A young nun’s response to “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The New Radical”

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/.

A Muslim Woman in the Pews

As a college student I often slipped into the refuge of the campus’s large Mission church for a few moments of quiet during the middle of the school day. After entering the sanctuary through the rear doors on one particular occasion, I saw a Muslim woman in hijab sitting in one of the distant pews near the front altar. “That’s great,” I thought to myself, “I am glad that people of all faiths feel welcome in the space.”  Although it was a Catholic university, it was not uncommon to encounter students of various faith traditions, especially Muslim students. Furthermore, the school’s location in California’s Silicon Valley meant that the communities around the school were rich with religious diversity.  Perhaps this was a local community member who slipped in the Mission on a mid-day walk.

As I walked further into the church, however, I realized that this was not a veiled Muslim woman, but rather a rosary-praying Catholic wearing a mantilla, a type of veiling worn by the women of my faith during the pre-Vatican II era when the institution required us to cover our heads. While my initial assumption about the faith of this woman made sense in context–veiled Muslim students heavily out-weighed the mantilla-wearing Catholic population at the university–I was embarrassed. My reaction suddenly seemed incredibly shallow.   Continue reading

The View from Chicago


Like an Easter morning

Joy has erupted

into exclamations, sobs,

and the crisp bliss of Unity. 


Anxiety and fear have stepped aside to

allow a new era to arrive.

Faces glow with the energy of peace

and harmonious sighs of relief make music throughout the city.


Just like God intended it, we live now the Truth:

The quality of a leader is transcendent of judgment and image. 


Another God-given truth is manifested:

History doesn’t determine the destiny,

for an individual or a nation. 

In the blessed air of a November eve

Souls rejoice and bodies dance. 

Brothers and sisters of every race, age, tongue, religion

and nation embrace with anticipation.

The scents of autumn offer a comforting affirmation.

Trees drop confetti and the sky paints a promise. 


Hope has arrived.

The world has changed. 

The Unity of Division

I am not a fan of division. I figure this is a good thing, since it seems to be in line with Jesus’ main teachings of peace and love. Often times unity seems to be the direction we’re are supposed to be moving towards while we live our gospel lives.

Unity is awesome. When it doesn’t exist, or when something is drastically divided, it causes me great pain. Like say, within the Catholic Church, or the greater Christian church. And then there’s the whole country, the good ol’ United States of America. How united are we, really? I don’t know, but I’ve seen a lot of passionate people scream at each other in the past few years, instead of forgetting their differences and embracing one another.

Since I like unity so much and I find division to be painful, I find it hard to make a stand sometimes. Also, it’s tough to associate with organizations that seem to perpetuate the division more than work towards unity. (Frankly, this is why I have mixed feelings about Call to Action.) I prefer to fence-sit on really controversial issues, and be present to both sides as a friend and a listener.

Earlier this summer, I was blessed to hear the prophet and Jesuit priest, John Dear, S.J. speak at a Peace Conference. I listened to him passionately and effectively rally folks around the beatitudes and how our guide is the non-violent Jesus. He told tales of how he had been arrested for being a peacemaker and making a stand, and how he’d been asked to step away from ministries and parishes because he was too controversial for taking Jesus literally.

At the end of the day, I stood up and thanked him, and agreed that peace and love are great, but what about division? Isn’t division a form of violence? How can we take a stand and not put up a wall?

His response was just as challenging as his entire message. He encouraged us to think of unity as the starting place and not the destination. The fruits of unity, he said, are peace and love and not the other way around. So, to be peacemakers and to be aware of the unity that we already live within, we must be mystics and contemplatives.

And we must sit with the great question of Jesus, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)

It’s not unity we’re going towards. It’s God. We’re already there.

God bless… the entire world!

In the spirit of Independence Day and all things free and patriotic, I offer you some song lyrics by one of my favorite Christian bands to ever exist, Five Iron Frenzy.

The song is called Anthem:

A nation stands with heart in hand
To sing their anthem proudly
Voices raised to sing their praise
Of their hollow country
All this talk of freedom
And some talk of liberty
From your plastic podium
You try and convince me
I can’t fall anymore
For some silver-tongued song
Your freedom isn’t free
So let me say what freedom means to
I can’s see red, white, and blue waving in the air
I don’t hear the bombs bursting and I don’t even care
I’m sorry for my lack of faith
I’m not the greatest patriot
If this is all their is to freedom I don’t want it
I can’t fall anymore
For some silver-tongued song
Your freedom isn’t free

So let me say what freedom means to
Pushing us a drug that you call freedom and democracy
Promise us that selfishness is the means for happiness
I burned that bridge so long ago that I can hardly see
Anything but solace in what freedom means to me
I can’t fall anymore
For some silver-tongued song
Freedom isn’t free
So let me say what freedom means to
It cannot mean to serve ourselves
That doesn’t mean a thing
It doesn’t mean to give the license
To seek ourselves in anything
That would be slavery to ourselves it isn’t free
Jesus Christ, the only thing that freedom means to me.


