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Monday, April 27, 2009

"Religious Life in the Movies"

The following is the text from the Archdiocese of Washington blog, written by Msgr. Charles Pope about the above clip:

"This is a clip I posted at Gloria.tv from the 1958 Movie, “The Nun’s Story” starring Audrey Hepburn as a young woman named Gabriel Vandermal who becomes Sr. Luke of a fictional French Women’s Order. The movie, as you shall is stunningly beautiful and the liturgical scenes are carefully done. This movie is available for purchase at Amazon.com and I recommend it to your library. However the following should be noted. The movie presents a rather negative portrait of Religious Life by emphasizing its hardships and demands to the exclusion of its joys and benefits. It more than suggests that many aspects of Religious Life at that time were unreasonable and unnecessarily harsh. Perhaps they were at times. Some older Sisters I’ve talked with tell me that many aspects of this movie are accurate and things were tough in the old days. Still, the movie surely has a strong point of view that could have been more balanced. Further, Sr. Luke makes a decision in the movie that is problematic from the point of view of the vows she made. Nevertheless, with these cautions I strongly recommend the movie. It is beautiful, though controversial in some aspects. I post the clip here in the interest of seeing a brief look at Religious life in the wider culture and in the movies. Enjoy this beautiful video."


fraterNinian said...

This 'French Order' is in reality Belgian! Audrey Hepburn, a Brussels born Belgian (Dutch mother and an English father) played Belgian ex-nun Marie Louise Habets who in this portion of film is in the Dutch-speaking city of Ghent (modern day spelling is now Gent) in the Convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary (founded by Canon Triest 'the Saint Vincent De Paul of Belgium').

French being the preferred language of choice of the upper and middle classes in pre-war Flanders there is always the confusion that French speakers are only ever French themselves, when of course French is also one of the three languages of modern day Belgium.

The rich heritage of Flemish, Nederlands-speaking, Religious - including Blessed Damien de Veuster (the hero of the lepers on Molokai) - was hidden by the often enforced use of French by educationalists of the period. The preference for French was also reinforced in the Belgian Congo where of course, in the film, Sister Luc is stationed.

From TIME magazine (1956) I've pinched what I think is a somewhat positive message of the struggles that ex-Religious endure - Sr Luc says in the film "I'm not leaving the Church—only you, my sisters, and our Holy Rule that I am not strong enough to conform to . . remember this and feel no slight or sorrow."

The Director of the film wished to ring the bells of the Te Deum or Easter Gloria as ex-Sr Luc departed the convent after 17 years, but instead he uses the same single solemn, sober and somewhat chilling single deep toll which he had used at the beginning of the film. The Director, Fred Zinnemann, changed his mind, because this was no longer the film he set out to create, the story was not about Sr Luc’s supposed 'liberation' from the rigid restraint of Catholicism. It tells a far deeper story that I think can be divorced from our modern day, sometimes over exaggerated, prejudice of previous generations’ use of discipline and sense of custom.

After all, I can assure you, the struggles of being a Religious in modern secular Belgium are equally difficult, and made even more so by the lack of similar secure sense of Catholic identity that often accompanies traditional apostolic and contemplative life in, or out, of the convent. I have never found this to be an anti-Catholic film or an anti-Clerical one, but perhaps that is because I do not view it through the eyes of someone who grew up during the period, for me the message is universal and I would actually recommend it as viewing to perhaps strengthen any possible candidate's entry to Religious Life. You can only be promised and expect the Cross, and nothing else. Even today you will find, in all manifestations and in situations unexpected, equally heavy examples of ecstatic joy, docile mediocrity and terrible agonising pain whilst in the service of the Mystical Body of Christ, His Holy Church. Religious are not excused from being subject to terrible weaknesses, infirmities and faults, imposed from the exterior or interior, just because we wish to follow Christ according to a particular and special manifestation of the Christian vocation.

I am 27 years of age and have lived as a Religious in two houses of the same Order, in two different European countries over 5 years now. The radicality of choosing for Religious Life, in every age, makes the controversies within and surrounding The Nun's Story such compelling viewing material.

ps I have not actually seen it again since I entered Religion! There is enough to see in reality to forget the re-runs! ha ha!

Joseph Bolin said...

I haven't seen the movie, but have read the book. Richard Butler gives his analysis of the case in his work "Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery":

"By profession of religious vows a person makes a total dedication of self... The essence of this sacrifice is the vow of obedience by which one offers the gift of his own will, the very core of self.... Sister Luke, in The Nun's Story, never achieves this total dedication. (Further details omitted in order not to spoil the plot.)

I don't whether the movie presents it the same as the book, but if Butler is right in his reading of the case, perhaps her decision is not so problematic.

Jairus said...

I have watched the movie (I have a VCD of it) and I learned a lot about old practices, the cloistered life of the apostolic Sisters (?) and the silence, penance, etc. May things! It's quite long, and these days many are not interested with religous life in the movie (except when they are surprised to see Sr. Luke's hair cut down. They complain why it has no style :D). The congregation is true. Research it at wikipedia: Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.

While this movie is very recommendable, I know of a movie that I would not recommend: it is The Singing Nun, starring Debbie Reynolds. A Nun going to a party? I cannot imagine that. Nuns organzing dance parties? I cannot imagine that. Religious life was not well described in the film. The film was based on Sr. Luc Gabriel (coincidence? Gabrielle was named Sr. Luke) and the true singing nun rejected the film. I think you know what happened to the singing nun.. dominique - nique-nique.

By the way, what were they chanting in the entrance to novitiate?


Joseph Bolin said...

They were chanting the first part of the responsory Regnum mundi:

"Regnum mundi, et omnem ornatum saeculi contempsi propter amorem Domini nostri Jesu Christi."

I have turned down the kingdom of the world and all worldly honors, for the sake of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ.

fraterNinian said...

Dear Jarius,
The Monastic Choir, invoking the Holy Spirit, were chanting "Veni, Creator Spiritus".

You can find the Latin text here, with an English translation:


Jairus said...

Thank you very much. It's been a year since I looked for the song.. It is very beautiful.