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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Religious Habit

I've been thinking quite a bit recently about the habit.  I've had some uncomfortable experiences in the past few months regarding my habit and so I have been trying to work it all out in my head and heart and for some reason, I feel like sharing.

My take on the habit is that it is absolutely necessary.  My community has some options and to be completely honest - I hate it.  I wish we all wore the same thing all the time.  However, we do wear a habit and for that I am grateful.    The style of habit I wear is definitely in my opinion - "poor, modest, and becoming."  It is practical for the work I do and the place I live and it certainly offers a witness to the people I meet.  

However, my recent experiences have left me questioning my attitudes about the habit and the attitudes of others.  It doesn't make me uncomfortable when people point out how happy they are to see a young sister in a habit - it is a normal and appropriate conversation piece.  However, when a grown man tells me that I'm too young and beautiful to be a sister - a red alarm goes off in my mind.  When someone stops me in the store to ask me where I work and what community I am in - I happily answer, with as much information as I can safely give.  However, when someone asks to touch me (yes - I'm not joking - this did happen) I am extremely uncomfortable.  I mean - how do you graciously answer that question?!  

The above examples being strange - I would also add that others are just plain scary.  While I love that the world knows that I am a spouse of Christ because of my habit - because of that witness I can also become an easy target.  I didn't realize this until very recently when a man (a man who should have known better by his state in life than to say this to me) stated, "You should be careful, many men will find you attractive because you are young, pretty, and in a habit."  (His intention was not to honestly warn me.)  

Since then I have found myself extremely uncomfortable in a few situations and I have been asking myself a few questions to which I still have no answers.  Should I stop wearing the habit I now wear in favor of a less feminine version?  Does the veil always incite this type of attention?  Are there times when it is appropriate, prudent, and justifiable not to wear the habit for the safety of oneself?  Would people identify me as "less of a nun" if I wore a habit that was not as traditional as the more feminine one I wear now even though it is still blessed?  How do I continue to give an open, approachable, and honest witness while still guarding myself from the inappropriate comments of others?

So those are my thoughts at the moment on the habit - not the most religious and inspiring, but a struggle that I'm sharing for now.  I hope it wasn't too much to share, but I do feel like sometimes the issue of the habit isn't talked about with a lot of openness and understanding and I just wanted to shed another light on it.  Let me know what you think.


  1. I'm not a religious, but I hope to enter an order in three years (after university). No one should ever think less of any religious because of their choice of clothing. What matters is their vocation, not their dress. For me, I would only consider entering a religiious order that does wear the habit, but that is me.
    I don't really know what to say about people who tell you you're too young or pretty to be a sister. I think that's just modern culture,because most people cannot understand following God's will. Perhaps you could tell people who tell you those things that you followed your calling, which is why you wear the habit and why you are a sister.
    Since I'm not a sister, maybe you could talk to some of your sisters, who might have similar experiences.

    Whatever you decide, Dieu vous benisse!

  2. Thanks for responding Catherine! I also would never want to not wear the habit, my thought is probably more about what it should look like and how in our modern society it is perceived. There isn't an overabundance in my life of young sisters so not many have had the same experience, but one sister suggested that possibly it is just another symptom of our culture. I think she could be right.

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  4. I think, like your Sister, that it IS another symptom of our culture. I also think that in our "show everything" society, people often find modesty so startling that it is often alluring or seductive--when that is not the intent of the wearer at all. I wish that there was a dress code for widows in our society: my understanding is that historically women signaled by their dress that they were "not available" for a time (a year, usually) after their spouse's death. The foundresses of religious communities often chose this style of dress for their religious habits--not really to signal that they were brides of Christ, which is often a more private, sacred experience--but to signal to people in general that it was not appropriate to treat them as "available." I find it inappropriate beyond expressing that people feel free to flirt or "come on" to religious women. When that happens to me I act insulted and then give them a chance to correct themselves or apologize--saying perhaps I misunderstood them and I hoped so, because I had thought better of them.

  5. Hi Sister, I too am a young Sister whose congregation worldwide wears a habit and veil. I think it's awesome how you describe your experience here, very helpful for me also. I recently went home for the first time after making vows and had similar experiences. I found people in general and the Catholics in particular to be very grateful for our witness. I am not ashamed to be a bride of Christ and sold out for the Church, so let's wear our habits with pride!

  6. Hi Sister! Thanks for responding and validating my experiences as your own. I certainly am not ashamed to be a Bride of Christ, and would never abandon my habit. Thank you for your support and encouragement. We have to be there for each other! God bless you!

  7. Yes, I can see that might be a problem (I'm a random passerby, by the way). Schoolgirls in uniform get this kind of thing too, so even some of the more modern style-habits (e.g. Salezjanki) won't let you off the hook.

    When I first saw the scarf-veil-with-sticking-out-ears I was struck by its complete rejection of any possible coquetrie (?sp?). Google "małe siostry od jezusa" or "little sisters of the lamb" and you'll see what I mean!

  8. I can see where that might be creepy too. I guess the first thought is, what is a good quick response...like "well, beauty is only skin deep," but that might be some good ones... but might just provoke a debate. Maybe, "Thank you, but why dont you reflect on what you just said. Your comments make me feel uncomfortable.