Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review of the Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Episodes 5 & 6

Left to Right: Francesca, Claire, Eseni, Christie; Stacey

The fifth episode began with people at a bar commenting to the women, "You're too hot to be nuns." I was so grateful that the young women replied back that a calling has nothing to do with how someone looks. When someone says that to me, I don't know what to think or feel. I'm flattered that they find me pretty, but even more so, I feel like a mama bear for Sisters everywhere. Obviously, they haven't seen many Sisters.

Again, how someone looks on the outside has nothing to do with one's vocation. I don't even know how those two things relate to each other. It's not like married women are still available, so it can't be "a waste" to give your life to God.
"For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7b, NRSV
The remainder of that episode as well as the finale had a central question of "What is authentic discernment?" The answer is not so simple that a person just needs to follow a checklist. Every person's journey is different. Some people have been in romantic relationships before entering religious life. Some have not. Some have visited a variety of Communities before deciding on one. Some only needed to visit one or two. Regardless, when you know, you know.

As I watched the final two episodes, I was so excited for Christie and Claire! I saw so many parallels to finding my own Community and I could not be happier that they discovered where to begin formation. Not everyone can say they found their Congregation on a reality TV show, which is another wonderful example of God calling people in different ways! For those who could not watch the show, Christie discerned to enter the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence in Chicago, Illinois, and Claire discerned to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker in Walton, Kentucky.

Eseni discerned that God is calling her to be a wife and mother. She also decided to go back to school to become a pediatric nurse. She was glowing in the last episode! I was just as happy for her as I was for Claire and Christie.

As for Francesca, their discernment will continue into the future, but she seemed to get a lot out of the process and was able to inspire others. She had a warm connection with the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm in Germantown, NY and said that she would continue to keep in touch with them.

Stacey had probably the biggest turn of events, because on the show she had said she might join Christie in Chicago, but she just tweeted the following:

This even came as a surprise to Francesca who had been discerning alongside her on the show:

Only God knows how things will turn out for these five women. Even Christie and Claire are free to end the process if they feel God calling them elsewhere. A person who enters a convent does not sign her life away and she most certainly is not brainwashed into doing so. All God asks of us is that we are faithful to Him and to love with the fullest sense of the word agape.

In my final analysis of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, I believe that it was a worthwhile program and a good introduction to the Year of Consecrated Life! I have enjoyed covering the episodes, and I am looking forward to continuing the discussion of living religious life through future blog entries.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Episodes 3 & 4

These back-to-back episodes felt rather "heavy" to me, as it brought back memories of people either leaving the convent or thinking about leaving. In these episodes, Eseni gets a surprise visit from her boyfriend, Darnell, who wants to take her home. Eseni wrestles with the decision, but ultimately decides to stay and complete the six week discernment program. This struggle sends a ripple effect toward the other women. 

There is something to be said about the bond that forms when one is going through a radical growth process with other people: they become a part of oneself. Even if it wasn't their calling to stay, when they leave, a hole always remains. One may begin to ask, "Why am I still here?" More questions may come to the surface, but ultimately, after bringing these concerns before the Blessed Sacrament, one's resolve is strengthened.

Lastly, even as I have enjoyed watching this show, I am very concerned. These five women so generously sacrificed their privacy in order that others could be inspired to become Sisters. They became vulnerable before an industry that profits on their openness. Their words and actions have been edited for our entertainment. As viewers, we are not privy to the workings of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of these women. It is not up to us to decide whether they make the right or wrong decision. Besides, initial formation lasts several years. Trust the process! 

Sister Susan Francois, CSJP, said it best: 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Epsiode 2: "We're All Broken"

In this episode, the "honeymood period" for the young women is over and conflicts begin to arise. This is the kind of thing I feared as I mentally prepared myself for this series on Lifetime. Initial Formation can be tough with many eyes watching you. Now add in millions of viewers who sometimes forget that you are not a TV character but a living breathing human being with feelings? The word scrutiny does not even begin to describe it.

I have already seen numerous cases of cyber bullying, and I never buy the excuse that "they are adults. No one forced them to do this." Because nothing prepares a person for public humiliation; it does not matter how thick one's skin was ahead of time. Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan, did a courageous vlog about this issue:

That said, I enjoyed watching this episode. It was refreshingly real. The conflicts in the episode are not atypical. People enter religious life from a variety of backgrounds, and it can be hard to know what is going to trigger a strong emotion in someone else. As Sister Cyril pointed out, after sharing a story about a Sister getting upset over laundry, "It's not about the laundry." Even when a conflict seems futile, there is always something deeper going on underneath the surface. Additionally, culture shock creates heightened emotions, and everyone who moves into a convent experiences this at varying degrees.

It can be a blessing and a curse to have these kind of conflicts on TV. The blessing part of it is that the young women can watch themselves, see what they sound like to others, and use it as a catalyst for personal growth. After all, the purpose of formation is to be continually improving oneself, as I described in an older blog entry. The curse part of it is that television has a way of immortalizing moments in time. It is critical that we allow each other to change and grow! As humans, we have a tendency to lock people into boxes. This helps no one.

