It is not often that I feel compelled to respond to someone’s comment in an actual post. But a recent comment touches on nun issues that I hear from folks from time to time. I am grateful for those who articulate how they feel about nuns even when it takes the form of respectful criticism. Your feedback is important and helps us nuns to reflect seriously on our ministry and life and on how people perceive us.

Here’s the comment:

I read an article about you way back in March. Quite surprised to hear a nun say she visits a bar. I wonder if Jesus approves of nuns visiting bars? I don’t mean to sound too harsh or negative but nuns are too worldly today, living by them selves, wear no habits. A nun is much more respected when everyone knows who she is by her wearing a habit. Too bad that this had been lost, and of course, since many wear no habits, they no longer get any vocations. God Bless you. ER

Thank you for writing and articulating how you view nuns. I have a number of responses floating through my mind but in the end have more questions than answers. I really want to understand where you are coming from with your observations.

1. I guess one of the first questions I have is what exactly is your understanding of what a nun is? What do you base this understanding on — current or past experiences in church or school, the media, other experiences?

2. Are you familiar with the many different charisms of religious life? Did you know that some communities of nuns were founded to be more contemplative and to dedicate their lives to prayer and sacrifice on behalf of the world? and that other communities were founded to be more active in the world, and to minister to people where they are? and that some are a mix of the two?

3. Why do you wonder if Jesus would approve of nuns visiting bars? Is there something about Jesus that you think would abhor visiting a bar? Is it the drinking of alcohol? or the image of bars as “unseemly” places? When you look at the life of Jesus, how does he show that he would disapprove?

4. The habit issue raises many questions for many people and is probably THE biggest source of critique of nuns (many reasons for this, not least is the very compelling visible symbol that the habit is for many). First, for the sake of clarification, all sisters and nuns wear a habit. However, the wearing of the habit is often assumed, albeit erroneously, to be equivalent to the wearing of a veil and a long, robe-like dress which may or may not include the wearing of a rosary, cross, scapular or other part of the habit. I would like some more insight into this because the Church has approved every single Roman Catholic community of sisters and nuns, including their dress code. Why do you think nuns are more respected when they wear a recognizable habit? Does it matter more than the nun’s living out of her call and mission from God? Do you feel that the habit integral to being a nun?

5. What evidence do you have that “of course, since many wear no habits, they no longer get any vocations”? That is one hefty statement that needs some serious backing up in order to make. The media has been throwing around similar statements and people seem to just assume that it’s true. Where is this information coming from? There are communities that do not wear a recognizable habit that are growing in number, and there are communities that do wear a recognizable habit that are not growing in number. Plus, why are numbers the measure of a religious community?

As nuns, we would do well to reflect on these questions and issues both for our own growth as well as for insight into how we are perceived by those within our Catholic family and the world in general.

As readers of this blog post, please let me know your thoughts on the issues raised here. And to ER herself, again I want to thank you for articulating your thoughts on my blog and giving me pause for reflection. The questions I asked are by no means rhetorical … I do want to better understand where you are coming from and to continue the conversations with you. Sister Julie