Frequently Asked Questions about Sisterhood

What kind of work do Religious Sisters do?

Religious Sisters are identified by their life of prayer and spirituality. Flowing from this essential work, each Religious Community has its own particular mission and ministry in the Church.

Some Religious Communities are teachers, others medical professionals; some work in the media, others in social outreach; some work in parish ministry, others are involved in foreign missions. Each Religious Community has its own apostolate and is called to serve the Church and society in that special way.

Do you have to pray a lot as a religious sister?

Oh, yes! In fact, Religious Sisters are the great witnesses to prayer in the Church. The life of a Sister revolves around the Liturgy of the Hours – the formal praying of the Psalms throughout the day – as well as the method of meditation and devotions of their specific community. Sisters love to pray, and seek to become living prayers to those around them.

For Sisters and everyone else, we are supposed to “pray without ceasing” as Saint Paul calls all of us to do in his first letter to the Thessalonians 5:17. We are to make the whole day a prayer — coffee rituals, caring for God’s creatures, working out at the gym, doing our job and chores around the house, sitting around daydreaming — all of these things can be opportunities to open ourselves to God, to experience his love and to radiate this love to others. This is especially important in the life of a Sister and her call to God.

Do you lose your freedom as a Sister?

Yes and no. No sensible person tries to live free of all responsibilities and obligations to others. Why has Christ set us free from sin and death? Certainly not to live a self-centered life. We have to make choices about how we will use the freedom we have.

In addition, because they want to serve God within the Church, Religious Sisters take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows bind them to do what the Church needs to be done, as seen through the eyes of the shepherds of the Church, who are responsible for the Church’s mission; they renounce the exaggerated freedom to do always and everywhere what they like or want to do.

On the other hand, Religious Sisters can testify that there is great freedom to be creative in their vocations. Religious Superiors rely on Religious Sisters along with the laity to suggest necessary pastoral initiatives, and to match the right person to the right ministry. Whatever the Religious Sister is asked to do, she brings the graces and prayerfulness of her vocation to her assigned mission and allows God to work among his people.

Why are there so many Religious Communities in the Church?

The variety and diversity of Religious Communities reflect the authentic plethora of spiritualities and ministries in the life of the Church. Each community is called by God to focus on a particular need of the Church or society. As there are several different ways to approach God in prayer, and as there are multiple needs within the world, so the community of faith needs different Religious Communities to respond to these needs, to accomplish God’s will, and to spread the Gospel.

Why can’t women be priests?

Catholics believe that Christ was not bound to the limitations of His surrounding culture, and that therefore His commission of the twelve Apostles – all men – was a free and deliberate choice. The Church has therefore taught through the centuries that she has no right to ordain women as priests. Bishops, successors of the Apostles, and the priests who are their cooperators, stand in the place of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church and share in His fatherhood in the order of grace. These are roles of supernatural spousality and fatherhood that are every bit as real as natural male spousality and fatherhood – arguably more so – and therefore in the case of a priest can only be filled by a man.

In no way, however, is this exclusion of the priesthood to men to be understood as a sign of masculine superiority, especially since the greatest human creature, the masterpiece of divine grace, is the Blessed Virgin Mary – who was never a priest. From the beginning of the Church, women have played significant roles in its life: Mary, the Mother of the Lord, Mary Magdalene, the first proclaimer of His resurrection, the women martyrs like Cecilia, Agnes and Edith Stein who witnessed to their faith with their blood, the women like Monica who witnessed to their pagan husbands of their faith in Christ, the innumerable women who raised their children in the faith, the women like Scholastica and Clare who entered or founded monastic communities, the brilliant and holy women like Catherine, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux who taught the Church about following Jesus. Without these women and countless others, the Church would be immeasurably poorer.

The Church’s understanding about the priesthood is not easy for some to accept. It is important to keep in mind, though, that Jesus at the Last Supper washed the feet of His disciples – the first priests – and explicitly instructed them to do the same. The authority exercised by priests should never be one of power and domination, but always one of humble service. That is the light in which the male Catholic priesthood should be evaluated.