I also liked watching this episode because Christie gave a wonderful glimpse into her spiritual journey. She was beginning to feel spiritually dry, which is an agonizing position to be in, but in reality, there are so many graces that come from being faithful to prayer during it! Christie, if you are reading this, I have two book recommendations for you. The first is Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of Calcutta. Make sure to read the footnotes! The other is When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings by Thomas Green, S.J. Both books are wonderful resources for when God is silently working in one's life. Remember that Satan wants you to feel discouraged. Don't let him win.

I also want to give Eseni a hug. I'm proud of you for reaching out and breaking the silence. You are so courageous and strong! Be assured of my prayers for you. Sister Maria Therese was absolutely right: "All of us are broken." As someone once told me, God cannot work with us and through us unless we are willing to acknowledge our own brokenness. He told me that in his job, he works with vessels. After some time of being used, the vessels start to break down and water flows through. We are called to be broken vessels. The Holy Spirit is the water. If we are broken, He can flow through us and out to serve others more effectively.

Lastly, I loved the part at the end of the episode when the Sisters took the young women to the Holy Cow for ice cream! It was so clever to say they were taking them to a shrine! As Sister Maria Therese said, "We work hard, we pray hard, but we play hard, too."

Shameless plug: You can download an awesome Advent/Christmas song for free on my Community's blog, Franciscanized World. Every month, a new song is featured on our blog. "Awake the Voice" by Krista Detour centers around the theme of finding the meaning of Christmas in the midst of commercialism.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, Epsiode 1: "I'm Not Ready!"

I first would like to say how grateful I am to be watching this from Hawai'i where TV timing isn't always accurate! I wasn't looking forward to watching this show at 10/9c, especially when it gets closer to Christmas and we'll be getting up early for Misa de Gallo. I happened to turn on the TV at 8pm, and there it was!

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the young women on the show were not actually in an initial formation program. That laid to rest a whole slew of fears I had had. It is more of a "come and see" program, or an extra long "nun run." Granted, discernment can feel intense during pre-convent days, as this episode illustrated well, but things get a bit more personal during pre-postulancy/postulancy.

On that note, there was a lot going on in this episode. My heart went out to Eseni as she described her family situation and how she feels that Sisters are peaceful and free of drama. I have met young women who are looking at religious life for that reason and it is always so sad, because what they really want is to be happy. They will find happiness if they keep working on it and perhaps find a good therapist to talk with, but it won't magically appear within the walls of a convent. Maybe they have a calling, maybe they don't, but now is not the right timing for them. As Sisters, we all are broken and we all have a past, but we didn't run away from anything. It's not a running from; it's a running to.

Additionally, there is drama in convents. One of the Sisters on the show said it well: "It's a miracle there hasn't been any murders." I laughed because I've heard that before! I personally cannot stand drama and find it to be a waste of energy. However, any time there is a lot of people with varied upbringings, personalities, and generations living closely together, there will be rumors, there will be occasional hurt feelings, and the different ways of dealing with conflict are as varied as the Sisters themselves. Granted, we as Sisters are always trying to improve ourselves and our relationships and when it comes down to it, we truly care about each other.

The young women on this show expressed this caring presence in a beautiful way when Francesca was coming to grips with having to remove her makeup. Honestly, this is a real issue and I am glad that the editors of the show did not make light of it. I will be interested to find out how she feels after six weeks of not wearing make up. To answer the question that was brought up: "Yes, we do shave!" :)

While many Communities do have their Sisters give up make up, mine included, something that should never be given up is a person's passions. It is best to find a Community where you can continue doing what you love to do. For example, I love teaching, so it would not have been a good idea to join a Community that only works in soup kitchens. I also love to ice skate, and I was surprised to learn that our Sisters ice skate on the lake in our backyard during the winter. (Click here for pictures. My apologies to Sister Anne for giving out this link! Actually, I'm not sorry though. My students had a good laugh last week when I was teaching them about winter.)

Stacey, you could keep your passion for making dolls. I would love to introduce you to Sister Caritas, our archivist and one of our nurse practitioners. She has many hobbies! We have Sisters who love the theatre and have directed plays. (The plays are in a school/camp setting though.) God finds a way to fulfill even the smallest wishes.

Finally, I'd like to address something that could be misinterpreted by viewers without a lot of encounters with Sisters. It was probably an editing issue, but you never know what people are going to think. It is true that Sisters are brides of Christ. However, this is by no means a sexual relationship, as one would naturally find between married couples.

I am a romantic person by nature. I have experienced the feeling of walking down the aisle toward my Beloved. It is a special memory that I like to hold onto, but it is entirely platonic. Our relationship with God is intimate, but it does not go beyond that.

Having said all that, I am looking forward to next week's episode!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Backwards Pilgrimage

I love going on pilgrimages. I was fortunate to be a pilgrim at World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada in 2002. While I have been in the convent, I have gone on pilgrimages with my fellow Sisters as well as with my family to a few different shrines in Wisconsin. I have Assisi on my bucket list, and I have what I consider a pipe dream of walking the Camino. I sometimes walk it vicariously through Martin Sheen in the film The Way.

