This summer I had the chance to catch up with a good friend from college. She was Alyssa Nunes, but now she’s Sister Mary Karolyn of the Franciscan Sisters of St. George the Martyr.
Running into a friend who’s now in the convent and unable to chat on the phone or befriend you on Facebook is a real treat. Spending several days at the same conference afforded us opportunities to have meals, coffee and even the occasional non-alcoholic beer together.
As someone who’s typically the loudest person in a room and consequentially never ignored, it was an adjustment for me to hang out with Sister Mary Karolyn.
Wherever we went, people passing us would smile and say, “Hello, Sister!” Sister Mary Karolyn finally asked me, “What’s it like to be invisible?”.
“Huh?” I asked.
“Remember when people would say, ‘Hi Alyssa and Alison’?” she explained. “Now I’m the only one they notice.”
She was right. It wasn’t that people lacked manners but me in jeans and a T-shirt just didn’t attract the same attention that her veil did.
She was demonstrating exactly what The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes when it states that “the consecrated life is seen as a special sign of the mystery of redemption”. Sister Mary Karolyn attracted people’s immediate attention and whether they realized it or not, in noticing her, they were also gaining a deeper awareness of the reality of redemption.
Lumen Gentium, a document of the Second Vatican Council, further explained that the state of religious life witnesses, “to the new and eternal life which we have acquired through the redemptive work of Christ and preluding our future resurrection and the glory of the heavenly kingdom.”
Seeing those who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience show us that they are so certain of the promises of heaven, they’re confident to give up everything the world has to offer in anticipation of this. This example strengthens us lay people in our resolve to follow Christ.
For example, talking with Sister Mary Karolyn, knowing that because of her vow of poverty she doesn’t even have $3.50 in her pocket to buy coffee, challenges me when I clean out my closets and think of buying another pair of shoes. Knowing that Sister Mary Karolyn is living a perpetual vow of chastity strengthens me in my resolve to stay chaste in my relationships as a single person.
When she shares stories of what it means to be obedient to her superiors, I am challenged to question what areas of my life need more discipline.
The witness of consecrated life gives us a goal to strive for that’s based on what awaits us in heaven and reminds us that this world is not our home. Seeing those, like Sister Mary Karolyn, who are humans just like us yet publicly striving for perfection in their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience inspire us in our quest for holiness and give witness to eternal life that awaits us.
Alison Griswold is the youth director at St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head Island. She writes “Team Catholic” for The Miscellany.