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!