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


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On 3/14/2016, 9:29:02, DominicanHeart said:

I am sorry for the way I phrased my statements

God bless you, DH. :) 

 

On 3/29/2016, 11:28:54, Benedictus said:

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.

Outstanding post with excellent points.

 

Personally, I would not consider joining a community without the habit. And personally, I DO need the visual witness that a habit represents. I work with many sisters, none of whom wears the habit. It makes me sad. I often can't tell who's a sister and who's not. "What does it matter?" you may ask. It matters to me. I want to know who has taken those vows, who has publicly consecrated her whole life to God, because THAT makes a difference. We all believe that, and I believe that difference should show.

I'm an academic, which is a very secular, often very anti-religious world. When I see a sister or brother on the street in habit, or a priest in clerical vestments, my heart leaps like St. John in the womb. I instantly think: "Ooooh! There are still people in the world who believe there's a God!" I need that reminder constantly, because I often feel very alone in my work.

That being said, I would not judge a sister or a community that has chosen not to wear the habit. Sometimes there are very good reasons: I think of the sisters who rescue women forced into sexual slavery, whose lives would be endangered if they stood out in any way. God bless them for not wearing a habit so that they can continue their work.

Ultimately, what matters are the reasons that a sister or community decide not to don the habit. Some reasons are good. Some are bad. But God will judge, not me.

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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

My understanding is that a habit is a uniform. So if everybody wore blue,  it would be a habit. The veil is the sign of consecration. In some communities there  is a barbie and ken view of the veil, rather than a sign of the cross, as Christian friendship and radical self-giving.

 

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1 hour ago, savvy said:

My understanding is that a habit is a uniform. So if everybody wore blue,  it would be a habit. The veil is the sign of consecration. In some communities there  is a barbie and ken view of the veil, rather than a sign of the cross, as Christian friendship and radical self-giving.

 

Barbie and Ken?

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Mother Angelica was dead set square that her community would wear the old roman style (Fransican?) habit! I heard that reported on EWTN! Now that she is gone..I hope they dont ever change that aspect of her community either!! And...who would argue with Mother Angelica's reasons for having the things the way she instituted them???! O;) One couldnt get MORE Catholic than her, in my humble opinion!!!

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1 hour ago, nikita92 said:

Mother Angelica was dead set square that her community would wear the old roman style (Fransican?) habit! I heard that reported on EWTN! Now that she is gone..I hope they dont ever change that aspect of her community either!! And...who would argue with Mother Angelica's reasons for having the things the way she instituted them???! O;) One couldnt get MORE Catholic than her, in my humble opinion!!!

Mother Angelica wore a much simpler version of the habit until 1993. The habit she chose for her community in 1993 actually isn't traditional for Poor Clares. They have never worn that boxy white coif in all the centuries of their history, for example. To my knowledge it didn't appear until the 1800s and it's still not the norm for Poor Clares to wear it - you don't see it on the nuns at Roswell or Minooka, and they're as traditional and austere as they come. It certainly would have been strange to St Clare. But Mother Angelica wanted her community to provide a more striking visible witness - in her words, "to look Roman" - and that was understandable given the apostolate she had. She was running a Catholic TV station in a region of the US that is historically very Protestant. While I wouldn't argue with Mother Angelica's reasons for doing things her way in her community, I don't think this means that every other community needs to copy her, and I doubt she would have expected that herself.

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Founders create, make decisions and set things up depending on the time in history and the place, context, culture etc in which they and their foundation live. At a later time and/or in a different place these might need to be changed. It can be hard to do this if the founder's memory is especially revered, but I don't think any founder would want their community's life and mission to stagnate or be less effective or authentic out of excessive loyalty to their memory.

If Mother Angelica's community decide, at a later date, that they need to change something she set up - including what they wear - then they have the right to do this. That is their right and their duty as her heirs and inheritors, to ensure the community is healthy, thriving and fulfils its end and mission as well as it can. People who don't belong to the community and have no intention of joining it, and only see things from "outside" need to give them respectful, prayerful support, not speculation, criticism or lamentation.

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48 minutes ago, Sister Leticia said:

People who don't belong to the community and have no intention of joining it, and only see things from "outside" need to give them respectful, prayerful support, not speculation, criticism or lamentation.

You and Sister Marie are the only vowed religious posting in this thread, one of you has a habit and one of you doesn't, and you've both shared almost identical concerns over the way sisters are perceived and treated because of what they wear. We need to listen to you. Many posters in Vocation Station hope to become religious too, so we especially need that prayerful support and respect here - you are taking the time to share details from your lives and help others in their journey with Christ, after all, and it's the least we can offer you in return.

