On Campus

Nun and scholar addresses the question ‘What are nuns up to?’

Courtesy of SU Photo and Imaging Cetner

Sandra Schneiders said there are three primary pillars of religion for nuns: consecrated celibacy, which allows a greater religious relationship with God; gospel poverty, which requires the sacrifice of mainly marriage and parenthood and prophetic obedience for the love of Christ.

The religious are the parent to all, despite how “good” or “bad” people are perceived, Sister Sandra Schneiders said.

Schneiders, feminist theologian and religious scholar, presented her lecture “What Are Nuns Really Up To?” The lecture was mainly composed of Schneiders discussing and correcting the common misconceptions the secular public has when it comes to nuns, their beliefs and their lifestyles. The lecture was held at 7 p.m. on Monday in the Maxwell Auditorium at Syracuse University.

Schneiders introduced misconceptions about the way secular society views the religious — the most prevalent being that they enter religious lives out of fear of the real world or disdain for marriage.

She corrected many misconceptions by applying modern day filters to the “dated” topics.

Women in today’s U.S. society have a right to education and usually wish to pursue higher education, Schneiders said. They are not obligated to marry out of high school, unlike women in 20th century U.S. and earlier.

She contrasted how nuns differ from sisters. Sisters live religious life in mobile ministerial communities called congregations and have extensive and intensive relationships with those outside their congregation.

Nuns, on the other hand, live in stable monastic communities called orders which are sequestered in some degree by those outside the order.

Being a religious is not a temporary devotion to Christ but it is a lifetime commitment, Schneiders said.

“It is not something you do,” Schneiders said. “It is what you become.”

Schneiders illustrated the three primary pillars of religion for nuns. She said consecrated celibacy is defining for religious life, as it allows the religious to focus more on their relationships with God and creates a more stable environment for those both inside and outside of the congregation.

Gospel poverty is also required but is not divided by the “haves” and the “have nots” — all will receive based on need, Schneiders said. This requires the sacrifice of real goods, mainly marriage and parenthood. Prophetic obedience, or incarnation for the love of Christ, is the final pillar.

Schneiders explained nuns prefer to be called “sisters” when spoken to, but “religious” when spoken about.

She then transitioned into what exactly the religious do, which begins with their personal vocation. The vocation is an impulse that takes form through Christ or God.

One does not call themselves for dinner — they decide to make it, Schneiders said. There are many advantages to entering the religious life which include a higher education, the ability to exercise leadership and the opportunity to partake in middle-class living.

The life of women religious takes on a more organic feel and gains stability and purpose through growth and development between their lives and interactions with the environment around them, she said. It is not a state of life, it is a “life form” as Schneiders calls it.

Schneiders then highlighted what it means to be religious: to serve under the “reign of God” and be the “good Samaritans,” to destroy hierarchy and do their best to make the world a better place to live through equality.

As a firm believer in historical and contextual interpretations of Catholic law, much like Pope Francis, Schneiders said she hopes the secular world will gain a better understanding of the religious — that it is a sociological association to constitute a historical challenge against Satan’s reign — not the Catholic institution’s police force.

A nun who attended the lecture, who identified herself as Sister Joan, said, “What stood out to me was her clarification for people who are religious and peoples who are not in religious congregations of what the meanings of religious life are.”

“Her whole idea of the totality of the commitment and our insertion in the gospel really stood out to me,” said Sister Barbara, who also attended the lecture.

Barbara also mentioned how Schneider’s focus on total devotion to helping those in need really encapsulated how she felt about religion in her own life and the religious’ relationship with God.

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