December 30, 2014


Reality TV about five young women discerning their vocation at three different convents? How could this be the proper vehicle? Won't the cameras interfere with or even hamstring this very personal and intimate process? Will it "work"? When I heard that such an animal was coming down the pike, I had great apprehension, even when assured that it would be "respectful," and that one of the producers is Catholic and loves nuns. This producer was taught by nuns and wanted to show the world how awesome nuns are. (Thanks!)


Let me give my verdict up front. "Sisterhood" is wonderful. Even though it would seem--as a Daughter of St. Paul: media nuns!--I would jump at a chance to participate in such a project, I'm glad that we did not. But in the same breath, I'm very glad "Sisterhood" was made. I think as Daughters of St. Paul we are TOO media savvy to let the dynamic play out. It almost took congregations with a certain media naivete--as well as a trustworthy production company--to pull this off and capture the total experience, setbacks, breakthroughs, spontaneity, honest emotions, revelations, etc. (We Daughters of St. Paul are "The Nuns Who Knew Too Much.")

Being savvy media nuns, our postulants took full advantage of tweet-watching with the hashtag #RealPostulants and even hosted online Q & A sessions before viewings!

Some of our media-savvy #RealPostulants and young Sisters in formation.


I have come to see "The Sisterhood" as an exciting new experiment with a generation totally, totally at ease in front of and behind a camera. For better or for worse, they are so used to externalizing every thought and movement of their souls, and publicly chronicling every aspect of their lives. Why NOT bring radical faith into the frame? A few times one of the young women and/or a nun demands the cameras be turned off, which shows an understanding that not EVERYTHING in a person's life should be seen/heard by the world.


The lovely young women are all in their 20's: Eseni (NYC), Christie (California), Stacey (Virginia), Francesca (New Jersey), Claire (Illinois). They visit three congregations: Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm (NY), Daughters of St. Mary of Providence (Chicago), Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker (Kentucky). It becomes clear early on that these solid, wise, true-blue nuns are the stars of the show! One young woman watching the show tweeted: "It has become apparent to me that I need a team of nuns advising my life!"


The production company, Hot Snakes ("Breaking Amish"), are masters, MASTERS of reality TV. The snippets, the bumpers, the interviews, the poignant moments are incredibly intriguing. They have a great way of making something look (through sly editing) that something is going one way, when it's not. Great reveals. We learn more and more about the young women each week. You will be hooked. But at first I was so afraid they would trump up the drama to make "discerning"--essentially a very interior thing--worth watching. The first episode is a bit that way, sometimes even feeling set up, or with "repeated" conversations for the sake of the camera. It even looks like the convent is a very scary, militaristic place! (Think "American Horror Story.") My Sisters and I--and our younger Sisters in formation--were very concerned: "This show is going to make young women AFRAID to discern!" We agreed, for example, that we would never traumatize a young woman with acne by insisting she can't wear make-up while she stays at the convent--and let her have a meltdown on camera over it. But, guess what? She got over it, with the support of the other young women!


The biggest drawbacks to this media format and what is being shown?

1. The production company vetted the young women and the nuns. They knew nothing about each other, and the girls had no idea what "the rules" would be or even what States the convents were in (so the raw initial reactions could be seized). At first it was a little misleading because of the subtitle: "BECOMING NUNS." What is really going on in "The Sisterhood" is a prolonged live-in (not just quick visit) "nun run"--with some young women who had barely begun discernment. In real life, this kind of intense live-in experience would be one of the last stages of discernment.

2. The nuns and the girls "talked about" each other in private interviews, sharing negative details and impressions. My understanding of the virtue of charity would prevent this, even if, in the end, everyone would see what everyone said and be OK with it. Even if, in the end it was "real" and "helpful."

3. The attitude toward cell phones. On our discernment get-togethers and retreats, we do not confiscate cell phones. We only strongly encourage certain modes of use at certain times. (NOW my "media nun-ness" is coming out!) The confiscating of cell phones at each convent was a real bone of contention for the young women. Two of the young women were very attached to their phones--mostly because of WHO they called: a mother and a boyfriend. It's true that (not just) our young people are rather addicted to phones/media devices today. However, if we just go whole hog with swearing off media use cold turkey and don't teach them, model for them how to use media well, they are left without media skills, self-discipline, and get the message that the Church is opposed to media. Yes, we need to learn how to unplug (and love unplugging as much as we love being connected) for many reasons, at many times, but the Church should be a leader (and nuns are female leaders in the Church) regarding optimum use of the latest media technology!