Whenever I've been on a pilgrimage, I'm always grateful for the holy respite, but conscious to remind myself that God is fully active everywhere and that I can carry the graces of the pilgrimage with me. As humans, we have a tendency to believe in a spiritual geographical cure, but God is present here and now.

This week at St. Theresa Church, we had what could be described as a backwards pilgrimage. Some of you have probably attended one. The International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought here for a brief visit. One of the visionaries, Lucia, had described what Mama Mary looked like to Jose Thedim. He first made a statue of her to be kept at the shrine in Fatima. Then in 1947, he sculpted the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue that has traveled the world ever since. Instead of going on a pilgrimage to see this famous statue, the custodians of the statue brought her to us.

Isn't that exactly how God is? It is not we who seek Him; it is He who seeks us.

Yesterday, I took time to prepare my students for the visit. We watched The Day the Sun Danced.

After the video, I pulled up the Wikipedia page for us to skim as a class. As soon as I did, one of my students recognized the "somewhat credible" site and said, "Wait! This story is real?!" Another student said, "That means it's history!" (History is a buzzword in my classroom right now because that is the social studies unit we are in, and they just learned what that word means not too long ago.)

This morning, my students were wiggly on the way to the all-school Mass. I turned around and saw them peering into the Church to catch glimpses of the statue. I heard their whispers: "She's in there! I saw her!" I quickly affirmed their excitement but reminded them that we still needed to be quiet in God's house. Fortunately, we sit in the front of the Church so they got to stare at her as much as their little hearts desired. During the homily, Father Arnel called up one of the Custodians, Patrick Sabat, to share the story of Fatima and talk about the statue. My little theologians kept raising their hands and nodding their heads with elation.

Later this morning, I told my students that even though we usually pray a decade of the rosary after lunch/recess, we could go kneel under the statue and pray it, but we had to whisper the prayers because there would be other people praying. They were thrilled! While we were there, they were so reverent and prayerful. It was truly inspiring for me, and I'm sure it was inspiring for the other adults in the church, especially considering the story of Fatima.

I made sure to remind them that they were really praying to Jesus and that we don't pray to Mary but we ask her to pray for us. They nodded. I drill that into them, but it's important.

Every year, I entrust my students to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "Mary, bring them to your Son." That she does.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Anticipating Lifetime's Reality Show "The Sisterhood"

The Sisterhood premieres November 25th at 10/9c on Lifetime

I am feeling a nudge by the Holy Spirit to provide commentary on the new reality TV show that will showcase five young women as they undergo a deeply personal experience: initial formation in a convent. Ever since I began this blog, I have had the goal of giving you, the reader, a good look into our mysterious life. Now there is a TV show that promises to take care of that.

As someone who has been in initial formation for the past five years, I have my reservations about this show, particularly after viewing the preview. As one of the young women said, "It's something personal, and there's cameras here!"

Initial formation is not easy. I wrote about that topic in a previous entry: What It Means to be in Initial Formation. I can't imagine what it would be like to go through it behind cameras. 

On the flip-side, and perhaps most importantly for young women who are discerning, I do hope that the show does not focus on solely on the struggles of initial formation. It is a beautiful life and there are so many blessings that come from following God's call for your life. We spend so much time assuring people that God won't call them to a vocation unless they will be happy living it. I hope that the reality show will affirm this.

Within twenty-four hours (Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time) after each episode, I will be posting a review on this blog. I hope it can serve as an unedited supplement to the reality show. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Love of the 'Aina

For the second year in a row, I shamelessly solicited trick-or-treaters to come to our door. For those of you not familiar with the practice, it means verbally asking the parents to send their children over. We don't live in the trick-or-treating neighborhood so I take matters into my own hands. We had five tonight and they each got a huge handful of bite sized chocolate candies in their respective bags. They looked surprised at the amount of candy but they didn't realize how thrilled I was! It took everything in me not to dump the whole bowl in those bags.

So I'm having a lot of fun and I'm really enjoying teaching. The children's enthusiasm is contagious. It's fun to watch them grow academically, socially, spiritually, and personally!

Living on Kauai can carry lots of vacation-like images in people's heads, but unless you work for the tourist industry, life here is a lot like life anywhere else. A lot of my enjoyment comes from my ministry and time with my Sisters. It is very beautiful though and I love the people here!

Last weekend, I even got to spend time with some of our "cousins," the Sisters of St. Francis. They live on Oahu and they are delightful! I only wish I had more time to spend with them. I was there for a teaching seminar, so I didn't have time to sight-see, but I did drive by the Iolani Palace, which was very special for me. I said a prayer of thanksgiving that traffic was moving at a snail's pace so I could glance up at it every now and then. Knowing the history of that structure, I was simultaneously taken in by its beauty and the sadness of the loss of a great dynasty. No matter where life takes me, the love of the islands will never leave me. 

Speaking of that, please keep the people who live on the Big Island (Hawai'i) in your prayers as they deal with the lava flow. It has already destroyed a cemetery and we don't know what else could happen. Two people were arrested for getting too close to the lava flow, but for the most part people are staying far away from it. Hopefully this will all come to an end soon!