Discussion Questions for Sister Helen Prejean: The Face of Love
1. Sister Helen Prejean gave up life as she knew it when she entered the convent. What have you had to give up to pursue your purpose?
2. Everything changed again for Sister Helen when Vatican II, a worldwide council of the Catholic Church, invited the nuns to trade a life of obedience for one of discernment. What needs of the world compel you? What gifts of your own can you offer? How are you discerning the intersection between the two?
3. Sister Helen was drawn to the contemplative side of the spiritual life. Like Saint Teresa of Avila, she longed to be a mystic, even better one who levitated. But she admits that she was “in it for the fruits.” How does your ego show up in your vocational or spiritual quests? When have you noticed you’re “in it for the fruits” rather than something else? What do you want to be in it for?
4. A lightening strike moment happened for Sister Helen when she heard a talk by another Sister who said “Poverty wasn’t God’s will.” She promptly moved into the housing projects and realized, with the help of her African American neighbors, that she wasn’t so virtuous. She had simply been protected, cushioned, and well-resourced in her life. Have you ever had a similar lightening strike moment about your own worldview or privilege? What did you learn? Who were your teachers?
5. Sister Helen assures Kate that it took her a long time to wake up to her purpose as it related to the social justice dimension of following Jesus. She says, “You can put yourself in good surroundings, you can read books, you can hang out with people that you believe are enlightened, but when we wake up from the inside, I see it always as grace. It’s always a gift.” Do you agree with Sister Helen? Why or why not?
6. It was by accident (or what she calls “sneaky Jesus’) that Sister Helen became pen pals with an inmate on death row. When has an accidental encounter changed the course of your life? What did you think you were saying “yes” to? What did your “yes” actually bloom into?
7. During inmate Patrick Sonnier’s last days in the death house, Sister Helen learned to live in the moment instead of letting her mind get ahead of her. The anticipation of death is what kills us, she believes, and because of that expects the death penalty will one day be recognized as torture. When, in your life, has the anticipation of something awful been worse than the thing itself? How are you learning to live in the moment when you want to skip to the end?
8. Everybody needs personal intimacy, whether sexual or not. We need close friends to develop into human beings. Who is one person you care deeply for and cares deeply about you? What do you love in particular about them? How does loving them increase your knowledge about yourself or even God?
9. “Is there life before death?” asks Sister Helen in a passage from her book, River of Fire. In what ways, small or large, do you practice being present to your life before death? Is it letting the love of others sink in? Is it watching birds come and go? Is it something else?
10. Kate begins this podcast with a question: “What gave her (Sister Helen) the courage and can we borrow from that for our own lives?” What will you borrow from Sister Helen’s story to encourage your own?
Bonus: After listening to this week’s podcast, what part of Kate and Sister Helen’s conversation resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?
Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.