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Sisters Wear An Invisibility Cloak Every Day!

Confession: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I have read the books and seen the movies more times than I can count, and could recite most of the lines for you if asked (no one does :-). So, it should be no surprise that in a recent meeting when a sister said, “I’m just going to put on my invisibility cloak,” my mind immediately went to young Harry, opening his first ever Christmas present, and finding an invisibility cloak inside. If you’re unfamiliar with the movies or this particular scene, you can watch it here.

giphy (27)The cloak ends up playing amajor role inHarry Potter lore. Harry, along with fellow wizards-in-training Ron and Hermione, use the cloak to get into all manner of mischief, from sneaking around the castle to playing pranks on friends, but then ultimately using it in their quest to defeat the villain of the series, Lord Voldemort. But the sisters’ comment that day got me thinking. The invisibility cloak from the Harry Potter series is very much like the “invisibility cloaks” often worn by women religious as they move about and minister in our communities.

Here are 5 things Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and sisters have in common:

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  1. They move around the world unseen.
    While they are not using their invisibility to sneak past teachers in the hall, the invisibility cloaks of sisters do allow them to move through the world without being noticed. Since Sisters of St. Joseph no longer wear the habit that many people still associate with women religious, they are once again able to move through our communities without calling attention to themselves, as they did way back in 1650 France when they first formed. Wearing plain clothes means sisters are no longer seen as “separate” or on a “spiritual pedestal,” but it also means you may not know when you are seeing a sister.
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  2. They work for the good of others.
    More often than not when employing the invisibility cloak, the characters in Harry Potter have altruistic goals. They are trying to uncover the keys to a perceived danger or help a friend escape trouble. In this same way, the invisibility of sisters is used for good. The Sisters of St. Joseph’ mission is to bring all into unity with God, with one another, and with all creation. They, along with their partners in mission, do this through prayer, direct service and ministry, standing with and for the poor and vulnerable, and advocating for systemic change. By putting themselves in the background, they are able to focus on the needs of others and our world.giphy (24).gif
  3.  Many people don’t know about them.
    “There are still nuns?” “How would I have known you’re a sister?” “Why don’t you wear a habit?” You’d be surprised how often we hear these questions. We know that there are many sisters living and working in communities all over the country and the world. But many people’s idea of what a sister is, or should be, means that they don’t see sisters in their lives. Just as many of the adults in Harry Potter don’t suspect that the students are using an invisibility cloak to get around undetected, many people don’t realize that sisters are around either! In fact, you’ve probably talked to or seen a sister out in the community and not even realized it.
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  4. They helps us in our most human moments.
    Ok, so I know that humans are not actually invisible. But in a poignant scene, Harry has just learned that his parents were betrayed by one of their best friends. Upset, he uses the invisibility cloak to seek solitude in his pain. Who hasn’t wished for the ability to disappear from the world in times of trouble? But what is even more important about this scene is that Harry’s friends don’t just let him go off on his own. They follow him, letting him lean on them for support. While sisters may seem to wear an invisibility cloak to much of the world, they are also always surrounded by a community of other sisters who understand their struggles and support them in their most human moments.giphy (34).gif
  5. They are an unexpected gift.
    When Harry comes downstairs on that first Christmas morning at the castle, he does not expect to receive any presents. He has never received Christmas gifts at all, let alone a gift that is such a magical, and ultimately important, one. When one becomes a sister, the gift of invisibility is not one that is expected. But their ability to do good in the world, to move through our communities and help others sight unseen, is a true gift.giphy (35).gif

So the next time you watch Harry Potter, remember the Sisters of St. Joseph and how, like Harry, they sometimes wear invisibility cloaks. While you may not always be able to see them, they are still here, working in the world and praying Jesus prayer, “that all may be one.”

About the Author

Elizabeth-Powers,-WebElizabeth Powers is the Electronic Communications Coordinator for the Congregation of St. Joseph and manages the blog, Beyond the Habit. She sometimes acts as a contributing writer when faced with a particularly poignant, sister-inspired moment. She loves reading, writing, and Harry Potter.

23 thoughts on “Sisters Wear An Invisibility Cloak Every Day!

