Surely, I thought, this must be a joke as I read a news headline saying that the word “nun” has been dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. But it’s no joke. Lisa Saunders, a mom in Ireland, discovered that the new edition of the dictionary had dropped a bunch of words. Upon closer examination, she discovered that a number of Christian-related words were dropped including, “abbey, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, minister, monastery, monk, nun, nunnery, parish, pew, psalm, pulpit, saint, sin, devil, and vicar” (source: Catholic News Agency).

Interestingly, some of the new words in the latest edition of the dictionary reflect cultural shifts today such as the growth of new media. The dictionary now has words such as “blog” and “MP3 player”. A clever headline in the UK, notes the shift in the dictionary: “Clergyman blasts Oxford Junior Dictionary for replacing words ‘saint’ and ‘devil’ with ‘celebrity’ and ‘vandalism’” (source: The Mail).

So how are we to communicate our faith, our very selves, to children when the words we use no longer are definable? Will kids think that if it’s not in the dictionary, it’s not a real word or that it is somehow antiquated, no longer relevant?

Sister Patty Fawkner, SGS, a “Good Sams” Sister, has written a compelling piece about the disappearance of the word “nun” from the dictionary. Although I would like to quote every word of the post “Where has the nun gone?” (from the column “It Occurred to Me” on the Good Sams website) because it’s a good piece, I’ll just highlight one significant quote and encourage you to read the rest of the piece.

Sister Patty wonders aloud in the piece if the removal of the word “nun” and related words is trying to say “something about the diminishment, in terms of numbers and influence, of various religious congregations.” A sobering thought, indeed, but Sister Patty doesn’t leave us there. She goes on and sheds new light on the meaning of declining numbers, showing that our response as nuns need not reflect the doom and gloom that the media associates with declining numbers. She writes:

It occurred to me, then, that the very decline of religious life carries an invitation for religious to live their lives with even greater integrity. Religious life, after all, is meant to be lived on the prophetic margin of both church and society, where status – even junior dictionary status – counts for very little but where seeking God and inclusive and compassionate love are intrinsic.

And religious life makes an invaluable contribution as it witnesses to the possibility of community in a world so desperate for relationships.

Further, religious life can offer to a sex-saturated world the example of celibacy that also promotes human flourishing. I am not speaking of life-denying celibacy, but that celibacy which believes that some people love best – deeply, generously and joyously – by making Jesus Christ the very centre of their life rather than any other person or project. (Source: Sisters of the Good Samaritan website)