Ask a Nun

How does a person discern a vocation to religious life?

What is it like in a convent?

What do nuns and sisters do?

What does a nun's hair look like?

For the answers to these and other questons about Catholic religious life, read on!

 (From One Catholic Mama Blog, written by Amelia Nugent Bentrup, July 8, 9, 10, 2013, Used with permission.)

 

Last week I gave all my dear readers the lovely opportunity to ask whatever they want of a real, live nun religious sister.  My sister, Sr. Veronica of the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth is here on her annual home visit.    Well, you all came up with some wonderful questions.  In fact,  there were so many good questions..some quite involved, that we are dividing it into three parts. 

Sister Veronica in her work habit as she makes her delicious ice cream cake along with helper Heidi.

Will the nun make a delicious ice cream cake for our party this weekend and can she share her recipe?

Sister Veronica in her work habit worked hard to make these ice cream cakes with her niece Heidi.

To my dear brother-in law:  Yes, I did make ice cream cake this weekend, seeing as it is tradition from years past, and I hope that you enjoyed a good unhealthy treat for once- on my home visit we all like to splurge. We (the religious sisters) don't usually eat sweets, meat, or snack foods during the week except on Sundays and feast days, but on our home visits we're exempt.  Here's the recipe for Amelia's readers:

 

HEAVENLY ICE CREAM CAKE

1 package oreo cookies

2 cartons ice cream (vanilla or chocolate works best)

1 jar ice cream topping (i.e. chocolate sauce, caramel,etc)

1 container cool whip

1 can vanilla frosting

sprinkles

 

Crush 1 package oreo cookies (gluten free if needed) and press in the bottom of pan.  Soften 1 carton of ice cream and spread over the crushed cookies. 

 

Freeze for three hours.

 

Melt the topping you wish to use ( I made one with chocolate sauce in the middle and one with caramel in the middle) and pour over cake.  Freeze for at least three hours.

 

Soften the other carton of ice cream and spread over the top of  the layered ice cream and sauce.  Freeze for at least one hour.

 

Mix (defrosted) Cool Whip with 1 can vanilla frosting.  Spread on top of cake and top with sprinkles.  Freeze for another three hours before serving.

I'm not a cradle Catholic and never went to school to be taught by nuns, so whenever I see a nun while I'm out and about, I'm always get the strong desire to run over to them and say something like, "Hey, I'm Catholic too!" Would that be wildly inappropriate? How do people usually approach you/what do they say to broach conversations?

 

I would love it if someone said "Hey, I'm Catholic, too!"  People usually don't have any idea what to say, and we know that people feel a bit awkward talking to sisters, so we're used to any sort of conversation starters. As a public witness of the Gospel ( which is what the habit is for- to remind people of God) we get many interesting comments and stares-ask my sister Amelia when she goes out anywhere with me!  Usually, the best way to start a conversation with a sister is the same way as you start one with any one else- tell a little about yourself, ask questions ("What order are you?" is a typical one), introduce your kids, etc.  So many people will even say to us:  "My daughter has never seen a nun before" or things like that.  I carry around miraculous medals in my pocket- just think, you may even get a free gift!

Sister Veronica fostering vocations with nieces Greta and Heidi (yes, the same Heidi pictured with the ice cream cakes, but a bit younger in this photo!)

I would love, Love, LOVE it if my daughter became a nun or one of my future children became a nun/priest. Is there something early on in particular that started you down this path? What sorts of things would you recommend I do (besides pray, of course ; ) to help my children discern a possible religious vocation?

First of all, I think it's great that your open to having one of your children become a sister.  So many times, the parents are actually the biggest obstacles to girls entering the convent.  They don't want their daughters to not get married, or not go to college, or be "unsuccessful", and in their eyes, unhappy.  Actually, if a young woman has a religious vocation, she won't be truly happy doing anything else!  

God calls from the womb, and so He already knows if your daughter has a vocation to religious life (I always try to spark it in my nieces and nephew!)  A good way to foster the possibility of a vocation at a young age is to introduce your daughter to sisters in habits, or if that's not possible- I know how hard it is to find them sometimes- to read the lives of the saints to them. St. Therese has inspired many girls who are with us now.Statues of the saints or "nun dolls" also help a lot.  I play "nuns" with my nieces here to teach them about religious life. 

