Part of the difficulty in restarting this column after a hiatus of, let me see, six years, was settling on a topic. So much time has passed since that first year of Solemn Vows in 2006, so many lessons learned. I spent a considerable amount of time looking back and reflecting.
Finally, today I was reading an article in the magazine Inside the Vatican, by Alice von Hildebrand, entitled An Act of Holy Daring. Intimacy and Mystery: the Human Body and Nudity from the Beginning. Generally, this title would not have gotten my attention. Since I tend to read magazines from back to front, I picked up her article at its end, found it intriguing, and then read it from the beginning. The gist of the article was the meaning of nakedness and clothing in the Holy Scriptures. She writes, “Throughout the Bible, the clothing one wears is indicative of dignity and rank.”
I believe I can say without exaggeration, that whenever any one of us Sisters goes out into the “world”, someone will inevitably comment on our habit. Quite often their words are laced with a certain note of nostalgia. If the person is very young we may be questioned, “Who are you?” or even “What are you?” What am I indeed?!
Very often I feel a big, fat fake imposter is what I am. I am not a saint. I am not holy. I am not perfect. Daily, I uncover new weaknesses and faults in myself. This uncovering is a kind of nakedness before God and, not surprisingly, before my Sisters, who certainly have eyes to see.
Well there it is. The truth ain’t pretty sometimes, but it does tend to show itself.
The amazing thing (to me, anyway) is that though the Sisters, my fellow travelers up God’s holy mountain, know my faults, I believe they love me anyway. Or if not, they put on a good show. In fact, I am often struck by the kindness, the goodness, and the holiness of them each and all. And if I love them, to quote a priest friend of mine, how much more must God love them! I felt this same way when I first visited here.
The lovingness of the Sisters is perceivable to even a casual observer. But the Sisters are not this way because they wear a habit. They wear a habit (an outward sign simplicity and consecration and a reminder of their vows of poverty and chastity) because they are this way. They are this way because they are trying with all sincerity to follow Christ in their vocations as Visitandines. Each one is striving to observe St. Francis de Sales advice to be who you are and be that well.
We are weak, frail, sinful women. Most days we stay on track, but all of us stumble from time to time. And since we are true sisters, bound together by love and a common purpose, we understand, help one another up, and pray for each other. How many times have I realized that I’ve hurt or offended a Sister and have gone to beg her pardon and she will say, “Oh! I didn’t notice you were short with me!” or “Oh dear. That’s all right Sister. I could see you were a little stressed out.” She hurries to excuse me and I do the same for her.
Considering these thoughts on the habit being “indicative of dignity or rank” brings me to the point of conclusion. When someone shows us deference in some way, we know that is not towards us, Sr. Alice Marie, Sister Mary Charles, or Sr. Bernadette Therese. No, they honor something else, something greater. Even those who do not know that we are called “nuns” or that we wear a “habit” know there is something different about us. They can tell that we are set apart. I believe that most people, on some level, intuit that we are praying for them, that we exist for them and for their welfare. They may give no thought at all to the fact that they are part of the Body of Christ or that we all are meant to be working for the Kingdom of God. Yet I believe that they recognize that we are working and praying for their advantage. This is our “dignity and rank”, if you will. It is in fact, everyone’s “dignity and rank” as children of God.