Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Oprah: Get Me To A Nunnery

Today on The Oprah Show, reporter Lisa Ling visited the convent of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Also appearing on the show, were a number of the Sisters themselves. In a recent article in First Things, "The Anchoress" explained why she wouldn't be among those watching:

A peek at her teaser for the Tuesday show ... indicates that the Sisters will share the hour with a look at the “the word’s only Western Geisha.” One serves God and thereby all of humanity, one serves a single man and makes him feel like a god. I don’t think that Ms Winfrey meant to make it sound like a carnival barker selling a “freak” show.

I guess Oprah’s “theme” here is that two rather “secret” lives are being looked into, but I do wonder at the mindset that puts Consecrated religious and Geisha on the same footing. Either one of these subjects could easily fill an hour’s worth of television, and by reducing them to 23 minute overviews, both features promise to be as penetrating as prop knives; superficial, shallow and sensationalistic.

But then again, I’m not an Oprah (or daytime tv) viewer, so perhaps that is par for the course?

Most critics of a show like this are going to approach everything about it with suspicion. The downside of this approach is that, should the object of such commentary ever defy your preconception, your opinion carries no more weight than anyone else, and it no longer matters how many blogging awards you've won. After all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The order based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was founded in 1997 by Mother Assumpta Long and three fellow Dominicans. The present Mother Superior (the mother foundress having since retired, if still very active) is seen in the documentary carrying a Blackberry, from which she keeps her finger on the pulse of discerning women throughout the country and beyond, who write to her with their questions. Their experience must not be unlike that of the postulants (candidates in the first stage of formation) interviewed as a group, who admitted to having been afraid to ask about Religious life as schoolgirls, but who now feel liberated in finding their answer. What does this say about the way they were raised in the Faith?

Even the experience of Religious life itself is portrayed as liberating, as these Sisters are detached from the things of the world, the possession of things, the clamoring for position and gratification, as all is devoted to Christ their bridegroom, and to His children whom they encounter in their work. This comes as a surprise to the visitors to the convent, not to mention Oprah, all of whom expect to see a restrictive and narrow existence. They find instead the genuine happiness of the Sisters, whether interviewed in the segments, or appearing in person on the show.

It is the sign of a good vocation to Religious life when its adherents, as a novice mistress once said, “eat a lot, pray a lot, and laugh a lot.” To find yourself, just to BE yourself, can be a joyous thing in and of itself. How much more so when the search for that place is a long and winding journey, one not tread upon lightly.

Of course, however thoughtful the presentation may be, it wouldn't be The Oprah Show if she didn't ask how these women can give up sex for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, the good Sisters recognize this as an honest question, and above all, a fair one. It is also an opportunity for them to explain how the call to Religious life does not demand that they give up their sexuality, but instead to express it in a different way. To explain that fully would take a longer documentary, but the Sisters manage to do it justice in the time they have.

The entire segment lasts 23 minutes, and while so much is said in so little time, one can see that there is so much more.

The result is a sympathetic presentation of Religious life, and an effective witness for the mission of the Church, in a place where we least expect it. The show's website has a text version of the segment transcript, entitled “Keeping the Faith.” There is also a video clip covering Ms Ling's visit which does more justice than that which we provide here, entitled “Overnight at a Convent.” These images from a slide presentation at the order's website -- sistersofmary.org -- show how Ms Ling and the crew could be totally at ease, in a place where such intrusions are very uncommon. The good Sisters make it look easy, which is to be expected when they're free to be themselves.

So it was for this episode of Oprah. So it is for life behind the walls.

(By the way, Ms Scalia, not even in the Midwest, do we ever refer to women Religious as "gals.")

[One of our collaborators, a former Carmelite novice, contributed numerous insights to this report, and is worthy mention, and of our thanks.]


Unknown said...