When cell phones first came out, people were so amused that we nuns (Daughters of St. Paul) had them in our pockets. I used to explain: "Well, we're media nuns." But I quickly decided that ALL nuns (except cloistered nuns BUT SEE COMMENT SECTION!), and priests, and religious people should have cell phones! If this is where people are at, where the culture is at, are we going to stand back and NOT engage in people's experience, NOT be a part of the conversation? NOT share the travails of modern life? NOT be digital missionaries? Rubbish!


--snapshot of the faith of our young women today (the Millennials' faith and lack of it are much studied, and it's not a hopeful picture--but there's always another story, there are always individuals giving the lie to statistics)
--could help a young woman and her family in her discernment
--discerning the religious life is alive and well (close to 500,000 young married Catholic men and women in the USA have discerned religious life or priesthood)
--religious life is alive and well--smaller numbers, but alive and well
--get to know nuns
--get to know THESE particular nuns and listen to their wisdom
--get to know these amazing congregations
--see how closely related marriage to a guy is to marriage to The Guy. The nuns and girls really, really get this. I love how Darnell, "the boyfriend," says: "You want God? I have God in my life, too."

There are so many other details I would like to break down and assess, but I can't be a SPOILER! Are concrete decisions made by the end. YES.

a young woman in discernment for the Sisterhood
must defend her virginity to other young women in discernment

One disturbing detail was the existing/persisting attitude of some of the young women toward chastity and pre-marital sex. The girls themselves reveal that two of them are virgins, at which two of the other girls were truly shocked, but not only shocked: completely uncomprehending! They expected virginity of one already nun-like girl--although they challenge her never having dated--but they are shocked by the virginity of the more "normal" girl! The attitude was: "But if you DON'T have sex with a guy you like, you will lose him and he might have been 'the one' you will marry." WOW. WOW. WOW. I know this is a completely common viewpoint/practice today, but it was just so taken-for-granted, so ingrained in these otherwise deeply faith-filled, faithful young women.

These young women don't even see how sex is profoundly related to their relationship with themselves, with God. Their attitude toward men is: "Of course you HAVE to give it to them. That's just the way the world is." This is not gender equality. These are NOT "liberated" young women in any sense of the word! Not in a feminist way,* not in a Christian way. They don't realize how their philosophy undermines their whole feminine self. And undermines the masculine self of every man they date, even if one of them becomes their husband.

It's one thing to say/believe: I don't always live chastity perfectly, but I try. It's another thing to say/believe: sex before marriage is no big deal. You have to/should do it, and virginity has no value. Any such cavalier attitude toward sex means: "The body doesn't matter. My body doesn't matter. I don't matter." I firmly believe this is one of the root-causes of widespread low self-esteem among women. Other women turn this "I don't matter" into a kind of ambitious, hardened drive toward acquiring.

The "normal" girl in question was shocked at their being shocked. She summed up her own ethos perfectly: "But why should I NOT be who I am for someone who is supposed to LOVE who I am and get to know me as I am?"

Such a crying, crying need for Theology of the Body. These young women--like our culture--has so much going for it, and yet is being eaten up alive from the inside out with a completely destructive understanding and praxis regarding sexuality: the place where we give and receive love and life with our whole person at the deepest level. And yet: "it's just sex"???

Check out this following news article that is similarly troubling on so many levels. Just like the Church's mishandling of the clergy sex abuse crisis, the Church's failure to teach and adhere to her beautiful vision of human sexuality has resulted in messes like this incident below. And the messes are getting bigger and more complex and far-reaching by the day. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. A precedent. A legal precedent. Expect many more such scenarios to follow:

"The Sisterhood" is available for purchase at and on YouTube. Not available for download in Canada unless you have a VPN.

*None of the young women said: "I like having sex. I want him to show me how much he loves me by having sex." It was just a huge cave-in: This is what guys expect and we have to give it to them.

December 23, 2014


Prayer is a lifelong conversation with God!

"When you pass by a church, always stop and make a visit,
So when you die and go to Jesus, He won't say: who is it?"

December 13, 2014


"Exodus"--the story of Moses--proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that atheists make the best Bible movies (see my review of "Noah": I don't know that atheists necessarily make the best contemporary movies about faith or people of faith, but they certainly do the oldies well. Perhaps this is in part because they mine an amazing text/source that believers might take at face value and/or are afraid to delve to deeply into. Also, atheists are hungrier than us spoiled, slothful believers who take everything for granted. Simply having faith doesn't mean we have mastered the human depths of a Bible figure's journey. That's pretty much open to anyone. To do a Bible story well, an atheist filmmaker must suspend their OWN disbelief and ask "what if"? I think Ridley Scott has done that here.


