around her neck is not recognized as a religious. Are they embarrassed to show what they are and to whom they have dedicated their life? I am not. But, I cannot show the world my dedication to any thing.

I am proud of the wedding ring I wear and my marriage of 25 years. But, who knows who my wonderful husband is? How can I show my deep and unfailing love of him?

A religious has the privilege and honor to wear the holy habit to allow everyone to know of her love and dedication to her divine spouse. The habit also allows the world to know that they can come to her and seek assistance for themselves or others because she is recognizable.

Living in an apartment alone or with one or two other religious does not allow for someone to walk up to the convent door to seek help.
A young woman who wants to ask questions about the life of a religious has no where to go and no one to ask if she cannot recognize a woman of vows living in community.

Whether it is a veil, modified habit or full traditional habit, if a religious is proud of her marriage to Christ and his church why not let the world know about it? Why not make one’s dedication to Christ shine as a lamp that directs his church to his throne? I where my scapular proudly at mass and during our days of formation and the medal around my neck at all times. Anyone can approach me and inquire into my vocation. Can anyone know to be able to approach you?

Sister Julie April 23, 2007 at 5:29 am

Thanks for your comment, Linda. Donning a habit does not automatically make a person accessible. And, for some people it is edifying to see a nun in full habit, but not for everyone. We live in a very diverse world. Religious also have different histories and foundations, some of which include wearing a habit, and others which do not.

There are so many different ways that people can contact religious. We are in fact more accessible than we ever were. Women can visit us at our Motherhouse, at the places we work, at our parish churches. Women can make phone calls and use the internet.

I am very proud to serve God as a Catholic Sister. It is a part of who I am, what I do, how I perceive the world. I do not stop being present to people or “accessible” just because I don’t have a recognizable habit on. And I don’t think that the vast number of people out there are looking to have their spiritual needs met by stepping out onto the street and scanning the crowd for a woman in full habit.

God bless you on your journey to becoming a secular Carmelite.

Rev. Emily April 23, 2007 at 2:33 pm

I have read with interest the posts concerning a nun’s habit. When I was growing up, all nuns wore a habit and it was easy to tell who was and who was not a nun. The after Vatican II, some orders began to wear clothing that blended in with the rest of the world. I was teenager at that time, and I was disappointed by it all. Now as an adult, and much more mature in my faith, I find it easy to tell who is, (or in some cases who has been a nun), by the manner in which they carry themselves. There is a certain glow about them, a look of joy and peace that can only come from a relationship with God. And yes, it shows in the pictures I’ve seen of you, Sister Julie. May God continue to bless you and increase your ministry.

Br. Dominic-Michael OHS April 24, 2007 at 8:07 am

This is a rather subjective topic, and it’s fascinating to read the different perspectives. I know that in the small town/rural region where I live, that if a monk or nun were to be seen in habit in public it would make it into the local paper, front page!(okay, not quite, but still…) WASP is the order of the day. I wear a habit to Church, and get a few double takes and stares as passing drivers notice me. I do think it would tend to frighten some people who are cultural protestants with foolish and superstitious fantasies about Religious in general. It is disconcerting to have so many people staring at you in a restaurant…it makes you very conscious of your actions, what you eat, how you drive, facial expressions, etc…which I suppose is a good thing…a penance of sorts as another commenter pointed out.