I read the story of St. Anthony (actually, that our Mom wrote) when I was 12 years old- she wanted us to proofread it for her-a sneaky ploy to get us to read the lives of the saints, I must say.  It really made my heart burn to want to live like him or like St. Clare, who was also in the book.  I had never met a sister in a habit at that time, or a sister who was younger than seventy years old,  so I thought they didn't exist any more!  My vocation really "exploded" when I met my community for the first time as a freshman in high school and realized that Franciscans who really lived poverty and religious life weren't extinct.

And finally, as you said, teach your children to pray that they may come to know God's will for them.  I didn't realize I had a vocation until I really developed a relationship with Jesus, which little children can have, too.  He'll let them know better than we can, and they're never too young to find out.  Many of our sisters first felt the call in first or second grade!  You and your family will be in my prayers!

The grass is always greener...so from my perspective as a stay-at-home mom, I sometimes think if I was a nun and could spend the bulk of my day/week at Mass, in prayer, at adoration, studying the Bible, and reading the works of saints, all my problems would disappear! Can you speak to the humanity side of the convent? What are the struggles/temptations that plague your order and maybe are universal to all nuns? 

Interesting question!  Well, you're right when you say "the grass is always greener"... People always think that we're just floating on clouds all day long and only come down to breathe when we go out on apostolate...or, they think that we're miserable in the convent and only smile when we're out of it! (depending on who you talk to).  Actually, life in the convent is very human and very much like living in a family.  We "rub elbows" with each other and sometimes drive each other crazy, but that's what family is all about, right?!  We're like true sisters, with both the ups and the downs.  Our prayer life is what keeps us centered and focused, and we have the privilege to have Jesus living right with us in our chapel and a schedule which lets us spend time

Sister Veronica of Jesus in the house of her sister Amelia. Please ignore the crooked painting and messy house. The sisters don't have crooked pictures, air conditioners or messy houses!

with Him every day, but our lives (though not as hectic), are filled with the "little things" too, like laundry, cooking, cleaning, gardening, mowing the lawn, taking care of our German Shepherds ( we even have puppies sometimes!) , stacking wood for our wood burners, and just caring for each other, as well as spiritual reading, preparing for talks, adoration, going to Mass, and all the things you'd imagine a sister normally doing.

I think some struggles and temptations we have are probably very similar to yours, but on a different plane.  Prayer can be difficult and dry sometimes, and just like your relationship with your husband has to deepen every day, and you don't always feel the "ooey  gooey" feelings for him that you used to, so our relationship with Christ has to move beyond the consolations of the desperate "run to the church" where you feel that everything will be all right and you get a "spiritual high" to loving Jesus and trusting Him even when He seems far away or doesn't answer our prayers as we want Him to.  Also, we have our own little worries and concerns for our sisters and house ( for example, we just had to put one of our dogs down, and it was very hard for us because they become "one of the family")   However, we don't have the same levels of worries that you have, which frees us up to pray and bear the weight of others' pains on our shoulders and bring them to prayer.  We get very serious prayer requests every day, and I must admit, they always remind me to  "kiss the habit" and thank God for my vocation!

 

Probably, the hardest, and most blessed things to live are the vows, especially obedience, and being asked to do the things that we'd rather not or given a "no" when we want a "yes".  But, doesn't that frustrate your kids, also?   Pope Benedict said that the more we become like Christ, the more our wills are conformed to His and the less suffering we experience based on wanting something which isn't God's will.  There's still suffering -that's life, and that's the cross, and whether you are a saint or an atheist, a housewife or a habited nun,  it'll come, but it's what we do with it that determines whether we have peace or anxiety and unnecessary pain.  I've tried to learn that it's just better not to fight God from the outset...but I've still much more to learn!

Secondly, and much lighter, have you ever been "hit on" in your habit? And my husband adds, did he succeed in getting your number?

