Episode 2: “We’re all broken”
The title of the second episode of Lifetime’s “The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns” may directly refer to Eseni’s revelation that she was once assaulted, but it could just as well apply to Claire, whose superiority complex comes to a head both in a conversation with one of the sisters and a confrontation with her fellow discerners.
As in the first episode, last night’s show featured plenty of tears and a roller coaster of emotions. But it also continued to demonstrate the challenges and benefits of living closely in a community such as that of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm at the St. Teresa of Avila Motherhouse in Germantown, NY, the setting for the first two shows.
“It’s never easy for 38 women to live together,” said Sister Maria Therese, the vocation director. “It’s amazing to me that there’s never been a murder.”
By the end of the show, the five young women who are undergoing the process of discernment to determine if they have a calling to religious life may not want to murder Claire, but they are thinking about throwing her in a pond.
Claire, 26, of Joliet, Illinois, says she is further along in her discernment process than the others, so therefore can cope better. She may be right, but her attitude toward them leaves a lot to be desired.
She thinks the young women’s decision to sneak in wine to try to relax after a stressful trip to visit elderly nursing home residents who have dementia or are dying is “immature.”
She disapproves of Eseni’s twerking – “it conveys a message a girl of character and faith doesn’t want to communicate” – and when she discusses it with Sister Cyril, it feels like she is squealing. For her part, Sister Cyril (who has no idea what twerking is) advises her to stop being judgmental.
“I try not to let the conscience become a bias, especially with women coming into religious life,” she says. “They’ve had other experiences.”
Claire also is annoyed by another Francesca breakdown, this time over a visit to a nursing home in Framingham, Mass. and the prospect of sitting with old women with dementia.
Francesca, at 21 the youngest of the discerners, is nervous: “My grandmother is very sick with dementia, and it might be difficult to be around people with the same thing.”
She spends much of the visit in tears, talking off-camera with Sister Peter, one of the nursing home nuns, and on the phone with her mother.
“My Mom is a huge coping mechanism for me,” she says. Responds Sister Peter, who allowed her to make the call: “You can’t always rely on another person to help you through something. If you do, then you’re never going to be happy or feel at peace.”
Sister Cyril also chimes in: “My first reaction is, ‘Get a grip; it’s not all about you.’ But they are products of their environment and I use much energy trying to build bricks that create a bridge over to their thinking. It is a whole different woman who is entering.”
Claire’s take? “Maybe it’s kind of obvious, but there are two different levels of maturity going on here.” And kindness?
The others also face difficult challenges.
The revelation by Eseni, 23, of Brooklyn, to Sister Maria Therese that she was once assaulted by a photographer while on a photo shoot leads her to cry, “I’m broken.” Maria Therese doesn’t minimize the event, but tells her, “We’re all broken.” And we all need time to heal.
Christie, 27, of Glendale, California, is having a tough time with the structured prayer that is the practice of Carmelite nuns. She’s accustomed to a more charismatic worship, and has not been having her usual visions of Jesus, causing her much distress. When she concentrates during Mass and finally sees Jesus again, she breaks down in joy: “I realized how much I missed him.”
And Stacey’s visit with a nursing home resident who is in hospice care, saying the rosary with her at the foot of her bed, hits very close to home: She did the same thing with her family as her grandmother was dying. “It really shook me,” she says. It dawns on her that if she joined this order and regularly visited the elderly, “you’d form relationships with these people and it would feel like you were losing your grandmother every time one of them died.”
But it’s Claire’s journey that is the focus of the episode. Near the end, she decides that she has to clarify for the others that she didn’t mean to highlight their differences and be a polarizing force – but she botches it.
“I’m in a different point on this journey,” she tells the other young women, “and I don’t want to be seen as that person who’s up there, ‘she’s above the rest of us, she doesn’t understand us.’ I don’t want you to think just because I’m calm and little less of a drama queen than the rest of you are … ”
That was enough for Eseni, who walked away. “She’s apologizing, but she’s also throwing shade,” she says to the camera. “I can’t do this because I feel I’m going to throw you in the pond.”
Francesca takes offense at the “drama queen” remark and also walks away. It’s Stacey and Christie who step up and try to make Claire understand how she’s being perceived.
Claire tries to explain: “I was trying to communicate that we can all take a deep breath and be mature women about what we’re experiencing. None of us are teen-age girls, so we should be able to try to meet these challenges, and not always have anxiety attacks and emotional outbursts.”
Stacey: “Think of where they are in their lives right now. They’re coming to a convent for the first time, this is a lot of pressure. They’ve never had their phones taken away before, or told they can’t wear makeup.”
Claire: “But I hope they can find strength in this process and not feel their whole world is getting rocked every single day.”
Stacey: “All of us are having their worlds rocked. Your world is getting rocked right now.”
Light dawns on Claire: “I didn’t anticipate that the most difficult thing for me would be the dynamic with my fellow discerners. Everybody who discerns starts from a different place.”
Stacey: “That’s the beauty of the Catholic Church — we take everybody! It’s a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”
Christie has the last word: “What we’re asking you is to re-evaluate how you view people. View them more the way Jesus views them and approach them the way God would approach them.”
Will Claire be able to adjust?