The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns episode 2 recap: Too Legit To Quit

The sisterhood becoming nuns francesca Lori Acken

Discernment: a phase, short-term, an answer to questions, a “sorority-esque” experience, physiologically depriving of oxygen (i.e. what’s with everyone passing out and getting light-headed?), gossipy, divisive, torturous, cantankerous, survival of the fittest, judging, and histrionic, and the shrine (Thank God for the shrine).

At least that’s what I’ve gleaned from the viewer’s perspective of how discernment is being defined on Lifetime’s The Sisterhood.

The Sisterhood LifetimeRELATED: How legit is Lifetime’s The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns? A former nun gives her review

By the way? “The Sisterhood” might make a good title, but it’s not a real thing. Call them sisters, nuns, a religious order/community, but religious life is not some oddball club with a secret handshake or some traveling pants. It is a culture. And there are many aspects that one may find when encountering another culture: customs, food, entertainment, language. “Discernment” is a word you come to know well right off the bat — but as one of my best friends loves to say, “Katy, discernment is a nun word.” Apparently she’s right.

Parallel to the Sisters’ opening their doors to the discernment process, I too was in their shoes (although they weren’t navy flats and matching), but my experiences — and my advice to others — is vastly different.

Discernment starts WAY before you get to the convent. I’ll give the ladies credit here — most of them addressed that they’ve thought about being a nun before. That’s a good start. They talked to their loved ones, who were incredibly supportive (Except Darnell. Poor Darnell). Christie told her enthusiastic party girlfriends who were hesitant until Christie used her “dating Jesus” imagery. My family? Of course they are supportive in the “We want Katy to be happy” department; however, not so keen on the idea of “Katy + Happy = Nun.” Before I ever step foot in a convent or even talked to anybody about this weird sensation of, “WHAT? No! Please, God, No! I don’t want to do this!” turning into “Maybe? Huh?” For a while, that question was unanswered inside and outside of me. So I’m going to give points to the women here. They knew they were “trying it-out”, exploring possibilities, and self-reflecting; this is all good. I also give them points for telling their people. I realize that they are now on TV and kind of had to tell them and yet, I suspect it was still difficult.
Idea/perception of discernment: +1.5 pt.

But now we’re here and we’ve conquered life without make-up and it’s great and the sisters are so nice. That’s truth, but I struggle with the pie-in-the-sky perceptions the women have of what a religious vocation and “living as a vowed woman” religious means. “Bride-of-Christ” as a metaphor disturbs me; seriously…what is that? I am the first one to use “marriage” as a way of translating “nun speak” to the unfamiliar; but married to Jesus? Really? Does anyone else find this unsettling?

Relationship with Jesus, God, Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary and part of the core of religious life. Marriage … absolutely not. Marriage and religious life share many qualities, and probably most importantly, call each person to live very differently than their “before” life. Given that, I think the women come with a sensationalized view of what it means to be a woman religious. That’s not as a criticism, but rather something important for the Sisters to attend to during the early discernment process.  This televised discernment seems like, “We’re cruising and … whoops, hit a pot hole! … cruising again! …. rain!…off we go! … tree!”
Understanding the process of discernment: -1.0

At this point, I really want to corral the women, no cameras allowed, and ask them, “What do you know about the Carmelites? Why might this be a fit or why do you want to run the other way?” Because here’s what I know about them so far: They wear habits, work with the elderly, go to mass with capes, pray together, yet individually, in chapel. In other words, not much. And I’d be crying and falling on the floor too if I had the concerns the women have shared: Francesca, being “sent” somewhere and never seeing her family again; Stacey, giving up art; Eseni, not being able to love again; Christie, life without any real fun … and dear Claire, well, she knows everything—biggest problem of all.  But ladies, what do you want to do with your life? What do you want to stand for? With whom and for whom do you want to serve? How do you want to love others? These are the questions. And how do you find the answers? Discernment!

