On this week’s The Sisterhood on Lifetime, the girls are off to their next discernment adventure! I’m sure those fifteen days with the Carmelites flew by. I’m torn on this point; I’m glad they are visiting 3 different congregations (not thrilled that the 3 chosen aren’t reflective of the ‘spectrum’ of congregational flavors), and in an already abbreviated period of exploration, they get 15 days to choose a community? I’m crossing my fingers that the intent is “exposure” and exploring — “would I like to continue discerning religious life” in general —not a specific congregation.
It was nice to see some levity and a teeny, tiny glimpse of the sisters at home and more importantly, the relationship aspect that is crucial to community life. The sisters singing their blessing song to the women as they were leaving warmed my heart and made me miss my nuns. Blessing songs in religious communities—sung at the high points (i.e. after just having professed vows) and the low points (funerals). That was an awesome moment for me as a viewer; I hope it was for the women too. And with that…buck up! You’re goin’ to Chicago! (I laughed out loud as I sit here in Chicago at the comment that Chicago is scarier than the Bronx.) Finally, how can you not love Mother Mark here…trying to let the chicks out of the pen and stay very serious? Carmelite goodbye–+2
We arrived in Chicago and Sr. Beth Ann, the vocation director — as Stacey describes, “a very tall person with a commanding presence” — is waiting for the girls at O’Hare. Sisters walking with women on this crazy journey need to be able to connect with women and understand how to deal with the vulnerabilities of each. This discernment? It’s vulnerable, no way around it (trust me, I pretty much exhausted every way to avoid it). We saw a tender moment between Sr. Maria Therese and Eseni in the first episode. Eseni recalled that in her anxiety of moving on to a new group of people, “Sr. Maria Therese understood me.” She was approachable and could allow for Eseni’s vulnerability (I pray that the off-camera conversation dealt with resources to help Eseni work through some of the stuff needing to be worked through before entering a community).
Immediately, Sr. Beth Ann set a new tone of interaction with the women. I have a love/hate (well, not hate…) relationship with Sr. Beth Ann in the role of vocation minister after this hour. The best parts of Sr. Beth Ann: We learned something about the community! What?! She gave the women some history and ministry exposure. Talked about mission and lifestyle of this community. Yes! Woot! You go girl! She talks about her own vocation story! She talks about her experiences pre-convent and during convent. I love, love, love that she acknowledges that discernment requires time and space to be with God. She clearly makes efforts toward connecting with the women, and she’s funny and outgoing. Even her saying, “You don’t need to call Jesus…” regarding taking the cell phones didn’t annoy me; she genuinely wants the women to have quiet, discernment time. But she also saw a need in Francesca and “broke” the cellphone rule when it was necessary. Sr. Beth Ann was able to respond appropriately to Francesca as well as having an appropriate insight into Francesca’s place on the journey. She acknowledges that Francesca is immature and not ready to make a commitment (duh…she’s 23) and also doesn’t dismiss her from the road. Sr. Beth Ann—insightful, community ambassador: +2
Her comments about Eseni in the interviews, however, were not appropriate. Had she even talked to Eseni? Did she express her concern to Eseni that she was crying when she was picked up? This is a good example of not making a connection, when Eseni felt more comfortable talking to the production crew over Sr. Beth Ann. THEN the proverbial other shoe dropped. I cannot believe she sent Eseni and Claire off and intentionally pulled Stacey and Francesca aside TO TALK ABOUT ESENI? What? Did that just happen? I can’t even blame the production edits — look at the non-verbals from Stacey and Christie when she asked them! What an awful position to be put in, not to mention giving these women indication that where Eseni is in her journey is wrong. This is such an unethical breach in so many ways. I am mortified that she is manipulating her position and time with these women. (By the way, I’m fairly certain that the Carmelites may have used their cell phones to call Chicago and let them know a few things.)
And it didn’t end there. Nope! She then goes on to tell them that Eseni may not be able to be on this journey because she “can’t walk the walk.” “If her head isn’t with us, then she’s not for this life?” You’ve never had a bad day, Sister? Are you another clairvoyant, God-whispering nun who knows exactly what’s in someone else’s heart? I hoped and prayed that I would be the only victim of that. And I have an idea! How about you talk to Eseni about Darnell? Christie—nice job in your interview reminding us that you are searching not deciding. Major unethical breach: -4
Sisters in leadership, listen up! Choose your vocation minister with care. This is the most important internal ministry role (yes, even more than yours). You can’t stick a sister who is ‘available’ into this ministry. Your vocation minister will not only be helping to grow your future, but she is walking with women on the weirdest journey of her life. They are not supposed to be vulture-recruiters, looking for more numbers for the community (I am not making this up). If the vocation minster is good, a woman may not choose religious life — or maybe will choose a different community! If your vocation director is helping women know themselves so they can be the best person they can be, then you are reflecting community values and you are reflecting God’s face of the community. Your vocation minister is also the gatekeeper to protect the community. A good vocation director is an extremely good listener (even when someone isn’t speaking), will meet the woman wherever she’s at, push her a little (but not too much) and be able to connect and relate to women you’re inviting in. This is not superficial; if the sister is not approachable, the connection is not going to happen. Remember it’s the woman’s journey — not yours — and be patient, very, very, patient. Really. Patient. (Lecture to leadership…priceless)
Sr. Beth Ann told the women what Mother Theresa had said to her as a “young sister” about letting Jesus know your heart; that hit Christie hard and deep. Christie, we have something else in common! My vocation minister (major sainthood points earned) viewed her role as an opportunity to “walk with women as they discern their hearts.” She walked with me when I was half in the convent and half in a relationship with a boyfriend (truth!), out of convent, engaged and then back to convent (also truth!). I didn’t do vulnerable very well back then, so I communicated my heart through ice cream. Luckily, my VM spoke ‘ice cream” and said to me (in English), “You just need to find where you’re at home. You’ll know when you listen to your heart feel at home.” Blam! Sr. Beth Ann saying something that reminded me of my VM…+.5
Finally — Ms. Claire. I am so wonderfully proud and pleased to see you in ministry with the homeless this week! You embraced the uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and modeled for your peers how to be the face of love to the people. Nicely done! I was cheering you on every step of the way! I’m so happy that we got to see that side of you; your edits err on the side of negativity. That’s unjust and only tells us one part of your whole story. Claire awesomeness +2.
Ladies, you took risks this week. You were all out of your cushy, comfort zones. You were challenged. Welcome to religious life! I was impressed at the insightful and direct questions that you asked Sr. Beth Ann—some that were bold…good for you! Model Discerners +1
Another week in the convent has come and gone. I’ll be interested to see what makes of Darnell’s visit and Sr. Beth Ann’s opinion of Eseni. Never a dull moment in religious life! See you next week.
Final Score: +2.5
Making it: Claire! Yes!
Faking it: Sr. Beth Ann
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