Friday, September 09, 2011

How pantsuits and apartments nearly destroyed religious life

The wife of a patient of mine was a nun for some years in North America. The couple, as you might expect, are very devout. Her husband is dying and we spoke in the kitchen about their lives. I was surprised when she said she had been a religious for over a decade. Why did she leave?

"Oh, doctor, it was the 1970s, and they started telling us to ditch our habits and dress in our own clothes and move into apartments. I said 'I joined for community and the Eucharist and prayer in choir. Where has all that gone?'. But they didn't listen and I thought, I'm no different from any other lay woman. So I left. If it was like it was when I joined, I'd go back tomorrow. And do you know what, doctor? The orders thriving now are the ones with the habit and traditional religious life"



Blogger Victor S E Moubarak said...

We have a few nuns in our Parish and they live in an ordinary house like everyone else. They wear "civies" rather than the traditional nun's habits. Sometimes we see our priests in public without the white dog collar.

God bless.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

That's not uncommon, Victor. In this lady's case it meant she gave up religious life.

If we value religious life as a sign in the world, it should be visible. I understand cucullus non facit monachum but that rather militates in favour of living up to the habit rather than ditching it.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Oh, and God bless you, too!

8:55 PM  
Blogger Bertie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Thanks, Bertie.

The point I make is merely to relate this lady's experience. It is not to denegrate the sisters you mention - God bless them in their work. I cannot help but think that many good vocations were lost and much good apostolic witness went by the wayside in a misguided attempt to be something they were not.

I am not suggesting nuns should be locked away in a convent, merely pointing out something that has been pointed out by the sociologist Dr Kieran Flanagan for the past thirty years: that whatever the charism and vocation of the religious order or society, those with communal life and visible habit have tended to thrive, those without have not.

Go figure, as they say hetre.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

Sorry you deleted the post, my friend. You made some good points.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Bertie said...

Sorry Paulinus I have to disagree with your assessment.

For the past 19 years the Columbian Sisters have been in our parish (in Ayrshire) and their impact has been invaluable. Like all of society the sisters have had varied personalities, some have been outgoing, some stubborn, others more reserved but each one of them enriched the Parish and we are much poorer for their leaving.

One of the (determined) sisters who always wore a habit and who, when continually referred to as "nun" by a schoolboy turned and shouted "boy" at him (because she's a sister, not a nun - I don't understand the distinction) met me on the train from Glasgow one night and whispered that whenever she saw me reading at Mass she thought; "now there's a man who should be a priest" - I have thought about it but it's not going to happen. Even while we were waiting for my mother's mortal remains to come home she reiterated this opinion which I thought was bit inappropriate but I have to say that when my mother was on her death bed this sister's support was invaluable. This sister, due to her tenacity, took no prisoners and she did take Catholicism to people who may have lapsed from the Faith (I'm not sure how successful this was).

Over the years we have had various sisters in the parish and each has made their contribution. Most have worn non-religous clothing and would not be distinguishable from other parishioners but they have still been beyond price. One of the sisters, who has years of experience all over the world including in the Philippines (they are poorer but have better weather apparently) said that you have to understand the local culture, so she read a book about Celtic. This may seem trite but it did give her the skills to integrate with the locals and understand them on their level. My father who is 81 and has supported Celtic for most of his life and, more importantly, been a Catholic longer has really benefitted from this sister's input.

The role of the Columbian sisters would not have been possible if they had been locked in a convent and had spent most of their days praying and staffing soup kitchens (which, sadly, may meet the needs of some of the population of Scotland but would not address the needs of the spiritually impoverished). Their benefit to Christianity was being in the community, not the community of the religious but the community of the laity, and to bring God's Word in action to the people of our parish and beyond.

There is a Benedictine Abbey in Largs (beside the putting green on the sea front - Mackerston Place). They have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament every day and you should visit it if you are down the coast some day. I have been there many time to pray and it is exceptional but the closeted life of the sisters is not for me. I do not mean to be judgemental but perhaps your patient's wife would have been more suited to this life rather than the particular order that she joined but now is 2011 and then was the 70s so any opinion now would be out of context.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Bertie said...

Just edited the wording Paulinius. I still stand by my points.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Bertie said...

Oh? And Having read I.T. the Punctuation; is atrocious:

10:07 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

I suppose the point about my patient's wife is that she signed up one thing and all of a sudden the spiritual elements of her life were changed without any discussion. Community life - gone. The vsible signs of being religious - gone. Prayer in common - gone. I think these changes were probably the tip of the iceberg for an attitudinal change that went against what she had initially said 'yes' to.

You might argue that she should have stayed as an act of obedience, which I think is a valid point.

In the end she has been in a happy marriage for over three decades and she and her husband have been very visible signs of God's love to those around them. In the end it may all be in God's good plan.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Bertie said...

I wouldn't dare to criticise your patient's wife's decision, after all she made a made a decision which I would never have dared to. You are also correct to say that they have enjoyed the love of God through each other.

My point is that there are different types of religious life available to those who choose it but just because some men and women choose a life which blends in with the community you should not critices all of the changes that have taken place since Vatican II.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Bertie said...

critices? I meant "criticise".

10:34 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

I hope I'm not criticising all the changes that have come. I think we are coming to a period where we will see which of the changes were good, which were not so good - which bits of the reform need to be reformed.

The Council is the Council and I am obedient to it as part of the teaching of the Church . i would argue that somne of its interpretation was misguided and in this case resulted in the loss of a vocation

10:50 PM  
Blogger Bertie said...

It's good to have debate and that was all part of the Council. In the end we are all part of the same Church (even St. Peter was criticised by Our Lord).

What I can't stand is bad English/typing (lowercase i at the start of a sentence and by "somne" I assume you meant "some"). You would never catch me doing something like that. :-)

God bless you and all your family.

11:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then they wonder why no-one joins them. Of course the newer traditional orders are thriving.

11:08 PM  

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