The word we’re looking for is hierarchy. It means “rule by priests” and describes the system of clergy that governs the church. Technically it’s more like “rule by bishop”: Even the pope is bishop of Rome, and no matter how fancy the hat of a cardinal it’s the territorially governing bishops who get the job done. Bishops (Greek episkopoi = "supervisors") were established in the 1st century to preserve church unity over widening areas. Priests and deacons, whose influence is very parochial—local and parish-focused—work for the bishop and declare obedience to him.
A flow chart would help, and if there is one on the walls of the Vatican, I’d love a copy. In the meantime: Think of the pope as first among bishops. Bishops are Vicars of Christ, which means they, like the pope, have the same Boss. When all the bishops get together, as with the Vatican or Lateran or Tridentine Councils, their authority is the highest the church can express.
|CARDINALS in St. Peter's Basilica.|
Cardinals were originally priests with permanent parish assignments. By the Middle Ages, the term, meaning “hinge,” denoted priests assigned to important locations (think Los Angeles, Chicago, New York in today’s terms). Cardinals became electors of the pope in the 11th century by decree of Pope Nicholas II. In the 16th century Pope Sixtus V limited the number of cardinals to 70, matching Moses’ assembly of elders (Numbers 11:16). The 1917 Code of Canon Law made it imperative for cardinals to be chosen from the clergy—previously a layman could be designated. Pope John XXIII shrunk the pool to bishops in 1962 and eliminated the numerical ceiling. The College of Cardinals functions primarily as a consulting body for the pope.
The Roman Curia is a bureaucracy that runs everything from diplomatic affairs (Vatican City is the world’s smallest sovereign state) to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Vatican newspaper. These offices have traditionally been filled by archbishops and cardinals. (There’s no canonical reason why women could not hold these positions in the future.)
Religious orders sweep this flow chart to the floor. There are four broad categories of orders: monastic, canonical, mendicant, and apostolic. Monasteries may be autonomous in their governance, while most orders have central authorities. Some groups are limited territorially, and few universal claims can be made about what they do and how they do it. Somewhere along the chain, though, you can bet someone is accountable to Rome.
• Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-25; Titus 1:5-9;1 Peter 5:1-5
• “Episkopë and Episkopos: The New Testament Evidence” by Father Raymond E. Brown, S.S.
• Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church by Thomas Reese, S.J. (Harvard University Press, 1998)
• All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks by John L. Allen, Jr. (Doubleday Religion, 2004)
Throughout its history religious life has had people who are attracted to and want to be part of the spirit of a particular community but not necessarily become a religious sister or brother, nun, or monk. In response, religious communities have over time established various ways so that such folks can more formally share in the spirit of the community. These formal relationships with a community may involve mutual responsibilities, a renewable or life-long commitment, and a rule of life.
|THIRD ORDER Carmelites (wearing their “profession
scapulars”) gather with Carmelite friars
for prayer at Aylesford Priory in England.
I’ll briefly describe a few of them:
• Third Orders. In some of the early religious communities, the “First Order” referred to the original group of monks or friars. The “Second Order” referred to contemplative nuns who wished to follow in the founding spirit of the First Order. The “Third Order” or “Secular Order” referred to women and men who wanted to live in the spirit of the religious community but remain in their current state of life. The three main congregations with Third Orders are the Carmelites, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans.
• Oblates. The word oblate comes from the word oblation, which in Latin means “offering.” An oblate, then, is one who offers herself or himself to God in and through their association with a particular religious community. This term is most often used within the Benedictines and monastic life.
• Associates. The words associates or affiliates are often used in relation to apostolic religious communities that are not “orders” or monastics as mentioned above.
Each community has different customs in regard to tertiaries (the term for people who belong to a third order), oblates, and associates, so I encourage you to check out their websites and connect with the vocation director of the community. She or he will be able to talk with you not only about religious life but also some of these other approaches to participating.
