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40 years later, is it time to reconsider the religious habit?


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4 hours ago, DominicanHeart said:

I am sorry for the way I phrased my statements

Giving you props for the quality of your statement above, DH:flowers: - not because you are sorry for some other statements you might have made.  Wish I had a dollar for every time I have said something, written something, and then regretted it for some reason with a need to apologise. 

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I just wanted to add that we also have Sister Christina as part of the vowed religious group in this discussion at least. You are right beatitude that the externals sometimes confuse the essentia

I'm glad Ignatius wrote what she did in response to this comment.  I do hope that in rereading it you see that there would have been a better way to express an opinion in favor of habits rather than p

I am sorry for the way I phrased my statements

As someone who has both worn and not worn a habit, I think that this a rich but also complex topic, and there are some well-made points on this thread, notably those of Nada, Beatitude, and Sister Marie. (I would also add that that there is a also huge difference between traditional monastics who wear a habit, and modern apostolic Congregations that were founded with no intention of wearing a habit). But this is a conversation for the religious communities themselves and it is, quite frankly, nobody else's business. When I see people who are not religious either getting all excited about what sisters wear, or else pontificating about what they should wear, I really have to wonder what is going on. Both the curiosity and the judgmentalism strike me as spiritually unhealthy, to put it mildly.

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I think it is ok to have an opinion as to which one personally prefers - habited or non habited. To hold one's preference fanatically is another matter.  I think to be highly and negatively critical of what one does not prefer .........is not on!  It is also very true, I think, that the final decision as to whether to habit or not is for the religious concerned.  As to the conversation that might take place before a final decision is made, if the religious want to make the decision on their own as an internal matter or a matter for religious only, fair enough.  If they would like lay persons' input, then that is ok too.

"[25] Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment?" (Matthew Ch6).

............and I think the above quotation and attitude applies for those of us outside religious life reflecting on or sharing opinions on the wearing, or not wearing, of the religious habit.

I love the religious habit - but then it can be an absolute penance in the extreme in summer weather and the heat.  I know habited and non habited religious sisters and nuns..............wonderful people all.

Edited by BarbaraTherese
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2 hours ago, Egeria said:

But this is a conversation for the religious communities themselves and it is, quite frankly, nobody else's business

A spanish sister told me this story. When they changed their habit, a man began to be very rude to them. So one day, this sister gave this men a paper. 

"What is it on this paper ?" asked the man. 

"The name and address of the cardinal who approved our new Constitution. If you think that this cardinal was wrong in approving our modified habit, write to him. Me, I'm just a sister who made an obedience vow." 

More seriously, I think what poison the habit debate is : 

- ignorance of history (what look traditional is often not traditional. Blessed Honoratus Kozminski founded 26 congregations of religious men and women who lived in secrecy because of the dictature at this time in Poland., etc...) 

- harsh judgement from each side. I remember reading an article online where cloistered sisters laughed at a non-habited sister varicose vein. I've heard parishioner criticizing the Hermanas de la Cruz habit (they did not change it after VII), ignoring the fact that no matter how strange their habit look, they still serve the poors in Sevilla day after day. As said Egeria, if a congregation wears an habit or not, it's none of our businnes since it's not our congregation. 

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The comments about the person who did want to be taught by ' women who look like Muslims' or by a 'man in a dress' reflect a much bigger issue.  These observations reveal a closed mind that is lock into a lot of prejudice.  I felt alarms go off inside when I read it.  How would Jesus reply to 'stuff' like this?

john

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another question:

what exactly is a habit?

The MC's wear all the same simple cotton sari, because Mother Teresa wanted indian sisters, dressed like indians. is this a habit?

The little sisters of jesus wear the clothes of the people that they serve, if appropriate with a very simple veil. so in europe, this might mean blue jeans with a blue shirt, no veil. is this a habit?

the monastic family of jerusalem wear a habit when they are home, but not when they go to their part time job. (given that they started in france, this is not very surprising). does this count as wearing a habit?

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, josephine said:

another question:

what exactly is a habit?

The MC's wear all the same simple cotton sari, because Mother Teresa wanted indian sisters, dressed like indians. is this a habit?

