It’s a matter of habit …

A Professed and a new Postulant

French Sisters in the 1940s

A.M.D.G.
J.M.J.
A.T.C.

To be quite honest with all of you, it was only a matter of time before I wrote on this topic because it is so near and dear to my heart.  And the Lord Himself only knows that I will most probably write more on it later on in this blog.  What’s that topic?  The habit of women religious (and male religious as well but one can probably infer why I am specifying women). It can be a very polarizing topic though I don’t really see why it has to be. It’s rather obvious. It depends on the person and the specific nature of their vocation.

Ha! Gotcha there didn’t I? Some of you probably thought that I was going to advocate the universal re-investiture of all consecrated religious in the holy habits of their order. But nope, that’s not how I roll. Though I do know some people who would not mind that coming about. While their intentions may be good, I don’t think that’s the way to go.

Why is that? Because every vocation is different. Just like every order is different. What’s the purpose of hundreds of religious orders if they all did the exact same thing? Pah. The Church would not get anything done. She’d be focused on one or another particular thing and would leave out all the other pressing needs of the Church and the world. It’s kinda the same situation with a vocation. They are (please humor the cliche) like snow flakes. For a less saccharine simile, they are like lithographed holy cards, no two are *exactly* alike. While they may share many commonalities, the uniqueness comes from the special mission and gifts God gives each person, regardless of their vocation in life.

So why my position? Because not all religious are called to wear the habit. I feel I am called to don the habit of the order to which I am called. But that does not discount the vocation of another sister who may or may not be in the same congregation but does not don the habit. One does not find the vocation in the “threads,” it is found in the heart of the person. It’s like a priest, though I am an ardent supporter of clericals, when he takes off his collar or his cassock, he does not cease to be a priest. He will always be a priest.

Now, while there is a distinct theological and canonical difference between priests and religious, I believe the similarities here work for the sake of demonstration. If Father Aloysius takes off his rabat and dons civilian clothes, he does not cease to be “Father Aloysius.” Just like if Sister Mary Trinitas takes off her habit and puts on a tasteful yet simple ensemble, she does not cease to be “Sister Mary Trinitas.” A vocation is not in the clothes. It’s in the God-given call that is endowed in the individual.

Another thing that gets my scapular in a bunch is when I hear rather conservative (I can’t stand to use political terms to describe a person’s faith) Catholics say or insinuate that if sisters don’t wear habits then they are not “real” sisters.

What a load of 100-percent prime bs. Like I said, since when do clothes make the vocation? The habit is “just” an external manifestation of the religious’ vow of poverty and simplicity. Some practice that vow by donning the uniform/habit of their order. Others do so by wearing simple civilian clothes.

Frankly, so long as they are not breaking their vow of poverty by donning expensive or extravagant clothes, I could care less what they wore (so long as they didn’t look like who-chees).

Example from personal experience, I went to Chicago back in August to attend some special Masses with my dear Felicians. While the majority of the younger/newer vocations wore the habit, most of the more seasoned sisters were in brown/tan suits with skirts and their profession cross. I thought both looked nice in a superficial sense but let us not get too distracted from the point at hand.

The point is that both “types” of sister (habited and non-habited) were still sisters. They took the same vows. They live the same life. They follow the same charism. Some feel called to wear the habit. Others not so much. I met some sisters who wear the habit on special occasions like professions and what not. That’s perfectly legit. It’s like how Monsignor only wears his cassock of monsignoral awesome-ness (complete with pectoral cross) on special occasions like Christmas and Easter, when the Archbishop is saying Mass, or any other situation when the occasion calls for it. He wore it to Gala last March. It was pretty cool. So I can understand the different perspectives there.

What I CANNOT STAND for the eternal life of my soul is this.

*cue image of me talking on the phone with a vocation director of a non-Felician religious order*

Me:This all sounds very nice, Sister, and I really think that’s cool what your order does but I have two more questions.

Vocation Director: Yes?

Me: Do you allow for the wearing of the habit?

Vocation Director: *silence followed by a muffled sigh-groan hybrid* No, we don’t do that anymore.

Me: Why not?

Vocation Director: Because there is more to a vocation than clothes. We live our dynamic poverty dynamically and in new contemporary ways that reverence ourselves, the earth, and ourselves.