In addition to these and other formal paths to relationship with a religious community, there are many others. At the I.H.M. Sisters people join us all the time for liturgies, volunteering on a project, helping support the community, visiting with members, attending events, and other activities. Often these are great ways for anyone—including someone discerning a call to religious life—to get to know the community.
A number of communities you can find on the VISION Vocation Network website have third order or other similar organizations, like the associate communities of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.
Religious communities of women and of men have worked tirelessly on behalf of human rights throughout the centuries. It might be the monastic brother who serves as the monastery’s porter and feeds the hungry who knock on his door. It might be the religious sister trained as a civil lawyer who lobbies in Washington, D.C. on behalf of economic justice for those who are poor and vulnerable. It might be the cloistered nun who has given herself to praying ceaselessly for those who are caught up in drug abuse and drug war violence. It might be a missionary who is helping rural farmers in with land rights and sustainability.
No matter how religious communities live or what their mission is, care for people who are vulnerable, suffering, or poor is a significant aspect of being women and men rooted in the gospel and the social teachings of the church. Some communities may place more of an emphasis on a particular aspect of social justice—for example, setting up a network of homeless shelters and soup kitchens or ministering with people enslaved in human trafficking.
I encourage you to get to know religious communities and see how each is specifically committed to human rights in ways that come out of their particular mission. Ask a sister, brother, or priest how their life and ministry have reflected those very first words of the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”
Take time to ask yourself that same question. You may find that the ways you are attracted to serve and live the gospel resonate well with religious life!
Every religious community finds its origins in the Holy Spirit, who inspires a person or group to begin a new mission in the world. The community, like all religious communities, strives to live the gospel but does so in the particular way the Spirit is calling it. That unique or particular way might be expressed in a variety of ways:
Such a simple question, yet one that can be answered in so many ways! The answer depends on when your fictional nun lived. Her time in history is very important because the customs of Catholic nuns and sisters have changed. It also depends on the kind of community to which she belongs because each community has its own particular customs.
Regarding a nun’s hair, if your character lived prior to the 1960s chances are good that she wore a habit and veil and was required to have her hair cut. The reasons are two-fold: 1. It’s easier to wear a veil with short hair, and 2. The cutting of one’s hair symbolized the sister’s giving everything—even her hair which enhanced her uniqueness and femininity—to God. If she lived after the 1960s, which was the time of many changes in the Catholic Church, she may or may not have had to cut her hair.
As the church changed and opened up more to embracing and serving in the world, opportunities for Catholic sisters and nuns shifted to a focus on gospel living and ministry. Some veils got shorter and others were retired, which simultaneously meant allowing one’s hair to show. Many sisters were no longer required to shave or cut their hair. Their hairstyle was left to their own discretion. Of the communities that kept a veil, some still kept the hair-cutting custom while others adapted it.
In regard to a sister’s name, again, the 1960s is an important marker. Prior to this time your character most likely was given a religious name symbolizing her new life commitment. The name may have been in honor of Mary or a saint or some combination thereof, e.g., Sister Mary Benedicta. After the 1960s sisters in many communities, in the spirit of the changes occurring within the church, decided to use their own baptismal name (usually the name they ordinarily went by) as their religious name because baptism was the ultimate sign of new life in Christ.
Blessings on your writing project and may Saint Teresa of Avila, herself a writer and a nun, be with you as you create your nun-character!
While many religious communities did choose to modify their habit and many of these, with the approval of the church, eventually stopped wearing the traditional habit, others did indeed continue wearing habits. Some of these communities are active religious sisters and some are cloistered contemplative nuns.
Because each community is uniquely called by God, how they chooose to dress depends on their particular ministries, customs, and way of life. For some communities a recognizable uniform worn regularly (a habit) is not essential to their life and mission, while for others it is. A sister or nun can serve God fully and authentically in her prayer and ministry regardless of what she wears.
Taking a religious name is not a matter of whether or not one is a sister or a nun but rather of the customs of a particular community. Some communities of sisters and of nuns have the custom of using one’s baptismal name, and others the custom of taking a religious name.