As I watched Oprah's show, I was amazed of how many non-Catholics must view our faith. I thought that all of the sisters and the novitiates answered the questions well considering that Oprah was trying very hard to understand how someone could give up "the good life" as she saw it.

What amazed me most was the number of sisters in the order along with new novitiates coming in. Is it a sign of the times that Our Lord might be winning a few souls for Him.

The Devil must be having fits

Susan said...

Or it's a sign that all of these homeschooled children are coming of age unfit to enter society. The young women who enter my work place are bright, well-educated and determined to make the world a better place. They have too much self-respect than to work for free and "hope" that some bishop won't sell their house out from under them when their 70 to pay off yet another criminal priest abuse case.

David L Alexander said...


Ah, where to begin ...

1) There was no indication that any, let alone most, of the young women interviewed in the Oprah segment were the product of homeschooling. There is some indication that most may not have been.

2) Your place of employment is unlikely to have a monopoly on gifted young women. Oprah interviewed several of them in the convent.

3) Sisters do not "work for free". They receive food, housing, transportation, health care, and are provided for their retirement. This in addition to a stipend.

4) Unless they are an order of "diocesan right", that is, formed under a diocesan bishop's authority, an order's property is their own. Such properties which have been liquidated in recent years, have been so at the behest of the orders themselves, to support their depleted numbers, which isn't exactly a problem for this case.

5) The class of women whom you believe to be so stupid, were responsible for building the Catholic school system in the United States, to say nothing of laying the groundwork for the nation's health care system. You know, all those hospitals? Or did you think the government did it?

6) From my own personal experience, the sisters who physically abused schoolchildren at the school I attended, did so without consequences, and their cohorts today spend much of their time railing against the "patriarchal church".

I think that covers everything. Now, you're sure that's the best you can do?

Always Catholic said...

I couldn't have said it better myself, Mr. Alexander.

"Susan" unfortunately, seems to deal with the "here and now" and couldnt be bothered to read a history book if she were "paid to do it."

"Ms." Susan should have known about the Catholic School System and the Catholic Health System in this country and how these "unfit to enter society people" contributed to the comfort and education of millions of Americans.

But, alas, maybe you could tweet the White House, Mr Alexander and remind President Obama that his lifelong hero, Abraham Lincoln was "homeschooled" and probably unfit to enter society-and he should perhaps strike any reference to Mr. Lincoln from now on so Ms. Susan may feel vindicated.

Oh, but that's right--Ms. Susan would have had to at least read history, lest study it to know that Mr. Lincoln, not only was "homeschooled" but schooled himself in addition.

Your reader, Mr. Alexander, sounds extremely angry that young, beautiful, women would want to freely and happily enter into such a life. Im sorry for her. She should be happy that the women she saw on Oprah would never be victims of physical, sexual or verbal abuse at the hands of their "husband", Our Lord Himself.

It is always interesting to me that those who find fault with a traditional Religious Life always complain about the "worldly" aspects of such life that perhaps could cause these women to suffer.

Why is it that the only ones complaining (particularly Religious women themselves) are living in a beautiful apartment, dressed impeccably and writing her own "ticket". The older Sisters that I have encountered who in fact were forced out of their cloister by a Bishop who did not have the right, picked up, moved and started over, forgiving him and remembering that there is no suffering without consolation.

Forgive me, Mr Alexander, your reader struck a raw nerve with me because I have been privy to such a situation and the sisters involved were just as beautiful, happy and willing to stick it out as their younger counterparts on Oprah.

BTW, the Sisters I refer to are a traditional order that also wears the traditional habit. Maybe there is something to that "wedding gown" analogy repeated several times by Oprah during the show.

Susan, tonight and every night I will ask Our Lord to show you your way to happiness--whatever vocation it might be.

Susan said...

