Religious vocation and women’s equality

Religious Sisters are women who are called to testify more directly to Gospel values through their lives. Being unmarried, they “can devote themselves fully to Christ’s affairs . . . give undivided attention to Christ” (1 Corinthians 7,32-35). But this has an important implication. Religious Sisters are also called to live and promote full equality in Christ for women.

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Religious Sisters embody their basic ‘Christ identity’ in a distinctive fashion

St Catherine of Siena

St Catherine of Siena

 

Traditionally Religious Sisters have been identified as ‘brides of Christ’, ‘spouses of Christ’. But while that image serves a function in focusing on a deep relationship with Christ, it also has its limitations. Because it has in the past often been used to reduce the status and value of the person. Remember that ‘wives’ were held to be subject to their husbands.

So it is important for Religious Sisters to realize that, like other Christian women and in their own distinctive fashion, they embody a Christ identity that gives them their deepest self worth. In themselves, Religious Sisters are Christ, they re-live Christ in what they are and what they do.

  1. Remember that the old secular and cultural inequalities between men and women crumble through baptism. Through baptism every woman truly becomes equal in Christ. Religious women embody this in their own characteristic life through their vocation. Read more here.
  2. Not only the ordained priest when presiding at the Eucharist, but every Christian can act “in the person of Christ”. This applies to women too, and no less to religious women. Read more here.
  3. This is because not only men, but also women carry the image of Christ. When religious women shelter the poor, educate children or nurse the sick, they project Christ’s face to those whom they serve. Read more here.
  4. Another way of putting this is to say that Christian women too act as ‘other Christs’. This applies to women who administer a sacrament, such as baptism or matrimony, but also to women in their daily ministries and apostolic tasks. And it applies particularly to religious sisters who dedicate their lives to service. Read more here.

As other Christs, Religious Sisters have a special task in bringing about true equality for women, both in society and in the Church.

St Therese of Lisieux

St Therese of Lisieux

 

This special calling was already enshrined in the specific mission of many religious congregations. They heard Christ’s call: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions . . .  and come, follow me!” (Matthew 19,16-22). They knew themselves called to help the disadvantaged, especially disadvantaged women. Religious Sisters all over the world have enormously   enhanced the lives of women by running schools & colleges, setting up clinics and hospitals, focusing on the needs of women.

In our own day, this task is taking on new dimensions:

  • In the secular world, Religious Sisters need to join the efforts of national and international agencies to bring about true equality for women in all spheres of life. Our world is crying for true fairness and justice for women. Religious Sisters should be there to support all those working to achieve that objective.
  • In the Catholic Church, Religious Sisters need to be on the forefront of the struggle to get women’s equality recognised in the ordained ministries. There are no valid reasons, from scripture, tradition or theology, to exclude women from full participation in Christ’s eucharistic priesthood. Read here about Sisters who have raised their voices.