Religious life, or the consecrated life, as it is sometimes referred to, in the Catholic Church often attracts many and varied stereotypes within society. A great many of those stereotypes come from Hollywood and, it must be admitted here, that not all of those portrayals put people who live out the religious life in a bad light. After all, the nuns in The Sound of Music may have come across as a bit stuffy, but they were certainly joyful. A great many of you have seen the Sister Act movies, which to my mind portray religious sisters-nuns-in a very positive light for the most part. However, Hollywood does seem to paint this picture of the religious life which leads to the idea that the women and men who respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to enter religious life are somehow vastly different from you and me. They are either uber-holy in some kind of superhuman way, or they are detached from what many people call the “real world.”
The reality couldn’t be further from the truth, of course. Those who enter the religious life come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and they often use their professional training as a way to serve the greater glory of God. One of many examples of this are the Religious Sisters of Mercy (RSM) who help staff the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, the mobile medical operation designed to serve the poor and the under-served of East Tennessee. The Handmaids of the Precious Blood devote themselves to lives of prayer and adoration for all of us, but especially for the sake of priests. If you attended our Diocese of Knoxville Eucharistic Congress, you saw members of various religious orders there including the Handmaids, the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, usually more popularly known as the “Nashville Dominicans.” The special charism of these precious sisters is the education of young people while living the contemplative religious life. The charism, or special spiritual gift, of the Religious Sisters of Mercy is to care for the poor, the sick, and the ignorant.
If you were at the Eucharistic Congress, maybe you saw some of the Benedictine Monks of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. Benedictines are vowed to live a stable monastic life in accordance with the Rule of St. Benedict, and are tied to a particular monastery. However, monks or brothers (whether Benedictine, Cistercian, Carmelite, Franciscan, Dominican, or those of another religious order) are often among the most educated and informed people to be found. Many are theologians and biblical scholars, others have degrees or are experts in everything ranging from philosophy to forestry, and they use their knowledge to advance the Kingdom of God. Several of our priests in the Diocese of Knoxville have been educated at St. Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology. St. Meinrad is the founding abbey of the Swiss-American Congregation of Benedictines, who trace their heritage to the Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland. The Abbey of Gethsemani is a community of Cistercian (Trappist) monks within our Province of Louisville who make their home near Bardstown, Kentucky. They are devoted to a life of prayer, work, and silence.
These are just a few of the diverse examples of religious life to be found in our part of the U.S. Religious brothers and sisters have done so much to build the Church in the United States, but especially in our part of the country, from the laying of religious foundations like St. Bernard Abbey and the Dominican Sisters in Nashville, to the establishment of St. Mary’s hospital in Knoxville by the Sisters of Mercy. Religious brothers and sisters have founded schools, food pantries, charitable works, colleges and universities, and, most importantly, places of prayer.
Could the Holy Spirit be calling you to the religious life? Open your heart and your spirit to the possibility of giving yourself to God and to His Church completely in this very special way. The Church needs holy and zealous religious to serve as witnesses to the Gospel an prayer warriors for an often confused and lost world.
This post is part of a series on vocations in the Church.