Sister's Perspective: Questions people ask us

by Sister Sara Marie Belisle, OSF

“I often emphasize that we do what we do because Christ did it first. We give up spouses, children, opportunities, many other human goods, and our own wills for something better: a deeper union with him who gave everything for the Father.” – Sister Sara Marie Belisle, OSF

My nephew, Brian, was the first to question me about religious life. It was the early 1980s. I was a novice on my first home-visit. He was eight or nine years old, laying on the floor, perched on his elbows, feet bouncing in the air, punching some gadget with his thumbs to conquer some game on a TV. He asked, “Do you like being a nun?” I answered, “Yes, Brian, I do.” He paused, offered me a thoughtful “ok,” and turned back to his game. That was the end of the conversation.

Sisters are asked a lot of questions. Now days, the one I hear most often is how I knew I was called to the convent. There are long answers to that question, but for me I knew when all other options of family or career or autonomy seemed to lose their shine. I grew up in Phoenix in the 1960s and 70s. It was a time when no one suggested a religious vocation to girls. It was assumed that everyone would get married and start a family. In my youth, the only thing (and the first thing) that told me becoming a Sister was an option worth considering was that my mother said she had gone to the Presentation Sisters in Valley City to pray for a month before accepting my father’s marriage proposal. Before meeting my father, she had been discerning a call to the community. God had quietly used my mother to open a door I wouldn’t step through for years.

The Church teaches that a religious consecration is a deepening of our baptismal promises. Religious consecration is not a sacrament, but it is sacramental. In The Foundations of Religious Life, a compilation of essays by Sister-members of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, published in 2009, we read:

“While baptism separated Christians from the moral evil in the world, religious profession of the evangelical counsels separates the one called to such profession from many of the good things of the world for the sake of the Kingdom. This illustrates the difference between commandments (which oblige one to avoid sin) and the counsels (which provide the means to overcome the obstacles to the attainment of good, that is, the perfection of charity). This new title of belonging to God ‘entails a sacrifice of joys and legitimate goods, a sacrifice which the consecrated person accepts willingly to give witness to the supreme rights of God … in imitation of Jesus chaste, poor and obedient.’”

I often emphasize that we do what we do because Christ did it first. We give up spouses, children, opportunities, many other human goods, and our own wills for something better: a deeper union with him who gave everything for the Father. For us who are called to give our lives to him this way, living any other way would be the greater sacrifice. The vocation God offers us is the one in which we will find the most joy, if entered into wholeheartedly.

Some years ago, there was a story of a Sister who celebrated 75 years of her consecration to Christ. At the banquet following the Jubilee Mass, with the crackling voice of a 95-year-old woman, she reflected, “the first 50 years were the hardest.” The laughter from the gathering revealed an appreciative understanding of the reality of her gift back to God.

For us Sisters, our call is to trust God for all the days ahead, to trust that he will always provide the grace to follow him within the rules and constitutions of our communities. These, the sacraments, and the Gospel are the sources of God’s will for us. Quiet times of prayer and many things in community life open us to a wellspring of his consolations.

I heard a question I had never heard before at a mother-daughter retreat this past summer: what can we do for our daughters that will help them be open to God’s call for their lives? Give them faith. Give children faith in Jesus and the Church. Let them see you letting your faith sustain you through your life. Let God take over from there.

In the end, if Brian were to ask me today if I like being a nun, what would my answer be? It would be, “Yes, Brian, I like it more than ever.”