This is your journey. ladies. If your energy is focused on observing and commenting on others, then where is the ‘you’ time for discernment? It’s not a race; it’s a process, And — even better news for you — discernment is a life-long experience. The second you stop discerning your call, waking up and saying “yes” over and over is the second you have lost your commitment. Get used to it. Grab some good ears and support along the way you have to figure out what it means for you.

Ladies — and I share this sincerely — one of the most awful, hurtful things anyone has ever said to me was, “Do you pray? Do you listen? I think God is trying to tell you that you are not called and you are just not listening.” WRONG. No one, no one, has the right to interpret or decide what is in your heart. Others can guide and suggest, but ultimately, the only one person who can interpret and make decisions about your journey; it’s you. Stop talking about your friends and start reflecting on you.
Lecture from Katy: +1.5 (because you deserve it)

Sisters, where are you? I appreciate the symbolism [and humor] behind taking the cell phones, the make-up and the “shrine.” But WHO ARE YOU? WHAT IS YOUR MISSION? HOW DO YOU LIVE? That’s the top three of about a hundred questions I have for you.  It was wonderful that you took these women to one of your homes and to hospice as an introduction to the type of ministry the congregation supports in ministry. You opened your doors, invited these women (and their The sisterhood becoming nuns francescadrama) and had an opportunity for other people to take pause and say, “Hmmm…maybe I would fit there,” and yet, there’s so little.

Sr. Peter, your time on camera with Francesca was likely the most “real” part of this episode; thank you for not only giving a glimpse of why and how the community ministers to the elderly, but also how someone is companioning these women on this journey. Or at least where they are at in the present moment. Francesca, you also get credit for having the courage to be willing to talk things over with Sr. Peter—reasonable tears and drama in this context. When I step back and take in the big picture, these women are clueless (not their fault). Religious life is not intuitive; in fact it’s counter-cultural.
Sister’s Act: -2.0

In sorority life, the idea of undergrads is appropriate. In religious life — not appropriate. I take offense to this portrayal on many levels (one very personal, as this image of younger members has been published and influenced people in leadership and it can be hurtful, especially when it concerns matters of the heart.) Yes, this is the reality TV we crave — vote them off the island, spy on them while they are sleeping, spotlight every argument and edit every resolution, put 16 women in a house and have them all date one guy. But it’s also ridiculous and not the least bit real.

With that in mind, let’s break down the ΑΩ life of The Sisterhood:

Sorority life: Drinking! Yeah! Hide it! Sneak it! Woot!
Religious Life: (This may differ across congregations; I speak from my own experiences) We’re grown-ups! A glass of wine with a meal or at a celebration, if one chooses, is ok! Moderation and motivation?! Transparent! Key word: grownups! Seriously ladies…when I was teaching 10-year-olds, I used this as a guide, “If you have to sneak, hide or cover it up—that’s probably not your best choice.” You want to drink? Have a conversation with the Sisters. Be honest, mature and authentic to your discernment process and consider how the sisters are portrayed via your sneakiness. Please stop perpetuating the message that “young people are looking for sororities not religious life.” Claire gets bonus points for taking to Sr. Cyril, if and only if the motivation was to inquire, not tattle. I question her motivation, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt here. Sr. Cyril, you never disappoint; way to allow Claire to discern a bit more about herself and not give up the answer.

Srs. Maria Therese, Cyril and Mark all addressed how difficult it can be living in community. I would agree that it is the biggest challenge — and by far the greatest gift. Perfect? Conflict free? Really? I’m going to let you in on a secret: nuns are people, too! If you are called to religious life, guess what? You get the good, bad and ugly — and they get yours, too. Discerning with people who are a “fit” for the congregation doesn’t mean observing who is the best behaved. It’s about who can be effortlessly authentic with herself and her possible sisters and how that authenticity best fits here. My impression is that Eseni and Christie are meant to be portrayed as the “bad girls”— not nun material. Stacey and Francesca — on the fence. And Claire? “Oh yeah…she’s made for this.”