A Carmelite novice mistress once told me that in her experience, young nuns often focus too much on externals like the habit and they have to detach from it as they mature in their way of life. Her community wears habits, but the habits don't attract nearly the amount of attention and interest from the sisters that they do among people outside the community! This is a good reminder to all of us that our ideas may be very different once we've actually entered that monastery, and that we should respect what sisters who have been in religious life for a long time have to tell us. It's their life, after all; they are the experts.

This topic reminds me of something Bl. Oscar Romero wrote, that I read for the first time last night: "God is not satisfied by appearance. God wants the garment of justice. God wants his Christians clothed in love."

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Thank you Beatitude - and thank you for reminding us that, first and foremost, we all need to be clothed in love. Our quality of being and relating, whether we treat people with respect, fairness and kindness, how much we can love - these are the greatest witnesses to the God of infinite love for whom we live and wish to give our lives.

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36 minutes ago, Sister Marie said:

Earlier this year I was teaching my students about our community and, as an introduction to charism, I asked them what similarities they saw in all the sisters in school.  Their answers were - you are always smiling, when you talk to one another you always laugh and joke, you are all very organized (HA), you are always kind to us, you love us, you love each other, you pray everyday, you always ask, "Can I help?", you're all funny (HA!), etc.  None of my students said, "You wear the same color, you wear the same ring, you wear the same crucifix, etc.  It just didn't matter to them... our witness was in our actions far more than in what we wore.  I would much rather have a witness to my life say, "You love us," than, "You wore the right color."  

This reminds me of something that happened to a woman in my secular institute who has now died. We don't wear anything external to distinguish us and she worked in a hospital, where potentially sensitive topics like faith were only raised by the chaplains. Not long before she retired, a colleague asked her, "Are you a Christian?" She said yes. The colleague smiled and said, "Ah, I thought so."

The habit is important, but he has ways to make himself known without it. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:35. His love for us was never more eloquent than when he was stark naked on the cross and people had gambled away even his undershirt.

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My perspective is that a habit provides a necessary witness and example that is currently missing in the Western world. It also provides a chance for people to ask religious questions, so it would be very helpful for people to see habits more often than never in public. I don't mind if some communities don't wear one, especially for historical or truly necessary reasons or to prevent scandal; that visible witness is just so rare that it practically doesn't exist. Now I've learned that even parish priests don't wear clerical collars out in public in many cases, so as a Church we're definitely missing a whole category of opportunities to be asked for help or otherwise nudge some people towards the truth.

Admittedly, a person wearing a habit is consistently held to a higher behavioral standard, so scandal is easier, but giving a good witness in simple interactions is easier, too. Sister Marie's last post highlights why behavior throughout the day would be more important for the individual religious to focus on, but those of us in the laity really are affected by the choice to wear or not wear a habit. I think that's why so many express such strong opinions, even when inappropriate. Good Christian behavior from a random stranger has a markedly different effect, since it's usually not recognized as Christian, whereas a habit can amplify the results.

I think that children in particular should have an opportunity to meet and talk with religious sisters and/or brothers. If they never see anyone, especially not young people, in a habit apart from actors and roleplayers, religious life won't be seen as a possibility for many children who go through Catholic school, let alone those in CCD. It is most important for girls to encounter sisters, since boys at least have overt male role models in the priests.

The unloving, pious church lady stereotype is unfortunately all too present in many churches, probably in part because we're so poorly catechized that some think that's how they're supposed to behave. After all, it's a very overt, strong example due to the negativity. Catholic religious are in a position to counteract that kind of behavior by example much more easily, but only if people know that they've radically dedicated their lives to God. We mostly don't meet our fellow parishioners nowadays, so the only way people tend to know is by seeing a habit.

 

I had written a personal background section to explain how I formed these perspectives from experience, but this is already too long. Suffice it to say that I'm young, female, from the U.S.A., and was 22 before I found out it was possible for sisters not to wear habits. After that, I met a sister for the first time, despite prior active attempts to find sisters I was told attended my parish.

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3 hours ago, Klarisse said:

My perspective is that a habit provides a necessary witness and example that is currently missing in the Western world. It also provides a chance for people to ask religious questions, so it would be very helpful for people to see habits more often than never in public. I don't mind if some communities don't wear one, especially for historical or truly necessary reasons or to prevent scandal; that visible witness is just so rare that it practically doesn't exist. Now I've learned that even parish priests don't wear clerical collars out in public in many cases, so as a Church we're definitely missing a whole category of opportunities to be asked for help or otherwise nudge some people towards the truth.

