Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Generation Gap: Bridging the Religious Divide

After what seems like the start to the longest summer of my life I find myself reflecting on the labels that we give ourselves; labels that divide us and hurt us as women of the Catholic faith. I was very unfamiliar with these labels until I began exploring the vocation of religious life, and discovered that there are some religious sisters who separate themselves into two groups; the "liberal sisters" and the "conservative sisters" or the "non-habited sisters" and the "habited sisters".  I never looked at religious sisters in habits or without habits as being "fake" or "real"sisters, and it saddens me that some religious sisters are creating a divide and giving themselves these labels because they are all beautiful, vowed consecrated women who are dedicating their lives to God and offering their lives to serve the people of this world. Whether a sister wears a full-length habit, modified habit, or no habit at all does not make a religious sister because it is the heart of a woman in religious life that makes her consecrated to Christ Jesus, and her dedication and love for the Catholic faith, and how she offers her life of service. I hope that all religious sisters and nuns will one day realize that in the eyes of God they are all "real"sisters to Him because of their vows of consecration.

When a young woman is discerning religious life, yes, the "habit" is taken into consideration when choosing a religious community, and I myself prefer a community that allows some sort of identifiable religious garb, whether it be a full-length habit, modified habit, uniform, or a white blouse, black skirt, and a veil, but the clothing option for a community is in NO WAY the end all be all for choosing a religious community because it is about a religious community of women living an authentic religious life following their Rule today in the twenty-first Century. If a young woman chooses a religious community solely based on what they wear then I would have to say that the woman should deeply question her desire for wanting to become a religious sister. I think that sometimes young adults are misunderstood in that some religious sisters feel that all young women fit into the same mold, but that is simply not true because some young adults have a stronger desire than others for a "habit", and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are attracted more towards the charism of a community and their relationship with one another as religious sisters than their dress. The outward dress can help to reflect the inward spirituality of a religious sister and can be a visible sign to others of that inner commitment to the Lord, but if the inward spirituality is not present then the outward dress fails to serve any purpose. 

How and why does this grand divide among some religious sisters matter to young woman who are discerning religious life or in formation in religious life? It matters because discerning young women are being caught up in the labeling process, which is widening even further the already generation gap between newer Sisters and older Sisters. When a millennial women first steps foot into some convents or monasteries, community members are already giving her a label and placing her into one of the two groups without the young woman having any idea that she is being placed into one of those groups. The young woman who has not even chosen to enter a community yet has already had the baggage from ages past released upon her. It is kind of like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, in which the young person has been already been sorted into a house before the hat has even been placed upon her head.

As young adult women discerning religious life or those in formation in religious life we have no knowledge of the Pre-Vatican II days; there is a reason they call us the millennial generation, we were born in the eighties and nineties and have no concept of the state of religious life in the sixties and seventies. It is important for religious sisters who did experience hardships and challenges during the Pre-Vatican II days, and lived and survived through the turbulence of Vatican II changes to share their experiences with us. We have no idea what those days were like, and we would love to hear their stories when we first enter religious life as a sort of "Heads up, this is what you are dealing with here in this community"!

When some millennial women see a sister wearing a "habit" they see it as sign of consecrated life in this chaotic, messy world, and as a reminder that Jesus is always present with us, but we also understand that some women religious who choose not to wear a "habit" have their reasons, and we very much accept them for making their decision because it is between them and God, and no one else has any right to judge them. But the issue then becomes when young adult women in religious life accept sisters who either wear a "habit" or do not wear a "habit", but then some sisters cannot accept the young women for having a different feeling about the "habit" then they do, and although we are not judging them some are judging us. Why can we not agree to disagree in a respectful dialogue? No one is right or wrong in this situation because based on past experiences young women and religious sisters may have different opinions about the "habit", and for me that is just community because religious sisters living together as a family are going to at times disagree about certain things. That's a part of religious life that you learn about during discernment and later on when in religious formation.

When young adults use the term "Bride of Christ" we are referring to becoming a religious sister or nun who has made special vows in public to God and to her community. We know there are some religious sisters who detest that term being used for a religious sister or nun, and ridicule us for using those words, but then no one explains to us why they dislike the term. Another term that some women religious seem to be hung up on is "clothing ceremony," which for young adults means receiving some sort of sign of consecration, whether it be a "habit" or veil or maybe even a chain or pin with a community emblem on it, but we also understand the terms "novitiate ceremony" and "investiture" to mean the same thing. Why are we so hung up on words? Why can we not reach a compromise between young adults discerning religious life or in formation and Sisters already in a community? Why does everything have to be so black or white and left or right? 

I consider myself to be a Roman Catholic, that is all; no more and no less.  I love my Catholic faith and I love and respect our Pope, which means that I in retrospect support Vatican II.  I am not going to put a label on myself as "orthodox" or "unorthodox" or "traditionalist" or "conservative" or "liberalist"  because the Roman Catholic Church is ONE true Church founded by Jesus Christ.  Why are we dividing ourselves? Can we not simply embrace our differences and come together as ONE? We all practice the SAME faith, but in different ways.  Some Catholics prefer to be more charismatic or less charismatic, attend the Latin Mass or attend the Novus Ordo mass, receive the Body of Christ on the hand or receive the Body of Christ on the tongue, go to confession face to face with the priest, or go to confession not face to face, wear a chapel veil or not wear a chapel veil, enter into religious orders that require a habit, do not have a habit, or have an optional habit, pray all of the divine office or part of the divine office, pray "Lauds" or "Morning Praise" and the list goes on and on. There is a lot of flexibility within our faith when it comes to certain practices, why does this also not apply when in a  convent or monastery?

For the future of women religious life in the Church I feel that it is important for millennial women and older generations of religious sisters to compromise with one another, and to accept one another without casting judgment.  It is important that religious sisters already in a community make every effort to try to be more open-minded when it comes to understanding young women who are from a completely different generation and did not experience the Pre-Vatican II version of religious life. And it is also important that young women discerning religious life are open-minded in having a desire to understand the pain and hurt of the older generation of women religious who did experience Pre-Vatican II religious life. Young women and older women in religious life have a lot to learn from one another, and despite differing opinions they should respect one another's differences and as God loves them they should love one another. For young women who enter religious life and Sisters already in religious life the mission is the same; living a life of service for all of God's people through the values of the Gospels as Catholic women.

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