Monasticism was at the center of Christian life for 1600 years.
Some of the most influential people in European history – Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther – were monks.
The very fact that you can read this newspaper is the direct result of the ingenuity of Medieval monks.
In Ancient Rome, scrolls were written in all capital letters and the words ran together. Only a select few could read. 8th Century monks invented lower case letters, spaces between words, and punctuation. As a result of these innovations, reading became easy. It was only a matter of time before literacy spread to the masses.
If you can find a monk or a nun, thank them while you still can. The number of people in holy orders has plummeted. And the Western World is losing something valuable.
Monasteries and Convents are a wholesome outlet for society’s most passionately pious people. And these monks and nuns, in turn, set a powerful example of goodness, service, and faith for the rest of us.
Hollywood hasn’t given monasticism the attention and respect it deserves. However, the one time there was a major drama with a nun as its lead character, it was a box office hit.
“The Nun’s Story” was one of the highest grossing films of 1959 – more popular than “North by Northwest.” Oddly, the Catholic Church was critical of its depiction of holy orders. If the film was released today, the Church would rapturously rejoice at its respectful treatment of faith and regular clergy.
Audrey Hepburn plays a Belgian woman who enters a convent in 1930.
Her goal is to complete her nursing education and help sick people in the Congo.
After her marriage to Jesus (complete with an actual wedding ceremony), the new nun is renamed Sister Luke.
Sister Luke has no problem adjusting to a life of poverty and chastity. The sticking point is obedience, which does not come easily to her.
During her initiation to the convent, the Mother Superior explains two facts about life as a nun:
1. It is a difficult life that goes against human nature
2. You never achieve perfection; you struggle moment by moment for the rest of your life
It’s incredible how well Audrey Hepburn and director Fred Zinnemann stick to these challenging themes.
Indeed, that’s basically the whole movie: Sister Luke’s only flaw is her failure to internalize Mother Superior’s lessons.
Sister Luke is a good nun, a great person, and a fantastic nurse. But she isn’t happy because she obsesses over her imperfections. And she’s self-aware enough to understand that the very act of scrutinizing herself is the sin of pride.
So she beats herself up even more.
“The Nun’s Story” is a unique historical document: a sincere and loving analysis of a good Catholic clergyman made on the eve of Vatican II.
Regardless of what you think about Roman Catholicism, you can’t help but admire Sister Luke’s commitment to helping others in the name of God. And you might conclude that our world is a little worse for having so few monasteries and convents.