Bobbling, giddy nuns? Stern, ruler-wielding nuns? Holier-than-thou and out-of-touch? Not so, my friends. The Philadelphia Daily News recently published an article about the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ) and did a great job at tapping into the real spirit and life of Catholic sisters and nuns.
Here’s a great quote from the article “Don’t let movies and TV taint view of women religious” (January 15, 2011) which speaks to not only the SHCJ Sisters but to the vast majority of Catholic sisters and nuns in the U.S.:
The public often knows little about the realities of women in religious orders, other than what they see portrayed in movies or television. Singing nuns, flying nuns and dancing nuns are popular depictions. Although SHCJ Sisters are quick to acknowledge the joy they experience from their commitment, their joy evolves from rigorous intellectual study, productive contemplation and a studious pursuit of understanding the wants of the age. The ability to remain adaptable and respond to challenges enhances the experience.
Let me just repeat that sentence because it is powerful: “Their joy evolves from rigorous intellectual study, productive contemplation and a studious pursuit of understanding the wants of the age. The ability to remain adaptable and respond to challenges enhances the experience.” That to me is a life WAY worth living. Although I am a bit biased, I can say for certain that if I did not encounter this in religious life or in my IHM congregation, I would never have been attracted to this way of life. There is a depth, a passion, an all-out embrace of God that this way of life calls for.
And a little history helps shed light on how religious life began to shift with a nudge from the Holy Spirit:
Entering the Society before the Second Vatican Council (held from 1962-65), they anticipated a life of teaching, obedience and prayer. During the early years, this was the path they followed. Following Vatican II, they experienced less structure, broader choices and increased freedom. While the Society’s teaching mission guided their decisions, the Sisters explored strategies that allowed them to consider less-traditional ways of serving their communities and continuing the Society’s mission…. Doing God’s work enables the Sisters of the SHCJ to carry out their mission and help the needy in a variety of settings.
Compare and contrast this real-life example of religious life with a TV or movie version. What gives?
YOUR joy in your vocation, your life, is obvious in your podcasts and your postings, even when you’re down with a cold or other malady. Your faces radiate that “joy [that] evolves from rigorous intellectual study, productive contemplation and a studious pursuit of understanding the wants of the age. The ability to remain adaptable and respond to challenges enhances the experience.”
I’m not saying that every day is wonderful, or that you don’t have your trials. You are real human beings, after all, and life is bumpy and sometimes painful. But that inner glow, that joy, helps you cope, and it’s an inspiration to the rest of us.
Ditto, what marg said! I think the media depiction of nuns (the giddy, bobbling, flying, singing, Sister Act version) happens for a reason. The more we (the media-audience) can distance ourselves from true religious, the more we can justify our not being like them. We do the same thing to angels. We depict them as Valentine cherubs, or divinized fairies – almost never as splendid (even terrifying) messengers of God. We aren’t challenged by cuteness. But we are challenged by women who live by a different set of rules – who refuse to be owned by things, who defer to the common good instead of seeking their own advancement and preference, who dare to proclaim the reign of God in a world that is so clearly full of violence, war, and the fight for personal and group survival. We see women who are clearly like us, but who live a way of life that is beyond us – there’s the challenge.
Brava, Marsha! Well said.
People do tend to trivialize what they’re afraid of as a way of coping with the cognitive dissonance those fears arouse. People in California often laugh at and make jokes about earthquakes as a defense against the terror.
I vaguely recall an old movie, “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison,” that did not trivialize the nun’s commitment but that did make it seem rather other-worldly. And “Strangers in Good Company,” a movie that LeeAnn recommended last week, also depicts a real-life (unhabited) nun, among other diverse characters. Sr. Bertrille she was not!
There are so many misconceptions and generalizations made about sisters/nuns and religious life in general. Most of which, unfortunately comes from either the “Hollywood” image or from stories told and passed down through generations. Let me tell you a short story…
When I was 5 I moved to NJ. I had already completed kindergarden and was ready to enroll in 1st grade, but since my birthday was in November, I was “too young” to start school. Both of my parents worked so they needed someplace for me to be during the day. There was a preschool/kindergarden that came with very VERY high recommendations in the community, so they enrolled me there. It was run by a community of sisters. As a fairly precocious and lively and stubborn 5 year old, I didn’t particularly care for the rules, and the sister who was the KD teacher and I did NOT get along. Consequently, I spent a good deal of time in the main office, sitting on the floor winding thread…(grins)…my image of the sister who taught KD was of a stern, no-nonsense woman who didn’t understand or even ‘like’ children…Fast forward 25 years….I spent the summer with the same group of sisters and my former KD teacher was there…what a difference time and space can have on an image! Sr. Mary is a loving, caring woman who only wants the best for any child…and isn’t going to sacrifice expectations for convenience or ease. Had I not had the opportunity to become reaquainted with Sr. Mary, my image would be different…
I guess, I wish those who think ‘otherwise’ would have the same opportunity to reassess the situation…