Daniel and Always Catholic: You are clearly the products of Catholic schools or do I detect a little homeschooler in there somewhere? Yes, 100 years ago, intelligent women had no options...the convent was the only way. That is no longer the case. Today you'll find bright, well-raised women at prestigious universities, some actually working as doctors in similarly prestigious hospitals. Now I don't think a person can perform surgery while wearing a veil...do you? Oh-and save your prayers. I've read these Catholic blogs. There's no telling who you're actually praying to.

Always Catholic said...

Susan: Obviously you did not take LOGIC at your prestigious non-Catholic schools to arbitrarily assume without fact that myself and the other reader went to Catholic school or were homeschooled.

As far as to shom I am praying doesnt really matter does it, last time I looked I still have the freedon to pray just as you have the freedom to make illogical assumptions.

Should I shamelessly suggest that you are of middle age beginning menopause because of your miserable insinuations. No, I wouldnt do that because I DO NOT HAVE THE FACTS. BTW, why dont you just have the nerve to ask?

Perhaps, its because you are not as nervy as you are illogical.

Oh, the simply stupid part about not being able to perform surgery while wearing a veil? Aren't you reaching here? A nun I read about once was assisting in surgery and simply pinned back her veil and put the mask over it. I guess you are forgetting the scene in "The Nun's Story" with Audrey Hepburn when Sister Luke assists at surgery and is in a traditional habit and veil.

Oh, my mistake--you dont read, you assume. BTW, I tutor young, "bright" women from a non-religious prep school in my area in logic, writing and history because their non-Catholic overpriced prep school doesn't do the job.

Oh, did I mention I DO IT FOR FREE-its called volunteering and I dont feel its a waste. Im trying to pay it forward as the trendy saying goes. So next time you find it necessary to open your mouth about all these bright young women who couldnt possibly have come from homeschooling or a Catholic school, remember, I might have tutored one on them--gratis.

Oh and for the record, raised Catholic, went to Catholic school stayed away from the Church for years after years of a secular Ivy League education, successful jobs and a thriving business, yada yada...
Guess what, I was one of those young women you spout about and when I started to feel as if there had to be more, my READING brought me back full circle to where I started--the Church. Imagine my surprise!

I fought it and fought it until I read the life of Edith Stein. I would expect you to know who she was. Look her up.

Read. Listen and learn.

Im praying for you anyway-I find it fulfilling to pray for Catholic bashers--it gets them so riled up!!

Thank you Mr. Alexander for having such a great blog and allowing up to express our ideas and sentiments. I think Susan might be friends with Ms Mulherin from St. Leos so I promise to end this tirade once and for all. Thanks for the opportunity to be heard.

Susan said...

I guess they didn't tell you that Steubenville isn't an Ivy League school? Oops...sorry to have to be the one to break it to you. But really, I thoroughly enjoyed your tirade. It is yet another example of the deep rot at the heart of Catholicism. Or do you consider your words to reflect God's commandment to "Love Thy Neighbor?"

David L Alexander said...


What the hell does Steubenville have to do with this?

Here at mwbh, we speak the Truth with Love, and an occasional dose of Whoop-Ass. With regard to your admonishment to "love thy neighbor," you are the worst offender, by your own definition. This is why three of your comments were rejected. This includes one sent to a piece on a completely unrelated matter. The latter is what makes you what is known as a "troll." We don't take kindly to trolls in these here parts, so your @$$ is OUTA HERE!!!!

Always Catholic said...

First of Ms Congeniality-dont give me the Love they Neighbor stuff, I finbishing what you started. Jesus said to be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent.

Of course you dont have the brains or the guts to answer the question about your lack of a reasoned or logical argument.

BTW, next time you open your piehole, especially when you do not have the fact, try to THINK!! I went to an Ivy League school and graduated long before Steubenville was a blink in the eye of the Charismatic movement. As "CAtholic" as you think Steubenville is, I tend to tak my Catholicism on the Latin side--as "ora pro nobis". And by the way, I make a tirade and you just have a comment? ENOUGH, YOU A BIGOT of the worst kind.. a spineless, typical secular progressive that gets a smattering a a "Progressive" education and then the first thing you do is bash Catholics. Funny, you like to preach and guess at a persons life story, but you dont pray or believe yet you have no problem pontificating. (Do you want me to tell you what that means, honey or is your great education one of a classsical nature?)

