Nun talking to women on steps of Basilica of Guadalupe. Image: Daniel Case-cc

It’s no secret that I have a high regard for Catholic nuns and religious sisters and believe that, since at least the Middle Ages, they have functioned much like the Central Nervous System of the Body of Christ —  observant, reactive, automatic, mostly unacknowledged yet wholly necessary.

As #NationalCatholicSistersWeek comes to a close, my piece at Word on Fire this week looks back at the visionary women who became missionaries to foreign lands, and to the people in their neighborhoods, too:

Largely unregulated by governments, and often funded with the pennies and spare dollars of those they served, Catholic religious women addressed every social need they saw and were extraordinarily efficacious. As handmaids to the sons and daughters of their King, they enriched, enhanced, ennobled the lives of the people around them. Many lives and families they saved, outright.

It was never easy work; their poverty was real, and so was the opposition many of these women faced from local populations—and yes, sometimes even from local pastors—resistant to their work (or to their faith). As the saying goes, nevertheless, they persisted.

People mourn the loss of the sort of nuns who were so visible, and whose communities were so viable 100 years ago, but the world has changed. God is still calling to people, inviting them to live lives consecrated to him, but the world has become so noisy — and so full of people who may have heard the name of Jesus Christ a million times but have never actually met him — that it’s difficult for young women and men to identify that “small still voice.” That’s why this piece also calls on us, we people in the pews, to do something about that.

As I have written elsewhere, the West is the new mission territory, and in order to bring Christ into the dark and recessive places that need him, most particularly into the hearts of our young, it’s going to take all of us becoming missionaries to change our current trajectories.

…our emerging generations, unfamiliar with silence and so lacking in catechesis that they do not know what they do not know, are shrugging off the very idea of faith. They are glad to refer to themselves not as nuns, but as nones—as in “Religion? We have none!”

The truth is, if we want more nuns, more sisters, it is up to the people of God to create them by doing precisely what these great women did: seeing the need and humbly bringing Christ into all the places bereft of him.

Just recently, we’ve seen what young people are still willing to do in the name of Christ, if they are only given the chance to meet him. There are still visionaries out there.

If you want to see nuns and brothers and priests out of this generation, then you and I need to be missionaries to this generation. There’s no way around it.

You can read the whole piece at Word on Fire.