One night at the end of January, I got a text from my father who was away visiting family in Louisiana. He’s not one to text often, so I perked up when I saw the notification on my phone. “Watching the 'Everybody Loves Raymond' episode where Debra’s sister announces she’s becoming a nun,” he wrote, “Hilarious (with some serious sides of self-reflection).”
I paused for a moment when I read those words. I had never seen that episode, but the fact that he indicated that it had prompted some self-reflection on his part made me want to pry more deeply. “Hahaha,” I wrote back “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that one; you’ll have to tell me about it.”
“Go to YouTube,” he responded, giving me the episode number and title. No luck getting an explanation. Dads can be tough nuts to crack. So, I did the next best thing - I watched the episode and pondered what might have prompted his reflection.
Right off the bat, there’s a lot to love about the episode. It’s funny whether you are a sister or not. As every episode of a Raymond does, “The Sister” looks at family dynamics and how we function in the midst of the stuff of life- offering many laughs and oftentimes a lesson all rolled into one. While not correct on some details, the episode struck at the heart of the matter. Even before the first commercial break, I knew why my dad had sent it to me.
You see the process of telling the people in your life that you are becoming a sister isn’t always easy. At times, you have to insert your own laugh track where awkward silences and misunderstanding pervade. But that’s the thing about a call… sometimes you hear it more clearly than those around you.
Now, looking back on it, I laugh all the harder. It wasn’t always so easy and, to be honest, I still hit rough patches; but watching my family take on this choice in my life- this part of me- has been a joy and a challenge. That story is one much longer than these types of blog posts allow, but let me just say the dinner scene in the episode rings true (“Excuse me, Sister, but is there a special blessing for dessert?”) And the thing about family is that they’re always with you.
My family cares deeply about who I am and who I am becoming. They want the best for me. They support me but as my father has reflected in recent months, “Don’t say we were against the idea…it’s just that we were cautious.” That’s true and probably for good reason. A call is something that is lived out in stereo; you learn the rhythm from the life you live, the faith you foster, and the people who accompany you. Family is a key part. They can help to clarify lots of things and teach you things about yourself that you never realized you didn’t take the time to know.
As we navigate this call together, I am constantly reminded that God is the one in control. If I balked every time someone stopped to ask if they could ask me a question and followed up with a wildly personal query, I wouldn’t make it very far. My family and friends, though, are just trying to understand so that they can support me. After all, a religious community is not a family. You only get one of those.
Knowing that they (and I) can look back now and laugh is a blessing in and of itself. We laugh together. And in that laughter is something pure… something surely of God: Love. That is the love that is at the root of who we are as Sisters of Saint Joseph. It's a love that speaks truth and brings joy in all that we are and strive to be; love that draws people together, love that seeks union, and love that, in facing the unknown knowingly, with faith and hope, loves all the same.
Colleen currently serves as a campus minister at Chestnut Hill
College. She is the author of the blog Wandering in Wonder, columnist
for the Global Sisters Report, and has been published in various periodicals including America, Commonweal and Give
Us This Day. She made first vows as a Sister of St. Joseph in
Philadelphia in August 2014.