The recent media storm surrounding the LA Dodgers and the so-called “Sisters” of Perpetual Indulgence may raise questions in the minds of the public. What is religious life? What are religious sisters? Why were Catholics so upset about the Dodger’s initial intentions to honor the “Order”?
Lumen Gentium, one of the principal documents of Vatican II, has this to say about religious life and its purpose:
Through Baptism a person dies to sin and is consecrated to God. However, in order that he may be capable of deriving more abundant fruit from this baptismal grace, he intends, by the profession of the evangelical counsels in the Church, [poverty, chastity, and obedience] to free himself from those obstacles which might draw him away from the fervor of charity and the perfection of divine worship. By his profession of the evangelical counsels, then, he [the religious] is more intimately consecrated to divine service.
The origins of religious life are ancient, dating back to the first centuries of Christianity. There are today thousands of religious men and women who vow and live out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in order to follow Christ and imitate Him more closely.
In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father’s call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ, in order to devote themselves to him with an “undivided” heart (cf. 1 Cor 7:34). Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. St. John Paul II, Vita Consecrata.
One of these many orders is the Poor Clares, the sister order to the Fransciscans. They were founded in 1212 by St. Clare of Assisi and are a cloistered community, meaning they never leave the grounds of their convent. The nuns spend their lives praying and offering reparation for the world. When asked what religious life is, one of the sisters told CatholicVote:
Religious life is a total response in love to a call from God to follow Christ in a lifelong commitment to live as he did in prayer and loving service…The Religious habit is a sign of that total consecration. Whatever form the habit takes it’s a sign that this person is consecrated to God.
Most recognize religious sisters and brothers by their habit, and the “Sisters” of Perpetual Indulgence place a lot of emphasis on how they dress. However, the clothing of a religious sister reveals a deeper mystery. For Sister and for all Catholics, the religious habit is a sign of the total consecration of a person to God, and not worn merely for decoration or for fun.
Sr. Louis Marie, O.P., the current novice mistress of the The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, told CatholicVote:
The wearing of the habit begins with the profound beauty of human nature, which is that human beings are body and soul. An extremely important part of our perfection, our growth, and our maturing is the integration of our body and soul.
Sister said that disrespecting our own person through immodesty is very dangerous. She emphasized that God has given us our bodies and our response needs to be one of respect.
We need to take that [the gift of our bodies and souls] seriously. When we dress, and when we walk and when we sit and when we eat…we do take this seriously if we are developing Christian virtue, and if we are modeling our life after Jesus. The putting on of the habit is a way of representing this to ourselves, because we need bodily representations of the interior reality.
“The habit represents to the world, but also to me, to Sr. Louis Marie, that I am a bride of Christ. I am a bride of Christ,” she added.“The whole habit represents that.”
The habit serves as a reminder of the beauty of religious life, and even more seriously, the beauty of the Church. She continued:
Our way of life has a significance and a meaning that is essential for the Church to keep at the front of her mind. Which is that we are all called to union with God forever in heaven.
When asked about mockery of religious life, sister responded, “Any denigration of the religious life is an attack on the Church, whom religious represent as brides of Christ. Any time we denigrate religious life we denigrate the church, and her beauty.”
The order to which Sister Louis Marie belongs, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, was founded in 1997. There are today over 150 sisters in the community, with an average age of thirty-three. This fast-growing community teaches in schools across the country and has developed a wide variety of online curriculum tools available to the public.
Sr. Joseph Andrew, O.P., one of the foundresses of the order also emphasized the bridal aspect of Religious life. Sister, and all religious women, see their vows and their lifestyle as a marriage to Christ. She told CatholicVote:
In a true vocation love responds to love and more love is given to the world. The true vocation of the authentic woman religious is to be a spouse of Christ and an authentic mother to all His children.
Susie Austin, a twenty-one year old graduate of Ave Maria University, will be entering religious life at the end of the summer.
When CatholicVote asked her what religious life means to her, she responded:
Religious life in most simple terms is to be a bride of Christ, that’s what a religious sister is. Religious life is the heartbeat of the Church, women who have consecrated themselves to Jesus and to love him and the people He has entrusted to them which is then lived out through their charism and apostolic works.
The order she is entering is another fruitful branch on the Dominican tree, the Dominican Sisters of St. Rose of Lima, more commonly called the Hawthorne Dominicans. The nickname comes from their founder, Rose Hawthorne, the daughter of literary figure Nathanial Hawthorne. Rose Hawthorne was inspired by the work of St. Damien of Molokai, a priest who lived among and ministered to lepers. She however looked to her own country, specifically the poorest parts of New York City.
She cared for the terminal cancer patients. At the time, they thought that cancer was a contagious disease, and the cancerous poor were treated very much like lepers. It’s very beautiful because the work that Mother Alphonsa [Rose Hawthorne] started is still the work that the community is doing today. So, we take in the cancerous poor who have terminal diagnoses and are no longer seeking treatment and we care for them until their natural death. For most patients that is between 2 and 6 months. It is a really really beautiful ministry.
Susie’s offering of her life, and the sacrifice of all religious men and women reflects the sacrifice of Christ, who lived and died for the Church. This year Susie, and many young men and women, will leave their families,and their careers, to follow the voice of their bridegroom, the voice of Christ.
As Susie put it: “I am entering in response to His call and to give him my life in love.”