Floods of tears; ecstatic, frankly romantic visions of Jesus; low points and high drama — you’re either reading St. Therese’s autobiography “The Story of a Soul” or you’re watching “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns.”
Of course, one of these is a classic work of spirituality by a Doctor of the Church, and the other is a Lifetime reality show (premiering Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT), but they’re both the stories of emotional, expressive young women dealing with the notion of becoming a Bride of Christ.
Granted, Therese would never have done anything like “twerking,” as does one of the five young women discerning religious life in the TV show, but, as one sage Carmelite sister points out, these girls are “products of their environment.”
It’s in the nature of reality shows to want to cast people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and express their feelings, because that makes good TV, but there are many eye-rolling moments in the first two episodes that Lifetime made available for screening online. But under the sobbing, hand-fanning and near-panic-attacks, the souls of each of the twentysomething women begin to emerge.
Like A&E Network’s cheesily-named but not-bad “God or the Girl” back in 2006, in which four young Catholic men went on separate journeys to discern the priesthood — one, the right one, in my opinion, applied to seminary, but didn’t wind up going through with it, continued as a lay missionary and is now back in the business world — the power of the Catholic faith has a way of peeking through TV cliches to reveal something honest and real.
“The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns” (OK, they’re actually discerning becoming religious sisters, but that’s apparently too fine a distinction for secular television) could just as easily be called “God or the (Other) Boy.” But, as the five women visit three different convents over the TV-imposed six-week discernment period, the daily lives of real sisters — including wise, sometimes witty, fully habited Carmelites in the first two episodes — get as thorough an airing as as is likely to be seen anywhere outside of EWTN.
The women are:
Christie Young, 27, of Glendale, California, a Charismatic Catholic who has visions of “dancing with Jesus,” flirts with boys (but stays chaste) and has a hard time adapting her highly personal style of faith to the rigors of religious life.
Eseni Ellington, 23, an aspiring model from the Bronx, New York, deals with issues with men stemming from her father’s infidelities but also has a boyfriend she’s loathe to abandon — even if she still feels “broken” inside.
Claire Halbur, 26, a parish music minister from Joliet, Illinois, who was homeschooled in a devout Catholic home, considers herself the most mature of the group (but that observation doesn’t sit well with all her compatriots).
Francesca DiPaola, 21, a recent college grad from New Jersey who hits a rough patch almost immediately on being told she can’t cover up her acne with makeup and later has to face harsh family realities while visiting a Carmelite home for the elderly
Stacey Jackson, 26, an aspiring actress and dollmaker (including her interpretation of Michelangelo’s Pieta), who seems to be one of the more level-headed members of the group.
But be warned, two of the executive producers are Shannon Evangelista and Eric Evangelista of Hot Snakes Media, which did “Breaking Amish” and its two spin-offs, “Breaking Amish: LA” and “Breaking Amish: Brave New World,” so their focus has been more on people who’ve left their faith behind than those who stay in it. Judging by the first two installments of “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns,” none of the young women seems particularly well-suited for religious life (although Claire evidently thinks she is) or is necessarily anywhere near the point of making an actual decision.
So, don’t get your hopes up of anyone becoming a novice by the end of the six episodes. But if we know one thing about Christ, He can work miracles — and we are coming into a season of miracles — so never say never.
Here’s a preview …