I would wear a working habit if my Order had one, as it is we are only encouraged to be in habit for worship. Wearing a habit does not a monk or nun make, yet I think it can serve as a witness to others that there is more to life than self. It certainly removes the vanity of “what to wear” to Church :) No debate, same thing always; alb, cincture, scapular, cross.

smurphy April 28, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Before I entered the formal discernment process I was certain that if I became a nun I would want to wear the habit. So certain, that despite feeling a call to this particular community I resisted because, as I told the vocations director, “I don’t like the way you dress.” I still struggle with this issue for all the reasons discussed above..I think sisters should be easily identifiable in the community…I don’t think people should offer to buy my dinner because they identify me…I like the idea of being a reminder, (and being reminded) that Christ’s love is active and present among us…I loath the idea of wearing pantyhose every day…and so on, and so on…while I go back and forth on this constantly, what I have come to appreciate consistently is the importance of recognizing diversity and trusting that with or without “the nun-suite” this calling is sacred. While before I felt resistant, today I feel blessed to be called to a community in which the wearing of the habit is discerned by each woman and her individual response to the voice of God in her heart is respected by her fellow sisters. One is not “good” and the other “evil”

pamela April 30, 2007 at 3:37 pm

In my prior response I said I wore “4 of the same exact outfit.” It is easy to make up something. I bought 4 blue shirts from Lands End and four blue pants from Sears. Total Investment $160.00 I wear these to teach school and to just generally go out.

Dave July 24, 2007 at 11:11 am

Ok, I have come to this blog by chance and to the habit discussion by accidental “click”…but I do have some thoughts if you care to hear from a married guy-in-the-pews. I am also one of those rare breeds: a guy who majored in theology way back in the late 70s and worked in church affairs before it was “fashionable” to do so as it has become in these past few years.

I think the habit is a great witness and it inspires us to realize that some Catholics have dedicated their entire lives to the service of Christ’s Church. I reverted to Cahtolicism while in college and when JPII was elected so it was a time of a lot of post-Vatican II confusion. Our campus had religious of all sorts and theological poles. By and large (but not infallibly) I learned via experience that the habited religious were generally faithful to Church teaching and law while the lay-clothes ones were generally speaking to be foudn among those agitating for change of doctrines and discipline, so as a young college guy I came to trust and rely upon the habited ones as I began my journey of learning how to live as a Catholic guy. I dont’ know if this generalization still applies or not after 28 years.

In college I taught CCD with a group of sisters who did not wear a “habit” but I guess it was more a modern uniform (all wore modest modern style clothes of various kinds but all same color, no veil, badge of their order pinned over heart) and they were AWESOME. They were founded without a habit because they came from then-Communist East Europe and they adopted the common color-scheme lay clothes uniform once they got to the USA in the 50s. Here are some thingas I learned from them about this issue:

1. The Church (Vat II, implementing documents, follow-up documents, decisions of Holy See offices for religious, etc.) does require religious to wear a visible form of clothing that is in someway different from regular secular clothing and visibly identifies a religious as such. This does not mean the medeival garb only. It seems to me that simply putting a cross and chain or a pin on lay clothes does not do this. Many maried people wear crosses visibly and especially young people today do so. I think that religious who enjoy the modernity and freedom of movement of secular clothes might learn from the above community how uniformity of color and style (even without a veil) and with a large distinctive emblem really does shout “nun!” (LOL) to those who come into contact with them.

2. There are vowed institutes approved by the Church for both men and women who complimentary lifetsyles reflect BOTH sides of the issue: those who wish a consecrated-public-witness lifestyle in RELIGIOUS INSTITUTES and those who wish a consecrated-silent-witness lifetsyle in SECULAR INSTITUTES. So as a layguy in the pews and who who has witnessed (sometimes horribly) the habit-battle since 1978…I do not understand why the controversy remains. I mean the options are already out there. Both kinds of groups are REAL consecrated persons blessed and approved by the Church. And I have learned that an institute can CHANGE its canonical status with majority vote of the membership and appoval of the Church (for example, from public-wintess religious to silent-wintess consecrated seculars). I have friends in BOTH forms of concecrated life and BOTH are very beautiful ways to serve the Lord and his people.

