What is the Religious
The common concern of all “Religious” (the technical term for monks, nuns, friars, sisters and brothers) is religion. Just as an artist must paint, and a writer must write, the Religious pursues the relationship with God in an all-consuming way. For the woman called to the Religious Life, religion becomes the dominant concern around which life is organized. Through the centuries many Christians have found that the quest for God takes place best in the setting of a covenant community.
Religious, like all Christians, are called to live out their baptismal commitment. For women called to the Religious Life, the call involves living with others in a covenant community. It is generally seen as a permanent life commitment, entered into through public profession of vows. The traditional vows are poverty, chastity, and obedience. By means of these vows, the Religious assumes a certain prophetic stance toward the world—a critical one, but not one of rejection or withdrawal.
The Religious Life is by its very nature an “alternative” lifestyle. Most people envision their lifestyle choices as being married or staying single (possibly as celibates). However, the other possibility is a communal lifestyle based on a permanent commitment to a group of women.It is a road less traveled, and often misunderstood. The three vows are reinterpreted each generation and are lived very personally. But there are some things we can say about the vows in general as most contemporary Religious look on them.
Religious poverty is voluntary poverty. It does not mean a glorification of involuntary poverty or an imitation of the life of the truly materially poor. It does mean living with an ever-present awareness of human economic and spiritual poverty. On the personal level, this means living a life of simplicity characterized by hospitality and generosity of both material goods and our selves. It means the cultivation of a sense of the gift of life and an attitude of trust and thanksgiving toward God. On the level of society, poverty means responsible stewardship of our resources of time, money and personnel to work directly with the materially poor, including the exercise of our civic responsibility in pursuit of economic justice.
Our obedience, like that of all Christians, is to God. Our knowledge of God and of God’s will comes to us through the scriptures and the Church and especially through the life of Jesus. This requires that we live a life of listening. Through our prayer we come to know our God in a personal way. For those vowed to life in community, obedience to God involves a faithfulness to the process of corporate community decision-making on a day-to-day basis.
For the Religious, chastity means consecrated celibacy. As such, it is a witness to the all-consuming
and fully satisfying nature of a personal relationship with God. It is a commitment to become an ever more
loving human being, able to share that love with many people. Some Religious choose a life of consecrated
celibacy because they find that the relationship with God takes up all the
energy needed for a commitment to another person, as in marriage. Others are more pragmatic and look on
celibate community life as a way to be fully free to work for the sake of God’s
“What do you do?” is a common question asked of Religious. Our primary witness is always “Who we Are” rather than “What we Do,” but this does not take away from the fact that for 150 years Women Religious have been very active in many areas of ministry in Church and society. Today we may be found leading parish retreats, providing monastic hospitality, giving spiritual direction, serving as clergy in parishes, chairing inclusive language committees, and providing leadership to the ecumenical and interfaith movement. Women Religious may be encountered in the offices of our National Church and at soup kitchens on skid row. They “habla español” and other languages in our increasingly multicultural society as they push the Church toward greater inclusivity. We may be in black or blue or brown or gray or white, or in blue jeans and t-shirts. Universities, seminaries, schools, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, jails, community centers . . . look, and you will see us!