What is New is Old: Nuns and Nones

I recently read a fascinating article in the New York Times about a new organization called Nuns and Nones. The goal of this organization is to bring together Catholic nuns (a group whose members are literally dying and not being replaced) and millennials who have no specific religious affiliation (the “nones”) to build relationships in order to further social justice goals.

The article focuses on a pilot program that placed several millennial activists in a convent. In exchange for a low-cost place to live, the millennials help take care of the sisters. Of course, what seems somewhat transactional led to deeper relationships and knowledge between the two odd-couple groups.

I encourage you to read the article but here are two observations about the nones that stood out to me:

The nones were highly interested in ritual

The nuns reported that their new housemates were highly interested in rituals outside of the Catholic belief system the nuns held dear. This surprised them.

“So many of the millennials would say, ‘I’m looking for rituals. I’m looking for rituals to work in my lesbian community or social justice or I need rituals for this other thing,” Sister Carle said. One young woman wanted ritual so much that she started going to Mass every morning.

In my own ancient wisdom experiments, I found rituals both tedious and meaningful. Attending Mass on a near daily basis or observing Salat five times per day could be tiring, but ultimately focused my attention on things that matter, at least for a short while. They provide structure for the soul.

Creating meaningful rituals on your own is difficult and the desire by these nones to adopt a wholly foreign religions rituals suggests that many of us are probably under-ritualized.

The nones wanted the hard thing

Nuns take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in service of their beliefs. This deeply impressed the millennials.

The Nones, many of whom said they felt overwhelmed by life’s choices, were drawn to the discipline and the notion of sacrifice. A life of chastity was especially appealing to them … “It’s about deciding what’s the price we’re willing to pay for the world that we want to live in and the life we want to live,” Ms. Bradley said.

It’s important to think about both the things we want and the price we’re willing to pay for the things we want. When there is a disparity between the goal and the price, it disturbs us.

We do not value what we attain too easily and we do not often think about what we value. Worthy goals demand sacrifice and sacrifice demands worthy goals.

All the nones were idealistic and had ambitious social justice agendas but it is clear that they did not run it through the sacrifice filter.

I think many of us are finding that living solely for ourselves is not a worthy goal but it has inspired a disproportionate amount of effort.


It is encouraging that my fellow millennials have not totally written off ancient wisdom in their quest to lead meaningful lives. The Nuns and Nones program seems like an excellent way to learn from those who dedicated their lives to an ancient tradition.