Piety is annoying. C’mon, what good role model — holy or otherwise — do you look up to who is dismissive, divisive and self-righteous? This episode was a lot of Claire. The conversation Claire initiates with her peers shows much more about her, her discernment and her expectations than it does anything about the other women. One woman twerks. One woman connects with Jesus through fantasy. These are called personal experiences. We all bring them with us. To partially quote Stacey, “That’s the beauty…” and, as an added bonus, in this situation, the twerker and former retreat participant are now on common ground. If you want to survive in community,  communication and honesty are your best friends.

So, Claire, while I applaud you for having the courage to approach your peers with a concern, I am saddened that insulting them while raising yourself to a higher, more experienced standard was the approach. Stacey, Eseni, Francesca and Christie, nice job for not lunging at her and negating Sr. Maria Therese’s comment that there’s never been a murder in (at least on-camera) handling the situation. But I was most surprised by Francesca; she was articulate, composed and direct in her response to Claire. No drama queen here.  My hope for Claire is that she opens herself up to what discernment has for her, because she is obviously talented and committed to the journey, which is awesome. But it’s time to get rid of the costume and disposition of “TV Nun Claire” and face Claire, just Claire, Claire.

This is not entirely Claire’s fault, nor do I think she is malicious. The interviews promote the idea of throwing each other off of the bus.  I loathe that the women are interviewed discussing her interpretation of others’ behaviors and discernment journey. That is just wrong. Last time I checked, none of them are experts in discernment, have experienced religious life or been trained in any form of counseling, spiritual director or vocation/formation ministry.
Pius gossiping and sorority life: -2.5
Bonus points: Francesca: +1.0   Sr. Cyril- +1.0

And with that, The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns Episode 2 has come and gone. Looks like the girls are in for a change of scenery next week as they go onto another community experience and I’m looking forward to seeing where the road leads — for them and for the sisters. Because discernment is messy. Really messy. Messy good and messy bad and messy life-long if you’re too legit to quit.

Overall Score: -1.0
Faking it this week: Carmelite Life
Making it this week: Francesca

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

New episodes of The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns premiere Tuesdays at 10/9CT on Lifetime.

About the Author
Katy LaFond was a member of Franciscan community for 6 years. Valuing the discernment process, she continues to discern and explore where “home” in religious life may be for her.  Katy is currently completing pre-requisite course work and will apply for medical school in 2015.

Photo: Lifetime/Scott Gries Copyright 2014

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the excellent review.

    Whether made for TV or not, I enjoy getting a peek at cultures that are otherwise inaccessible via semi-reality TV (Amish, Gypsies, now Nuns, etc.)

    What I don’t comprehend so far in Becoming Nuns is that any of these 20 something discerners would join a convent where the next youngest member seems to be at least 40 years old.

    It seems to me that the best way for a convent to attract 20 somethings is to already have a few 20 somethings and at least numerous 30 somethings.

    The Carmelites on the show seem like wonderful and wise women but I would think their community may be in a death spiral because there is such an age gap between the members and the aspirants and the fact that their chosen ministry is caring for the aged.

    • Tom-
      Thanks for stopping by! It is a very interesting about younger women interested religious life today…especially the age gaps of new members. When I joined (24), the next cluster of younger members were mid-forties, a smattering in their early 50s, and then 60+. My experience was that the ages of the sisters weren’t something standing in the way. My energy, call, focus was on the mission, ministry, and community life. I had many friends my age outside of religious life and then got to know other younger sisters who were also “the only youngests” in her community. We all didn’t live in one convent, but we had a great peer group across the country…and when we got together….we certainly prayed and played hard.

      Questions I tend to ask are: Is this the type of ministry I have the skills and desire to do? Is this the type of prayer I need? Do I want to live among my sisters like this particular setting? What is the mission…does it fit me? If those big things are a fit…chances are you are not calculating the median age.

      I don’t disregard the fact that pieces of the age gap/aging religious need to be considered; sometimes, it can be frightening. As becoming a woman religious requires a commitment to live counter-culturally today, I think women who are entering need to also be willing to see how it evolves and commit to carrying it forward. The only death spiral is if people can’t adapt or see a future that may look differently than today.

