A new book of autobiographical stories from young, Catholic nuns aims to inspire readers how to live a faith-filled life in the era of social media.
“Millennial Nuns: Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life in a World of Social Media”, published by Simon & Schuster in early July, is divided into eight chapters, each written by a different sister of the Daughters of Saint Paul, a Roman Catholic order of nuns that’s part of the worldwide Pauline Family in 51 countries. The Pauline sisters have developed methods of “media mindfulness” designed to help the faithful be intentional about what media they consume and create.
In “Millennial Nuns”, the young women recount their personal spiritual journeys and unique ways they feel called to serve and love God in modern society. While the women all hold different titles– friend, writer, scholar, artist– they all have devoted their lives to loving and serving God and others with their unique gifts.
ReligionUnplugged writer Jewels Tauzin discussed the book with Sister Tracey, who wrote one of the chapters and became a nun when she was 19 years old.
Jewels Tauzin: Could you tell me a little about the Daughters of Saint Paul?
Sister Tracey: The Daughter’s of Saint Paul were founded at the very beginning of the 20th century by a young priest in northern Italy. As a young seminarian, he had lost his way and left the seminary for a time. When he came back, he was humbled, and it was between 1900 and 1901, on New Year’s Eve, that he came back to God. Later, he was in the cathedral in Italy in prayer, and in the middle of the night, everything he had been learning and feeling was tumbling around, and he felt that the Lord Jesus called him with clarity. The Lord was calling him to do something good for the people of the new century. While he didn’t know what that was, it compelled him to take his calling as a servant of God very seriously. He finished seminary and became a spiritual director in the seminary after being a priest. Then after, he was called by God to be a spokesperson for the Apostle Paul– Saint Paul the Apostle was using this young priest to spread Jesus’s message and love the way that Saint Paul did while on earth. So he founded the Daughter’s of Saint Paul. Our mission is to be Saint Paul living today, which is to preach the love of God and our personal encounter with Jesus and all Jesus is and has accomplished through our lives and the modern means of communication. This book shows that it appeals to our individual creativity.
JT: Wow, what a neat story! Could you talk some about the connection between creativity and spirituality?
ST: Sometimes the two get divided, which is very unfortunate. To me the image of God is the ultimate creative. He is The Creator– all creativity comes because we image God– the word we use is “Imago Dei”. It isn’t that we look like God, but the Lord, in creating us as persons, he created us with the capacity to create new life and new things. We don’t do it like God does– God does it from nothing. He doesn’t need materials to do things.
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But at the same time, there are miraculous things we can do from creativity. There’s nothing scarier than looking at a blank page. “Who am I to think I can do something here?” But then shortly after, “Wow, I’m making something. It wasn’t there before I touched it.” We’re both on an active and receiving end with God. That’s exactly what spirituality is– speaking out needs to God, but only because we are the recipient of having been loved by God. I think sometimes we have to be the initiator with God, but we are always simply responding. He is always initiating. The only way we can make the intersection of faith and creativity make sense to people is to do it ourselves. The message is better done that explained, which just means that it’s believable because it’s in our experience.
JT: I love what you said about how it’s believable because it’s in our experience. That reminds me of that feeling when you hear a really good story, and you feel as if it explains something that is so much truer than the story itself, kind of like how Jesus tells parables. How do you think stories point us back to God?
ST: It goes back to God’s creativity. God creatively tried to communicate to generations and generations of human beings on earth. But we couldn’t totally get it, so He said, “I’m just going to become one of you.” He told a story we could understand and became everything that makes us human. That knowing is experiential. It isn’t just something vague about Jesus, but they had a story to tell. People said, “I saw he was a leper, but then he became like a baby’s flesh!” You can argue with a philosophy or theory, but you can’t argue with a person’s experience. In telling our stories about our experience, we recognize reality, and recognizing the moments themselves is a moment of grace.
JT: How do you keep focused on the love and person of Christ and not the culture wars that so often permeate religion?
ST: I think what is most challenging right now is to keep our focus on the core of everything, which as you said, is the person of Christ. The reason that things are so divisive is because religion gets mixed in with human brokenness, and it’s naïve to think it won’t. I always have to remind myself that Jesus came before us and has experienced everything we are experiencing before.
For instance, Peter was a public failure– he said he would take the bullet for Jesus and he didn’t. There would be an argument for the rest of the guys to say, “to heck with you Pete.” We could basically see that John could have said, “You promised, but you failed– you are not fit the job. Why don’t you go hang yourself like Judas did.” But no. Does John push Peter away and run to Jesus himself on the shore? No. He shows the kind of love that says, “I don’t have it all figured out, but the relationship with Jesus is the most important thing, and all I know is that I need to bring you to Him. If we got involved in the political stuff and all the different conversations, we would lose our focus. Our focus is not to argue every argument, it’s to point to one thing and that one thing is the Lord. This changes institutions because those people want the Lord for others too. The question to ask ourselves is, “What is the Lord asking of me? Or am I doing the thing I accuse others of doing?”
JT: I love that. In an age where it feels like everyone is shouting, how can we use media for good?
ST: That’s something that we’re always trying to discern. Media is this huge and open platform and what speaks to one person might be completely different from another individual. We believe that like the body of Christ is composed of many parts, there are many expressions of media. What we try to do is discern how to focus our energies on how to reach the most people most effectively. When we ask people, “What do you need for us?” they say, “We need you!” They want the presence of people, in this case, women, who dedicate their lives to the good of others. For us we are discerning how we plant seeds of truth and goodness and grace and take root in people’s lives. What is cool about the book is that we are all different and what attracted us to the sisterhood is all different. That’s the whole thing– God doesn’t get tired of finding new language to speak his heart to people.
JT: Wow, that is so beautiful. I love how passionate you are about the subject of media and Christianity. How did you know you wanted to be a nun, and especially with the Daughters of St. Paul?
ST: I always had a real desire to connect with God. But then I saw a movie where an actress was dressed as a nun and it floored me. I had never really encountered nuns before. I was so fascinated and I did whatever I could to find out about nuns and I wanted to know everything. Of course, this was God’s calling on my life. I ended up visiting the Daughter’s of Saint Paul my junior year of high school, and then on and off throughout the end of high school. By the end, I wanted to join. I went to college and finished my freshman year and did the entrance process and entered when I was 19.
Jewels Tauzin is an intern reporter at ReligionUnplugged.com. She’s a student at Barnard College in New York City, where she also contributes to bwog, the college newspaper. She has previously interned at the Mississippi Center of Investigative Reporting, Trinity Episcopal, at Girls’ Life magazine and at The Bridge: The Memphis Street Paper.