A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"The Painted Veil" and the Vocation of Love

There are a handful of movies out there about nuns, and many movies about marriage….but seldom does a film explore both of those vocations at the same time! The wonderful film adaptation of Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil beautifully and maturely delves into the difficulties and joys of marriage and, to a lesser extent, the religious life.

In brief, The Painted Veil is the story of how a community of hospital sisters in rural 1920s China brings joy into the lives of a bitter English doctor and his selfish wife. If you never thought you’d get to see Diana Rigg in a religious habit after she made the mediocre film adaptation of In This House of Brede, think again! She plays the Mother Abbess!

I won’t delve into the plot all that much, as I really advise you to rent the movie. However, I would like to comment that one of the best things about the film is its realistic depiction of both vocations. As you will see when you watch the movie, there really isn’t any romance in the couple’s marriage, but there is love. This love ultimately forces them to patiently deal with each other’s annoying idiosyncrasies, as unromantic and dull as it may be. Nonetheless, it is this “true love”- free of any hackneyed meaning of the phrase- that causes their marriage and indeed all lasting marriages to endure.

Similarly, there is a part in the movie where the Mother Abbess explains the nature of her spiritual marriage to Jesus. Indeed, when she was a young girl and first felt called to the religious life, she felt passionately romantic towards God. Such romantic feelings provided her with initial endurance to pursue her vocation as a sister. However, as the Mother Abbess got older, she entered a time of spiritual dryness in which she felt as if God didn’t seem to respond to her prayers. The Mother Abbess made a comment along the lines of, “we’ve become like a pair of old spouses, who spend their lives sitting next to each other on a couch, never uttering a word to each other…but we’ve become so comfortable sitting on that couch, that neither of us wants to get up.”

From what I’ve been told by many nuns, this is not far from the truth. Indeed, I remember some of the Poor Clares telling us at retreat last year that there are certainly times that they feel like quitting their way of life and walking out of the cloister. However, no matter how frustrated they get, they know that they can never abandon their way of life because they love Jesus too much to do otherwise.

If I’ve made a mistake in some of my blogposts over the past couple of years, perhaps it has been over-romanticizing the religious life- making it seem as though being a nun or a sister is a perpetual romance with Jesus. As both married people and nuns can attest to, marriage to an earthly bridegroom or the Bridegroom isn’t a perpetual romance, but it is a perpetual love story.

The Painted Veil is one of the most beautiful, thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen! Watching it caused me to thank Jesus for calling people in all states of life….single, married, and the religious life…to follow the vocation of love!


Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

Thank you for this lovely, thoughtful posting

9:38 PM  

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