Arguably, one of my favorite pastimes as of late is to find videos on YouTube or watch movies on AmazonPrime about religious sisters, or nuns. (AmazonPrime might still have these two, which I recommend: Vision – about a 12th century nun and her journey to sainthood, and The Innocents – the story of a convent tormented by Soviet soldiers and the plight of women in the 20th century. I also have about 20 videos of religious sisters giving talks queued up. My adoration of them is almost all-consuming.
But why? Where did this reverence and obsession come from? I’ll try to start from the beginning.
I went to Ascension parish for pre-school when I was younger for about a year. It was our neighborhood and familial parish, though we never attended unless it was for a funeral or a wedding. There were only two singular times that I can recall seeing religious in the parish: one sister was waaayyy down at the other end of the hall, wearing what I would find out was a Benedictine habit, and the other was a small collection of Franciscan sisters, wearing lighter blue habits, at my late grandmother’s second wedding (May she rest in peace). Having never spoken a word to the Franciscan sisters at my grandmother wedding, I remember one sister looking down at me (since I was only about four or five at the time) and giving me the most genuine smile I could ever recall.
Nuns had never been in my life aside from those two moments – that statement is still true as I write this today. Aside from movies, like Sister Act (which I loved mostly for the peek into religious life) and The Sound of Music (again for the peek in life in a monastery, however fancified) — (all wearing Benedictine habits as far as my research can tell) — I had no concept of what the life of a nun entailed. Based on movies, I guessed that it was for unmarried women who were spinsters, women who were never adopted (assuming they were sent to a Catholic orphanage), or women who genuinely felt the calling in their heart.
For three years, I was Muslim, and studied Islam and went to the Masjid (mosque) for Jumu’ah (obligatory Friday) prayer. The reason I chose to become Muslim was because in my younger years, my mother’s mom crammed Jesus and religion down by throat, ironically doing the opposite of what she intended: making me detest Our Lord and Savior. (Thank God that that is no more!) Islam gave me the answer I’d been looking for: no Jesus, just God.
During this time, I was a part-time hijabi — meaning I covered my head in secret, or wrapped it untraditionally on a semi-inconsistent basis. I abstained from pork, though I did drink and smoke, among other things. Despite all I read and the goodness I saw in my Muslim sisters (referred to as Muslimah(s)), I was unsettled in my spirit. Yet I found myself looking at my fellow sisters with adoration, with pride – that they were able to do what I could not spiritually and visibly.
That fondness, I would come to realize, came from the fact that women in religion, who wear head coverings (Orthodox Jews, the Amish, Muslims, Mennonites, Catholic Nuns, and many others) appeared to be more confident in their love of God than I was. And I was jealous of that.
How could they do that, I wondered. How could they so outwardly love God above fear of ridicule, fear of judgment, fear or persecution? For me, I feared ridicule from my fellow Muslims over my fear of God. It put a hole in my heart of anxiety and uncertainty. I needed something else. (Note: my experience with Islam is not indicative of others experiences. I pray for my brothers and sisters in Islam that they may come to the light of the Church and accept Jesus Christ.)
Through a series of events (read here), Catholicism struck a chord with me. My heart was open to Jesus Christ, and I felt happy and content. Then I felt a calling to make up for lost time: I could become a religious sister. To devote my life to God, to live in service to Him and to others – what could be better?
I started watching videos on YouTube to see what the life of a nun was like. Imagine my surprise when I realized that religious sisters can do so much more than live a cloistered life! (Not to mention adorn habits of different colors based on their sect: Franciscan, Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, etc.) Thinking to myself, I thought: I could totally do this!
Doing more research, I realized that the number of nuns was at an all time low and had diminished significantly (doing even more research scandals within the Church, women developing more vocations other than marriage or the nunnery, and societal changes were the top contributors to this I found). I panicked immediately and thought: “Oh God. Who’s going to pray for the world? Who’s going to dedicate themselves to God? Who’s going to – ?” And thus began my frantic search into the process to join a community – not likely how Jesus would advise a decision about vocation to be made (I mean, come on, I wasn’t even Catholic yet).
My adoration of the life of those who pray for humanity, volunteer in service to people, and live in devotion to God, calmed my spirit to know that there was more I could do to support these sisters in all communities from the outside than the inside.
I would still consider myself obsessed because I have yet to meet a sister in person as an adult. To me they are still ethereal and divine, which I’m sure many of them would object to because they are also humble in their vocation. Their dedication is selfless and their hearts are the best of us. I pray to meet a religious sister as an adult – hopefully my zeal and eagerness won’t freak her out. (Pray for me!)
Books about religious sisters that I have bought include: The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux, Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence by Raymond Arroyo, and Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa and Brian Kolodiejchuk.
We should do all that we can to support new and incoming sisters, not just into Catholicism, but especially into religious life. Whether it be into a contemplative or active order, there is a need of those who dedicate themselves to life, love, prayer, and God. I invite you to seek out an active religious and commune with them, find a cloistered convent and donate to them. If you search “convent capital campaign” on Google, there are many establishments who could use your help.
Alright. I’m off my soap box.
Until next time. May God bless you and keep you.