Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The power of a nun in a habit

Power is a secular value, and many spend their lives chasing after it in one form or another. Women in particular are told that the key to ensuring our own empowerment is "reproductive rights" --  i.e., the right to abort our unborn children.

But what is true power, and where is its source?

Who possesses real power?

Like so many of you, I have been engrossed in Abby Johnson's book, Unplanned, for a few days now. I read a chapter or two whenever I can steal a quiet moment, and every page has compelled and educated me in surprising ways. However, there was one scene in Chapter 9 that stopped me in my tracks.

One day, as she worked as the director of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, Abby heard a coworker gasp. She went to investigate:
I walked over to the window to look, and soon several of us were gawking out the window. The temperature was near 100 degrees that day, yet there in the hot sun was a nun dressed in a heavy, dark brown habit that swept the ground. Her head and hair were completely covered so that only her face showed, a face lifted toward heaven, eyes closed, clearly praying. Believe it or not, I'd never seen a nun in full habit before.
.... 
"Her face looks so sweet," said one of our clinic workers. "But anguished." There was an awkward silence. Then, one of our clients, who had just had an abortion, was escorted out the door and to her car by one of our volunteers. Our eyes were glued to the nun as, her eyes fixed on the client, she moved from the center of the driveway to the side, making room for the client to pull out of the drive. And then she began to weep. She fell to her knees and wept with with such grief, such genuine personal pain, that I couldn't help but think to myself, She feels something far deeper than I ever will. She is honestly pained. This is real for her -- this grief at knowing that client had an abortion. A sense of shame washed over me. I tried to shake it off but couldn't get past the fact that a nun was grieving over what was happening inside my clinic.
....
Several of our clinic staff were Catholic, but even those of us who weren't sensed a shared discomfort, as if we all felt embarrassed or ashamed. We tried to get back to work, but every few minutes someone would look out the window and offer an update on the sister, like, "She's still weeping," or "Look, one of the pro-lifers is consoling her now." It was agony just knowing she was out there.

Sister Marie Bernadette became a presence at the clinic on abortion days:

The truth was, the sister's simple, prayerful presence bothered most of us, Catholic, ex-Catholic, Protestant, and unchurched alike, as if she somehow represented our consciences. 
....
Over time we found ways to tease ourselves about the "power" of Sister Marie Bernadette as we came to realize we all avoided going outside when she was present. I found it eerie that her presence seemed to pervade the entire clinic every time she showed up at the fence.
Her simple presence always reminded me of confession.

And this from a non-Catholic abortion clinic director.

All because of a nun in a habit.

I didn't grow up seeing nuns in habits, and so when they began to permeate my world as an adult, I was moved, enchanted and... quieted. The religious habit, like the cross, is a sign of contradiction. It's a sign of poverty, chastity and obedience in a world which values money, sex and power. It's a sign of prayer, humility, and God's grace. It's a wedding gown adorning the brides of Christ.

Ultimately, the habit is a sign of love, which is the source of true power and which is irresistible. Instinctively, the ladies at the abortion clinic understood that. All worldly power -- financial, sexual, academic, political or otherwise -- is rendered impotent in love's presence.

The remarkable, joyful footnote to this story is that Abby Johnson and her family are now preparing to enter the Catholic Church.

Here's to the power of a nun in a habit!



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31 comments:

  1. When we were at the Phoenix Walk for Life this past weekend, we were walking along with several nuns in gray habits. Elanor stared at them for a while, and then she tugged on my arm and said, "Look, Mom, there's Mary! There are THREE Marys!"

    We explained to her what nuns were, but I'm not sure she fully understood, and that's okay. I thought it was so sweet, because when you think about it, nuns ARE "Marys" -- they said YES when God called.

    On a side note, I do not understand how someone can identify as Catholic and work at an abortion clinic. The thought of an abortion clinic employee taking the Eucharist nearly makes me physically ill.

    My copy of Unplanned arrived yesterday but I haven't had a choice to read more than the foreward. Can't wait to delve in!

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  2. Wonderful post, Leila...I must find the book.
    blessings
    Erin

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  3. I have tears in my eyes just from thinking about this nun standing there day and day out knowing full well that just a few meters from here little children were being murdered. What a testimony and strenght.

    I am very close to a contemplative community and its true their habits are a beautiful sign of contradiction.

    Whenever I have been to one of the ceremonies where they slowly change clothes signifying the steps in their spiritual journey I have been so moved: that they go from normal world clothes to temporary habits to their permanent ones that its truly a path towards God

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  4. I loved this part of the book too. I've had the privilege in my life to spend time with Some extraordinary holy nuns who have changed my life!

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  5. I loved that part in the book!!!! It quieted me....I saw a dominican in Sams club and it literally made my day! I just watched her. Everyone knew her name she said hi to everyone and I just wanted to hug her...Hold me sister, make it all better! hahahahahaha LMBO!

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  6. I too was moved by that part of the book! Nuns have always stopped me in my tracks too (when I finally saw one in habit, that is :)). The habit is so very special.

