Chittister: Confront challenges, seize opportunities, build a new world

This story appears in the NCR 50th anniversary conference feature series. View the full series.
Sr. Joan Chittister speaking at the NCR conference at Dominican University Oct. 24. (NCR photo)

Sr. Joan Chittister speaking at the NCR conference at Dominican University Oct. 24. (NCR photo)

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Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister began her talk to the NCR 50th anniversary conference in typical Chittister style: With a quote from French philosopher Albert Camus, a quote from English poet John Dryden and joke about a duck who walks into an Irish pub.

She got the near capacity crowd in Lund Auditorium on Dominican University, just outside Chicago, roaring with laughter with the line “You got any grapes?” but she also roused the audience at the NCR conference with a fiery challenge: to be impudent, to be bold and to be courageous in the pursuit of peace, justice and equality.

“Happy 50th Anniversary to the National Catholic Reporter,” Chittister proclaimed. “For all our sakes, we’re begging you: don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit.”

Chittister was one of four speakers at the Oct. 24 event titled New Faces, New Voices, New Ways of Being Church: An Exploration of the American Catholic Church Going Forward.” The other speakers were University of San Diego professor of religious studies Maria Pilar Aquino, Marquette University theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale and NCR columnist Jamie Manson.

NCR is making available the text and videos of these addresses. Aquino’s and Mason’s talks and videos have already been posted. As all they are ready, all the talks and videos will be posted here.

Chittsiter’s speech, the last of the day, was based on the scripture Mark 10:49 and titled “Take courage, get up, He’s calling you.” It was a rousing call to action for the more than 750 people in attendance to “rise up,” confront today’s challenges, seize today’s opportunities and build a new world.

“The lessons are clear,” Chittiter said. “First, the work of development, in this age as in all others, the work of real renewal, is ours. We cannot blame God for what we do not do to save ourselves.

“And second … unless we care enough about life to risk our own for it, the entire community is in danger. Unless there are those who are willing to think newly, to begin again in situations like these, the people cannot be saved.”

Here are highlights from her talk:

  • It is God’s command to Abraham to bring new life to Canaan, an area that had become a veritable confusion of cultures, where life had great potential but little spiritual focus as one people after another took root there, merged there, melted into one another there and lived in perpetual and relentless conflict. We understand that kind of situation only too well. We are watching one church melt into another now and one nation – ours – reshaping itself again, as well.
  • The fact is that tyrants seldom simply disappear of their own accord: they must be made to disappear by sheer insistence; by the simple, perpetual refusal to forego the really important questions of the time.
  • When we, too, think only of ourselves, nationally as well as internationally, personally as well as publicly; when as a culture we consider it good business to take more profit than the work justifies, when we to pay fewer taxes but want more service, when militarism is the way we make our money to save our economy, we, too, take for ourselves what belongs to the poor.
  • The church adds cultures that undervalue women and try to make them invisible by erasing them even from its language of prayer, removes women from its altars, closes its offices to women,  and when it refuses to talk about the woman’s issue -- even the restoration of the historically confirmed diaconate for women. Refuse the refusal!
  • Refuse to allow the question of women in church and society to die or the full glory of God dies with it.
  • Religious chauvinism, and national chauvinism, and patriarchal chauvinism, and clerical chauvinism doom us all. They warp the word of God.

Below is a video of Chittister’s talk. She begins speaking at about 6:15 minutes. The full text of her talk follows the video and is available in PDF format.





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