An alternative lifestyle
Jamaica is a highly sexualised society. Reggae and dancehall glorify sexual prowess, and commercial advertising displays the human body to sell almost anything. Pornography is easily available on the Internet, and even when you read the daily newspapers online, you are besieged with advertisements for 'Cuban girls' and the like.
Print media have regular features offering advice on how to impress the opposite sex - to get more sex - and to improve your sex life. Schoolers having sex in school, after school and on school buses is not uncommon. The media campaign to normalise all-sexual behaviour is in full swing. And the Church, which advocates sexual activity in lifelong faithful heterosexual relationships, is under serious attack for being in the dark ages.
Widespread sexual harassment is an indication of how highly sexualised Jamaica has become. Rape and sexual assault are extreme versions, but our culture of cyclists following women walking on the street while putting 'lyrics' to them, or openly commenting on the adequacy of certain female body parts, and offering assistance, are symptomatic of a society sexually out of control.
Last week Sunday, September 7, hundreds gathered to celebrate a much-maligned alternative lifestyle that runs counter-culture to highly sexualised Jamaica. In a wonderful celebration at Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Jamaican 'Blue Sisters' (who operate Holy Childhood High School and Preparatory School, among others) marked their 85th anniversary at the very same place they were founded in 1929.
Since 1929, more than 100 Jamaican women have joined the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Jamaica, affectionately called the Blue Sisters because of their signature blue garment and veil. They take sacred vows of poverty, of chastity (celibacy), and of obedience to their servant leaders, and live in community with others who have taken similar vows. Some Blue Sisters minister in schools, others in homes for the aged, and others serve in pastoral ministry, shepherding souls.
The religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience these women take are profoundly liberating. The vow of poverty is intended to distance the person from attachments to material things. No Catholic nun 'owns' private property, but has the use of whatever she needs to live. In this materialistic age, declining to own private property runs profoundly counter-culture, and yet is profoundly Christian.
The Acts of the Apostles tells us that in the early Christian community, "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one mind: neither said any of them that any of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common" (Acts 4:32).
The religious vow of obedience liberates the individual from following their own way, from pursuing selfish ambitions. Choosing a position of inferiority implies a spirit of humility. The sacrifice of one's own independence and own will presupposes a spirit of self-denial that keeps the passions under proper restraint. In this, Christians follow Jesus, who put his life in the hands of his Father: "Not my will, but thine be done," (Luke 22:42).
This is not such a foreign idea to many - especially politicians - who give utter obedience to their party leaders.
Vow of chastity
The vow of chastity or celibacy liberates the religious woman (religious men take it, too) from slavery to one's sexual passions. If one is faithful in marriage, one liberates oneself from acting on sexual urges which draw us to persons other than our spouses. Choosing to live a celibate life is a short step from faithfulness in marriage; thousands of single Jamaicans live celibate lives, despite media messages pointing in other directions.
Roman Catholic religious men and women take a vow that celebrates this state. Not everyone is called to celibacy, but it certainly is a possible and acceptable alternative to a life addicted to sexual pleasure, using others for one's own gratification.
At their 85th anniversary celebrations, two young women joined the Blue Sisters - one taking her first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience after several years of religious formation, and the other just entering the period of religious formation.
Congratulations, Blue Sisters! Ad multos annos! And may many more join with you!
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.