A Moment of Crisis

Inspired by reading the post by Elizabeth Scalia, Cheating the Habit of Being, I wished to share my personal experience in regard to wearing a religious habit, and will post vocation stories from some of my Sisters serving around the world.


In 2004, on a home-visit, I found myself driving my Dad’s 1966 Mustang south on the 101 at eleven o’clock at night. I was on the last leg of the six and a half hour drive back from Sacramento, and, looking down at the gas meter, I decided I’d better stop soon. I saw a gas station ahead, and pulled off the freeway. I was kicking myself for not stopping earlier when I saw how deserted the station was and that there were no other shops or people around. I pulled into the station and was determined to buy only as much gas I needed for the rest of the trip, and get on the road as quickly as possible. All went according to plan; I pumped the gas, put the gas cap back on the car, and hurried back into the drivers’ seat.  With the turn of the key, the engine roared into life. I put the car in drive, and then it happened.

There, in front of my car stood a young man in his early twenties. My first thought was to maybe put the car in reverse before I became a casualty! But then I saw it. Looking at the man’s face, even in the not-so-bright lights of the small gas station, I could see streaks on his cheeks where tears have flowed. His hands were stretched out toward me, partially imploring; partially ready to brace for impact with my car! He came to my side of the car. I cracked my window a bit, and he asked me, “Ma’am, are you really a nun?” I wasn’t prepared for that question. He asked me, because he could see my veil. I told him, “Yes, I am. Can I help you?” As I got out of the car, he explained that his girlfriend had been in a car accident and she wasn’t expected to live. There was also the problem that the father of his girlfriend didn’t approve of the relationship and refused this young man the opportunity to say goodbye.

It is a helpless situation. Here I am at a gas station at eleven o’clock at night with a young man in tears. I asked the young man his concerns for his girlfriend. We talked about heaven and hell. I went through the articles of faith with him, asking him the various points, “Do you believe in one God, Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?” I think it surprised him to see how much faith he had. We talked about God’s mercy and hope. We moved to a more serious discussion, “Are you willing, if God is calling your girlfriend home, to let her go?” I noticed then, he was shaking like a leaf. It was a cool evening, but not cold. He responded in between new tears, “I don’t want to lose her, but I want to let God do what he wants.” I suggested that we pray. And there we were, praying for his girlfriend, for healing, and also praying that God’s will be done. I don’t recall how long we prayed, maybe seven or eight minutes, but by the time we finished, I could see a physical change in the young man. His shoulders were more resolute; he was no longer shaking ; his eyes were clear.

“Are you going to be all right?” I asked him. He smiled and said, “Yes, sister. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m better now. Thanks.”

Making my way back to the highway, I knew, yes, he will be okay.


This post is cross-posted at Patheos’ “The Habit of Witness” series.


38 thoughts on “A Moment of Crisis

    • Recently, my community of brothers had our fall convocation and retreat in upper New York. We stayed at a Franciscan retreat center and there was one of the sisters in her full habit. Starched habit and all. I had the biggest smile on my face when she came up to me. And every brother even the younger brothers who don’t even remember when sisters wore the full habit were asking to have their picture taken with her. It was beautiful to see her witness to her community and to Our Lord. Also before my stepsister coverted to be a catholic she was in beauty school. A young lady was there to get her hair cut and when my sister called out her name the lady said to her that is Sister. My sister said to her well if you wore some type of a habit I would have been able to give you the respect you are asking for. But I am not a catholic and I would have never known if you are a nun or not.

      • Thank you, Br Sean Francis, for the comment. Although it is true, the habit doesn’t make the nun, it sure helps me to stay honest to my vocation, and YES! To be a witness to others of God’s love! Let us remain united in prayer for the increase of holy vocations in the Church. God bless!

  1. While I know there are orders whose founders did not originally want the recognition of being religious sisters, the majority of those that have reverted to being habit-less have started dying away. Part of that may be that they did away with other very important disiplines. It is, I think, because the original clothing of those orders was a kind of habit in themselves: the distinct clothing of a widow. Widows wore black, wore simple clothing, did not wear ornate jewelry or make up their faces and hair was usually simply put up into a bun. There was still a simplicity, a uniformity to the order’s clothing even while it conformed to society’s expectations of widowhood. Widows were ‘set aside’ for a while and the desigated clothing prevented men from approaching them, and also kept natural vanity quiet – one didn’t dress to please others when one was wearing widow’s weeds.

    People expect a woman with a habit and veil to be the spouse of Christ; available, a ready ear, a prayer in waiting, a source of grace for the needed moment. One does not have the same expectation with just any woman, however nicely dressed, hair permed and earrings (as I have seen here in habit-less sisters in my own diocese). Perhaps because we often do not usually approach strangers in the supermarket, or on the street, or in gas stations (!) expecting them to be present for us or representative of faith and hope in the moment is the reason that a sister in a habit is easier to petition than one who is not. (sure makes ’em easier to find!) People know that religious sisters pray daily, and live doing good works for others in some capacity. The habit and veil speak, at least to me, of grace armed and at the ready.

