There’s something beautiful in love stories, something that sparks our interest. We want the boy to get the girl, and the maiden to find true love and in that love, happiness. These stories of true love are everywhere. Even if it is not a romance you’re watching, there is always some love interest. I mean, Jackson was even able to muscle one into The Lord of the Rings…twice.
And yet, when push comes to shove, many people have been so disappointed at seeing the love in the stories contrasted with their own messy lives that they have settled for saying that love and happy endings are merely stories, that there is no happiness in “the real world” (whatever that might be), and that “true love” is a fantasy. This narrative of despair has a significant following, at least in practice, yet it is founded on a lie. Happiness is possible, through a deep and lasting love. One rebuttal to the narrative of despair comes from what the world would doubtlessly see as the most unlikely of places: a group of energetic, habit-wearing, veil-crowned religious sisters vowed to obedience, to poverty, and, yes, to chastity.
Recently, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious and Grassroots Films (Fishers of Men, The Human Experience) released a short (18-minute) documentary, promotional and expositional video entitled For Love Alone: The Story of Women Religious: Giving Their Lives for Love of Him. In this video, we have the rare opportunity to get a glimpse into several communities of sisters active in the US and beyond. The CMSWR represents 122 different congregations of religious sisters based in the US; this video takes a look at about a dozen of those congregations. In the film the sisters explain how their Bridegroom, Love Himself, called them to give it all up for Him and how they have responded. Each sister is an image of the Church, the Bride of Christ, living a full life for the sake of God who is Love and who has courted her and given Himself to her fully as Bridegroom in a way beyond our understanding. Jesus is not her spouse in some mundane or quaint manner, but super-eminently so. Like any good husband, Jesus wooed His bride by speaking to her heart in word and deed.
Lest we think that everything about religious life is just sunshine and daisies, we’re reminded that the sister is also called to follow her Bridegroom to Heaven through the very same path He chose, suffering for and with His people. The love each sister has for her Bridegroom motivates her to serve. Each congregation is devoted to serving Christ in a different way. Some serve Him in the poorest of the poor, like the Missionaries of Charity; some serve Him in the celebration of every human life, like the Sisters of Life; some serve Him in the aged and infirmed, like the Little Sisters of the Poor; some serve Him in the education of youth, like our own Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia. However they serve Him, it is not easy work. In For Love Alone, the Sisters describe both the joys and sorrows of their lives and explain how it is for love of Jesus alone that they can give so totally of themselves. We get the sense from the progression in the video—from Christ courting the young sister to the work that the sisters do—that just as giddy, young love constantly matures throughout a married couple’s life, so too does the love which moved the sister to give her life to Christ deepen over the years through the joyful dedication of her whole being to her Bridegroom.
Living as a bride of Christ, the sister embraces a freedom that defies the misconceptions of a secular age. Her femininity is not dulled or diminished by her giving it fully to God but magnified by an understanding of whom she was created to be. Not burdened down by fear or confusion over her identity, she is free to love everyone in a deeper, more complete way. As one sister mentions in For Love Alone, they are free to love each person as a mother loves her child. As another sister mentioned, only the woman who is able and willing to be a good wife and mother can be a good religious sister. Never constrained or driven by a fear of the world or a fear of men or a fear of children, she gives up all that genuine good and receives from her beloved a host of spiritual children. Not shunning the things of the world because she was spurned or because she hated the world for its own sake, each sister saw Someone whom she loved beyond all else and decided to answer the call of Love Himself, Jesus, who promised Himself to her. As the opening quotation of the video implies, the sister, like Mary Magdalene at Bethany, saw Christ enter into her life and nothing else mattered. She broke her alabaster jar of ointment over His Feet, pouring out her all to anoint Him, and the sweet aroma of her love fills the whole world. And how beautiful is that love. How beautiful is life in love with Jesus, the Love who first loved us.
Whether you are considering a vocation to vowed religious life, know someone who might be and want to understand why they would do such a thing, or if you are just curious, I urge you to spend $10 to purchase this video and support all of the great work the sisters are doing: For Love Alone, now available to purchase on Amazon or iTunes.
Image: For Love Alone