From Certainty to Faith

Last week I read  JOAN CHITTISTERHER JOURNEY FROM CERTAINTY TO FAITH by Tom Roberts.  It came in the post as a complete surprise ~ I had pre-ordered it and forgotten.  It came at a time when I couldn’t get my head around reading anything . . . and so I opened the first page . . . and I couldn’t put it down.  

I took to my highlighter and highlighted a few sentences in the early chapters ~ which jumped off the page and hooked me . . . and by the end of the book there were frequent yellow neon marks highlighting all that touched me ~ whether in pain, or in wonder.

The sentences and sound bites moved me ~ sometimes out of context ~ and sometimes in So I thought it best to list the page numbers, alongside each excerpt.  This is not a blog post as such ~ this is a list of the excerpts that spoke to me and held me painfully and inspiringly close . . . at a time when all I wanted to do was fall away.

So in my falling I leave you with these . . . .

Pg 4 – Her conviction made her at times a threatening presence to the men who ruled the Catholic Community.

Pg 5 – I learned that fear of wrath did not seduce me to love.  I learned that God the distant doer of unpredictable and arbitrary magic failed to engage my soul, let alone enlighten it.

Pg 114 – I, for one wanted to die following Jesus the contemplative – the contemplative Jesus – from Galilee to Jerusalem doing good: healing sick, raising the dead, contending with the legalists’ interpretation of the Law, empowering women as He did the Samaritan woman to ‘go into the town and tell them who and what you have seen’

Pg 114 – What she produced, however, would have lacked depth and authenticity had it not been written out of lived experience.

Pg 117 –

  1.  Make time every day for quiet/solitude.
  2. Keep halls quiet so people can find real rest and sanctuary in their rooms.  Create a reflective atmosphere.
  3. Read, especially in areas important to the spiritual life, areas you don’t understand or have questions about.
  4. Pray reflectively; go into the psalms and readings of the day.
  5. Share insights/reflections with others

Pg 117 – To be closed to growth, to new zeal, to love, is to die long before our time.

Pg 117 – Try praying with a “blank mind” in an attitude of waiting to “see what comes … knowing that whatever it is, it probably will not look like anything you were hoping to get. The baby did not look like God.  The manger did not look like the kingdom.  The place did not look promising, but in those things lay our salvation.”

Pg  134 – “Monasticism is the most piercing expression of the search for truth, the conscious investigation of the marrow of what it means to be fully human.  The monastic gives life over to the search for the spirit in life that makes matter holy and the spiritual attainable.  Monasticism is about more than living every day well. It is an exercise in living every day on a plane above itself, of seeing in the obvious more than the obvious, of finding even in the mundane the creative energy that drives creation to heights beyond itself.

Pg 135 – How to make sense of all that had occurred in the previous years . . . an emphasis on the contemplative life and a monasticism that was not dependent on a routine built around a single ministry.

Pg 138 – “She’s really with you in the now . . . . . . but it’s her zeal for God that embraces you, and you catch fire.  I mean don’t you see that?  I mean, she loves God primarily and she loves everybody else she comes in contact with.  I don’t know how to describe zeal for God except I know it.  You can experience it and hear it in her words, but you also see it in her eyes and experience it in her presence.”

Pg 140 – Contemplation “is taking a long loving look at the real.”

Pg 149 – She calls on women in the church to lift their “voices and pens against any church decision, any church publication, any churchman who does not recognise the equal human dignity, equal personal worth, equal potential for spiritual and intellectual growth of women and men”

Pg 162 – These men are not going to do this.  They have no right.

Pg 163 – The plaint of a woman who would not be ordered to be silent.  “this was not a woman’s issue to me.  This was a justice issue that happened to be rooted in the women’s question.  It was a matter of ‘Who do you think you are that you can tell me what to think, tell me to whom I may speak, tell me where I can or cannot go?

Pg 163 – but I refuse to be complicit in the silence.  I will scream and I will tell, and I am not going to give into this kind of intimidation and ruthless, brutal use of power simply because I am a woman without power.  It was that simple.  That’s the whole story.  It’s right there.

Pg 165 – “all well and good for you, your Eminence, but we don’t ever get invited in here where you decide our lives.  We’re invisible.  Yes, I am right, we are right, you know we’re right.  But I will never be quiet.  I will not keep that law of silence.  That law is sinful.  That law covers the sins against half the church, and I will never agree that it’s right for the church”

Pg 169 – So I said it’s time to stand straight and be healed.

Pg 171 – The church may assert in changlessness, she said, but it is certainly changing.

Pg 171 – Prisca, and Lydia, and Thecla, and Phoebe and hundreds of women like them, opened house churches, walked as disciples of paul, ‘constrained him,’ the scripture says, to serve a given reason, instructed people in the faith and ministered to the fledgling Christian communities with no apology, no argument, no tricky theological shell game about whether they were ministering ‘in persona Christi’ or ‘in nomine Christi.”

Pg 171 – They need the sacred, not the sexist.  The people need more prophets, not more priests.  They need discipleship, not canonical decrees.

Pg 170 – the acceptance of women-and the supplanting of law with love,

Pg 171 “to follow Jesus . . . is to follow the one who turns the world upside down, even the religious world.

Pg 171 – touching lepers, raising donkeys from ditches on Sabbath days, questioning the unquestionable and-consorting with women!