3. VOCATIONS are harmed people stop choosing them when a lifestyle is not lived as it should be according to the mind and heart of the Church. This is certainly ltrue about marriage. After decades of contraception and no-fault divorce couple cohabitate by the majority and IF they marry (at least out here in CA) its civilly and mainly so that they can get medical coverage etc. I think the same holds true for priesthood, religious life and secular institute life. If people cannot see the public witness of religious which IS first of all by habit before they get to know the nun or see the good works done then who will choose it? Who will choose what is not known to be available as a choice? And the same for secular institutes…why choose a silent-witness consecrated secular vocation IF religious are living that form in a quasi-public manner? I mean do you thnk most people even know a consecrated secular lifetsyle vocation exists? I think “secularized” religious life harms the genuine secular institute vocation.

Well thats my 2 cents. Thanks for reading.

Phillip Neri September 25, 2007 at 8:26 pm

I do not have a lot to say on the topic at hand. Howevere some food for thought for everybody on this blog.

Take a look in the United States at the religious houses that have disregarded the habit and tell me if they are growing in new members or decreasing as members go their reward. Take a look at the average age of the women on this website. NOTE the style of dress.

Now, take a look at the fastest growing religious houses in the United States. You will notice some form of habit or at least uniform, identifiable dress. This is where the young people are drawn.

Sister Julie September 26, 2007 at 6:42 am

The Sisters who belong to both LCWR and CMSWR (two organizations of women religious in the United States) are Godly women, faithful to the Roman Catholic Church, and dedicated to bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.

Being one of “the fastest growing religious houses” and having a “number of young women” are not the standards by which the Church judges or assesses religious life. Are these good things? Of course. Ought they be the measure of the faithfulness, integrity and mission of a religious community. Absolutely not.

Sister Gail July 8, 2008 at 6:57 pm

I have worn the veil and also have chosen not to. Because I belong to an international order, most of the members wear a unified habit with veil. I am called to increase faith and love using any and all means. My experience has been when people meet me with a veil, they will behave differently with me. Without a veil, they are more their everyday selves. We then have fantastic conversations once they realize that I am a religious sister. I think I reach more people without a veil but being honest about who I am. Thank you so much for this outlet!

Sister Julie July 9, 2008 at 4:12 am

Thanks, Sister Gail!

Pat, Secular Franciscan December 5, 2008 at 11:21 am

I agree with most of the above. Each one’s witness, living example of Christ’s love, is what is important. And I think it would be nice, I’m sure Clark Kent thought so (Ha ha) to occasionally slip out of uniform for a hamburger and glass of wine. But I think for many of us alive in 2008, seeing someone in a habit is….special. If you are in love with God, though you may only see this one from a distance, for an instance, you’re less alone. Your mind refocuses on Christ, your Beloved. And isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that a good effect to have on others. To be a living reminder, this reminds me of what Francis said, “Let us go and preach the gospel, and if needed even use words.”

I truly thank God for all religious, and I “feel” with my heart, that Christ’s brides, sisters and nuns are so much more effective at helping us know His love. I don’t know why, perhaps because it’s easier for women to speak from their hearts than we men, in general. I admire the courage and fortitude it takes to be a sister or Nun. When I see a Poor Clare Nun in full habit, my eyes fill with tears, for I know the love and devotion of this one, even if we never speak. And I carry this image in my heart sometimes for ever.

Recently I mentioned at a meeting the fact that the Franciscan Third order secular, “men and women of penance” once wore habits. I love Christ and so at times wish I too could be a living picture of my love via the habit. I thought I would be crucified for just mentioning it. Our order currently has taken a strong stand approved by Rome that the secular’s “Habit” is the Tau cross. I am Obedient, I have taken vows, and so this is what I do, out of love for my God. But I wish the habit was more accepted, less seen as something to be discarded, a a bother etc. The comments of the young future nuns made my heart sing.

P.S. Sister Julie – What a wonderful blog! God bless you.