  1. Sallie Latkovich, CSJ says:

    Elizaabeth! What a wonderful, insightful reflection on Harry Potter. I love it when a cultural phenomenon stirs such thought. Thanks!

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  2. Maria Hill says:

    This was a very creative and enjoyable piece that supports all kinds of truths. You definitely know the charism and mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph!

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  3. S. Clarice Korger says:

    I enjoyed this very much. Good analogy. I’ve had the good fortune to minister with CSJs in the past. Although Benedictines had a different type of founding than the Sisters of Saint Joseph, many of us today also “wear an invisibility cloak”. Thanks for the article.

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  4. Kathleen Durkin, CSJ says:

    Thanks so much Elizabeth. I too love Harry Potter and felt delight as I read your piece! Thanks.

    Kathleen Durkin

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  5. This blogpost (and metaphor) is delightful and magical! Ever since I read the Harry Potter series, I have longed for an invisibility cloak…and here I had one all the time! Love this!

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  6. Kathleen Young, CSJA says:

    Elizabeth,
    I have yet to join the Harry Potter fan club, but now I’m inspired to check it out! The timing of your article was perfect for me. Just a week ago I was talking to someone at a church presentation about my being an Associate with the CSJs. This person was especially interested in the habit worn by the Sisters, and when I explained that most do not wear one, the nonverbal response was immediate and not favorable. I was taken aback by this, and it made me feel sad for those who do not understand that the habit doesn’t define the vocation.

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  7. Interesting. From your picture it appears you’re young and therefore attuned to thinking metaphorically. Oh how I wish all of us could rather than rely on the literal so much.

    Your thesis though bothered me a bit: vowed religious sisters live according to the charism, mission, Generous Promises that pervades CSJ history. Clothes do not make the person. Agreed, as far as that goes. But it excludes non-vowed CSJ’s – Associates – who also live by those identical values and wear invisible cloaks. I’ve gotten used to people referring to me as “Sister” Strangers as well as those whom I encounter in the course of repeated events (e.g. two hospital parking valets regularly respond to my “Thank you” with “You’re welcome, Sister.” Jews in the condo development refer to me as “mensch” an equivalent really of a CSJ as you described. My point: a man or woman needs not be vowed to be a genuine CSJ. Unity – our way – means inclusive diversity or it doesn’t mean anything.

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    • Thank you for your insights, Joan! I appreciate your thoughts on associates, and rest assured that I did not intend to make any associates feel left out! Of course we are all one, all working towards unity. I suppose I spoke directly about vowed sisters because the metaphor was sparked, primarily, by the thought behind sisters being “invisible” in our world today. Often, when I speak to people about the fact that I work for the Congregation of St. Joseph, they are shocked to learn that sisters are still very much active in the world, and also that they do not all wear habits. For many people, the image they have of sisters come from popular culture, old movies or television shows, that no longer depict the true diversity of CJS’s in our world. However, whether a vowed sister or associate, agrégée or employee, all are of course important threads in the fabric of CSJ life, working together to build unity and love, that all may be one. Thank you again for your thoughts!

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      • Dear Kathleen, rest assured I didn’t take the blog intent personally. I refuse to feel or act as a left-out. My New Year’s resolution is “Be not silent.” on things I feel deeply about. We’re ten-years into a new congregation and on the brink of another decade. We’ve done marvels in great and pretty visible things. (Please note I’ve used the first person). IMHO it’s time to get more subtle; go to the next level; see The MORE. Achieving a reality of community should be pretty much up front. Language Matters, to paraphrase a popular slogan. Community is a deep reality and needs a lot of discernment.

        You mentioned separate groups as “threads in the fabric” of CSJ life. In a conceptual language fast becoming archaic that might be OK. In today’s world however, different threads together exist as an aggregate reality only. While there are relationships each of them remains a separate entity. CSJ’s profess to be a community whose lifeblood is unity. Associates by any name annually & solemnly commit themselves to everything vowed sisters do, with the exception of vows. In other words they commit themselves to wearing the invisible cloak as companions not in any other way. Only vows (and a few administrative regs make for difference). In every way except vows, Associates should be viewed as CSJ’s. Otherwise why the formation and continuing formation? Diversity is the name of he game.

        This is not true of employees, donors and other close “relations.” They are friends, but not part of a “community.”

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