A Refreshing Change: Sister Wendy Beckett

To say that we Catholics have become accustomed to negative portrayal in the news media is a major understatement. The Church is routinely ridiculed by outsiders. All too often Catholic clergy, lay people or religious are the ones who are criticizing Church teaching and portraying the Church as outmoded and stifling to intellectual development. A refreshing change to this pattern was the Bill Moyers interview with Sister Wendy Beckett, the English art critic, broadcast on PBS on Oct. 16. If Moyers’ subtle efforts to trip her up had been successful, the usual menu of Catholic embarrassment might have continued. But Sister Wendy was too intelligent, too honest, too spiritual and just too loving to fall into the traps. Moyers apparently approached Sister Wendy with the preconceived ideas that the Catholic Church is opposed to sex and views the human body as ugly and shameful. When he asked her to reconcile her discussion of paintings that portray nudity with the Church’s views, she deftly explained that God’s creation is lovely and there is nothing to reconcile. As he dwelled too long on the subject of sexuality, even asking her if she did not miss having sex, she consistently answered with honesty, dignity, and a sophisticated innocence that should have made Mr. Moyers wish that he had not brought up the subject. Moyers dragged out some of the Church’s dirty laundry and asked Sister Wendy about the "corrupt popes" who had commissioned some of the art works discussed in her PBS series. Sister Wendy’s distaste for the question was thinly disguised. She answered with honesty and compassion that no one can judge these people but God, and that in her opinion they were misguided. She called them "poor muddled popes." Her attitude of compassion and her statement that only God could be the judge of whether a person had sinned appeared to be a new concept to the interviewer. At one point, Sister Wendy expressed the view that we humans should appropriately feel contrition, not guilt. Guilt is ego-fixated, she explained. Guilt is self-centered wallowing in the consequences of our wrongdoing. With contrition we ask God’s forgiveness, accept it and then we move on. Again, this basic concept appeared new and disconcerting to Moyers. The interviewer asked if the "key" to Sister Wendy might be loneliness, since she had referred to it in one of her programs. Sister kindly explained to him that her contemplative religious life had fulfilled all her expectations and more. Even while setting him straight, she took care not to make him look foolish. Throughout the interview, Sister Wendy repeatedly eluded Moyers’ attempts to lead her to say something negative. She proved too much for him intellectually, and his lack of understanding of the Catholic faith and the religious life became evident. Best of all, it was plain that Sister Wendy spoke from a heart grounded in God, centered in prayer, and rooted in love. Her joy in the Lord was there for all to see. By refusing to fit into the media mold, she provided a much needed change from the usual television fare. Mary D. is a Catholic member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Questions or comments may be sent to Mary D., c/o the Arlington Catholic HERALD, 200 N. Glebe Rd. Suite 607, Arlington, Va. 22203. Copyright ?1997 Arlington Catholic Herald, Inc. All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016