Time to reject caricatured view of nuns

Sir, – William Reville's letter (May 15th) offers both consolation and challenge. He is challenging the upholders of a widespread "conservatism in Ireland" that cherishes foundational human values enshrined in Christian faith, to speak, to stand up for what they have given their lives to, to articulate a renewed level of resolve in their commitment to the good.

I agree that having to listen day in, day out to the voices of the so-called liberal agenda on RTÉ, as well to the “opinion formers” of this nation in the press, is anything but ennobling. The so-called “true democratic” Ireland envisaged by the same “opinion formers” is far from attractive, much less pointing to an inspiring future. Any meaningful God-talk is being banished from public discourse. While acknowledging that mistakes have been made in the past by upholders of Christian mores, good has also been achieved, at least in equal measure.

The derision with which the word “nun”, for example has been spoken (on Irish television) has cut to the heart of many who have put their lives on the line for values that are foundational to human flourishing. Being a nun comprises the totality of one’s life– one has no other life in which to take refuge. And yet it is a totally fulfilling vocation which has brought happiness to many. Nuns are human beings who, at a moment of their young lives decided (compelled by some inner motivation) to give their lives to one or other great cause – education of others, social solidarity, care of the sick, ministering to the poor and most abandoned in society, or simply to a mystical way of life. Prayer and belief in one’s life-choice is the glue that sustains such people. Nuns want to make a difference and do this for God.

It is not nun-like to blow one's own trumpet, yet no one is likely to do it for us; though many in high places have reason to be grateful. But what will be shouted from the hilltops are mistakes that have been made, difficulties arising when the business dimension of mission collides with the ideology that first inspired it. Nuns have had to climb steep learning-curves to live up to their ideals. There may have been, in some cases, a tardiness in coming to grips with modernity, postmodernity and neo-atheism, and so on, yet no group, to my knowledge, has invested more in updating themselves and others to contemplate our changing society through the lens of an ongoing reinterpretation of gospel values. Nuns have been seriously at pains to read the signs of the times and adapt their lifestyles and missions accordingly. Perhaps no one in the media has even noticed, nor have members of the media updated themselves on recent manifestations of widespread renewal in religious practices throughout the Christian communities. The same old clichés are still being trotted out and caricature images of "nuns" repeated ad nauseam.

It is natural to be “disillusioned and disheartened” by recent negative media. It may seem easier to sit it out in silence, in the hope that some fair-minded journalist might do some rigorous and balanced research and contextualise events that have occurred as part of our country’s history.

By so doing, the grain could be sifted from the chaff (or is that too Christian a metaphor to use?) and a positive legacy assessed.

Recently, a nun friend of mine, shopping in Ranelagh, was offered a word of sympathy on “the bad press nuns are receiving”. She simply turned and said: “I couldn’t care less, as long as God knows the truth”. Not all of us can live in such carefree self-abandonment to Divine Providence. Yet many are forced to do just this because the mountain of articulated negativity seems impossible to scale. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.