Does Christian Bale pull it off as Moses? Oh yeah. At first, I disliked his trim little facial hair and cropped-but-artfully-tousled hair that didn't look like it fit the era, but it leaves him room for growth and aging. Ramses is played by the unearthly, superlative, uber-uber Joel Edgerton. Edgerton plays Ramses (backstory: unaffirmed by his father) with complexity: a royal that is weak, sniveling, and yet utterly ruthless and driven at the same time. (He reminded me a bit of the dauphin in "Joan of Arc" with Ingrid Bergman.)

Bale is Welsh and Edgerton is Australian, and it just shows. Americans are too American and the British are too British. I'm really digging these other-accented male actors (include New Zealanders) for the Big Roles (although Brooklyn-born John Turturro as Seti, Ramses' father, made me forget all his other, often humorous, deeply American roles).


In general, this is a well-made film, part of a new generation of Bible films. I am thrilled that our visually-oriented youth are being treated to these nouveau masterpieces. Most young people have not seen any of the older Bible films or lives of Christ. The special effects are phenomenal--nothing new that we haven't seen in recent years, but it's still awesome to see it applied to Bible stories--and it does pay to see "Exodus" in 3D. The dialogue is rather minimal--and once in a brief while unintentionally laughably simplistic or expository--but the great Ridley Scott mesmerizingly pulls us through visual sequence after visual sequence of battles and plagues. I'm not usually one for epic films with wars and lots of noise and action, but Scott is a genius and is really moving the story ahead through the action-reactions of characters to these grandiose, sweeping events.

There are a few scenes that could have been re-shot. The actors looked like they were trying to remember lines, weren't sure how to play the scene, or it just wasn't their best take. Dude. Just reshoot.

But these are my only complaints. It's a great film.


Although the Bible is an "ancient" text about ancient times and peoples, human nature doesn't change, and so "Exodus" has a contemporary feel. I could totally relate to Moses as he struggled to relate to God. I loved seeing this incredible, incredible man of God questioning, fighting with and arguing with God. Remember, Moses saw God. He did so many epic things like, oh, leading the Hebrew people to freedom after four hundred years of slavery, parting the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, etc., etc. But I love how the film starts him off as a skeptical, practical man with no faith.


The film has ample room for God as a huge player, a huge character. In fact, God makes it abundantly clear that mostly, once Moses has obeyed (a very creative, two-way-street type of obedience), God will DO everything. In a colossal way. There are no other explanations for why the cataclysms visit the mighty Egyptian empire. It reminds me of a quote of Blessed James Alberione: "Always start from a stable, start in Bethlehem, because God wants to show that it is He who is doing everything. Those who begin the works of God with money are naive."

This larger-than-life drama of the Exodus is faithful enough to Scripture (with some poetic license as it should have, but not as rock-and-roll as "Noah"), and  although this event is just so foundational for the Jewish people, it is also our foundation as Christians: as Pope Pius XII said: "Spiritually, we are all Semites." I couldn't help thinking of the Easter Vigil liturgy and Fathers of the Church that rely so heavily on the imagery of the Exodus for celebrating Baptism and the Redemption: freedom, transformation through water, the Passover.

The supposed cruelty, arbitrariness, and unreasonableness of God is also dealt with--and not just that of the Hebrew God, but that of the gods of other peoples in the region. That there IS a diety(ies) is assumed, taken for granted, obvious, almost unquestioned . But just what this God is like is hotly debated: "What kind of God would...?" Do we ask these same questions today with the same seriousness of purpose?


This is a very male movie. Women barely play a part. Sigourney Weaver is miscast as the young pharaoh's mother, Miriam has two small (albeit significant) scenes. Zipporah, Moses' wife, is truly the love of his life, but we see so strongly how faith, leadership, the direction of tribes, nations and history is patriarchal. As I will always maintain, patriarchy--although a system massively open to massive abuse--is not evil, and in a certain sense, God has ordained and used this system throughout salvation history (it's also deeply rooted in simple biology but has nothing whatsoever to do with superiority--just a different task in life than women).