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  7. Woooooooooooooooooooooooow!Love this, love, love it.

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  8. I think "worldly power" is an oxymoron. You either have power over worldly desires or they have power over you.

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  9. Great post, Leila! I'm so happy I discovered your blog! Thanks for letting your light shine!

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  10. Wow, what a moving testament to the power of a nun in a habit. I've ordered Unplanned from Amazon and it cannot get here fast enough. I can't wait to read it!

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  11. I just finished reading this book yesterday,,FABULOUS!!!!!

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  12. honestly just coming here to see if you had a copy of the book and thinking you needed to be promoting the reading of it!! Chapter one is available on her website:http://www.unplannedthebook.com/

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  13. I love this book! This part struck me and made me cry. It is just so true! Priests in cassocks and nuns in habits are like blinking neon signs that point toward Heaven!

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  14. What a sign of faith! Amazing!

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  15. This part of Abby's book was moving for me as well.

    As a whole, nuns have such grace in the way they behave, the way they speak, even in many ways, how they move.

    On a related note, my 19-year-old sis is a postulate at the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia in TN.

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  16. Such an awesome entry! If you don't mind, I'm going to link this to my blog...it's the same thing I have been discussing about nun's in habits...and why they captivate me.

    I'm currently in the process of discernment: going to visit the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in a couple of months myself. :)

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  17. vitaconsecrata- praying for you- you must be excited! :)

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  18. I love seeing nuns they are a sign of heaven to me. They remind us all of the truth ---we are in journey.
    Great post:
    the blessing worked. : )

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  19. M Hastings and vitaconsecrata... that is so wonderful! We are so blessed to have so many incredible vocations these days. :)

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  20. The happiest nuns I know are those that wear their habits! Two great aunts of mine (now deceased) were Sisters of Loreto and stopped wearing their habits in the 60's :(
    I visited one of them once when I was in HS and ate dinner with all the sisters. Some of the elderly nuns had kept their full habit. They were so beautiful! I feel bad that my aunts "modernized".

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  21. At the abbey where we sometimes attend mass, there is a nun in full habit. Since her face is framed by her habit, you really notice the sparkle in her eyes and her sweet smile. My children never nod off or misbehave when we sit near her! Looking forward to reading Unplanned, I can just guarantee that our public library does not have a copy!

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  22. Amen Sista!
    I was struck by that same passage. We're incorporating parts of Unplanned including this section into the Sidewalk Counseling Workshop (this Saturday) at St Joan of Arc. The clergy & religious are a supernaturally powerful force in the fight against the culture of death. We need them. They need us.

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  23. Nuns in habits were everywhere at the March for Life in DC this week - so fantastic!

    This part scares/saddens me though -
    Several of our clinic staff were Catholic, but even those of us who weren't sensed a shared discomfort, as if we all felt embarrassed or ashamed.

    I wonder how many PP workers are Catholic...

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  24. vitaconsecreta,
    Say hi to Sister Nora! :)
    I can't wait to visit them, myself! All I've heard is that they're an AMAZING bunch of women!

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  25. It's so sad to me that the habits are becoming more and more rare. In fact, one of the reasons we chose the school Jack attends is because nuns are present and they even wear habits (his school is actually run by a convent, not a parish)! I LOVE IT!! It's so reverent.

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  26. Oh my gosh! i never, ever imagined that I would be the mother of a nun - in a traditional full habit, nonetheless, but the journey so far has been amazing..... and a bit scary to tell the truth. But she is a witness -practically every day I share her story (I work in retail and she used to work here too - long story). A nun in a habit speaks VOLUMES...... centuries, in fact. And they are not as rare as you think Nichole C., young women are flocking to convents and monasteries who are traditional and wear the full habit - my daughter's Carmel has been growing exponentially and they have no internet site, just word of mouth drives these vibrant young women, so filled with love for Jesus and the desire to do God's will, it is an AMAZING testimony to God's grace working through our fractured existence.

    Sr. MT's momma

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  27. Sr. MT's momma,

    Congratulations! And let me echo you in saying young women are indeed flocking to traditional convents and monasteries!

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  28. Sr. MT's momma, that is so wonderful!!! I'd love to here the long story!! :)

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  29. Just out of curiosity...aren't there laws about even peaceful protests? I fully support the nun, her show of faith is amazing (especially a full habit in such hot weather!). But I know where I come from, no one is permitted to protest an abortion or drug clinic within a three block radius of its location.

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  30. Leila, is there a difference between the version of Unplanned on Amazon and of the one sold at the Ignatius site? I want to get the book, (its cheaper on Amazon) but I heard the Ignatius site sells the "Catholic" version which has an extended part on Abby's conversion. Do you know anything about this?

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  31. I don't know much, except that Fr. Pavone does a forward, I believe, in the Ignatius version. I don't know if the main text is different, or longer/shorter.

    I had bought my copy before I knew of the Ignatius one, and now I wish I had gone with the Ignatius one instead!!

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