 

Who in their right minds would hit on a nun?!  Although, I must admit, the old men at parish missions sometimes can be a bit smitten, and I suppose they have asked for our number, but it's usually to send a donation!  We gave a Confirmation retreat a few weeks ago, and I think some of the boys fell in love with the sisters, but it was actually great because they were the ring leaders of the class, and they were "eating out of the palm of our hands", so we had the class./  Sometimes the boys tell us ( myself and another sister who play the piano and guitar and sing together) that we should be on "American Idol" and that they would vote for us...does that count?


One of my kiddos is curious if they sleep in their habit.

 

Kids always seem to ask that!  Actually, my sister Amelia (who's lovely blog this is) also wanted to know the answer...  No, we don't sleep in our habits, but just in normal nightgowns or whatever.  However, we each have our own cell -no, not because the convent is like a prison!- after the Latin word "caeli" which means "heaven", so each of our cells is our little Heaven!  So, we never go outside of our private cells without our habits on or our head covered.  Nobody sees us sleeping but Jesus!
 

My 9-year-old AnneMarie would like to know how often you get to see your family, or if you are allowed to have friends outside of the convent.

 

Good question, AnneMarie!  Well, as a professed sister, we generally go home every year for about two weeks (which is what I'm doing now) and our family can periodically come and visit us at the convent.  When you first enter the convent as a postulant or novice (i.e. the first three years), our sisters generally don't go home, but their families can come and visit them every three months or so.  The reason for the separation is not because your family is a bad influence or anything like that, but because when you enter the convent, you have to attach to your new family, the sisters!  It's easiest to do that when you don't see your family all the time,  but we never stop loving them, and actually, I pray much more for my family now than I ever did before when I was with them, and I feel like I have a deeper relationship with my parents than I did before entering the convent, because we see each other on a different level.  My parents talk to me about things they never would before because, not only am I their daughter, but I'm also a religious.

 

I do keep in touch with some friends sometimes outside the convent, but usually what happens when you become a sister is that your sisters in religious life become your friends, so instead of going over to your friends house to have a good time, you live with your friends and can have fun with them all the time, and believe me, sisters can have lots of fun!  We put on skits and costumes, and dance and sing, and laugh a lot!  You should see us at Christmas...I reckon I get just as excited as you do for the holidays...or Easter, or our feast days..

I am interested in hearing about vocation discernment, simply put. Did you know at one moment, yes, this is what I am called to do. Or was it a longer process of getting used to the idea.

 

Well, everybody's call is unique, but there is definitly a similar thread that runs through them all, namely, that you KNOW,  somehow, that God has called you to be His bride and none others.  I was the vocation directress for our community for quite a few years (now I'm candidate directress, which is the stage right before a young woman enters the convent) and that is what I've seen in all the girls who ended up entering religious communities and  not seen in those who later discerned their calls to marriage.
The A, #1, bona-fide way to find out your vocation is to pray, pray pray!   God wants to tell you more than you most likely want to hear it!   However, He doesn't usually do the St. Paul thing and knock us off our horse..or, He could...but He probably won't appear to you and tell you "I want you to be a nun!" (picture the old 'Uncle Sam wants you" poster).

Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth in Their Refectory Which They Have Decorated for Christmas

So, how did I know?  Well, it was a very slow process, but as I said in an earlier blog, God calls from the womb.  Actually, from a young age I had an inkling towards God, although becoming a nun was the farthest thing from my mind.  I thought you only became a sister if you were an old maid and couldn't find a husband, and I had no intention of doing that!  I wanted to become an actress and a singer and get married and have a ton of kids  (I'm actually the opposite of my sister Amelia who posts this blog- I don't think she'd be caught dead on stage in a play, and you wouldn't want to put a microphone in her hand for singing- although the "ton of kids" thing she definitly has down).  I had no exposure to any religious younger than the age of sixty and none who wore a habit, so naturally as a young girl I wasn't attracted.


However, when I was a freshman in high school, I went on a youth retreat that had Euchartistic Adoration, and I really had an experence of the reality of Jesus in the Eucharist.  After that, I started to pray the rosary every day ( a great tool to help you discern- our Lady is the best vocation directress) and a few months later, in Eucharistic Adoration again, the call became clear.  I was kneeling before Jesus, and in a "new convert" burst of enthusiam, I prayed, "O God, I'll do anything for you!  Anything!"


