Only a few days ago, I had posted a message about a Catholic nun who was thrown into a tizzy by the changes of Vatican II. See here. I see that an independent film is being released today (on a limited basis) that shares a similar theme with, no doubt, a different outcome. “Novitiate” tells the tale of Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), a young Catholic woman who enters the nunnery in 1964. This is during the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), when the Catholic church was making drastic changes to its procedural window dressings. The Mother Superior (Melissa Leo) runs the nunnery like a Marine boot camp and tolerates nothing less than absolute submission and obedience. “Faith” for these young nuns is a grueling ladder, with each step hoped to be leading ever higher to “holiness” and merited salvation. Self-mortification is not only encouraged but demanded. As Vatican II eases some of the rigors of religious life, the Mother Superior and other nuns experience a jolting crisis of faith. Their self-identity is totally bound up in their order’s extreme asceticism. The council’s abrupt changes pull the chair completely out from underneath them.
As an ex-Catholic who grew up in the 1960s and attended parochial grammar school, I can attest to the significant changes wrought by Vatican II. The nuns’ garb changed from starched medieval habits to matronly jumper dresses. We had previously been taught that all Protestants were going to hell, which was changed to the teaching that those outside the church would be judged according to “the light they had been given.” Huh? The mass was said in English rather than Latin and guitars and religious folk songs replaced organs and hymns. These changes caused great consternation among the laity, but even more so among the religious. But despite all of these alterations in form, the major Catholic doctrines remained unchanged. Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit remained.
I understand that this film addresses lesbianism in Catholic convents to some degree (which would explain the R-rating). There are those who will find that off-putting, but the reality was that “celibate” convent life did foster sexual deviancy. The many autobiographies of ex-nuns published by Protestant publishing houses in the 19th and early-20th centuries lightly touched upon the sexual deviancy that was rampant in convents, but Catholic spokespersons at the time dismissed all the accounts as pure fiction. After decades of scandalous headlines, few would defend the notion that “chastity” was adhered to in convents, seminaries, and rectories. Those places were clearly hothouses for deviant immorality. I can remember back in 7th and 8th grade how one of our nuns, Sister Maryann, subtly introduced approbation of same-sex relationships into her English literature classes. One not-so-subtle example was the fiction novel she assigned over the summer following 7th grade that dealt with homosexuality. The nun was noticeably on the masculine side and appeared to us students to have an unusually close relationship with one of the other nuns. I was only a kid at the time, but I was no dummy.
“Novitiate” is being released today on a limited basis. It’s scheduled to open at Rochester’s home of artsy films, The Little Theater, on November 24th.
This post is not an endorsement of the film, because I obviously have not seen it yet. But I’m posting this as a heads-up for those who are curious about the doggedly militant brand of Catholicism that I grew up in the first ten years of my life. The attached trailer is not sensationalistic. This was the Catholicism I knew as a young boy.
In the film’s trailer, the distraught Mother Superior asks a poignant question:
“The church gave me my work, my community, even my identity, and now the church is trying to invalidate all that, saying none of it matters. So my question is, what is it that really does still matter?”
Ah, great question, Mother Superior! Excellent question! And sometimes in real life the Lord does have to pull the carpet out from under us in order to get our attention. Friends, religious legalism and ceremonial ritualism don’t matter, not even one small bit. None of us are good. None of us can merit Heaven. But Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Do you qualify? Repent of your sins and reach out to Him in prayer. Accept Him as your Savior by faith alone then ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that teaches God’s Word without compromise.
I am a Catholic. Why should I consider becoming a Christian?
Film Review: ‘Novitiate’
Film Review: ‘Novitiate’