The changes in customs that have taken place most noticeably since Vatican II were never made lightly but were the results of much prayer and discernment. Religious sisters and contemplative nuns are called first to faithfulness to God, even if that means that a much-loved custom no longer benefits that particular community’s God-given mission.
When you join a religious order, you make a life commitment to become part of a community. That means that the mission and life of the community become your primary way of living for and with God. What you actually do (your job, or ministry, or career) is “filtered” through this life commitment, just as when you marry, your significant decisions (and even insignificant ones!) are considered with your spouse and in light of your relationship.
So when thinking about what you might do as a religious priest, sister, nun, or brother, you must take into consideration not only your own gifts, talents, and passion but also what is good for your community. You need input from other members of the community to get a sense of the common good and how a job possibility or career path might further the community’s mission. In doing this kind of discernment (both personal and communal) you are also tending to what is good for you, too.
That’s the long way of saying that if you are looking into an active community, then yes, you can have a job or career. If you are looking into a contemplative community, then your primary ministry is going to be prayer.
Pope John Paul II was famous for making silly faces at photographers. These pictures were a radical departure from the papal portraits in history books. That was the point: to humanize the papacy—and the church—wearing a grin and Bono’s shades.
If you’d asked our late ski- and movie-enthusiast pope what he did for fun, he’d have likely countered: What do you do? Most of us are limited only by our abilities, resources, and imagination concerning what we do at playtime. I know some priests who keep bees. They sell “Holy Family Honey: Where the Glory Bees Are Sweeter.” Another priest works on a pit crew at the local racetrack on Saturdays. A Paulist pastor has a shoebox under his bed full of short stories he’s been writing, and not a few screenplays. A Sister of Mercy loves to garden and gets up early for bird-watching.
Priests and religious sisters of my acquaintance cook (some are gourmets), travel, draw, sculpt, build furniture, read thriller novels, and gather friends for dinner parties. They play soccer, basketball, racquetball, and beach volleyball. (Warning: They play for keeps, so be careful.) They go fishing. They take night classes in subjects that intrigue them. They crochet (not all of these are women) and hang glide (not all of these are men).
What it comes down to is that folks in religious life are basically folks. When you meet a group of sweaty women packing out of the Grand Canyon, you may not know they’re Dominican sisters because they don’t wear habits when they go camping. That guy who just slid out from under a truck in the driveway doesn’t look like a priest, but he’ll get most of the grease out from under his nails before Mass.
Sure, a lot of people in religious life take their vacations in the Holy Land, or on pilgrimages to Rome, Lourdes, and Fatima. Some collect holy cards as a hobby (I collect holy cards too, and I’m a laywoman). Some only read books by Thomas Merton and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. But others are just wild about Sherlock Holmes.
Need for Sabbath: Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 23:12; 34:21; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Mark 2:27
Priests and Nuns Having Fun Flickr pool site
Ten Fun Things to Do Before You Die by Nun Other Than Sister Karol Jackowski (Hyperion Press)
Diamond Presence: Twelve Stories of Finding God at the Old Ball Park, edited by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce (ACTA Publications)
Movies That Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith by Richard Leonard, S.J. (Loyola Press)
Good Cooking Habits: Food for Your Body, Your Soul, and Your Funnybone by Nun Other Than Sister Karol Jackowski (Forest of Peace Press)
Celibacy was a radical idea from the moment it first appeared in our religious tradition. The setting was the 6th-century B.C. The prophet Jeremiah and his community were facing the devastating exile to Babylon, which included the loss of home, city, king, and Temple. In the midst of total upheaval, God asked Jeremiah not to marry or have children. That was a prophetic sign that the world as Israel knew it had no future. In a culture that valued the posterity of heirs so highly, Jeremiah’s celibacy was an outrageous choice.
