Why be a Sister?
by Jenna Legg
One thing I've been asked and even pondered myself in discernment is the question: "Why would a young woman become a sister, when she can do everything a sister does, but without the vows?"
It's a valid question. Women do not have to become sisters in order to become teachers or nurse, as was the case pre-Vatican II. Women can study theology, work in parishes and for religious communities without making a lifetime commitment. So, what's the point in becoming a sister.
First and most importantly - because its a call from God. I'll get back to that later, but it cannot go without mention that there is no reason to become a sister except if it is a response to an invitation from God.
Now, for a few practical reasons a young woman might wish to become a religious sister or nun (yes, there's a difference. We'll cover that another day!)
Community - Although you take vows as an individual, you are entering into a community of women. These women will support you, pray for you, help you and probably even irritate you a little bit. However, you're held together by your faith, charism, and mission. In this intergenerational and likely intercultural community, there is more to share than just the groceries. Traditions, faith experiences, wisdom and accountability are often features of authentic community. This community is place of support, respite, and encouragement. Even more, when lived fully, communal living can be an experience of God Himself!
Prayer - As a religious woman, prayer is a cornerstone of life. There are times of organized communal prayer, whether in small groups or with the larger community, but there are certainly opportunities for prayer as an individual too. The expectation, routine and example of the community can be helpful in times when you do not feel like praying. A sister is exposed to a variety of prayer styles, each inviting her to encounter God through a new lens. There's also an atmosphere of prayer and gratitude among sisters. For example, whenever I'm surrounded by women of prayer, I can feel the Holy Spirit among us, like a fog settling in, and the Holy Spirit invites me into prayer as well.
Service - There are very jobs that limited to those in religious life. However, whatever career a religious sister enters into, the entire community enters into it as well. If you become a teacher, the rest of the community will be praying for your students, co-workers and school. We have a sister that works at a pregnancy center for babies born addicted to drugs; whenever a baby enters, she passes the first name on to the sisters, who remember that child in prayer every day. As a sister, you represent your entire community in your ministry and likewise, the community can offer support - socially, spiritually, emotionally, maybe even physically and financially. Imagine an employer's surprise when he hires one woman, and an entire religious community is working for them!
These are all wonderful reasons a young woman might consider religious life. But ultimately, as I mentioned before, it's a call from God. Our vocation will lead us (and hopefully others) on a path of holiness. For some, the best way to reach this holiness is through religious life. For others, that might be through marriage or the single life. My hope is that you can reflect on these aspects as you continue your discernment!