“There I was, there I was there I was… in the Congo.” It was the first thing my friend Vinci blurted out after, “Hello!” at our recent reunion. About ten years ago we were roommates and “There I was, there I was, there I was…” was the sound byte we picked up from a cheesy commercial. An avalanche of images came rushing back when Vinci greeted me with that two-second sound byte. Words have such a power to bring back images and ideas.

During my visit we discussed the phrase “Father what-a-waste,” someone had recently used about her Jesuit boss. I know it’s only meant as a joke, but, really, you wouldn’t call your best friend’s husband, “Mr. What-a-waste” would you? As if being a priest when one is good looking is some waste of a perfectly good human being. If only unattractive people became priests how would we ever believe in the beauty of God’s call for each of us? Linguistic political correctness came about for good reasons. Our words do reveal underlying thoughts and feelings.

Introducing me to her coworkers she’d say, “This is Christine. Being roommates with me drove her to the convent.” And I’d protest, squirms in my stomach cranking up a level. What bothered me so much? It was just a joke, right?

On the plane ride home I put two and two together. Her saying she “drove me to the convent” tells like the same joke. As if entering the convent is some a negative response to a difficult world or relationships. Like religious life is where one goes to get away from real life. That someone could “drive” another to it – like someone “drives” another to drink. While I know she doesn’t really feel this way me, the words reveal a way of thinking about sisters and religious life that is common in today’s world.

But, my choice, my response to God’s invitation to be a sister, is a choice for life. As a sister I’m becoming more the woman God created me to be. I’m becoming, I hope, more loving, more patient, more hopeful. I’ve become more aware of the world and other peoples’ needs. I see this happening to my committed friends too. They are growing in the same ways in their experiences as spouses and parents. Their choice enlivens them just as mine enlivens me.

And I’m not alone in making this choice. Last year I attended a conference of younger and newer sisters. Four hundred of us gathered in Chicago for a long weekend. The place was packed; the registration had closed two months ahead of the deadline, there were so many.

I suppose I’m stinging from the perception that, in the words of one current scholar, “our convents are empty.” That religious life is in danger of extinction, just a relic of some other era viewed as outdated and obsolete. This has not been my experience at all. If you compare the numbers of sisters today to the numbers in the forties, fifties and early nineteen-sixties, then yes, here in the U.S. there are fewer newer sisters. If you compare the numbers to the other 1700 years of it’s existence, not so much. In fact, there are more sisters today than there ever have been. The convents are not so empty.

Still, a woman asked me recently why I don’t go “the whole way and get a habit.” When I shared with her that many religious, responding to the Pope’s call to renew their communities in the spirit of their founders, have chosen to wear “street clothes” because that’s what the people with whom they serve wear, she wasn’t convinced.

I am going the whole way in this religious life. In my novitiate class there were a couple of us who commented, “Look, a ‘real’ nun!” when someone in habit walked by. One of our twelve would later share how offensive the joke was to her. “What’s that make us,” she’d ask, “chopped liver? Fake nuns? I don’t know about you, Christine,” she continued, “but this is my real life” And eventually I got it. She was right.

This past April I made my permanent commitment with the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. Like those who came before me I don’t know where this call will lead. Like my married friends who don’t know where life together will take them, I’m committed to finding out. So, “Here I am, here I am, here I am… in the convent!”

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