The little sisters of jesus wear the clothes of the people that they serve, if appropriate with a very simple veil. so in europe, this might mean blue jeans with a blue shirt, no veil. is this a habit?

the monastic family of jerusalem wear a habit when they are home, but not when they go to their part time job. (given that they started in france, this is not very surprising). does this count as wearing a habit?

 

 

 

 

And 200 years ago someone could just as easily have asked: what exactly is a habit?

After all, they'd have said, the Daughters of Charity wear a cornette, instead of a veil, just like the women in Ile de France at the time of their foundation... and sisters in the new Society of the Sacred Heart wear white caps with a frilled edging, just like any respectable young married woman... and the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, founded in secret in the French Revolution, just wear simple, ordinary clothes... and so on.

I know this has been said before, but it's worth re-stating. Many religious habits originated in the clothing of ordinary women at the time and place of an order's foundation: this can be seen in any old habit involving a bonnet or cap (with or without a veil on top), as much as in the MC sari. Women in the "old" orders wore wimples and veils because that's how mediaeval married women dressed. When "newer" orders were founded, they either wore the clothes of ordinary local women, or (especially if they were keen to be acknowledged as religious sisters or if the authorities required it) they adapted or copied the habit of the more established orders. You could say there was a kind of "habit template". Thus scapulars, wimples and long veils became the norm for many orders.

I'd say that the orders founded in clandestine circumstances (eg post-Revolutionary France) and the ones founded to offer a quiet, humble service of the poor, such as the MCs and the DCs (who also needed to circumvent strict rules around enclosure in order to be effective in their ministry, and therefore remained a Society of Apostolic Life) were the ones LEAST likely to wear traditional, noticeable habits along the "template" lines.

@Nunsuch - if you have different or greater wisdom to offer from a historical perspective, I'd definitely welcome it.

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Another answer to the question of what makes a habit a habit is the community's constitutions or rule.  

All constitutions are approved by the Church so whatever sisters have written in their approved constitutions about the habit is what the habit is.

If sisters wear a modified habit, identified in their constitutions as a skirt and blouse with optional veil, it's a habit.

If sisters do not wear a habit there is probably some reference to this in the constitutions and they have been approved by the Church.

If sisters wear a traditional looking habit with scapular, rosary, veil, etc. and it is written in their constitutions, it's a habit and it's approved by the Church.

The bottom line in each of these situations is that the Church has approved these constitutions whether or not other people agree with them.  The decisions communities have made have been approved by the Church as valid expressions of religious life.  

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Since I wore uniform at work for nearly 50 years, let me just say that it made life a lot simpler, knowing I wasn't going to have to take time creating,  and caring for my wardrobe, and deciding on a daily basis what to wear.  However, when I look at some habits, especially old photos from the century before, it looks far more arduous to function in some of the elaborate ones than to simply throw on any old dress <g>

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17 hours ago, josephine said:

another question:

what exactly is a habit?

The MC's wear all the same simple cotton sari, because Mother Teresa wanted indian sisters, dressed like indians. is this a habit?

The little sisters of jesus wear the clothes of the people that they serve, if appropriate with a very simple veil. so in europe, this might mean blue jeans with a blue shirt, no veil. is this a habit?

the monastic family of jerusalem wear a habit when they are home, but not when they go to their part time job. (given that they started in france, this is not very surprising). does this count as wearing a habit?

 

 

 

 

I think probably that standard dress, uniform and religious habit all mean pretty much the same thing i.e. what members of a community all wear as intrinsic to their way of life.  When a new novice receives her habit (standard dress, uniform), it is blessed and therefore a sacramental and that would make it a religious habit in our most common understanding.  It is a religious item.  I don't think there is actually any set type of prescription for standard clothing or uniform wear to qualify as  a religious habit. I think probably the ring and the cross on chain or whatever around the neck, or the lapel badge.......with secular type clothing.........is for some their religious item of identification rather than standard clothing.  It is a religious item they wear and a sacramental representing their commitment/belonging to a certain religious order.  It could be said to be their religious habit I guess, because they are always worn, or one of them where religious have the option for something around the neck or a lapel pin.

I think habits for religious may have came about also when religious first gathered in community living. When secular clothing was worn by those in community, some members had rich type clothing, while the poor members had only poor clothing.  Standard dress, uniform or religious habit eliminated the differences.