It is up to men and women (with the onus on women) to bring to light and emphasize the unique identity, heroism and essential contribution of women throughout history and salvation history. And we do not have to do this in a strident way, just a firmly insistent, truthful, and complementary way. It is up to us to read the Bible with women's eyes and see all the amazing strong women of God everywhere in the Bible--and imitate them. And yes, much of this revolves around motherhood and the protection of vulnerable human life (um, what could be more noble and important)? Men, too, are called to protect vulnerable life, but they do it in a different way. Moses' mother, his sister and Pharaoh's daughter are directly responsible for saving Moses' life as a baby. Liturgists have often commented what a tragedy it is that the story of the Hebrew midwives in Egypt is not included anywhere in our liturgical readings! They are even named which is always significant in Scripture. (Exodus 1:15-21)

One more word about patriarchy and the absolute need for good men, for good men to lead. When good men lead, women and children flourish. When good men lead, women and children flourish.  Just before the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, a husband and father of two, a very good man (who leads) said this:  "I hope they start the Synod with 'the father.' Because if there is not a good father in the family, he will not do the right thing, and the children won't know right from wrong. He must imitate St. Joseph when it comes to his wife, and their marriage has to be Christ-centered."

I hope that men in particular will feel called to a deeper, truly masculine relationship with God through this film.


I hope audiences will sit back and consider their own wrestling with God, their own prayer life, their own dilemmas and choices alongside those of Moses. Enter into the story with their own story. I received tremendous insight through this film. Many years ago, I was once told by a Jesuit spiritual director that I could "negotiate" with God. "What?!" said I. "What do you think Abraham and Moses did?" he asked me. This conversation changed my life and my relationship with God forever. Of course, the Jews totally understand this as they have continuously and intimately wrangled with God and kept their conversation with Him going for millennia: collectively and individually.

This bargaining with God is not meant to be a venal begging for things or circumstances that we want, but as intercession for the good, for others, to become better people ourselves. Although not all of Moses' life is covered in this film, I was reminded of him so often "standing in the breach" for others.

There's a touching and tender scene regarding the Ten Commandments where it is evident that Moses is still free at every step to agree or disagree with God. And of course, by this time, the fiery Moses had become "by far the meekest man on earth" (Numbers 12:3).


There is much explicit talk about "faith" in this film, but little about love (beyond familial love). Of course, for men, love is often summed up in silent deeds. If a man loves you, he'll mow the lawn and fix your car but not necessarily say: "I love you." Again, think St. Joseph who says exactly nothing in the Bible. I wonder if Scott was toying so much with faith that he forgot about the great love of God for Moses and Moses for God that motivated everything. Or maybe it is just implied. At UCLA, we were taught that in all good screen love stories, "I love you" must be shown in a plethora of different ways whether or not it is ever voiced. The story of God and Moses is nothing if not a love story amongst God, Moses and "his people."


--I need to read WHY Ridley Scott made this film.

--During the film I kept thinking of Ridley's filmmaker brother, Tony, who committed suicide not too long ago. At the end of the film, there is a dedication: "For my brother, Tony."

--My verdict: Bale did Heston proud.

--"Exodus--Gods and Kings" is not violence porn.

--Remember, the Hebrews were promised "a 'prophet' like Moses"--who was Jesus! (Acts 3:22)

--Unlike "Noah," which was the vegetarian Bible film and set animals apart as the "innocents" and almost the apex of Creation--or at least a remembrance of lost innocence--"Exodus" has plenty of animal sacrifice, as well as animals living, working and dying en masse alongside humans. It's a much more realistic view of a postdiluvian "we're all in this together" Creation. And let's remember, it was JESUS who ended animal sacrifice.

--Whenever I see any Old Testament movies, I just heard this drumbeat: wait for it...He's coming...Jesus...Jesus...Jesus.

--LOTS of guyliner. And gal-liner.

--God uses nature, not man to punish the Egyptians.

--Really creative visual storytelling with a challenging genre--communication with the Divine--(besides the easy spectacles). Sumptuous sets. And of course, with CGI, we can do ANYTHING now. Anything. Whatever is inside a person's imagination can be displayed on a gigantic screen.

--"Noah" and "Exodus" really showcase the majesty and magnificence of God, albeit in a kind of raw, brutal way. And it reminded me that GOD REALLY DID THESE THINGS. THESE THINGS REALLY HAPPENED. And then He became a little Infant. NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD.

--The physicality of the landscape, climate, and daily life of the times is impressive.

--A hint of modern psychobabble.

--The film is sometimes like a big, romantic Western. Set in the Middle East.

--Dear Jewish people: If you are not chosen, neither are we.

--"I thought you people were good storytellers."

--"Not one Hebrew child died."

--"Leaders can falter, but these rules [10 Commandments] will guide them in your stead."

--I really wanted to see ALL of Moses' life and more of Aaron and Miriam.

--Fr. Barron's review of Exodus shows what's missing. I still like film & believe u should read Bible 1st so u can mentally fill in:  (I totally agree that we needed to see/hear "Song of Miriam" after the crossing of the Red Sea!)