I am fascinated by how the season of Advent/Christmas tends to be a time when the secular media tells stories about how people live their faith. Sometimes it makes me sigh out, “Hey! We don’t just do this faith thing on holidays! How about some Truth during ordinary times?”
Nonetheless, I appreciate the attention, especially when the stories focus on how our generation keeps the good faith. Yesterday I was able to catch a story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” called “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The Radical.” The story gives nine minutes of good attention to a lively congregation, the Nashville Dominicans, who have many new, young members. Please listen to the story, and tell me what you think. It’s a conversation worth having for all of us who desire to discern how we are each called to live the gospel radically in our own ways.
I really loved the story. Everything that was described and stated resonated with my own reasons for becoming a young nun.
My only disappointment is that the story failed to mention that communities like mine are still receiving new young members. Although we don’t come in as crowds, we count.
While I was discerning the sisterhood in college, some of my friends recommended the Nashville Dominicans to me. I remember requesting materials and considering them. I also remember being attracted to some things about their life, like how many new young members they have. I don’t remember why for sure, but I decided to eliminate them from my list of possible communities. Afterwards, I joined my community.
Today I have no doubts that God called me directly to my community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. I am very confident that I am right where I need to be and living the way that God needs me to. I am grateful and honored to be a member of a holy community of praying, steadfast women of social justice and service. I am inspired by the wisdom of my elder sisters and the actions of my peers. I believe that the light that comes out of the adoration chapel in our motherhouse energizes the globe with peace and healing. We don’t look too traditional, but our motto, “modern lives, sacred traditions”, rings true.
I believe I belong with the FSPA because I fit in, and they support all that I am about. Without having met the Nashville Dominicans I can’t really be sure, but I suspect that they are more concerned with being faithful to the magisterium and upholding church doctrine than I am. I can’t say that I am not concerned with those things; I believe that it is the call of some parts of the church to do that work.
I have never felt called to dissent against the church. I do feel called to challenge, however.
As I challenge, I am inspired by the courage and the approach of some of my favorite church reformers: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA. With great reverence and deep connection to God, all four of these holy disciples stood before church authority and asked for changes. They pointed to the gospel of inclusivity and stirred the hearts of the powerful. They stood for and with the powerless. They prayed, and the changes began.
The reformers of the past have taught me that it is important to ask questions. We are a church defined by conscience, so we must always offer safe spaces to authentically discern the ways that the Spirit uniquely tugs at our hearts. As we keep our faith let’s remember that the reign of God in its fullness is unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced before, it’s much better. I am pretty sure that God’s dreams for us will only come true if we remain open.
I love the diversity within our church. I am grateful for the witness of the Nashville Dominicans and communities like theirs. Nonetheless, I don’t think my own gospel witness is any less valid. The division in our church is very painful and slows us from showing our love. I scramble for more ways to commune with all types of Catholics, and I want to build bridges. I believe we need to be diverse because it enriches us, and I pray that we can love and listen to each other through our differences.
I celebrate Christian diversity as Christmas comes closer. As I sing songs of hope, I am moved to make a proclamation:
Dear journalists who love stories about young nuns, I hope you’ll notice me too. I am 29 and I am also a young nun. I don’t wear a habit and I don’t go to mass at 5:30 in the morning, but I go as often as I can. I love the pope and I love my gay brothers and sisters. I pray a lot and I serve the poor. I witness the gospel through my ministries of teaching and writing. I love Jesus and I proclaim the Truth. There’s other sisters like me too, and we are also radical. Thank you. God bless you, Sister Julia
Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker. She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.
Sister Julia blogs at http://messyjesusbusiness.wordpress.com/ and https://youngadultcatholics-blog.com/.