    • Thank you, shanasfo, for sharing a bit about the history of early apostolic institutes. I did not know about the parallel with the widows, but makes sense. My Institute, founded by St Magdalene of Canossa, also began by wearing the simple dress of the women of the post-Neapolitan era. The dress of the Foundress became the model for all of her followers, and it evolved into the ‘habit’ of the Canossian Sisters. This too evolved over time (which will be explained in an upcoming post), but the focus remained: uniformity and simplicity, as a sign of the Sisters being ‘set apart’ an ‘belonging to God’ through their consecration, for the service of the poor.

  2. Sister: First off, I grew up in Stockton and lived in Santa Barbara for years, so I know that drive.

    I found this post via The Anchoress and had to let you know how much I love seeing nuns in habit. Sometime between high school and college, both Catholic, the habit seemed to fall by the wayside and I think that is a shame. It is always so refreshing and gives me such joy to see sisters proclaiming their vocation. It is a wondrous thing! I also know that for every person who stops you there are many, many others who may just smile and think to themselves “I need to get to confession!” or say a quick Hail Mary. I am particularly moved by an elderly nun in habit and it is humbling to think of someone serving God so faithfully for so long. Long live the habit!

  3. Thank you! was very moved here in Pre-Winter Austria! Who loves much-suffers much! just as our Lord, poor boy! I hope we all make it in to purgatory and then into heaven and then we can rejoice together with him when they meet again!
    < Ruben

  4. Of my now-long time here, of those of my youth I remember best it was the habited Sisters and Brothers of my education. They were marked for service and gave their best, as they could. God bless those who wear the habit verily with their habit.

  5. So many similar stories could be told. I recall reading a book by a noted Catholic evangelist (sorry, can’t recall his name right now) who had been out of the Church for years and was feeling the tug to come back. He was passing a Catholic Church and saw a sister in the front yard. He was inspired at that moment to stop and engage her. That encounter began his journey back to the Church and to a career bringing others back to the Church. Of course, the only reason he recognized the woman in the front yard of the Church as a sister was the fact she was wearing her habit.

  6. Amen. Too few wear the Habit today. When I see a sister in one I stop her to say Thank You for doing so. Just did that last Thursday. Wish our priests would all be faithful in wearing their clerics for the same reason – esp Basilians, what is it with those guys and going collarless?

    God bless you Sister and maintain your good habit.

    • Thanks, Owen. I too am often stopped, just to say ‘Thank you’, so I know the sign of my consecration is appreciated. :-)

  7. I is a great story and I am so happy Sister was able to offer God’s comfort to this man. If the fact she was wearing a habit helped in this particular situation, that is a blessing.

    But how sad that so many of us (including this sinner) are so weak in our faith that others don’t see us as a mirror of God’s love. Do we live our lives so that others turn to us for spiritual comfort in distress? Does any Christian have any less duty than to do what Sister did?

    If you are in the hospital waiting room and see a person alone and in distress, do you reach out and ask what the problem is? Do you ofer to pray together with that person? Or do you leave that to priests and nuns?

    Sister is a wonderful person, not because she did what a good nun should do, but she did what a good Christian should do.

  8. Dear Sr. Lisa,

    Thank you so much for your story. I was taught by Franciscan Missionary Sisters many years ago in New Jersey. These sisters were in full habit. Only the face was uncovered. We had great respect for the sisters – they taught us about Jesus, about Holy Mass and the sacraments. Whenever I see a sister in habit, it brings me back to those days. I believe all religious should wear religious garb. Sad to say, some do not even wear a crucifix. But I have hope that big change is just around the corner.

    God bless!

  9. Ir’s a strange thing! I say that I do not really care whether Sisters wear habits or not, and yet I find that I am attracted to those who do. I do think that there is a certain backlash that is leading certain communities to chose habits that are virtually reactionary. A very simple updated habit with a shorter skirt, or even a simple dress or suit with a very visible emblem of the community is surely enough.

  10. I also wear a habit and have the same sort of experience Sister describes. We are a visible reminder that there is a God and that He is present in His world. So many people stop me and want to talk or to ask for prayers. They tell me they don’t see many sisters anymore – well, sometimes they may be seeing them but can’t recognize them because some wear not even a cross. They may do many good works, but lose an opportunity to witness in our world that so sorely needs it.

  11. pax et bonum, sister! this is a very charming and touching story. only a few of the younger friars in our Province make it a point to wear the habit as often as they can in public (i being one of them) and i agree how (obvious) religious remain strong instruments of God’s presence and love in the world. i remember an old friar echoed to us the Papal Preacher’s admonition: when Franciscans stop wearing the habit, we deprive the world of a strong reminder of the message of St.Francis and ourselves of a powerful tool to preach the Lord. i’ve also come to realize that wearing the habit has a two-way benefit: it not only reminds people in a secularized world that there is indeed a spiritual reality to life as well, but it also helps me continuously be formed according to the pattern of life to which i’m called! the habit helps me understand the meaning and implication of my vocation in the most ordinary choices and moments of life. :)

    • Thank you, Jose, you are right! Our habit have two edges to their usefulness – one as a reminder for the world; and the other a reminder of our own consecration, and helps us in living faithfully the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. God bless!

  12. Several years ago, I was warming up for a pre-Christmas road race — “The Reindeer Run”–in New London, NH. It was a “fun run”: participants were encouraged to dress up, and many did. I noticed one woman dressed (I thought) as a nun or religious sister. Then I saw she had a rosary. Then, a little boy of about eight came up and tugged at her: “Sister! Sister! Are we going yet? Are we going? When are we going?” That’s when I struck up a conversation and met Sr. Mary Rose of the St. Charles Children’s Home in Rochester, NH. http://www.nh-cc.org/what-we-do/childrens-home.asp
    She explained that running daily helps the children handle stress, and they both host and participate in road races as well. Needless to say, Sr. and half her dozen or so charges beat me to the finish.

  13. Ciao, Sister,
    Thank you for your story and for promoting the habit. I have one question for those who continue to refuse to wear it: Is there any doubt that the habit (and clerical clothes for priests) is the desire of the Church, today as much as ever? We find it in Vatican II, Canon Law, our religious Constitutions, and many papal statements (most notably Vita Consacrata). The mind of the Church is clear, and the reasons are beautifully articulated. Shouldn’t we religious be the first to want to obey the Church, our Mother and Teacher, even in little things?
    God bless you,
    Br. Ryan Wolford, CRIC

  14. This is an excellent post and may be one that is followed up to see what the results are

    A mate mailed this link the other day and I’m desperately waiting your next put up. Proceed on the top notch work.

  15. Yes, wearing a habit reminds others that God is alive and well; and that we are available to help others to get closer to God.

    • I am absolutely delighted to hear this . I used to think that it was almost simply a matter of personal choice for religious to wear or not wear the habit. I have come to realise that it is a matter for the whole church and also for those outside it. When I see a nun on the street I like to ask them to pray for my and family and particularly for our marriage. We have nine children but unfortunately are separated. The sight of a religious habit in the public arena serves to bolster my thoughts about god and reminds the world at large that the catholic church is present in all our public endeavours. It’s not simply liking the ‘uniform’ but the immediate reminder about why we are all here. Please pray that I can get back with my wife and children. I simply want to end my days in their company and to pray that in the words of St Thomas More “we may merrily meet in heaven”. To all those religious out there you are a light in the dark but how am I to know if I cannot recognise you? AMDG

  16. I very much like to see nuns in habits,a witness who is not afraid to shout to the world who they are. Along with the habit comes a certain way of behaving and is both beneficial to the sister as it is to us lay people who live in the world thirsting for Christ. These wonderful women give us hope and strength….they become less so Christ can become more and wearing the habit helps to accomplish that for when I see a sister in habit I think of her as Christ’s bride but when I see one without a habit well I would not know that they are a nun….yes I thank all the nuns that wear the habit , you really rock

    • Thanks, Ana! And yes, wearing the habit helps me too. It is a gentle reminder of my consecration and the path – Christ – I have chosen. God bless.

  17. That is such an inspirational story! I am currently in formaiton with an order that wears the habit. Somedays I am unsure about it, other days I am so excited! It is so good to hear of the good a visible sign of faith gives. :)

  18. Dear Sister,

    This is quite an inspirational recount of what happened to you.

    I used to feel like that young man, despondent at times over events of importance in my life, which weren’t going as I planned. I was always told and believed in planning in advance, which I did for education, career, etc. I have found out my life did not go according to my plans. Stress ruled my life. My best friend, who is a Catholic, visited me from Elmira, NY once when I visited PA on a business trip; she sensed my stress & bought me a beautiful diary the bottom of each page containing a verse from the Bible. On the very first page was, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5. I had a personal moment of deep understanding; on that day, I DID trust the LORD with all my heart and did not lean on my own understanding. Years have past since; I have, too often to mention, fallen short of trusting the LORD and not leaning on my own understanding. It seems difficult to give up on what I presume I have control over. However, the past few years challenges almost took me to the brink of breaking; it was my faith in God giving me strength now. All my plans did not come to fruition, yet I see God working in my life; God has a purpose for me; I don’t know what that is yet; yet I happily trust in the LORD and keep reminding myself often, “not to trust on my [own] understanding.”

    Thank you for sharing your story. It reminded me of mine.

    Happy day,

    • Yes, Lou, God does work in many ways unknown to us. I never met the young man again after that night, and I have no way of knowing more beyond what we shared under the lights of that gas station. I do wonder from time to time this very thing. Did God work a miracle because of the man’s tears? I don’t suppose I will ever know. God bless!

  19. This is truly a beautiful story, Sister, and it makes me think of our Endow group in that women (nuns) are typically more approachable than men, more accessible. What a fortunate experience for this young man that you stopped for gas and helped him in his time of need. God bless you always!

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