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Getting in to the Habit of Serving God and His People

February 17, 2011

By Sister Pat P.

My focus as a Vocation Minister is to write a blog that addresses questions to women searching a life of commitment as a Vowed Religious and so I write these thoughts for you and ask,  are you interested in getting into a habit or serving God and His People?

You may respond that you would like to do both and if you look around the world you can see that women can do both but for me I learned alot about wearing the habit.

When I was in college I began discerning what I wanted to do in my future.  When I became interested in religious life, dressing in the habit seemed to be a non issue because almost all communities wore some type of habit.  In fact it may have drawn me closer to the Sisters of Mercy but the clothing is not what has kept me in community nor is it what gave me the strenght to do all I have done as a Sister of Mercy.

The Sisters of Mercy in North Carolina, now known as Sisters of Mercy South Central Community (www.mercysc.org/), wore the habit.   It was the dress of the community that would have to be worn if I decided to join the order.  Like many young women in college I wore slacks, loved slacks and thought I would be wearing slacks the rest of my life.  Dressing up in stockings, to me, was too expensive and too unhealthy. I did not want a lifetime of wearing dresses 24/7.  That was my thought in my young years of college but as the years moved on so did my thoughts.

I began to realize that I loved what the Sisters of Mercy did and wanted very much to do what they were doing.  I could  have done the ministries the sisters did on my own, however, i would have been limited and when and if I were to get sick the work I would have done would have ended.  I liked the idea of having the support of a group of women in work and prayer life.  I felt called by God to join the laity as a consecrated woman in an organized order.  By joining them I would be able to help in ways I could never help on my own.  I would also have the support to grow in my faith and love of God.

It was this thinking that told me to throw away my list of things I would or would not do in life and to accept the Sisters of Mercy as they are.  I joined and wore the habit with pride.  I knew it loudly shouted out what I believed and what I did.  It made some people run away from me because of their dislike for the Catholic faith and made others get closer to me because of my faith or the faith they felt I had.  It also prevented me from rolling up my sleeves with those whom I ministered.  Heaven help me if I ruined my habit to assist someone with fixing up their house or tore the veil cleaning up after a severe storm. Yes, I wore an apron but that too was not always enough.  After all, I knew that I did not have the money to replace what was ruined so the best thing to do was not to do any work that would ruin my habit.

Many people felt a Sister should not be doing that kind of work and so as a Sister I was ministering but only in places that would not get me dirty or ruin my clothes.  That was great in a classroom setting or office but how do you say to those that need emergency assistance, oh, I can’t because of the way I am dressed, for me, it was defeating my purpose to minister.

I entered thinking I would be wearing the habit the rest of my life. I live realizing that the habit was just clothing that did make a big identity statemen,t but again, clothing does not say what the heart is saying, my love for God has not changed but grown stronger, my love for Mercy continues to grow and my life continues to grow in service of God. The habit  has dissappeared on the outside but my desires to serve God remains within my heart.

For those looking into religious life forget about the habit, you can not be sure that the sisters in habit today will be wearing it in 5, 10, 15 or more years.  They may promise it will never change but that cannot be guaranteed.  We thought we were in it for life. Pay attention to the charism and mission of the community.  That is what will stay strong.  Fall in love with the service they do and how they touch the world. That is what matters! Make the decission with your heart and look at the Sisters hearts not at what they wear. Material items change, faith and love for God continues within.  What nourishes the community? How do they share that love? What do they do?  Can you do it? Do you want to do it?  Where is the center spiritually?  Are they happy? That is what needs to be looked at in life.  That is what you have to live with the rest of your life.  Nothing else matters.

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