  2. Hi Katy,
    Thanks again for watching and writing about the show. It’s so great the discussions that are being held!! I do want to take a minute and speak to a few of the points you have here.

    The Sisterhood
    The word “Sisterhood,” to me, illicits a feeling of community. It’s a name (not officially of course) for the new family formed when someone enters the religious life. It’s just a fun way to demonstrate this special life you have chosen. As you may already expect, I don’t see the harm in having fun with this whole concept. I think Jesus is a funny guy and appreciates a little levity and humor in life.

    Bride of Christ
    This isn’t really a new thing; We, the Church, are the Bride of Christ and it’s actually in the Catechism that nuns are, likewise, considered the Bride of Christ.

    923 “Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.”464 By this solemn rite (Consecratio Virginum), the virgin is “constituted… a sacred person, a transcendent sign of the Church’s love for Christ, and an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ and of the life to come.”465 (1537, 1672)

    God uses this imagery of spousal love, of a marriage, to help us understand just how close and intimate He wants our relationship to be with Him. We got to discuss this (and a few other points) in an interview for Access Hollywood Live you can watch here. (It’s split into two segments)

    http://www.accesshollywood.com/sisterhood-what-drew-the-cast-to-the-church_video_2493337

    http://www.accesshollywood.com/the-sisterhood-is-there-drama-in-the-convent_video_2493237

    Discernment on TV
    First, I love your sentence! “This televised discernment seems like, “We’re cruising and … whoops, hit a pot hole! … cruising again! …. rain!…off we go! … tree!”” I mean that’s just good writing! I also think it’s true to life and discernment, at least for me. Sometimes we’re in consolation and things are easy and we are “cruising”. Then life gets hard, maybe we’re in a weird/new situation, maybe desolation…Things are good, then they’re not, then they are again. That’s just life.

    I think that we each understood religious life based on our unique experiences with it. Part of why we came is to learn more…get the real picture by experiencing a small taste of it. Granted, it’s kind of discernment on hyper-speed, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I think what we did should be an option for everyone – not necessarily with cameras in tow, but getting in and living the life for a week or two…that’s just cool.

    The Carmelites…and a bit about being sneaky 😉
    What you didn’t see on TV is about 119 hours of footage and just over 200 more hours that weren’t caught on camera. The Carmelites actually sat us down, classroom style, and gave us a presentation on their order and tons of materials to review about their charism and apostolate. We got to go deep with them as a group and individually and talk to them about their journeys – including stories of some late night rendezvous during their own novitiate for sandwiches (when they were supposed to be in Sacred Silence) – those sneaky, deceptive women! Haha! I say this in jest of course. The point is, we had a lot of time to get to know the sisters and their order and they showed us that it’s okay to be a little silly at times and have fun with each other. If you have never listened to The Entertaining Truth on The Catholic Channel on Sirius, you should! It’s okay to laugh at life as Catholics, and laugh at ourselves. Christ fills us with joy so that we can share it.

    The Interviews
    We signed up to share our journey with each other, with the sisters, and with (hopefully) a few million viewers. Whether people admit it or not, we all have opinions about what is going on in our immediate world. After a conversation or argument, we all have thoughts about what we said, what they said and what that means going forward. Part of this process was sharing that with the cameras so that people watching know what we’re thinking, what’s motivating us – think of it like your good friend. If she or he had a tough conversation at work, they might call you and tell you about it. They would tell you what they said and what other people said. You would then make observations about the situation based on that story and you would sort it out together. That’s what the interviews are: Us sharing with you and trusting you with our good and bad days. None of us girls ever tried to be malicious towards one another; we tried to grow together as much as we could. We all shared with each other what we said in those interviews (off camera) and talked through our differences. We asked each other questions about things we each struggled with and we were able to grow from our interactions. It wasn’t all about “me” or all about “girl drama”, it was all about us, on this journey together, trying to help each other get to the truth of our individual journeys.

