The following comes from a February 2 Catholic News Agency article by Ann Schnieble:
As Pope Francis’ year dedicated to consecrated life comes to a close, one nun shared her thoughts on the how her religious garb serves as a “visible sign” that God exists and loves every person.
Right now, Sister Mary Christa of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma says, there’s “confusion” – over questions such as why some sisters wear habits and some don’t – and her hope is that this year marks the start of “a fruitful understanding of religious life in the Church in its most authentic, visible witness.”
Sister Mary Christa, who also runs U.S. bishops’ visitor’s office in Rome with several other Sisters of Mercy, called the habit of a religious sister an important part of being a witness.
“The habit is a visible sign of the love of God,” she said. “But it’s also, I have found, a great responsibility and a reminder to me: the responsibility to be what I show that I am.”
“It’s a sign of the love of God and that this life is not all there is: that God exists and loves them,” she said.
One of the distinguishing aspects of their habit – a dark veil and a simple, pale blue frock in the summer, and a darker color for the winter – is a simple black cross, overlaid by a smaller white cross, which is worn around the neck.
“The black of the cross represents the misery of mankind that we find in the world, and the white represents God’s mercy, which we are called to bring into the world as Sisters of Mercy,” explained Sister Mary Michaela, who works at the visitor’s office.
“There is a long tradition in religious life of wearing a habit as a visible sign that we are consecrated to God and to the service of the Church in a special way,” she said. “It’s also part of poverty,” she added. “Our habit is simple, so we don’t buy a big wardrobe.”
Living in Rome, Sister Mary Michaela noted how she too is approached by people asking for prayers on account of her habit.
“When they see the habit, they realize that there is something particular about our life,” she said.
“They recognize that we represent, in some way, God’s presence. We remind people of God’s presence here in the world.”