Sister Julie December 6, 2008 at 6:59 am

Dear Pat, Thank you so much for writing and expressing how you feel about the habit. I agree that seeing someone wearing the habit can have the effect of being inspirational, but the opposite occurs too. I struggle with how to think about the sign value of wearing/not wearing the habit. And I know that religious communities have put lots of thought and time and energy into wrestling with how the habit truly reflects their charism and their role in the Church. I don’t think any of us have casually embraced or discarded the habit.

I’m sorry to hear that mentioning the subject of habits was not received well. I think others have had that experience too, not just with the habit but with other “traditional” expressions of the faith. For me it’s an important question today — how we can live and draw deeply from the beauty of our tradition but also live it in a way that is authentic today. Simply redoing what was done in the past is not the best approach, but finding a way to see how the Spirit is calling us to incarnate traditional practices / prayers / language today — now that is exciting!

I also wanted to add that I’ve encountered others who are not religious but who desire to wear a kind of habit. In the comments above, Pamela noted how she wears a kind of habit. I continue to think that’s a good idea and offer it to you as a way for you to be faithful to your call from God and also to be faithful to your community of Secular Franciscans. Blessings, Pat.

Raven January 8, 2009 at 10:27 am

In the early 1980′s was a (deliberately) poor homeless hermit for one year before I could find a traditional Carmelite monastery who would take an older, “over-educated” postulant. In a small rural farming community as a single female I was beseiged by local bachelor farmers looking for a wife. I explained to each of them that I didn’t date and was unavailable for courtship; however they persisted. I finally managed to convince them I was serious about becoming a nun by sewing and wearing a shoulder-wide, knee-length brown cotton scapular, a with attached hood–which I only wore on my head when praying in church– over my street clothes of a plain white or pale blue long-sleeved oxford shirt and longish denim wrap-skirt. I didn’t need a veil–scapular and cross over plain secular clothing said it all. Highly effective, cheap, dignified, and I highly recommend this garb to any religious who don’t have a standard habit but who wish to be recognized as “unavailable for dating/ marriage”. Interestingly, the message this outfit sent was spot on: I wasn’t a nun, but dedicated to God in a celebate lifestyle. This mode of dress was appropriate both for formal liturgy and manual labor and being seen about town when I went to collect mail from the post office, or was invited by strangers to a local diner for lunch at which I would be asked for prayers for some difficulty they or their family was in. After a year I was finally accepted into a Carmelite Monastery where nuns wore the full habit; but my experience in the year prior to that may be of use to others “in the world but not of it” whether in private vows or part of a community which has no formal habit other than a pin or emblem. The brown scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel can be any size or pattern so long as a person is enrolled in it; and does not have to be blessed when it is replaced; and you may wear it even if professed in another religious institute. I know Dominican sisters who wear the small brown scapular beneath their tradional white habit.

Sr. Liza February 27, 2009 at 10:47 pm

It is great to see a good conversation going on about the habit. It is a complex issue and there is not straight answer, it just all depends. What matters is our service and commitment to God and people. I myself live in two worlds. I belong to an international community, but I grew up in Costa Rica, Central America. Here in the USA we do not wear the habit.

I am a social worker and work with victims of domestic violence, trafficking or various types of kidnappings. Rough job at times. I think if I wore a habit, my clients would run away as fast as the could.

However, when I go home to Costa Rica, I must wear the habit. I wear a modified habit, blue skirt (or black), white blouse and a blue (or black) veil. The Church is in a very different time in Central America. Historically there was a time in the 8O’s when we had fake nuns and Priests running around and stealing a lot of money. It was a hard lesson and hard to get rid of this corrupt ring. Today the wounds are still there.

I am very, very well known in my town. In dialogue with the people and the Pastor, we all agreed that to keep things in their respective places, it was best I wear the habit when I was home. It made sense and it fit the need and the history. So I have no problem going from one world/situation to another.

