(Editor’s Note: Very Rev. Paul Stein is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a guest blogger for Imagine Sisters)
Having been the parochial vicar of two parishes and the pastor of a third, each with a parish school, I have been struck by the great tragedy of the general absence of religious sisters in parish life. It is not primarily because in the past they made Catholic education affordable or because they are great teachers of the faith – both being most certainly true – but because of the importance of who they are. While religious profession as a sister is not a sacrament as ordination to Holy Orders is, it is nonetheless a sacramental.
Sacraments are physical things in and through which we encounter Christ, the Eucharist being the sacrament par excellence in which the thing is transformed into the very presence of Christ himself. Sacramentals are closely related in that they “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy” (CCC 1672).
A significant effect of sisterhood is the representation of who the Church is and what we, as members of the Church, are called to be. In terms of comparison: if priesthood makes sacramentally present the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, Head of the Church, then sisterhood makes present, by way of representation, what the Church is as the Bride of Christ. Sisters, by who and what they are, remind us of our call to be holy, to be receptive to the Holy Spirit.
In my priesthood, I have been blessed to witness the particular power of the presence of women religious. While the school at my first parish was not staffed by sisters, there were a number of them present at the parish; they were Felician sisters. In fact, they still live in the convent next to the school today. Time and time again I observed my first pastor’s words to be true: if we priests ask people to do something, they will think about it. If one of the sisters asks, people trip over themselves to do it. Personally, I am convinced that it is because they remind us of who we are and should be in our daily lives as members of the Christ’s Bride, the Church.
Very Rev. Paul C. Stein, S.T.L
Holy Thursday 2013
Very Rev. Stein is the Rector-President of St. Joseph College Seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago.