Sisters on Oprah – UPDATED

Just finished watching the Oprah Winfrey show featuring the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and I thought it was really excellent. I missed the very beginning, so I don’t know if she did the Geisha feature, as well, but the segment with the sisters was really, very impressive. The sisters were well-spoken, intelligent, funny, good-natured and extremely forthright about their lives, and both Lisa Ling and Winfrey seemed to genuinely appreciate their comments on life, materialism, vows, sexuality, and so forth.

Really good show. Winfrey teased but was never disrespectful, and the whole discussion -from leaving parents, to leaving relationships, to giving up what is thought of as “normal,” was a healthy back-and-forth. Winfrey was so much better than I had anticipated, that I must admit to having been more cynical about this show than was probably healthy!

I particularly like the point one sister – I think it was Sr. Mary Judith – made, that religious life is a mirror of married life, and that breaking a vow is the same whether in religious or secular life; you’re ultimately hurting yourself, and cheating the fullness of the relationship and vow. I also like what she said about “reclaiming” her sexuality from an “oversaturated, sexualized world.” This reminded me, a little, of the truth of the Virgin Martyrs who -far from being weird prudes- were women who claimed themselves as being free people, not merely someone’s daughter to marry off for an increase in wealth or influence, who had chosen to live for Christ.

You can find much video of the episode here; there are snippets and a transcript here. The sisters managed to bring the spiritual into the every day and say such profound things in such a casual way that it would be worth watching again, to glean it all.

Congrats to the Sisters, and to Winfrey, too. I can’t wait to see how the Holy Spirit uses all of this!

UPDATE: Some aftershow musings about silence.

Speaking of excellent videos on the religious life, someone sent this to me – a half hour by our Passionist friends in Kentucky -and it is one of the best such videos I have ever seen.

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  • dicentra

    OT, but I thought you’d be amused:

    Profs are liberal because they Get It.

    No, really. And you don’t.

  • Momma K

    Kudos to Oprah, she was respectful and very good with the sisters (I have a sneaking feeling that she was suprised and impressed by them). Her assistant, Lisa Ling, seemed to get it, too.
    Wish that they had clarified the difference between celibacy and chasity; when Oprah keep wowing over their chasity, I wanted to tell her eveyone –married or not is asked to be chase; (ie married people are to be true to their spouses).
    But overall—wonderfully done—the nuns were just so endearing and they were a beautiful witness to Christ.
    This video is a keeper to watch when one is down on the younger generation.

    [yes, I was surprised, too that Ling got the "black veil" part wrong -she said they received it upon making final vows, but they receive it at first vows- and that no one corrected her. -admin]

  • CV

    I thought the whole feature on the sisters was wonderful. I don’t watch Oprah that often, but I have always been impressed with how generally respectful and fair-minded she is when interviewing her guests. I think she was sincerely impressed with the sisters (same goes for Ling).

    The geisha segment was actually pretty informative. Of course the sex question came up more than once (as it did with the sisters…it’s a cultural dogma, after all!) but I was surprised to learn that providing sexual favors has never been part of the geisha job description. It really is an art form and seems to be about preserving Japanese cultural customs and traditions. I don’t really get it, but I can appreciate the beauty and history involved, and dedication of the women who preserve these traditions. They are artists, not unlike other performing arts occupations.

    All in all, there was a lot *less* of a focus on sex in both segments than I expected. And I was cynical beforehand also! :-)

  • Maureen

    Re: Dominican segment

    It was clear several times that it wasn’t just a matter of Oprah being respectful or being teasing. Early on, she was asking aggressive questions in a way that sounded very defensive — right after hearing about the background of the sister who grew up on the Rez. Later on, she started to feel better about it, and then several of them said things that struck serious chords with her. (The “spiritual mother” comment apparently hit her between the eyes.) By the end, she was starting to sound a little envious.

    Which isn’t surprising, really, when you think how many sad things Oprah’s gone through, and how many spiritualities she’s chased through her show. Like many, she wants clarity and peace; and the contemplative dimension of their life was obviously calling out to her.

    All that aside, it was a good collaboration between Oprah and her crew, the sisters, and the good Lord. If just one person is influenced by this show to realize that there are all sorts of ways available to live faithfully and lovingly in Christ, and that the world isn’t only what the ad agencies tell us, it will be well worth it.

  • Tina T.

    I ready your piece yesterday and was troubled that Oprah would choose to imply some facile equivalence between nuns and geishas.

    Maybe she did intend that. Or maybe we are underestimating her, because the end result was very different. The geisha story simply ended up underscoring the integrity and purposefulness of the life lived by the nuns. I don’t know if their clarity — and genuine happiness — would have come through so clearly, on the medium of a talk show, without the contrast.

    Not that I think they couldn’t hold their own (I haven’t known many nuns, but enough to know that). But, somehow, following up a story about extreme materialism, sexual objectification, and bought attention with a story about sacrifice, contemplation, and freely given love drove the point home.

    Oprah saw it. She strikes me as being very innocent in some ways, so ever her irritating questions about sexuality provided a platform for the sisters to express themselves. Despite her questions, she was very respectful: it really came across that she saw in the nuns the things she values the most in people. I don’t think anyone could walk away from this without taking with them a little of the joy the sisters offer.

    I was watching the show in a gym, and as the segment progressed, the woman next to me put down her i-pod and became engrossed in their story. I never thought I’d say this about watching Oprah, but it reminded me of that Robert Herrick poem, The Lily in a Crystal.

  • CV

    Maureen commented that “..By the end,[Oprah] was starting to sound a little envious. Which isn’t surprising, really, when you think how many sad things Oprah’s gone through, and how many spiritualities she’s chased through her show. Like many, she wants clarity and peace; and the contemplative dimension of their life was obviously calling out to her…”

    I have often been annoyed with Oprah, given how much influence she has, especially when she touts new age pablum like “The Secret.” Her worst offense in my mind was providing a huge boost to Obama, but that’s another story.

    But she also strikes me as someone who, after a difficult childhood, generally tries to use her position to do good and inspire others. She seems to be a person who is perpetually “seeking”…trying to fill holes in her heart with various spiritualities, food, etc. Because she always seems “game” for a new spirituality, I thought she would probably give the sisters a fair shake. It was interesting, however, to observe Oprah’s reaction when confronted with the real deal.

    Here’s a person who is one of the world’s richest women, who has tons of material goods, talking with young women who are downright joyful about having given all of those material things up for Christ. I’m sure it didn’t fit the image of “oppressive Catholicism” that so many people have in their minds.

    All in all, score one for the sisters and the Holy Spirit. It’s going to provide more than a few women with real inspiration.

  • Klaire

    I think the most profound part of the whole show was at the end when Lisa Ling admitted (paraphrasing from memory), that despite all that the nuns “give up”, it looks like THEY are actually made free. YES, THAT is IMO, the essence of a real relationship with Christ, we GET so much more than we ever “give up.” If only the world could understand that, and how “freeing” living in the will of God really is.

    I too was shocked and suprised by the Geisha segment. The more I think about it, the more it’s actually such a paradox of the nun story, especially a pagan culture like Japan vs Christ and his Nuns (brides).

    This might go down as an Oprah Classic.

  • Manny L.

    I read the entire transcript and watched all the videos. It was mesmerizing. The Oprah show really was fair and positive. And while I never had the calling for a religious ordination, it does make me envious. There is a simplicity and beauty in their lives. I need to find such quiet time myself, one where I can look inward and try to meet our dear Lord. I need to restrict the use of my blackberry. ;)

  • Brian

    I missed it but hope to get a chance to see it. Count me as an original cynic, but from the comments it sounds like the show was done well! Hopefully this will inspire future Oprah shows into the Catholic religous world.

    Thanks to the Dominicans for what you are doing.

  • LarryD

    I watched the segment too – the sisters were genuine and joyful, and the audience seemed to notice and dare I say, fell in love with them.

    The man who helped expand their convent several years back is a personal friend of mine. He’s a devout Catholic to begin with, but working with Mother Assumpta and the other Sisters helped increase his faith.

    And I think they’re going to need a bigger house soon. They are at 99 sisters, 1 room short of full capacity.

  • Ellen

    I thought the show was very well done. I couldn’t help but think, that here is a woman who “has it all” and yet she is seeking, seeking, seeking and restless as can be. And here are the nuns who have seemingly given up everything, but they have found the Pearl of Great Price and their hearts are at rest because they rest in Him.

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  • Theresa

    I was a little skeptical as well, but I though tit was great!

    Sr Maria is a friend of mine from her pre nun days (and believe me, she did have all that “stuff”) we always say “this is truly a miracle!”lol

    it certainly will leave many thinking..I too an anxiously awaiting its impact…

  • Lazo

    I saw the show and thought Oprah did an outstanding job. She’s an incredibley intelligent woman who can see things from almost any perspective and is open minded to almost any view point and this makes her unusally gifted at having a quality engaged conversation. It’s no surprise that Oprah became as successful as she did.

  • David

    For the record, they are (Dominican) Sisters not Nuns

    [Yes, I know that. I have often explained the distinction to readers. That being said, use of the term "nun" is rather loosely used for both, and if you watched Oprah, you saw that the sisters did not bother to make the correction (and even referred to themselves as nuns) because of that looseness. When someone asks me for a Kleenex, I know they mean a tissue, and I do not hand it to them while correcting them that it is a Scott brand. :-) -admin]

  • Sandy

    While I thought the show was respectful, coming from Oprah, it was a nice surprise. But I thought that it focused too much on the personal lives of the girls (and too much about sex!) rather than really talking about the LIFE OF A SISTER. They really should have talked more about the connection of their SPIRITUAL life (what it REALLY means to be a nun or sister) with regards to their Spouse, Jesus Christ. They didn’t mention the Catholic Church but once I think and the tradition (history) of nuns/sisters and the reason for religious life. What about mentioning different religious orders? It was too focused on the world view where they should have taken this opportunity to take command to tell world the REAL beauty of religious life.

    [It was a 23 minute exposition; it wasn't meant to be comprehensive or to look at many religious orders or types of religious. It was a look at one order, and there is nothing wrong with that. I'm sure the Holy Spirit will do what He will with it, to further the Glory of God. I'm just happy that the show was done, attention was paid, and so forth. There are a ton of positives to be thankful for here, why dwell on the negatives? -admin]

  • Sandy

    Also, why aren’t the postulants wearing a head covering while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament?! Not traditional at all, though the world will think they are because the habits are long. Here again they did not bring CHRIST into the forefront….shame. Yes, it would have been nice to explain the difference between a NUN and a SISTER. Sloppy on the part of the Dominicans to not correct the errors!

    [Yes, for some of us, others can never be Catholic enough, can they? -admin]

  • Christina

    I didn’t watch the clips, but I read the transcript and was pleasantly surprised. The teaser came off as sleazy – the show was actually quite respectful in spite of Oprah’s apparent befuddlement as to why these women would choose the consecrated life.

    The comments on the transcript were overwhelmingly positive, with the exception of the predictable whine that Oprah should’ve talked to more “progressive” orders. News flash – those “progressives” can’t get vocations to save their lives! Meanwhile orders like these Dominicans and Mother Angelica’s Poor Clares are filling up with young women. My generation of Catholics craves authenticity – not pseudo-New Age claptrap.

    I’m always struck by how radiant these nuns look – like women in love, as a matter of fact. There is a Franciscan convent nearby and I have been privileged to meet some of the sisters, young women about my own age. Their joy radiates from their faces and permeates all they do. It’s wonderful to behold.

  • Sandy

    “others can never be Catholic enough”…hummm…here we go again, dumbing down what it means to be a Catholic. “It was a look at one order, and there is nothing wrong with that.” Agreed. It was just a great opportunity (the Oprah Show is far reaching) to talk about Our Lord and how HE touches the lives of young women. That would have shown more humility on the part of the Sisters who seemed to enjoy talking about themselves.

    [It is highly doubtful that Oprah would have done a show called "Let's talk about the Lord" but these sisters were very comfortable talking about the Lord, just the same. The point of the show was to ask women why they were choosing this life and what they found within it, so, yeah, they'd have to talk about themselves. As to whether they "enjoyed talking about themselves" and lacked sufficient humility, that is a judgment you may feel able to make. I don't. I think they certainly enjoyed sharing their vocation stories and their joy at being Brides of Christ, and the combination of that radiant joy and their clarity of thought/articulation was a powerful witness to Jesus and HOW HE has touched their lives. They all seemed quite humble to me, particularly in their wonder at where they have ended up in their lives. You may disagree. As for "dumbing down what it means to be Catholic," I think that's a stunning judgment and charge for you to make toward me, particularly in the same paragraph when you talk about "humility." I have never claimed to be the greatest or most perfect Catholic in the world; just the opposite, I often admit that I am fumbling along by the grace of God. Since you are clearly one of the better, more mindful and "less dumbed down" Catholics in the area, I am very grateful for your stopping by here, to show me how it's done. I pray we may all benefit from our example -admin]

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Has there ever been a better, more visible, more accessible celebration of the vocation of being a sister? I doubt it! For the first time in recent history, a global audience (made up largely of women) saw what it means to be a sister today, and saw both the joy and vitality of this particular order.

    Those who are sniping that it wasn’t “Catholic” enough are missing the boat — and missing the point. This was a slam-dunk for Catholicism, and for one of the most under-appreciated and misunderstood vocations in the world. The Holy Spirit was definitely working overtime on this one. Rejoice at what He achieved here!

    Believe me, coming as I do from the mainstream media, this is nothing less than a miracle.

    Deacon Greg

  • Kathie

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Oprah interview with the Sisters. I thought they did very well, gave her a look into their daily lives and by the end she was very impressed. I also thought she was very respectful even though talking about sexuality. I think it was a wonderful opportunity for Average Joe America that watches Oprah to learn about this awesome Community of Sisters. Also Lisa Ling was so positive about her whole experience and enjoyed being with them.
    I’m sure it will change lives and opinions about our Catholic Faith. Thank you Sisters for being brave enough to enter the mainstream media!

  • Hermit withouta Permit

    yes it was well done considering edits , and Oprahs New Age/Universalism affiliations and being a disciple of Eckhart Tolle….but, Lisa Ling, who was the producer, always does a balanced job.
    here is a link to the whole show
    link except the off air discussions, which can be found on the Oprah Show site.

  • Wendy

    I finally had a chance to watch this with a Protestant friend of mine who is always quite defensive about anything “Catholic.” I was delighted with the interview and the sisters – they were full of joy and delighted with their lifes. I was weeping quiet tears of joy at the wonderful exposure the Catholic faith and the beautiful message of consecrated life when my friend said ” Wow, they all radiate PEACE!” Even her typical defensiveness was melted by their joyful and beautiful hearts. Thanks for alerting us this was on. I thought the final line by Lisa Ling was such a fabulous summary too – “I think they might be the most liberated women I have ever met”.

    Deacon Greg is right – this look at such a misunderstood life coming from a MSM souce is nothing short of miraculous.

  • Sponsa Christi

    Dearest Anchoress – how kind of you to link to our Vocation DVD! We did not even know it was posted on Vocation-Station. May God send all these devout communities holy and healthy young candidates. Your little Passionist sister, Sponsa Christi

  • Susanna

    I thought it was amazing. It was great finally seeing Catholic’s in a good light in the media. I thought the sisters were amazing. It was great to see young sisters. I am 19 and from Michigan. It was quite an encouragement to see than talk about their lives and how they came to there vocations. I am in the process of looking to what God has in store for me. It gave me the courage to be completely open with him.

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