The lesson I have learned from this experience is certainly that what counts above all else is who I am deep down as a religious, it is THEN when the habit takes meaning.

bob May 10, 2009 at 3:19 am

I am 56 and after all these years of modernism, I have to agree, finally, that a new direction for nuns and all the rest of us is needed. The Church now is the suffering Church. I don’t know what the cure is. The goodness of almost every religious woman I have met stands out. However, they need to be a visible sign to a world, an America, that is increasingly hostile to Catholicism. Modernist nuns are beginning to leave behind the rest of us, the moderate middle. We suffer the stings of right and left and it is defeating us. A leader who can bring the extremists back toward the center would be most welcome.

Steven Bucholtz September 14, 2009 at 3:09 am

It is so interesting that these conversations about the habit rage on so long after Vatican II. I consider myself a “nunophile” and find the sight of a nun in a habit and veil a comfort and a spiritual boost. This is probably because it was the Sisters of the Holy Names in their traditional habits that provided care, direction and support during a very troubled childhood. They changed into secular clothing over the years and explained their “stages of renewal”, as they called them, as they moved through the process. What they were doing made a great deal of sense and they continued to be powerful instruments of God’s loving presence in the world. They continued to challenge, support and inspire me at their college in Oakland CA and to this day. Religious garb did not make them the wonderful religious women they are. It was and is their habit of commitment to radically follow the Gospel.

Despite my admiration of these wonderful sisters, I am also a staunch advocate for religious garb. As an Anglican Franciscan novice walking the streets of San Francisco a few years back, I had the opportunity to experience what it costs and how much one gains to be a visible sign. I, more often than not, was treated with respect and a great deal of curiosity. People felt quite comfortable stopping me and asking me a wide range of questions. I saw myself as a window through which God’s love could pass and through which those in need could catch a glimpse of something beyond me that could make their lives better. As long as I remembered that I was the window and not what was on the other side, encounters were quite powerful and I was always left humbled and grateful. I was always me in the habit. I didn’t behave any differently and I did what I normally did. I wanted people to know that God is present everywhere. I was sometimes insulted, called a pedophile, spit upon and cursed. But so was Christ.

I do not believe a habit makes the religious, but abandoning the habit has shuttered some windows between heaven and earth. Sensible religious garb witnesses to the lived vows. It demonstrates submission to a way of living that is counter-cultural. And we need people who point in very obvious ways to ways of being in but not of the world.

Religious garb to be an effective “window” should be obvious, simple, comfortable, practical, flexible and a matter of choice. Their are times to wear it and times not to wear it. It should not become a liturgical garment only worn around others wearing the same thing. I love what many African and Indian sisters have done in creating garb that is beautiful, simple, culturally appropriate and clearly a statement of commitment.

I highly value the contributions of religious women whether they wear a habit or not. We need more young women dedicated to this incredible way of life. If religious garb is part of what attracts them, isn’t it possible that God is saying we need to think about reinstating it in a manner that reflects a well-thought out combination of sensibility and spirituality? I hope so. Thanks for this wonderful opportunity to explore this topic. Blessings on all who have contributed and to the dedicated sisters who run the blog.

GilChrist77 September 14, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I am also seventeen and have known since I was twelve that I’m going to be a nun. Just last month I made the decision to apply to enter the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor MI. At the beginning of my discernment I was considering everything, but particularly three things. I was considering being a Consecrated Virgin living in the world, a contemplative order in Ireland, and the Servants of God’s Love also in Ann Arbor. I was attracted to different parts of these three calls. I was attracted to the good deeds I would be able to do as a Consecrated Virgin, the amazing prayer life I would be able to have and the good that would do for others in a contemplative order and both the work that the Servants of God’s Love do with the right to life movement and also their charismatic spirituality. As I have grown in my faith and grown in my vocation, I have received a call to evangelize to youth, and I came to see that in those three ways of life I personally wouldn’t be able to evangelize as well as I could in a full habit. Having said all that, I see nothing wrong with not wearing the full traditional habit, as I see it, it’s a personal choice for each discerner.

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