Thursday, April 1, 2010

"A Nun's Story", Religion, and Reality

I noted in my personal blog that the family watched "A Nun's Story" (1959) tonight. I hadn't seen it before, and thought they did a good job (apart from a few really minor goofs).

A user review on the IMDB page about "A Nun's Story" caught my eye:
"...To think that I only viewed this movie out of desperation is embarrassing! The inner-struggle that Sr. Luke (Audrey Hepburn)undergoes from postulant to nun is incredibly human, not strictly religious. I thought, given the movie's topic, that I would be bored and lost, yet found myself completely in touch with the reality of her life...."
I don't know what the cultural background and beliefs of the person who wrote that are: and I'm very glad that this individual was so positively impressed with the movie.

The reason I'm bringing it up is the opportunity that these words give me: "...incredibly human, not strictly religious. I thought, given the movie's topic, that I would be bored and lost...."

I think there's a tendency, in America at least, to assume that "real life" is the vibrant, interesting, occasionally exciting sort of thing we do every day: and that our "religious life" is something static, dull, and interesting to at most a few really odd people.

Some of the conventional representations of spirituality sure give that impression - although I can't say that it's a fault of, say, groups like the southern Baptists.

I'm getting off-topic.

What "A Nun's Story" does is show - quite dramatically - what it's like to be a nun. Specifically, it would seem, a nun in an order that's geared mostly for a contemplative life. Audrey Hepburn's character would, I think, have been better suited to an order which operated more along the lines of Mother Teresa of Calcutta's outfit.

They weren't around in the 1930s, of course.

I suppose it can be a surprise, even a shock, to learn that nuns are real people: with the pretty much same basic physical and psychological equipment as everyone else. Or that a movie about people with solid religious beliefs - who don't ditch them at the first opportunity - can be interesting.

If I'm being unfair to the person who wrote that excellent review, I'm sorry. Like I said, I have no idea what that individual's beliefs are: and used the review only as a starting point for an observation about a not-uncommon assumption.

Saints are real people, too, by the way. But I've written about that before. Recently, too.

Related post:


Sr. Hildegard said...

Yes, indeed, congregations like Mother Teresa's were not around in the 1930s. Few realize that Sr. Luke's (Audrey Hepburn) congregation was not contemplative or what was the called cloistered. It was an active congregation with a mission of service. But, as in the case of many active congregations that emerged in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the Church required that they abide by contemplative monastic forms and schedules in almost every aspect of life except the rules of enclosure. This conbination was always extremely taxing, unrealistic and caused both aspects of the life to suffer. In this system, if one were devoted to the monastic routine totally the mission suffered and if one were inclined to be very devoted to the mission (Sr. Luke) then the monastic side suffered. For those of us who were familiar with the work of women's apostolic congregations during and before the 1960s, these were the conditions under which the sisters we knew were trying to follow their vocations.

Fortunately, with changes in understanding of apostolic religious life and its theology of service and compassion wrought by the Second Vatican Council, this unrealistic dualism was corrected. Today Sr. Luke would be a much happier sister, knowing that by her life of service to humankind she was fully committed to the love of Jesus Christ.

Sr. Hildegard Magdalen Pleva, OSsR
Redemptoristine Nuns of New York

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Sr. Hildegard,

Thank you for the historical background.

I'm strongly inclined to think that Sr. Luke would have, as you said, "be a much happier sister," in an order whose leaders had read and understood the documents of Vatican II.

What didn't happen in the movie surprised me a little. This is strictly hearsay, but I've heard of instances where someone made the decision to enter religious life, found the order's rules a poor match to his or her personal nature: and was counseled to 'drop out' - and repeat the process in another order.

One reasons that I converted to Catholicism is that we do not insist that everybody have the same personality and interests.

Which is another topic.

Thanks again for your insights.

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