A Sister Puts on the Veil Again
September 1997By Winifred Mary Lyons
Sister Winifred Mary Lyons, S.C., is Assistant Superintendent of Schools for Prolife Activities for the Archdiocese of New York. Her article is adapted with permission from the Summer 1996 issue of Come Follow Me: A Newsletter of Spirituality for Sister and Brother Religious (phone: 888-211-3041).
On the eve of August 15, 1964, as I sat on my bed preparing for the marvelous day of my First Vows, I gazed down at the crucifix on my new profession beads, which I would don for the first time in the morning. Our Mother General had told us that evening, as she presented the rosaries and professed sister's habit to each of us, that we were to place ourselves on the back of the crucifix. A literal-minded 21-year-old, I carved my initials into the back of my crucifix that night. Throughout the 33 years that have passed since then, I have always tried, admittedly less successfully than I would have wished, to keep myself united to Christ on that crucifix.
These years included the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, when everything was turned upside down both within and outside of Religious life. It was a time when many of our sisters chose to travel other roads, a time when so much was questioned: We questioned our daily schedules, our authority structures, our common prayer, etc. There was no area of our living (except perhaps our very breathing) that was not brought under scrutiny, and one of the things that received the most attention was the wearing of a habit. I would like to say that it was after much prayer that I decided to go into secular clothes. However, I always sensed that my decision was nothing short of caving in to peer pressure and the times. I never really wanted to change, but once I did I responded as any healthy woman would. I loved to dress up and I loved to dress down. I even went so far as to have my ears pierced and my hair dyed. I embraced it all.
I was privileged through these years to have very holy and prayerful Religious women around me. When my focus on the Lord shifted, there was always someone to help me to redefine that focus. As a result, my prayer life and professional life have been nourished and supported. My ministry in education and most specifically in recent years in prolife education has been richly fulfilling. It is precisely through this ministry that I have been able not only to live my consecration to Jesus Christ but also to come to an intense appreciation of this consecration. But permit me to share a very special outpouring of grace that recently occurred in my life: my reacquaintance with the long-abandoned habit.
While on retreat in the summer of 1995, I received two gifts: I was led to a greater understanding of the gift of the Eucharist, and I received a desire to intensify the union of my will with the will of God. The former gift was easy to receive, and a joy, because I was raised on a devotion to the Eucharist, and, as a Sister of Charity, I have had this charism reinforced by my foundress, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
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