The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have been at my parish, St. Francis by the Sea, for a couple of years. We work with the same youth and sometimes team up on retreats and field trips.
When I discovered the eighth-grade religion teacher, Sister Maria Rose, would be making her final vows in August, her students and I sensed the need for a road trip to the motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich.
If you missed it, The Oprah Show’s correspondent Lisa Ling visited the motherhouse earlier this year to report on women who were “young and gave up sex, careers and having children to become nuns.”
It was a fascinating episode — even Oprah seemed to learn a lot and apparently decided a follow-up was necessary. As Mass began, we were surrounded in the pews by our fellow Catholics, plus Oprah’s producers and Lisa Ling.
After an incredible Mass where five sisters knelt at the altar and declared, “the simple vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, for all my life, according to the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist” we left the church to greet Sister Maria Rose.
Oprah’s producers followed our girls outside and said, “We noticed you were really emotional during Mass. Can we interview you?”
In religious life, the perpetual profession of poverty, chastity and obedience, the faithful have a model of Christ on earth. It’s a radical way of life that only makes sense when you realize it is a witness to heaven where we will all posses only Christ and be in perfect obedience to God.
I realized this while watching Ling talk to our seventh- and eighth-graders.
“I’ve seen girls your age cry for Zach Efron, but what about this do you find so moving?” she inquired.
They explained that they were so happy for their teacher, that they loved her, and that the presence of the Dominicans meant so much to them at their school.
“Have you girls ever thought about becoming nuns?” They all nodded.
What struck me, as I watched Ling attempt to understand why the girls felt this way, was that these youth had grasped the mystery of religious life. As students and friends of the Dominicans, they knew firsthand the effect of their vow to spend their whole life in the generous service of God’s people.
When we encounter the Dominicans or anyone in consecrated life, we encounter the love of Christ personified. We witness people who the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as giving “themselves to God who is loved above all and, pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom, to signify and proclaim in the church the glory of the world to come.” (916)
Their lives are beautiful, even to those in Oprah’s audience who may not fully understand the why behind their decision. Through their vows, through their renunciation of the world, we are reminded of the reality that this world is not all there is.
Even those who may not yet believe or understand heaven can experience the love of God and the “glory of the world to come.”
Alison Griswold is the youth director at St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head Island. She writes “Team Catholic” for The Miscellany.