Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#SuorCristina and the Joy of the Gospel

Sister Cristina Scuccia sang herself into the hearts of 23, 420, 648 people* around the planet over the weekend, including mine. Italy's version of the hit TV show, "The Voice" has revealed a gift for the world.

Thank-you sister, for inspiring me to get back in the 'habit' and blog for the first time in nearly a year.

I have always been guilty of seeing the symbolic value of things. For me, there is much more going on here than just 23 million people wanting to see the real life version of Sister Act. This is about the Joy of the Gospel.

The whole thing unfolds like magic:
A 25 year old ursuline nun stands on the stage as Alicia Keyes “No One” starts up.
The four judges sit with their backs turned so they cannot see the surprise contestant – as per the format of the show. The nun’s job is to get them to turn around through the beauty of her voice. Is this not the task of all Christians? Are we not a missionary church, trying to turn the world towards what is good and true? Are we not trying to get the world to turn towards the embrace of God?
The camera turns to a shot of three nuns from Sr. Cristina’s order – the Ursaline sisters. They are her community and they are here to support her. It is a powerful image because it conveys the truth of religious life – it is a life lived in the mutual support of community.
Somebody give this cameraman a raise. A brilliant shot of her functional black shoes, bouncing in harmony with the music. Poverty is, of course, one of the three religious vows. The simplicity of the footwear is itself a message. The Joy of the Gospel comes without asking you to find your self-worth in the status symbols of our material world.
“I just want you close, where you can stay forever.” Her first words bring the audience to their feet. And do you know why? It’s not because they are being nice to the nun. It’s because her voice is amazing. Interestingly, this song, “No One,” has been repositioned as a Christian song many times – most recently I saw it done at a youth leadership conference I attended. I would not be afraid to guess Sr. Cristina chose it for the same reason – she’s performing it as a lovesong to God. The sweetness of her voice resonates with our own hearts and their own longing for God. “You and me together, through the days and nights. I don’t worry cause, everything’s gonna be alright.”
Family shot. Her parents are there to watch. After all, she’s only 25 years old. That is the other appeal of Suor Cristina – her youth. She is a young breath of fresh air in the Church that is emblematic of the Church envisioned by Pope Francis – out in the world. My 7 year old daughter (who is also dramatically inclined) sat on my lap as we watched her sing together. This is the kind of religious example I want for her.
Who is this voice that the crowd roars for? The first judge turns towards her - J-Ax, the Italian rapper. The other young judge, “Noemi” follows close behind. If we could be more like this as the Church, I think more people would turn. And when they did they would be surprised to find that the source of this beautiful music is none other than the Church they thought to be tired and irrelevant.
Wanting to share this marvelous surprise – J-Ax implores the other two older judges to also turn their seats as he has. “Should I? Should I? I’m Going for it Damn it!” The third one turns. “Push It!” J-Ax implores the last. She does. All four have turned to Sister Cristina. The other nuns are ecstatic. 
“No one can get in the way of what I feel for you!” Sister Cristina finishes and the crowd goes wild – the ovation lasts nearly a minute. They chant, “Sorella, Sorella, Sorella.”
Then the striking exchange happens between ‘Suor Cristina’ and the four judges. We see what happens when we embody the Joy of the Gospel and share it with others.

The judges can hardly believe it. “Are you a real nun?” she is asked.

“Absolutely, I am a real nun.”

Catholics shouldn't be surprised. Pope Francis told us this will happen. He asked us to do it - not in our churches, but in the streets, in the world - share the joy of the gospel. I think that is why I am so moved by this video. Nothing embodies the present day popular culture like reality TV shows. That is why the sight of a nun auditioning for one is so striking. It is the contrast between the sacred and the profane that gives us pause. And yet the contrast is not one marked by conflict, or a rejection of the world. Instead it is a transformation – the joy of the gospel penetrates the medium of the culture and creates a holy moment. Sister Cristina reaches out with the voice of an angel.

It is said that Sister Cristina herself discovered her vocation to religious life while singing the part of a nun in a musical.
She explains why she has come to audition for the voice - "I have a gift and I am giving it to you. Shouldn't things be this way?...(Pope Francis) always says we should go out and evangelize, telling people that God doesn't take anything away from us but will give us more. I am here for this."

The camera cuts shortly after these words to J-Ax. He is clearly moved and wipes tears from his eyes.

These words, along with the soaring hit count of the viral video, reminded me of this passage from the Holy Father’s EVANGELII GAUDIUM

"Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops."

We need to help that goodness take root in our world, to develop it. According to the shows rules if more than one judge turns the contestant chooses her coach for the next phase of the competition.
Sr. Cristina chooses J-Ax, the self-proclaimed diablo, because he was the first to turn. He runs to the stage and gives her a big hug – goodness, taking root and developing.
J-Ax’s pitch was that together they would be like “the devil and the holy water” (I’m guessing it sounds better in Italian). He tells her that if he had met her when a boy at church he surely would have become the pope because he would have been at church all the time.
“Well, you’ve met me now.” She answers.
We have all met her. And we should all embrace the joy of the Gospel as she has and share it with the world. And just maybe, the world will start to turn.
 *at the time I am hitting publish on Tuesday evening that number has reached 30,433,252