Admittedly, a person wearing a habit is consistently held to a higher behavioral standard, so scandal is easier, but giving a good witness in simple interactions is easier, too. Sister Marie's last post highlights why behavior throughout the day would be more important for the individual religious to focus on, but those of us in the laity really are affected by the choice to wear or not wear a habit. I think that's why so many express such strong opinions, even when inappropriate. Good Christian behavior from a random stranger has a markedly different effect, since it's usually not recognized as Christian, whereas a habit can amplify the results.

I think that children in particular should have an opportunity to meet and talk with religious sisters and/or brothers. If they never see anyone, especially not young people, in a habit apart from actors and roleplayers, religious life won't be seen as a possibility for many children who go through Catholic school, let alone those in CCD. It is most important for girls to encounter sisters, since boys at least have overt male role models in the priests.

The unloving, pious church lady stereotype is unfortunately all too present in many churches, probably in part because we're so poorly catechized that some think that's how they're supposed to behave. After all, it's a very overt, strong example due to the negativity. Catholic religious are in a position to counteract that kind of behavior by example much more easily, but only if people know that they've radically dedicated their lives to God. We mostly don't meet our fellow parishioners nowadays, so the only way people tend to know is by seeing a habit.

 

I had written a personal background section to explain how I formed these perspectives from experience, but this is already too long. Suffice it to say that I'm young, female, from the U.S.A., and was 22 before I found out it was possible for sisters not to wear habits. After that, I met a sister for the first time, despite prior active attempts to find sisters I was told attended my parish.

Klarisse,  I'd like to give you a full response at some point but I don't have time right now.  I do want to say that this is the most respectful commentary I've seen in favor of the habit in a while.  I wear a habit and I don't agree with everything you wrote here but I'm glad you wrote it because it shows an example of how to express a belief without belittling others.  It opens up communication instead of shutting it down.  Thanks for respecting sisters enough to respect their decisions but to share your own thoughts and feelings on those decisions and how they affect the laity.  

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12 hours ago, beatitude said:

This topic reminds me of something Bl. Oscar Romero wrote, that I read for the first time last night: "God is not satisfied by appearance. God wants the garment of justice. God wants his Christians clothed in love."

There's a Jewish joke about this:

Sam was a pretty nasty guy in his life, a bit of a con man, definitely not the sort you'd want to buy a second-hand car from.  In his 60s, he had a heart attack, and it scared him.  So he decided he'd better change his ways before it was too late, and suddenly began to grow a beard, pray three times a day, worried that his food wasn't kosher enough -- but, after all, business is business, so he kept on short-changing people and being unpleasant.

Eventually, he died.  When he appeared before the Holy One, Blessed Be He, in judgement, Sam pointed out that he ought to get into Heaven, noting that he dressed like a devout Jew, including beard.  God looked at him and said, "I see the beard, Sam.  But where's the Jew?"

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Sr Mary Catharine OP

The habit is the oldest form of religious profession. It was the putting on the monastic garb that signified taking on a way of life of radically following the Gospel. A formula of the vows came MUCH later.

The majority of congregations of sisters founded in the 1700 and 1800's weren't considered according to canon law as religious because they made simple vows. It was only with the 1917 code that they were considered religious. So, they were more like the beguines. Women who came together to respond to a need as a way of following the Gospel more radically. It's not totally different from monastic life but it is different.

Many habits were outdated and well, even outlandish. They were the common dress of widows, etc. at the time. They needed to be updated. But of course, there is the problem that what is "normal" in 1950 isn't in 2016.
The monastic habit, on the other hand is beyond style and fit in every age because it just doesn't look like ANYTHING anyone wears!  :-)

I suspect this debate will be with us for a long time. A lot has to do with how an institute sees itself. I remember that the sisters in ME who taught my mother would wear a navy blue suit and veil for ministry, Mass, prayers, etc. but then you'd see them around during off hours in regular clothes working in the garden, etc. I thought it was a very nice adaptation. After all the men do it all the time.

For example, the TOR sisters have a simple habit but they also have "play clothes".

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Reading some of the posts that talk about things religious women do, things religious women are called to, etc., I keep thinking: "Yeah, but we're ALL supposed to do that on account of our baptism." So maybe I should ask a more fundamental question:

What difference does taking religious vows make?

Once that's established, then I think we can better handle the question:

What role does the habit play in making that difference?

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