 A few moments later, I heard a voice in my heart saying to me, "Would you marry me?  Would you become a sister?"  At the same time,  I had a picture in my head of the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth, whom I had met just a few months prior.


Okay, I know that sounds a little dramatic (didn't I say I wanted to be an actress?) but it's the truth. However, it was subtle enough that I could easily talk myself into believing it was just me, just my crazy thoughts going haywire, and not really God.  I could have ignored it, because God is a gentleman and He never forces Himself upon us.  I struggled with trying to believe and trying to accept my vocation for the next three years, but whenver I really settled down and prayed it became clearer and clear that, although He would leave me free to do what I wanted, this was what HE wanted of me.  I'm glad I chose His will and not mine, because now I know that I was made for this life!   


I hope that answered your question.  Visiting convents also helps a lot, because many times women have a romanticised image of what religious life is like (that we're floating around all day long or kneeling for hours straight or eating nails for supper) and a good solid visit or retreat helps to separate the fantasy from the reality.  Also, finding the right community to join is more like dating than shopping.  You really "fall in love" with the community that's for you, and it's hard to put a charism on a website.  Just like you may go on "Catholic Match", and a guy seems perfect....until you actually  meet him....so it is with religious communities.  If a person feels called they should call, write, or visit.   If a picture is worth a thousand words, a visit is worth a million!
 

What annoys them?  Is there something in general that married couples tend to do that annoys the sisters or things that married couples do that they really appreciate. 

 

Well, to be honest, what actually annoys me the most, and I think I'm speaking for lots of sisters here, is when parents stand in the way of their children's vocations.  I have met so many women, I would dare say at least one in every parish I've been to on apostolate (and there have been many), who have come up to me and said, "Sister, I knew I should have been a sister, but because my parents didn't want me to, I didn't.  I love my husband and my kids, but something's missing."   It is so chronic that sometimes I wish I could stand on the rooftops and yell "Hey, parents, don't mess up your kids' lives by stopping them from following their vocation!  You're hurting them, not helping them!"  It is very difficult for a young person to follow their vocation to religious life.  The world thinks you're crazy, there are thousands of doubts and temptations, and it takes an incredible amount of courage and grace.  Even a parent's plea to just "wait until you finish college' or "wait until your little brother is older and doesn't need  you so much" or "I'm going to miss you so much- could't you do something less radical-sob, sob" can be enough to stop a girl from ever following her call.  I knew in high school that I was called, and so I entered right after I graduated.  When the call comes for a girl, it gets to a point where you have to respond immediately if you're going to respond at all.  If that means at eighteen, or twenty, or twenty-five years, so be it!


Conversely, I love to see married couples going to Church with their children, home- schooling, teaching them about the faith and encouraging vocations in them.  Also, I really love seeing married couples holding hands, being in love with each other and open to new life.  It's such a witness to the world of God's love for us,  It's also especially wonderful to see both the mother and father at Mass with their kids.  I know sometimes that can be hard with little babies at home, but even just to see a father at Church with his children is a powerful statement, because so few fathers actually go to church nowadays.  I heard a saying once that went like this, "If the mother is religious, some of the children will be.  If the father is religious, all of them will be".

What are their hobbies?  What makes them happiest?

 

I guess every sister has different hobbies, depending on where their talents lie.  One sister's "hobby" could be another sister's penance!  (For example, one of our sisters is great at wood working, and she's made altars and furniture for our convent and loves it.  Whenever I work with wood, I'm sorely tempted to throw it in the fire and be done with it!)  However some of the things we do are: we cook, clean, and sew, some sisters make little decorations for the holidays, we make candles, garden (vegetables, fruits, and flowers), landscape, stack wood (we have wood burning stoves in the winter time and cook over them like "Little House on the Prairie"), have cats, and even have puppies from our German Shepherd dogs sometimes.  We also sing, play instruments, and even put on skits for the holidays, costumes and all!

 

What actually makes us happiest, like "a kid in a candy shop" is if you tell us we can eat sweets or sleep through the night.  We only eat sweets on Sundays or feast days, and we wake up every morning at 2 a.m. to pray the Divine Office, (don't fret, we go back to sleep again), so when those penances are lifted for a day the convent is sure to be filled with cheers!

