Not a new word, but a word with a whole new embodiment of meaning. “The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance. Our data shows that, along with a 45% rise in the number of times it has been looked up on oxforddictionaries.com, over the last year the word toxic has been used in an array of contexts, both in its literal and more metaphorical senses.”
Among the top collocates to toxic in 2018 … toxic masculinity, toxic relationship, toxic culture. As I said in a recent interview, “We all know that toxicity is not good for us.” And yet it spreads, oozing out and choking our happiness like the fog of a group of looming dementors.
But we have a choice my friends. We can be kind, in our relationships, our words, our interactions, our ways of living. Every moment presents a choice. Let’s choose to be kind! Our very democracy and social fabric may depend upon our choices.
Sounds simple, but sometimes the most answers to the most complicated problems are the kind ones.
Last month I finished the work on my 122 page thesis for my Masters of Arts of Theology at Catholic Theological Union. The title of my thesis is “Human Trafficking as Social Sin: An Ethic of Resistance.” It was a wonderful opportunity to apply what I had learned in my studies of theological ethics to one of the most important issues of our time. I was also able to draw upon my ministry experiences with survivors of human trafficking and in human trafficking education and advocacy.
Resistance might not be the word that comes to mind in response to human trafficking. Most often people speak of “combatting” or “fighting” human trafficking, particularly when it is approached as a crime. But when we consider human trafficking as social sin, one in which ordinary persons are complicit and connected, even if inadvertently, then resistance emerges as an appropriate moral response.
She was a prolific writer in her time and used the power of the written word astutely to spread the Gospel, challenge unjust structures, and advocate for people who were poor. She wrote letters, letters to the editor, and many, many books. By 1870, more than 200,000 copies of her works (most published under the names M.F. Cusack or Mary Francis Cusack) had circulated throughout the world. Profits from the sale of her books were used for the Sisters’ work with the poor.
In one of her autobiographies, she tells the story of her audience with Pope Leo XIII, when she was seeking approval for our new congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
“My audience was entirely private … Mgr. Macchi brought in the whole set of my books to his holiness, who looked at them, I think somewhat surprised at the number. Some of them were duplicated, having been translated into German, French, and Italian. … His holiness specially commended the plan of my new order, and encouraged me in every way to continue writing. He gave his blessing to all the sisters present and to come, and to all those who would contribute to my work.”
Our original 1884 Constitutions, written by Mother Francis Clare, described our mission as being “to promote the peace of the Church both by word and work. The very name Sisters of Peace will, it is hoped, inspire the desire of peace and a love for it.” Word and work. I love that!
I can’t help but think that if she lived in today’s era of social networking, Mother Francis Clare would be tweeting for peace, spreading the good news of the Gospel and be on the forefront of the new evangelization. When our new community Twitter account (@SistersofPeace) went live earlier this year , I imagined her smiling in heaven at this new endeavor by her daughters in the 21st Century.
As someone who has been growing into her own identity as both a Catholic Sister and a writer, I find great inspiration in Mother Francis Clare. This month marks ten years that I’ve been blogging my journey into religious life and experience as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace, first at Musings of a Discerning Woman and now here. It’s also why I jumped at the opportunity to be a regular columnist on the Global Sisters Report. I am very grateful for the gift of writing, and I feel called to share that gift in the hopes that my words can touch hearts and minds in service of the Gospel.
I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit can work through any medium, even the Internet! Actually, I first discovered my religious community online when I was discerning religious life. That’s also why I’ve decided to join a group of younger Catholic Sisters in live tweeting during episodes of Lifetime’s new “reality” show The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns. It’s actually been a fun experience, offering some of my own experience and “#realnun facts” as I watch the show. (You can join the conversation at #TheSisterhood.)
A younger Catholic Sister friend alerted me today that the folks over at the Huffington Post have noticed our live tweeting of the show.
“Social media savvy sisters have been doggedly following — and even live-tweeting — the show. They’ve been paying close attention to any potential misrepresentations, while remaining excited that the topic of religious vocation is getting national attention.”
