The fourth great awakening of the last 25 years led many to religion, but a religion that let you have your full secular suburban life at the same time. Evangelicals and Centrist Orthodox Judaism was in. Catholics did not become clergy and modern Orthodox Jews did not read the sections of the Miktav Mieliyahu against the bourgeois life. (Except for the more philosophic sections on free will).
But this year’s valedictorian at Harvard has decided to become a nun and advocates the religious vocation. Will she lead others in all faiths in the same path? Will there be a new American sense of vocation unlike the suburban models?And what effect will her exemplar play for Ivy educated Jews? I spoke at the Harvard Hillel a few years ago and there was a joint Catholic Newman society dinner with the Orthodox minyan. They shared common religious values. One of the Catholics had even listened to my revelation class online. Will she be the new Thomas Merton, or at least William F Bukelley, to influence people?
She has a nice snappy interview where she defends her decision. She notes the role her HS English teacher played as an example of synthesis and mentions that it was good that she learned the anti-religious arguments as part of her HS curriculum. (There is still the ongoing debate about the need to include Biblical criticism and arguments against religion in a Yeshiva day school curriculum, but she sees the inclusion as positive.) Is she an alternative to the Centrist Orthodox condemnation of Harvard and the ivys? This dread created alarmist warning against Harvard a few years ago which helped foster the culture of what one critic of the document called “fearful Orthodoxy.”
God and Woman at Harvard
A 2010 summa cum laude heads to a convent.
Don’t tell Mary Anne Marks the Catholic Church is an oppressive, misogynistic disaster. She knows better. And she’s got a Harvard degree, too.
Miss Marks, a native of Queens, N.Y., graduated from Harvard University this past semester with an undergraduate degree in classics and English, delivering her commencement address in Latin. This fall, she begins a new life, discerning her future consecrated to Christ as a Catholic religious sister with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Mich.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You are a Harvard graduate. Aren’t you surrendering all the possibilities that entails by entering a convent?
MARY ANNE MARKS: Yes, if one doesn’t see becoming a well-educated, intellectually alive nun as one of the possibilities.
LOPEZ: Your call was not a sudden one. You explained to a Harvard publication that you’ve “always thought about being a nun.” You grew up in Queens at the turn of the 21st century. How would you ever think of such a thing?
MARKS: Religious life is an institution thriving in our time and in our nation; go figure.
LOPEZ: Is the countercultural nature of your call important? Especially now, in this culture, in your generation?
MARKS: Absolutely. Religious are called to witness by their life and garb to supernatural realities: God’s existence, His immeasurable love for each person, and the fact that our duty and happiness lie in returning His love. This witness becomes increasingly important as a culture’s materialism and corresponding distaste for the supernatural increase.
LOPEZ: Was there anything at Dominican Academy that especially helped your spiritual growth and discernment?
MARKS: My English teacher, Mrs. Gunset, and her daily example of faith, joy, and charity inspired and encouraged me.
It is a tragic irony that Dominican Academy also helped my spiritual growth by laying before me in religion classes from the lips of my own teachers many classic arguments for relativism and Biblical fallibility. When I encountered these same ideas in college, I was prepared, because I had worked through counterarguments with my parents at home in high school.
LOPEZ: What are some of the most notable or revealing things that adults — maybe especially faculty — have said to you once they became aware of your vocational plans?
MARKS: Two of my professors told me they had siblings who had entered religious life. Another, a kind but thoroughly unsentimental professor who had been very encouraging of my intention to apply to graduate school, ended our discussion of my change of plans by opening her arms and declaring quietly, “I am going to give you a hug, because this is a big decision, and I admire you for it.” When I remarked to yet another professor on the many positive responses from faculty, he replied that he wasn’t surprised that academics could appreciate the appeal of a life of contemplation and of single-minded pursuit of a spiritual goal.
LOPEZ: Are you happy?
LOPEZ: For all those, younger and older than you, who are in pursuit of happiness or have given up on it: What is it and how do you hold onto it?
MARKS: Happiness is the sense of peace and joy that stems from knowledge of and union with the One Who created us and Who loves us infinitely. We will attain it fully in heaven, but we can achieve it to a significant extent beforehand by battling our desire to remain independent of God, ignoring the voices that label religion boring and unnecessary, and better acquainting ourselves with Truth through study and prayer.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.