Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reflection: The lives of vowed religious are reminders of our own paths to holiness



Alexis Park
Currently serving with Mercy Volunteer Corps at SafeNet
Erie, Pennsylvania



Do you enjoy rocking out to pop hits like All About that Bass by Meghan Trainor? 

How about enjoying a glass of wine or a beer at a friendly gathering?

Do you recreate by going out to watch a play or spend some time at the local casino?

Would you believe it if I told you that these are also things enjoyed by fellow lay people consecrated as sisters in religious orders? Thats right, the three questions I just asked contain ways I have seen or been told Sisters of Mercy and Sisters of St. Joseph have fun! Yes, they are normal people, just like you and me! 

For the sake of formalities, HI!! My name is Alexis Park, and I am a Mercy Volunteer stationed in Erie, PA. I serve at a domestic violence organization called SafeNet. When I am not busy with tasks like processing volunteer applications or doing outreach at local schools, I love learning more about the Erie community. One of the ways I have especially done this is visiting the many Catholic churches and religious orders. Yes, Erie is a very Catholic area, which works out for me. For those who know me, I am a proud Catholic woman!

Alexis with her spiritual director, Sr. Mary Andrew
Did you know there is actually a difference between nuns and sisters? Nuns are vowed religious who are cloistered and live by very strict rules. They also wear habits. You know, they kind of look like something Whoopi Goldberg wore in the Sister Act. They may come off as serious and very prayerful. A great example of nuns in Erie are the Carmelite sisters. The most I see of them is at Mass behind a closed gate in the chapel. This may seem strange for those of you who have never heard of this. Yet, when one takes a closer look, their way of life is very beautiful. They are answering their calls to devote their lives to pray for souls and the needs of the world. Being away from the world is difficult and brings a great deal of suffering. Yet, greater joy lies in their devotion to God and the sanctifying grace brought by their way of life. 

Meanwhile sisters are vowed religious who have a calling to live out an active ministry in the secular world. This is where orders like our awesome Sisters of Mercy come in! While a routine of prayer is integrated in their daily lives like community prayer and daily mass, they also have professions to fulfill certain ministries. Many are teachers and nurses. They can also be a social worker, like my friend, Sr. Kelly from the Sisters of St. Joseph, or a feminist author and lecturer, like the famous Sr. Joan Chittister from the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. Some sisters act as spiritual directors. For example, I am receiving direction from Sr. Mary Andrew, who just celebrated 50 years as a Mercy sister. She is one of the coolest individuals I have ever met! 

Depending on personal preference, sisters can choose to wear a habit, jeans and a sweater or even a combination of both. As I mentioned earlier, they are the ones you are more likely to find stepping out to enjoy life in their free time. This isnt to say you cant find the luck to crack a joke with a nun (I have in the past ), but it may not be as easy due to their cloistered lifestyles. 


Alexis with Sr. Kelly after her first vows
celebration as a Sister of St. Joseph.
As you can see, there is a broad spectrum in the lives of vowed religious. No way of life is holier than the other. Not all vowed religious stay inside a monastery to pray, and not all vowed religious wear habits. If anything, the lives of vowed religious are reminders of our own paths to holiness. We are called to be the individuals God made us to be. 

In the spirit of ordinary people called to holiness and that many Mercy Volunteers are recent college graduates, I would like to share an excerpt by Pope Francis I from his World Youth Day speech in 2013:

"We need saints without cassocks, without veils - we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies, that listen to music, that hang out with their friends. We need saints that place God in first place ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints that look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity and all good things. We need saints - saints for the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time. We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change.

We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it. We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends. We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, and theater. We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions. We need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.