I appreciated that description, because I think it aptly describes the spirit we’ve tried to embody as we’ve been live tweeting the show. Again, the Holy Spirit can work with anything! Even reality TV and Twitter!
It’s a far cry from Mother Francis Clare’s in person discussion of her writings with Pope Leo XIII, often considered the founder of Catholic Social Teaching. But nonetheless, I feel it is important to be part of the discussion where people are.
And, ok, I’ll admit it …. it’s kind of cool that the Huffington Post article includes a screen shot of one of my live tweets from last week’s show!
In the end, I have to think that Mother Francis Clare would use the media of the day to communicate for mission. Would she be on twitter, blogging, and on instagram? I have to think the answer would be yes!
By the way, be sure to check twitter when #callthemidwife returns to PBS …. a group of us have been live tweeting that as well!
Ok, I’ll admit it … on more than one occasion during the early stages of my religious formation I found myself thinking, this would make for good reality tv. I was living in the alternate reality of a formation house with two other novices, my novice director and a professed sister. We’d all left the lives we were living to form a community together. In the midst of our formation classes and opportunities for ministry, prayer, and discernment, we also had to negotiate the kitchen, sharing common space, and simply learning how to be together. That line from MTV’s Real World would periodically go through my head: “This is the true story of five strangers picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” Thankfully, there were NO cameras (although I did of course blog the experience myself).
Reality tv is all about “drama” (in quotations because really, how much of reality tv is actually real?) and if anything is dramatic, discerning a major life choice like joining a religious community and professing the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to God for life is certainly dramatic. Then there’s just the daily drama of transition, change, and gradual incorporation into religious life. Add in cultural dynamics, generation gaps, and the fact that you’re talking about actual human beings who have a tendency to be human and, well, there were moments that might make for entertaining television.
So, it’s not really a surprise that someone else not only thought about the idea but managed to bring some version of it to television. Despite the subtitle, as far as I understand, Lifetime’s The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns, which premieres tonight, is not actually about women in religious formation as Sisters. Instead, it follows a group of twenty-something young women who might possibly be interested in religious life as they visit three convents to meet the Sisters and learn more about what it would be like to be a Sister. I suppose it’s more like a prospective student’s college tour where you stay on campus, eat in the dining hall, and go to class. Except that there are cameras and it is scripted into hour long episodes to be broadcast on national television.
My Catholic social media feeds are all abuzz about the show. Some are concerned that it only shows religious communities who wear a habit rather than those like mine who wear simple dress (as it happens, I do know that the producers reached out to a wide variety of communities so I don’t think it’s necessarily an intentional bias, but more a question of who agreed to take the risk of participating in a reality tv show). Others are concerned about the possibility of reinforcing stereotypes about nuns as being strict, austere, and living a life of sacrifice and “giving up” rather than a life of joy, love and service (much of the buzz I’ve seen so far keeps referencing scenes where the young women are told they cannot wear make up or use cell phones during their visit). And others seem to be hopeful, noting that if even one young woman who might have a vocation gives religious life some thought because of the show, then it would be a good thing. These all seem to be valid points to me.
My main caution is that even though the young women are not in formation, they are at least considering walking a very sacred and personal journey of transformation and a major life choice (unless they are actually just actresses but even then, the Holy Spirit can be sneaky so you never know). Having blogged my own way through formation, I know first hand that it is complicated and not so easy to share the call you feel in your heart or the movements of the Spirit. Then add in to the mix a third party producer who is most interested in ratings and advertising revenue, and I think you can understand my cautionary concern. Plus the producers are best known for Breaking Amish which brings a whole lot of different concerns that I will leave to your imagination.
I’ve not watched the show. I’m not sure I will watch the show, although I’m realizing I probably should, if only to see what images are being projected into popular culture about religious life. I do know that a number of younger Catholic Sister friends are planning to live tweet using the hashtags #thesisterhood and #nuntv. If I end up watching it, I might be live tweeting it myself.