Me: You said “ourselves” twice.

Vocation Director: I meant to say “God.” Slip of the tongue. *chuckle*

Me: *nervous chuckle*

While living the vow of poverty in different ways is all honky-dory with me, it’s when one position is almost vilified over the other that my eyes begin their cynical roll.

I don’t believe in the universal re-investiture but for the love of Mary’s lovely blue mantle, don’t treat the habit like a tool of oppression. Dang feminists got their crummy paws all over things, they even got into the Church.

I am sick of being told that wearing the habit is “backwards” and “out-dated.” I am sick of being told that wearing a habit is like basically becoming a “female puppet” for the Church. I am sick of being told that wearing the habit is a way for the “male-dominated, homophobic, misogynistic hierarchy” to put me “in my place” because I am a woman and therefore must be controlled at all costs.

What a load of crap.

I want to wear the habit because to me, it is a part of my call. I want to wear the habit because that is one of the ways I want to make manifest my call to poverty of life. I want to wear the habit because I want to be reminded daily that I am married to Christ, He is my Spouse I will never want another. I want to wear the habit not to be a polarizing force in the Church but to help bring about unity and communication among her children.

And while I am on the topic of religious orders, why don’t we continue the conversation?

Me: One last question.

Vocation Director: *hiding sigh of relief* Go on.

Me: What’s your theology like in general?

Vocation Director: *first starts off with non-committals but as I ask more questions, the reality sinks in, this group is heterodox with a side of misguided*

And this is not meant to reflect personally on the sisters. It’s the same thing with the habit thing kinda sorta. Personally, they may be nice ladies but their theology is crazy. It’s all a smattering of new age this and contemporary that. It’s almost as if the term “orthodoxy” is a dirty word because it is indicative of some kind of cowering before the Church.

And that’s the thing. Orthodoxy is not a matter of cowering before the omnipotent male Church. It’s a matter of opening oneself to the Truth and realizing that one is not the sole holder of the Truth. In fact, the Church, as the Bride of Christ, is the Holder of the Truth of her Spouse. It all boils down to humility. Are we humble enough to realize that we ourselves are not the all-knowing masters of truth? That maybe, just maybe, there is someone else who knows better than us no matter how legit our “theology” or “philosophy” might seem to us and others.

Thank God the Church isn’t a democracy, direct or otherwise. I very much like the whole Pope and Bishops hierarchy. And it’s not because I am a clericalistic peon. It’s because when it comes to truth, it is better to have a distinct line of authority and means of selecting leaders that does not give into the whims of a passing era. The Church is timeless not because of her ancient buildings or her beautiful patrimony (though those do help greatly). She is timeless because the Spirit enlivens and leads her back to her Spouse, Christ. I don’t want to be in the group that stands in contrast to that kind of awesome all in the name of “freedom from oppression” and “equality on all levels.”

I just want to be a Catholic. I just want to do God’s will. I just want to go to Heaven.

Is that so much to ask.

So ends my tangential rant of sorts. I would let it go longer but it’s getting late and I have morning Mass, a funeral, and work in the morning.

Have a blessed evening!
-Allie

About Ms. Allie

I am a Catholic young woman who works as a Theology teacher at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of the Detroit. In Spring of 2015, I graduated with an MA in Theology with a concentration in Systematic Theology. My MA thesis was titled: "Mary as Woman of the Eucharist in the Theology of Pope Saint John Paul II." I also hold a BA in Theology (with a dabbling in Philosophy) and is a member of Theta Alpha Kappa (θΑΚ), the National Theology/Religious Studies Honor Society. Prayers are appreciated.
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One Response to It’s a matter of habit …

  1. katorikurant says:

    Neat thingy on the habit. Though I’d really appreciate it if more women did wear the habit- I’ve said numerous times I have to restrain from hugging them.

    What would you think of orders coming up with an “updated” habit, if you will? I was thinking how the habit evolved from the regular peasant dress of the day, and how maybe we could do something similar. I know Mother Teresa came up with her own habit- I wonder if some orders could do something similar?

    Just make sure we ban tie-dye anything first. *face-palm* Yes, I’ve seen it….

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