Sometimes it is evident that no other topic unleashes such a storm of indignation among older nuns as that of the religious habit (...or womens' ordination or social justice in Latin America or activism with nuclear 'whatever it was in the seventies,' etc.).
On Saturday while exiting the Sistine Chapel I came upon a very large group of elderly women who all had short hair and were dressed a bit like men and in polyester. Recognizing them to be nuns, I asked if they were school sisters. The one closest to me graciously responed that they were a teaching order of sisters from Chicago, the Loreto Sisters. My gut thought was: "Such sweet treasures, exquisite women. But among other things, no habit and evidently resignedly awaiting their own extinction while a Vatican 'visitation' continues. A complicated, but sad and simple picture."
Societas Christiana is a beautiful concept. The Church needs sisters. This is a vocation from baptism. This poor generation of sisters has been beaten over the head with every kind of reform imaginable and the gloomy but objective prognosis is this: "They are on their very last leg of nine lives."
Sisters, what can be said? I mentioned the habit with a smile and you looked at me as if I had just asked you to spend the night in a haunted house. Renew? Read chapter seven of The Ratzinger Report and see the wisdom of the German Pope who has lived through this epoch. A part of that chapter is entitled "Feminism in the convent" and another "A future without Sisters?"
"It is precisely woman who is paying the greatest price. Motherhood and virginity (the two loftiest values in which she realizes her profoundest vocation) have become values that are in opposition to the dominant ones. Woman, who is creative in the truest sense of the word by giving life, does not 'produce', however, in that technical sense which is the only one that is valued by a society more masculine than ever in its cult of efficiency. She is being convinced that the aim is to 'liberate' her, 'emancipate' her, by encouraging her to masculinize herself, thus bringing her into conformity with the culture of production and subjecting her to the control of the masculine society of technicians, of salesmen, of politicians who seek profit and power, organizing everything, marketing everything, instrumentalizing everything for their own ends. While asserting that sexual differentiation is in reality secondary (and, accordingly, denying the body itself as an incarnation of the spirit in a sexual being), woman is robbed not only of motherhood but also of the free choice of virginity. Yet, just as man cannot procreate without her, likewise he cannot be virgin save by 'imitating' woman who, also in this way, has a surpassing value as 'sign', as 'example' for the other part of humanity."
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in The Ratzinger Report, p. 98.