The radical sign of celibacy, what the church calls the memento mori in Latin (“the reminder of death”) remains central to the practice of celibacy in ministry today. The affairs of this world are passing, while the realities of the reign of God are everlasting. The celibate lifestyle is a walking testimony to this belief. Jesus taught that when he told the disciples, “Some . . . have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it” (Matthew 19:12). The church points to the example of both Jesus and his Virgin Mother as eloquent witnesses to the single-minded dedication to God’s reign that is possible without other primary commitments.
Saint Paul also extolled celibacy (his own life is Exhibit A in his argument) but did not mandate it.. Paul believed that, all things being equal, the virgin and the celibate were free from preoccupation with family matters and can therefore be more attentive to the Lord, especially because he thought the end of the world was near. Theologians rush to add that all things are frequently not equal: a married person may certainly be more attentive to God than a given celibate.
What is clear from these discussions is that the point of celibacy is not refraining from sexual activity (the typical secular assumption) but simplifying and clarifying one’s life for single-hearted service. Celibacy remains a radical incarnation of Christian freedom to move as God wills.
Jeremiah 16:1-2; Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-40
“Celibacy for the Kingdom & the Fulfillment of Human Sexuality” by Christopher West
“Celibacy” in The Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. (Liturgical Press)
Celibacy, Ministry, Church by Joseph Blenkinsopp (Herder and Herder)
Music is a wonderful gift whether you are a composer or performer or listener. Let me first encourage you to think about your music. What kind of messages does it send? Are the lyrics gospel-affirming? In what ways does your music build you up into a person of God or allow you to speak a word of encouragement to others? Music does not have to be “religious” to do that; it just has to be real and touch the soul.
Second, as you think about beginning the process of entering a religious community or seminary, know that you will have to make some sacrifices. Some formation programs may have greater limits than others which will affect how you can express yourself musically. But that does not mean abandoning things completely. The process of formation can be an opportunity to come to a new appreciation of your music and perhaps even a new or enhanced expression of your music. As you grow in your vocation, you may find a ministry or form of prayer that incorporates music.
And you may find others in your community who share your love of music. Speaking to the vocation director or other members of the community will help you with specifics about how music is a part of the life and mission of the community.
Finally, remember that the God who fostered your love of music is the same God who calls you to pursue your vocation.
I love sports, in particular running. As a sister, would I have to give that up? –Rachel W.
I adore sports as well and am dying to find a local roller derby club that will take on a nun with questionable skating skills! Many of we religious enjoy sports whether as players or spectators. In my IHM congregation, for example, we have a sister who is in a basketball league, another who runs weekly, and many who are cyclists at all levels. In addition we have annual Michigan vs. Ohio State tailgating parties where being a spectator can become a full contact sport!
In many if not all religious communities, there is a place for sports and exercise. The degree to which that is possible varies across communities depending on their mission and customs. Engaging in most kinds of sport is not only good for one’s health but for one’s spirit as well. We recognize that God speaks to us in a variety of ways, including the “languages” that are most native to us—for you it sounds as if running may be that kind of language (check out a blog post I wrote on cycling and meditation).
So there is a very real way that a sport like running can be incorporated into your life of prayer as a sister. There’s also the possibility that it can be a form of ministry, too. Some of the sisters belonging to the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Healing Love have turned running into a way to help children deal with behavioral issues and improve their school work.
I encourage you to keep running and explore how this gift can help you in your own spiritual journey, as well as help others.
Some of us know and respond instantly to a calling from God. Others, like you and me, hear God’s call gradually and sometimes over the course of many years. These “in between” times are always worthwhile as God’s call deepens within us and we grow in our understanding of ourselves and God.
You seem to be at a crossroads and ready to explore God’s call more intentionally. A first step is to get to know priests and brothers and their way of life. That can be done casually or formally, whatever works best for you at first. See how it feels to imagine yourself in their way of life and involved in their mission. It may help to learn more about the particular vocations to become a diocesan priest, a religious priest, or a religious brother. You’ll find more information about these vocations on the FAQ page of this website.
