I’m not a fan of reality TV shows, though a few years ago I saw some that had depth – where thoughtful adults went to a monastery, convent or retreat house for some time out or spiritual advancement.
The latest manifestation of the sub-genre, Bad Habits, Holy Orders on Channel 5 (UK), started last Thursday night. Sometimes moving, sometimes irritating, it has a shallow tabloid feel to it, but there are also moments of insight and spiritual depth. The show involves a bunch of young party girls signing up for a spiritual journey and then being shocked to find they have to stay in a convent.
The show dwells way too much on the girls’ hedonistic lifestyles, so much so that a content warning was issued before the show. One girl, Rebecca, was described as a ‘notorious clubber’, said she went out six nights a week but only ever remembered three of them. She had fond memories of having a great relationship with her Dad in her pre-teen years, but in a tearful moment of insight admitted that she did all the bad stuff to punish her parents. Gabby said she didn’t drink or do drugs – she realised that her addiction was to her phone and her selfies – in a poignant admission she feared her sense of self-worth came from Instagram. Her parents were also worried and there was a touching moment where they showed their concern and it all became too emotional for her.
The nuns are wonderful – welcoming, hospitable, prayerful, patient and sometimes frustrated with the antics of the girls – one smuggled in a bottle of vodka early on, but at least there was reconciliation. There is sadness – one of the nuns, young Sr Michaela, got upset about the recent death of her mother, but was comforted by the party girls, and this became a teachable moment where love of family became a sort of pathway to well-buried purity of heart.
Another impressive nun is Sr Helena Burns, who presented a new show, Digital Catholics, on EWTN last week. The content of the show is topical and important, and it could have been dragged down, ironically, by limited enough use of digital techniques in the presentation. Sr Helena speaks at a podium, from notes, with basic graphics, but her extensive knowledge, insight and cheerfulness, save the day.
Last Wednesday’s episode took the Theology of the Body as its starting point, and focused on the damage done to people and relationships by online pornography. Sr Helena handled the topic with aplomb, even when she had to get into some unpleasant detail. Wednesday’s episode took a broader look at the digital age. She quoted St Pope John Paul’s exhortation to Catholics to bring the face of Christ to the media, Pope Benedict’s reminder that it was real people who were creating the virtual communities online and Pope Francis’ call for us to ‘learn again how to talk to one another’. Again she stressed the importance of the body – that presence was crucial, and was why we don’t have Confession through Skype.
I like her enthusiasm for digital media, this is no grouchy nostalgia or hankering for a return to pre-digital times. Check it out her cleverly titled blog at http://hellburns.blogspot.ie/
A few other items from last week are well worth catching up with. On the Monday Spirit Radio featured a lively interview (currently on podcast at spiritradio.ie) with gospel singer Sal Solo who outlined his unusual journey from 80’s pop star, through media aversion to a pro-life album, to his current Catholic teen ministry in the USA, with its ‘We Can Change the World’ theme.
On Thursday, on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show, following on from more controversy over the Oireachtas Committee on the 8th Amendment, there was a shamefully unchallenging interview (yet again) with pro-choice advocate Dr Peter Boylan. On Friday night I liked Michael Comyn’s relaxed interview with Prof Jim Lucey on The Leap of Faith (RTE Radio 1). There were insights on matters of psychiatry, mental health and faith, and while I miss the news roundup at the start of the show, concentrating on just one topic does allow for in-depth exploration.
Finally, economist David McWilliams, on the Pat Kenny Show last Monday morning, was very strong on the immoral and unethical behaviour of some lenders in their treatment of tracker mortgage customers – a loss of moral compass, big time.
Pick of the week
BBC Radio Ulster, Sunday, October 29, 8.30 pm
Topical religious and ethical issues.
DISCOVERING TOLKIEN – THE LORD OF THE RINGS
EWTN, Thursday, November 2, 9.30 pm
Fr. Nathan Cromly delves into the work’s unique Catholic themes.
SYRIA’S CHRISTIAN EXODUS
EWTN, Friday, November 3, 9 pm
Elisabetta Valgiusti presents the stories of Syrian Christians who have been forced to flee due to extreme threats from radical Islamic groups.