I really don't know how they do it, but it intrigues me that nowadays the religious in secular clothing, all types of secular clothing, never look different.  By that I mean, even though they all wear something different, no sister looks to be wearing better clothing than the others.  They all seem to be on a 'level playing ground'.  Well done methinks!

Edited by BarbaraTherese
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  • 2 weeks later...

I think it's of central importance to join an institute because of its charism and God's calling, not secondary things. I've always found it a bit strange when people seem to discern away swiftly whole institutes based on things that shouldn't be the prime concern.

It's fine to acknowledge personal preferences and interests, if the motivations of them are addressed and the intentions good. However, what we want and what God edges us towards may not always instantly match up and a sacrifice may be necessary.

I joined an institute (Jesuits) that doesn't wear a habit, aside from clerical dress if this is fitting and or necessary. We did used to have a specific fashion of clerical dress, but it wasn't a habit per se. The aim is to adaptable to the apostolates, so that may require doing and wearing different things. This attitude has always been the case and it has proved useful in the past in areas of cultural adaptation in mission etc. I can therefore understand why a habit was never really sought.

If I hadn't joined the Jesuits (I'm still in formation) then I probably would have discerned more with the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity, whos members (sisters and brothers) don't wear a traditional habit. They were founded in the late 60's in Spain and they have never had such a habit. They have some great and solid sisters and it was them that led me to consider this institute as a serious calling!

However, my personal view is still complicated. I personally would have wanted to have joined an institute with a more defined habit. It just didn't work out that way! I accept that the decision about habits is largely up to the institutes themselves etc. I think it's a good thing that each institute can decide what would be ideal for its context, apostolate, way of life etc. A diversity of practice and opinion in this regard isn't a bad thing.

However, I also think institutes should be aware of the times and the trend seems to be that discerners are more keen to engage with more distinctive outward forms. I have personally seen the positive witness and symbolism that outward religious dress can have, having known Buddhist monastics and Muslims. I also have a deep admiration for institutes such as the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Community of St. John etc. There's some great outward witness and counter cultural stuff going on.

I think the issue of identity and clothing choices can easily be overlooked in modern Christian contexts. Clothes present an image, brand or message whether we intend it or not. It can be a 'lost' or diluted moment for a religious in certain respects if they blend too much into the crowd. Hiding a light under a bush?

Times have also moved on since the period of idealism and rebellion against formalism in the 60's and 70's, even though I see where some of these impulses were coming from. It can be difficult to get a new perspective into institutes because of this generational hold on leadership teams and an obvious younger generational gap in many cases.

One of the sad aspects of the habit issue is also that a serious ongoing discussion can't often be had because it has been used as a political issue among some and can also be seen in terms of 'sides'. Snipes, entrenchment etc can occur as a result. The result often is to leave things alone, allowing newer communities or offshoot foundations to pave the way in terms of current need and the moving of the spirit. I wish it wasn't so much the case.

 

 

Edited by Benedictus
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I tend to side with Dominican heart. 

I am a child of the 60's! The very few convents that exsisted in my town during those times consisted of Dominicans in habits! Thusly my first imprint of religious women, are those being in HABITS!!! To me...the HABIT is a vital part that is included when becoming a nun/sister!! Especially for active communities..it is a witness that speaks of who and what you are! Also..Statistically speaking, between the two CMSWR-LCWR women religious groups..one is way more popular (receiving the most vocations of "YOUNG" ladies) due to habit wearing..over the other! This is a statistical FACT in just that one category for one...More young women than not, are drawn to communities that wear some form of habit! That is not to Disparage those that do not! I was dressed as a nun for halloween! I volunteered at a church's event they were having..giving out popcorn Etc...you should have seen the reaction I received the entire day into the evening time!  It really gave me a chance to talk about my Catholic roots! (My habit was Simular to Mother Angelica's) I had people telling me their stories...it was wonderful! I doubt that would have happened if I was dressed as a clown! 

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Look at the Amish! The women all have their hair styled In a certain way, parted straight down the middle, each side is twisted and secured in a bun covered..with a kapp! The kapp's style differs slightly depending on where they live..Lancaster Pennsylvania vs Holmes County Ohio. Their dresses are all handmade solid colors designed basically the same...all wear black shoes..(when they wear shoes)...So my point is....would it be called a HABIT? a UNIFORM?? Within their communities..they do have guidelines on their dress!

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