While you actively explore what it’s like to be a brother or priest, be sure to take all of these experiences to prayer. Check in with God daily, telling God of your desires, feelings, and thoughts. And don’t forget to listen! Spend time in silence, opening your heart to God. For some guidance, read through the article ”Four steps to hearing your call” by Benedictine Sister Anita Louise Lowe. You might also consider working with a spiritual director, someone who is skilled in helping people discern God’s calling in their lives.
Another avenue for discerning God’s call is to engage in some form of ministry. Become a catechist at your parish, volunteer as at a hospice, advocate for those in need as a board member or in your job, spend your vacation time on a service trip.
And if you are doing these things, and still feel drawn to become a priest or brother, then get in touch with the vocation director of your local diocese (for diocesan priesthood) or in the religious community with whom you feel most at home. It may simply be time to go for it!
My prayers are with you as you move more deeply into God’s calling to you.
The Franciscans have a long history in the church, beginning with the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) and Saint Clare of Assisi (d. 1253). Over the years many Franciscan religious communities have emerged within Catholicism and beyond. In addition many people have incorporated the spirit and values of Franciscan spirituality into their own ways of life. While there’s no way to cover all aspects of Franciscanism, we can make some general distinctions.
The main categories of Franciscans are the three orders:
The first is the Order of Friars Minor which is comprised of the Observants, the Conventuals, and the Capuchins. The Observants (O.F.M.) and the Conventuals (O.F.M. Conv.) were the Franciscans of Francis’s day and later to this day. The Observants were friars who typically lived in hermitages tucked into the mountains. Conventuals were friars who felt called to follow Francis by serving people in urban areas. These friars ministered and lived together in houses (or “convents”) among the people. The Capuchins (O.F.M. Cap.) were a reform of Franciscanism in the 16th century spearheaded by Friar Matteo da Bascio who felt called to go back to a more rigorous way of Franciscan life that he saw in Saint Francis.
The second order of Franciscans are the Poor Clare nuns, communities of contemplative women founded by or in the spirit of Saint Clare of Assisi along with her good friend Francis.
The third order of Franciscans is diverse, comprising religious Franciscans (Third Order Regular), who profess public vows and live in community, and lay Franciscans (Secular Franciscan Order), single and married men and women who live a Franciscan lifestyle in their own situations and lives.
Within the above orders, you will find even more diversity of customs and traditions unique to each individual Franciscan community.
So what’s a person to do if they are attracted to the Franciscan way of life? My best advice is to get out there and explore different communities, meet friars, sisters, or nuns, and allow yourself to envision your life with them. Can you see yourself in their shoes or sandals? I also encourage you to read and experience more of the lives of Francis and Clare and other Franciscan saints and holy people. In their stories you will find pieces of your own which will help you to discern and know which Franciscan community feels most at home to you.
The simple answer to your question is: Yes, a person who is a member of a religious community or order can transfer to another community or order. Here are a few other considerations that arise with this question.
First, if the person happens to still be in first (or temporary) vows or is not yet vowed, she or he can leave freely because they are not yet full members of the community. Such leaving, however, is undertaken with much discernment, prayer, and conversation. The person must also faithfully tend to any responsibilities and relationships that have been established.
Second, the decision of a full member, someone who has professed final vows, to leave her or his community and, in some cases, join another community is a serious situation. This process is not engaged in lightly and is a time of great discernment, prayer, and conversation for both the individual and the community. After all, final vows means for life, not “for as long as I feel like it” or “’till something better comes along.” That being said, serious reasons do arise when a person can legitimately no longer live as a member of a particular community. These reasons are for the person and the leadership of the community to discern and are later witnessed by Rome for the valid dispensation from vows or transfer of vows.
Third, no religious community wants a person to feel “stuck” with them. On the contrary, religious communities want the very best for their members—to be free to love and serve God and God’s mission with other women or men who share the same vision. The community is built on real relationships and is not simply a structure within which one lives out one’s commitment for better or for worse. The pain of one member who feels “stuck” affects the whole of the community and must be tended to if the community and the individual are to be healthy and vibrant.