When I was in college I was blessed to hear one of the most radical and bold peacemakers ever speak, Coleman McCarthy. I still remember what he said: “A great sin of our nation is that we equate the flag with the cross and ask our young people to choose between the two.No one should ever be forced to choose country over God.”

Let us never forget, especially during this time of war and during this great election year, that nationalism and borders divide us.Let’s maintain that God and the cross is our unity.

I don’t think we need to pray “God bless America” anymore. It’s time for us to care about the rest of the world.

Abiding in Love

[We don’t know why this whole post isn’t visible, but you can see all the words if you highlight it. Please bear with us! Thanks, Ed.] 


Love the Lord your God with all your heart

and all your soul, and all your mind,

and Love all humankind as you would Love yourself…

We’ve got Christian lives to live,

we’ve got Jesus’ Love to give,

we’ve got nothing to hide,

for in Him we all abide.


Those are the words to a song that I sing a lot. I learned it at Bible School when I was little girl and it’s really catchy. 


On Tuesday two of my dear friends and mentors, a lesbian couple, got married in California.  They are both Catholic women and they have three beautiful daughters.  Now they should be able to file joint taxes and have joint custody of their daughters.  Nonetheless, they will never get to celebrate the sacrament of marriage in the church. 


This is what I have learned:  In our church, the Sacrament of Marriage is a very holy sacrament.  It’s the sacrament of the union of love. It’s the only sacrament that people make unto themselves, through their vows unto each other and God.  I won’t really ever get to know what this means, either, because I am pretty sure I am made to love a community and not an exclusive family unit.  And as I position myself to commit deeply to be an inclusive Lover within the church and within God’s world, I ironically exclude myself from another sacrament.


Since I am a woman and a Franciscan sister, I can only ever know God through five of the seven sacraments– I’ll never get to be ordained nor married. The only other folks that I suppose are in this same boat are gay and lesbian couples because the Catholic Church won’t be marrying them anytime within our lifetime.  So, my choice to not get married is a way that I am sort of in solidarity with them, and all other Catholics who can’t be married in the church because of their sexual orientation.  But it’s not really solidarity, and I know this, because it is greatly imbalanced.  I have chosen the place that is generally honored and they are living the life that is discriminated against.  They are on the fringes in the church, and I am supposed to be a leader and at its core. But God does love us, very much, and is pleased we are authentic to who we are.


Before their wedding, my friend emailed me and asked for my blessing.  Here are her words:
”What I want to make sure everybody knows is that this is completely real to us.  We’re getting married Tuesday. Thousands will be getting married in the days to come. Each of those marriages is first about love, and second about the politics that surround it.  This IS a political movement.  This is a demand that my wife and my kids get the same deal everybody else gets- the rights to make decisions about our kids, the right to power of attorney, the right to file joint taxes, the right to claim my own children as dependents.  These are basic rights and we will demand them over and over. But just as the marriages of straight people are rarely conducted with these rights in mind, so our marriage too is first about love.


I’m begging everyone to do something in support of this movement.  If you can be there Tuesday to support all the couples claiming what is theirs, come to the courthouse. Bring bubbles. Bring signs. Offer wedding treats. Cheer and celebrate and drown out the inevitable protesters. Wrap that building in a wall of hope and blessing.  If you can’t be there that day, find another way. Don’t laugh at the jokes people make about two brides or two grooms, and certainly don’t make those jokes. See the common humanity and the beauty. Take the marriages of gay couples you know seriously. Send cards to the couples you know getting married that day. Be as angry about this denial of rights as you would be the denial of the rights of any other person.  This is the time to act. History is being made, and each one of us is called to be a player.”


I’m inspired by their courage and their commitment.  They are really beautiful women, and I’ve witnessed them grow together towards God in their Love for each other.  The unity of love is phenomenal. 


It all brings me back to that song from my childhood:  “We’ve got nothing to hide, because in Him we all abide.”


Sounds like Love to me.