Breaking (in) Holy Habits

Just a few more days and a few mores seams left until our beautiful postulants will be invested into the novitiate, taking on new religious names and being clothed with new threads – the holy habit, which they have the great privilege of sewing themselves … with a lot of support. And thus, sewing machines are buzzing about the postulant house, but not superseded by the sometimes squeals of excitement, mournful sighs of having to whip out the seam ripper, or perhaps, hidden or not so hidden relief when the bell rings for prayer – some days, it’s like a stampede for the chapel.

Yet, it is still a meaningful labor of love leading up to the anticipated entrance to the novitiate. During the investiture, the clothing ceremony, we see a visible transformation that provides a mere glimpse of what is happening within the soul. The postulants are invited to take this next step for the continuation of the interior work, purification, and to be emptied of all that is not of God in order to draw nearer to Him, so that He may reveal their truest and fullest identity before Him.

The religious habit is an outward mark of consecration to God (and for novices a moving toward that consecration). From antiquity, those consecrated to God as a religious, wore a simple and modest garb, which symbolized belonging to a special state, by the law of the Church. For Sisters of Life, the white tunic is a sign of original innocence and purity of baptism; the blue indicates our Marian devotion and sign of Our Lady’s patronage.

The work of discernment and formation is not only revealed as the postulants don the holy habit, but also as they take on new religious names. It is often breathtaking to hear their new religious names for the first time. After many months of prayer (and perhaps, blood, sweat and tears?) the postulants have discerned the religious names that God has given them, another revelation of His work and a sign of a new mission, a very biblical tradition – consider that Abram became Abraham, Jacob named Israel, Simon to Peter, and Saul became Paul just to name a few.

The time of the novitiate allows one to be separated from the world in a more intense way and to avail a time of deeper discernment and to be tested by the Lord in the flames of His love.

Our Father and Founder, Cardinal John O’Connor reminded postulants preparing to enter the novitiate 17 years ago, that just as the exterior transformation occurs in freedom, so too does the interior work of purification. In fact, they cannot be separated. He said,

“Even He cannot purify us if we will not be purified. Even He who loves us so much must demand of us that we empty ourselves as He emptied Himself and took upon Himself the form of a slave….

… One must reject much of oneself. One must empty oneself. But never, never, never in sullenness, in despondency, in discouragement. Always in a sense of love because… Our Lord uses only love to refine, to purify. The Sisters of Life on fire with love become truly malleable in the hands of Christ, the great Refiner. This is the ideal. This is the heart of being a Sister of Life…”

His words, however, are not only for our soon-to-be novices, but a reminder for each of us, to allow the flames of Divine love to continue the work of purification, so that we too may imitate the self-emptying love of Jesus, in order to be instruments of the Great Refiner. May we not only be exterior disciples, but engage the work of formation and purification, wherever He calls us to love.