 

But, what gives us the most joy is living the religious life every day, spending time with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration, and being with our sisters in community.  Truly, we can't ask for anything more.  

Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth in Their Chapel at Christmas, Decorated by Sisters

What are their hobbies?  What makes them happiest?

 

I guess every sister has different hobbies, depending on where their talents lie.  One sister's "hobby" could be another sister's penance!  (For example, one of our sisters is great at wood working, and she's made altars and furniture for our convent and loves it.  Whenever I work with wood, I'm sorely tempted to throw it in the fire and be done with it!)  However some of the things we do are: we cook, clean, and sew, some sisters make little decorations for the holidays, we make candles, garden (vegetables, fruits, and flowers), landscape, stack wood (we have wood burning stoves in the winter time and cook over them like "Little House on the Prairie"), have cats, and even have puppies from our German Shepherd dogs sometimes.  We also sing, play instruments, and even put on skits for the holidays, costumes and all!

What actually makes us happiest, like "a kid in a candy shop" is if you tell us we can eat sweets or sleep through the night.  We only eat sweets on Sundays or feast days, and we wake up every morning at 2 a.m. to pray the Divine Office, (don't fret, we go back to sleep again), so when those penances are lifted for a day the convent is sure to be filled with cheers!

 

But, what gives us the most joy is living the religious life every day, spending time with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration, and being with our sisters in community.  Truly, we can't ask for anything more.  

 

How do you celebrate Christmas?  Easter? Fourth of July? Other holidays?

 

First of all, I have to say that sisters know how to celebrate well!  When we fast, we fast, and when we feast, we FEAST!  WE spend the holidays in the convent with the sisters, not with our families ( unless we happen to be on home visit, like I was this year for the fourth of July), but I'd reckon to say that if any of us were sent home for the holidays, we would be extremely sad!  Not because we don't love our families, but because it's just so great to be in the convent during those times.  We celebrate not only with food, family, music, and decorations, as most people do, but also with beautiful liturgies and prayers which deepen and enrich the celebration.


For example, on Christmas and Easter and for the week following them (called the Octave), we have beautiful, festive liturgies, the sisters from our different convents come together,  great meals,as well as stellar entertainment provided by the sisters themselves (the skits I mentioned above).  Before these holidays, we've prepared with a solid Advent and Lent, respectively.  For example, most people know,maybe, five Advent songs max.  We know at least thirty-five or forty, because we have six liturgies every day that we sing them for!  We also fast more rigorously during those times, so we're not celebrating Christmas four weeks before it's actually come, and we literally count down the days to Christmas.  We decorate "to the hilt" our chapel and refectory (convent name for dining room) with all homemade decorations and fresh greens.

Easter is just as lovely, and the high holy days of the Easter Triduum are beautifully celebrated in our convent, coming to a peak at the Easter Vigil with a real live bonfire!

 

We also celebrate a few secular holidays, like thanksgiving and July 4th, with communal gatherings, as well as Church feast days with special liturgies and sweets.  So, all in all, we know how to celebrate!
So, there's your "Christmas in July" blog!  I know you were waiting for it.   So, now, you can join the convent for fifty percent off and, if you call now, we'll throw an extra habit in for free!


My daughter would like to know what your hair looks like?

 

Girls always seem to ask that!  I have brown hair, just like my sister Amelia, but it's quite a bit shorter.  When a girl becomes a novice and receives the habit, there's a hair cutting ceremony where the novice-to- be kneels on the steps to the altar and our superior cuts her hair as she holds a bowl to catch it.  Meanwhile, the sisters are singing a beautiful hymn about giving their lives to God.  We give our hair to God as a sign of giving our beauty to Him.  Then, the new sister puts on the veil and nobody ever sees her hair again.   (Actually, the older you get, the more advantageous it is-nobody can see if you're going gray, either!)  The nice part is, you don't have to worry about brushing it.

Sister Veronica and Sister Miriam in Their Convent in Tunkhannock Pennsylvania. To contact the Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth about Vocation Discernment Retreats and for general information, see the website www.cnsisters.com

© 2016 by The Confraternity of Penitents, 1702 Lumbard Street, Fort Wayne IN USA 46803   www.penitents.org

 

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