    In Summation
    That went on waaay longer than I anticipated, but what can ya do? Haha! I am always open to questions and happy to give a little more context. I am very passionate about my faith and love sharing it.

    Thank you again for being so sincere in reviewing the show! It’s great to see people really caring and invested in this ministry!! I continue to pray, and I hope you’ll pray with me, for everyone involved in producing and promoting The Sisterhood, and for all those watching. God is working in this!!

    • Christie! Thank you so much for your thoughtful ideas and contributions; I’m glad it “went on as long as it did”! The best part about being a columnist/blogger is when I can get some conversation going.

      I have posed some questions along with some more of my perspective to invite more dialogue; perhaps other viewers are wondering what happens “off camera” too.

      What other ways did you play in the convent? Do the Carmelites have any playful traditions? How did you talk about the ‘twerking’ night with the sisters?

      I need levity and humor in my life! One of the best parts of religious life for me was living in JOY, with JOY, and around JOY! We would also talk about “Working/Playing/Praying Hard”—it was true. I am an improvisational comedienne—started classes when I was a novice; my nuns would take up the first three rows at my shows. (And be 40 minutes early!) I love listening to my nuns’ stories of their antics as young sisters. I’m glad that you got to experience the fun parts of convent life (and that those wonderful Carmelites were playful)! (By the way…my community has an “ice cream” shrine too…maybe we should have a national “ice cream shrine” taste test!) For me, if joy isn’t a part of the picture, neither am I.

      How did the Carmelites walk with you Ladies? What kinds of questions did they ask you to think about? How did you experience ‘fit’ (or unfit)?

      Understand, as viewers we observe you doing more cleaning than playing, more crying than laughing, and navigating a journey with little or no information about a congregation. I am so glad to hear that the Carms gave you a crash course in who they are and what they stand for. There are so many “flavors” of religious life (like partners with whom you may date); finding the “right one” is important. I really wish that were highlighted more in the show. Those of us who have gone through the process cringe a little bit seeing talented young women try to make life decisions with little information and/or self awareness to make a match. I’m also disappointed for the viewers that may be “nudged” watching the show and not understanding that the who/what/why/where/when/hows are a crucial part of discernment.

      How did the Carmelites you stayed with talk about this? Is being a “Bride of Christ” part of their tradition and current spirituality? How is it reflected in their charism?

      “Bride of Christ” imagery is not a part of my spirituality or call to religious life. I believe what you have quoted is referring to becoming a “Consecrated Virgin”. Catechetically, the call to consecrated life as a brother/sister are rooted in similar contexts in history, vows, and as a part of the laity of the church. I also find it interesting that “Brides of Christ” imagery is put onto women religious and not men religious. Consecrated Life was looked at and revised following Vatican II as it had called for vowed religious to “go back to their roots”; for many congregations it was an opportunity to reassess how living the charism of their founders could be best expressed today. People were reminded that baptism calls all of us to a vocation; could be a priest, brother, sister, married, or single life. The sacraments of matrimony, holy orders, or part of the laity as a vowed religious have very different meanings with very different calls. Being “married” to Jesus doesn’t fit for me; I am not called to be married or to be a priest. The vows are about how one loves and is in relationship with others. Jesus is in relationship with everyone, not in a special relationship with one other person.
      I get that we only see 40 minutes of weeks of film roll; I can only review what I see. I bring a unique perspective having had been in your shoes discerning and then becoming a nun and the “10-years-later” me. (Translation: there are so many people who are smiling and saying, “I told you so!”)

      Yay! Loving this! Thanks, Christie! Can’t wait to continue the conversation!

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful commentary. I was a member of a community for several years (80’s and 90’s) and was likewise apprehensive about how such a sacred and lengthy process would be portrayed in the “drama every minute” medium of “reality TV”. I’m looking forward to your ongoing reviews.

    • Annie!
      Great to have you on board. I hope you continue to leave comments too…I like the dialog back and forth. It’s always good to have a conversation.

Comments are closed.