Jane Austen (know who she is?) was quoted as sayinng. "I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them." YOu go, Miss Austen- you gave me my goodby to a dilettante who thinks she has a smart mouth-seriously lacking a brain.

Oh Susie Q,why do you read this blog? Is it to spew your anti-Catholic rhetoric with abandon.
Go troll somewhere else. Also, I do love my neighbor, it is you I pray for.

Of course you will come back with some little idiotic anti-Catholic blurbette, enjoy yourself.

Til we meet in hell.

Unknown said...

Holy jump up and sit down!! MWBH got a party goin' on!!

Ok, first, the always classy, "Always Catholic"-dont let this toad get you riled up, she needs something to do in between feeding her 13 cats.

Uncle Dave, (term of endearment Susan the wonder child) bounce this strega. We can do a hell of a lot better getting a smarter troll then this poser.

I like that the the fact this this scooch has idiot arrogance going for her--well, I AM TRYING TO GIVE HER A COMPLIMENT AFTER ALL...
because without she wouldnt have 5 pennies worth of a brain.

Hey Suze-you know the differenct between a jackass and a thirty-hole secular progressive? The jackass is smarter.

You know my dear Suzilla, if you wanted to be different that the rest of the anti-catholic bigot rats on the Internet, try to "school yourself-oh boy" in a classical iducation of logic and rhetoric-but my dear you may not know what that means, so let me give you an alternative.

Go back to the primordial ooze you crept out of and run with the rest of the non-thinking lemmings to the HuffPo--they love your kind of garbage. Really. You might negotiate a paycheck for yourself out of it. Your cats would love an upgrade on their food Im sure. That's if a buck eighty will get you anywhere.

Listen you little shXt-take you sorry a$$ and go back out the blogdoor from whence you came. If you want to debate the issues intelligently, then fine start doing that otherwise it will get ugly.

That s afreaking promise.
All that Love your neighbor crap--yeah yeah I do that I just dont like your sorry ass all that much.

Are you such a slave to intention that y9ou spend Saturday nights trolling for attention on Catholic blogs? Get the f*&k out a here.

It sneaky little scaredy "cats" like you that love the Internet. I can talk s$%t with the best of them but I have no proble having a come to Jesus out in the parking lot. You aint worth it-You're junior-league all the way. It wouldnt be a fair fight.

If you would ever bother to do a little research you would see just how ignorant you sound.
If you want to argue about a topic
-then learn all about it first. All hot air, no substance.

Typical thirty-hole..Know what that is? An immature, impatient, impudent thirty-something that thinks they have all the answers but is clueless about the question. Im guessing dollars to doughnuts folks our dear Suzilla here is a thirty-hole. I should know I was one once. Then I learned to really think and learn.

Look, Suze if you ar gonna sell wolf-tickets, Im buying.(dont know what that means google it) Otherwise, shutup! You are embarrssing your sorry self.

Davey here is a gentleman and loves debate but he doesnt deserve your bullsh*t. Knock it off , go feed your cats you crazy bi%@h.

And if you thinki this is a tirade-I;ll make Always Catholic look like the Virgin Mary when Im done, so bring it on bit@h!

Unknown said...

Hey Always Catholic--I LOVE Jane Austen also... Suzilla doesnt know the joys of Austen or she wouldnt be such a troll!!

Anonymous said...

thees particular Sisters do not receive a personal 'stipend'.
it was well done considering edits , and Oprahs New Age affiliations and disciple of Eckhart Tolle....but Lisa Ling always does a balanced job.
here is a link to the whole show
except the off air discussions, which can be found on the Oprah Show site.