Sister Rose and Desperate Housewives

By James M. Wall

In all my years of teaching and writing on film and religion, I have met some special people who enrich my understanding of both film and television. One who stands out as very special is Sister Rose Pacatte,FSP director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA. 

She has a website which I rely on for both the Catholic and the cinematic perspectives on film and television in their many forms. With her permission, I want to quote at some length from a mid-April review she posted on the first episode of this short season of Desperate Housewives. I urge you all, fans or detractors of Desperate Housewives, to read her analysis and then look for reruns or the eventual DVD of the episode.

Sister Rose describes her involvement with media this way: “I have an MEd in Media Studies from the University of London. My primary work is media literacy education for parents and teachers within the context of culture, education and faith formation. I love movies and am the Film/TV columnist for St. Anthony Messenger Magazine.”

My own television loyalty is more House-oriented, but I know Desperate Housewives has its followers, and Sister Rose tells us why, with her religious perspective picking up on the theological sensitivity of this particular episode. As she notes in her analysis, “The only consistent thing about television is that it is inconsistent. Not every show delivers, but many do.”

But let her tell you why:

This episode is all about what faith and worship mean in practice. Lynette, battling cancer, sees Bree and family on their way to church on a Sunday morning, and decides that her family needs to go. Of itself, this may seem trite. But the dialogue, the conversations between the characters, is priceless. Lynette and family go to the Presbyterian church with Bree (though Lynette’s husband was raised Catholic; wait til you hear one of their son’s description of who Jesus us…) but Lynette has questions that the sermon doesn’t answer so she stands up and queries the minister.

Bree’s embarrassment makes her dis-invite Lynette so the next week they go to the Catholic Church…. but what has suffered is the friendship between Lynette and Bree – and how this is resolved is what faith in life is all about.

At the end (this is television, so I get to give away the ending), when Lynette and Bree are laughing and talking again, with a Bible in front of them, they are not reading the Word, they are being the Word. This is not extreme drama; it is ordinary, filled with light, and fine.

If you are engaged in evangelization in any way, this thread of the show will launch many conversations; it will show what any number of lectures and homilies won’t be able to do.

Now, Gaby, the token Catholic who stays Catholic for all the wrong – and right – reasons, is surprisingly well-informed about the canonical status of her marriage … again, the dialogue offers lots to talk about. Her very ineptitude at living her faith evokes conversation about what it means to be who she loudly professes herself to be. (The priest’s knowledge about ritual and canon law seems flawed, but I think Gaby so exasperates him that he goes along. This says as much about his faith as Gaby’s.

The women of Wysteria Lane are not perfect, they are greatly flawed – and seemingly criminal. But they have hearts and souls and it looks like the writers are back on track with the heart and humanity, truth and consequences apsects, of the show.

This episode is about asking questions and asking and asking, even when it makes others socially uncomfortable. Lynette may not be seeking next week, but this week she is. In their own ways, all the characters on DH are.

If the tornado episodes re-run, be sure to get them. Again, humanity and heart can emerge even from shows with a bottom drawer reputation in the faith community.

If you have access to the first season of DH, check out the Valentine’s Day episode. The thread about Lynette and Mrs. McCloskey is the epitome of what living faith is all about.

Be surprised.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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