One question often raised about religious life is about the religious habit. “Why don’t you wear habits anymore?” some ask. Others want to know “why do some sisters wear those long dresses and cover up their heads?”
The liturgy booklet used for my perpetual profession, some years ago, had on its cover, “Stand before the world as a sign that God lives“. It is very important that religious be recognized and give clear witness to a life lived totally for God and for promoting the gospel values of Jesus. In the past this meant that all sisters wore the habit, which derived from the peasant dress many centuries ago. Today it is left to each congregation to follow the rules for dress outlined in their Church-approved constitutions. For some, this means wearing a traditional habit. For others, it means dressing simply in contemporary dress with a crucifix or symbol of their community.
We Ursulines of the Roman Union have norms for dress that vary according to the country in which we live. Our sisters in some of the 36 countries where we are wear a simple habit with veil; others of us-for example in England, USA, Mexico and Australia-do not. The Ursuline cross, worn by all of us around the world, unites us and makes us easily recognized.
Many years ago, when we were discussing religious dress at a large Ursuline meeting, one sister said, “I prefer to be recognized as a religious by the way I live rather than by the way I dress.” There is room in our world for a diversity of religious congregations and their various types of dress. What matters most is not what we wear but the joyful way we live out our response to the God who calls us.