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!


  1. Many religious I know would not identify with your comments on the relationship between female religious and Christ as being entirely platonic. Here's one example: http://www.christthebridegroom.org/p/about-us_4.html Especially in light of the Theology of the Body, they would say they have a spousal relationship that bears forth maternal fruit. Bridal mysticism is so strong that some female religious wear a wedding gown to take vows and then wear a wedding ring after.

    It was one of my great disappointments in the show that the many opportunities to expound on this, between Eseni leaving her boyfriend, Francesca's family criticizing her as being too young to "give up" a marriage and family, to Christie's Surfer Jesus, and the mom (I've forgotten which) saying she desires grandchildren from her only daughter but will die to self if that isn't God's will for her daughter's life, all presented an opportunity to at least allude to the fulfillment of sexuality that the celibate life can and ideally should bring to those with a vocation of celibacy. The silence, and even criticism of Jesus the Lover as self-directed emotionalism that wasn't grounded in theology or intellect, was a real lost opportunity, in my opinion.

    In our sex-saturated culture, a reclaiming and reordering of human sexuality is of great importance, and the brides of Christ have an important role in embracing and modeling this. It is very much sexual as it requires that they embrace their femaleness through spiritual maternity as the means through which they unite themselves fully with God. That this understanding of sexuality--male and female He created them--is not commonly recognized or appreciated in our society does not mean we should downplay or denounce it--all the more reason it should be addressed forthrightly.

    It does not stop at intimacy but epitomizes and fulfills it as entering fully into one's vocation--celibacy or marriage--is entering into a dance of intermingling communion of souls as we enter into the very life of the Trinity. This is a truth I think should be among the top take-away priorities for such a program to speak to our culture and I hope as the series progresses that it, and the commentary on it, will do so.

    1. Dear Isolde,

      Thank you so much for your well thought out comments. I really appreciate it and what you wrote was quite eloquent. From reading it, I can see that you and I believe the same thing, but it's a matter of semantics.

      I have to consider my target audience when I write, and I discerned against getting into the theology behind this relationship with Christ that all humans are called to, particularly because it can be as rocky as trying to explain the Trinity without accidentally saying a heresy. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw)

      You wrote, "In our sex-saturated culture, a reclaiming and reordering of human sexuality is of great importance..." My fear is that those who watch the show, especially those with no experience with Sisters themselves, will walk away thinking that Sisters have sexual fantasies about Jesus and other things along those lines. Certainly that is not what you or I think of when we think of the consecrated life, but it could very easily become a misconception and undermine our vocation.

      So we agree, we just have different ways of explaining it and different audiences in mind as we write.

    2. Thank you for the response!

      The criticisms offered of the romanticization of Christ as being not theologically founded and being rooted in self-directed emotionalism were particularly cutting and demoralizing for one in my household who identified strongly with the imagery of meeting Christ in the bridal chamber and of the fruitfulness of religious life that flowed out of this spousal relationship.

      I was hoping to find female religious expounding on this idea as a support for undoing the doubt and discouragement the program sowed. I do hope you or others will be able to address this audience as well. If you see anyone doing so, I'd be very grateful to have it pointed out so that I can share it!

    3. I am so sorry to hear that this was troubling for your friend. I truly believe that this was an editing issue. I am sure that more was said, but in reality TV, the bottom line is what will get ratings.

      She needs to look no further than the writings of St. Clare of Assisi! :)

      I could address this issue myself. I'll discern when to do this.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary on the show, Sr. Monica, and for commenting on my blog post, too. I really agree with you about being true to your passions. Those passions are a gift from God and indicate the direction to go when discerning. Thanks for sharing the ice skating photos! I enjoy skating too but I'm not very good at it. God bless.