Pg 171 – “The new fact of life is that discipleship to women and the discipleship of women is key to the discipleship of the rest of the church.”  Chittister spoke of the exclusion of women and emphasized those moments in the life of Jesus when he overturned conventions and met and ate with those whom religious authorities at the time considered outcasts.  Her words had behind them the weight of personal experience.

Pg 172 – What kind of God it is that would give a woman a mind, a soul, a baptism, and a call and then forbid her to answer it when a sacramental church is in danger of losing the sacraments.

Pg 172 – The obligation, she says, is to establish such an overwhelming case for the injustice of the exclusion of women that someday the hierarchical church will have to listen.

Pg 176 – Three percent of the church is clerical.  Ninety-seven percent of the church is the heart of the church.  Listen to them.  Take their data.  Talk in the parishes.  See how people feel.  The infallibility doctrine says that all the pope can do is affirm the infallibility of what the church already knows.  Now how do we know what the church already knows? We have to ask.  They’ve asked nobody.

Pg 177 – should use her influence for the good of the church

Chittister never received any personal communication from the Vatican.  She wasn’t disciplined.  She was not restricted in any way in her writing or her speaking.

Pg 187 – You are more than this community.  She commissioned her to “be free” to speak and to write.  “Please, in our name, take us wherever you go.  Be free.”

“I eyed the copse of larch behind us and the rolling fields of wild-flowers along the horizon. There has to be a source for all this, I had long ago decided.”

Pg 195 – “I heard that I could have the Eucharist without having it but had to go to it,”

Pg 195 – Religions, she writes, are intended to lead us all to the divine and along the way they “provide a kind of landmark . . . We can see the cross, or the star, or the lotus, or the half moon before us, calling us on.  Or, we sense that [they are] behind us, calling us back. Or we come to feel that [they are] beside us, giving us strength as we go”on with the definitions and boundaries and traditions.  “Religion is meant to bring us to spirituality, ” she says.  “But spirituality brings people to religion, as well.”  Each serves the journey to a life with God, who is “greater than religion” and “the spiritual within us that calls us to the deep, conscious living of a spiritual life.  God is the question that drives us beyond facile answers . . . the invisible vision that drives us to the immersion of the self in God.”

Pg 206 – “The fact that she has remained faithful to the Catholic tradition, even through troubled times, increases her credibility with some,  . . .  She’s deeply committed, and yet she’s not willing to compromise her principles.”

Pg 208 – What does that say about the churches acceptance of the full humanity of women?

Pg 208 – They know as well as we do what is going on.  They know how the church views women, never really condemns men – boys will be boys after all.  Never cares about a woman’s questions.

Pg 208 – Transforming communities through Love and Compassion,

Pg 216 – Religious life will not die in the future unless it is dead in religious already.  Each and every religious alive today is its carrier.  Each of us is its life.  To understand what religious life will look like in the future one need only “look in a reflecting pool: Is there energy of heart shining out of the eyes there? Is there a pounding commitment to a wild and unruly gospel there? Is the spiritual life aglow there? Is there risk there?  Is there unflagging commitment, undying intensity, unequivocal determination to be what I say I am?”

Pg 216 “Is religious life in a brand new arc demanding more discipline from me and giving more life through me than ever?”

Pg 224 “the religious fall so completely into the arms of Christ, the mind of God, that nothing will suffice except to become what one seeks: the merciful One, the loving One, the truth-telling One, the One who says, Go you and do likewise.'”

Pg 224 – Jesus was hounded by the synagogue, feared by the state, thought crazy by his relatives, rejected by his neighbours and loved only by the outcasts of society

Pg 225 – Our only obligation is to go to the grave being religious ourselves.

Pg 225 – Such living, moving beyond running in place, requires risk, “faith unbounded by reason”

Pg 225 – “Risk walks with God as its only sure companion.  The religious . . . that risks its reputation for the sake of new questions and its benefactors for the sake of peace and its clerical support for the sake of women and its lifestyle for the sake of the ecological stewardship of the planet and its retirement monies for the sake of the poor walks the way of holy risk” Such risk can make life difficult,

Page 225 – religious communities must become centres of spirituality and spirituality centres

Pg 226 – “metamorphosis of religious communities into retreat centres, spiritual direction centres, liturgy centres, hospitality centres – those are the components of centres of spirituality and spirituality centres.”

Pg 227 – “You start at the beginning of the week timid and wondering what this place is, and by the end of it you don’t want to leave.  You feel so engrossed in it because they just welcome you so fully.”

Pg 227 – ‘I loved it so much.  I want to share this with people.  I want to bring people here and see them experience it like I did’

Pg 227 – It’s got to be that thing you just can’t kick

Pg 227/8 – I want to make sure that then their spirit – what they lived for and worked for their whole lives – stays here because that is what keeps this city alive

Pg 229 – Monastery of the Heart

Pg 229 – “He lived the life everyone else lived – but differently,”

Pg 230 – “Joan takes the Erie Benedictines to the world and then brings the world back to us.”

Pg 231 – Pope John Paul II, beseeching him to include women “in all ministries of our Church,”

Pg 233 – ‘I write to everybody because they’re my connection.  That’s what I do . . . I stay up at night writing.

Pg 233 – Joan Chittister will continue always to see a beckoning God everywhere.

Pg 234 – the art of encounter with the poor and the marginalised, Francis was recalibrating Catholics’ notion of authority, leadership, and what it means to be authentically Christian.

Pg 234 – His language to the cardinals following a consistory in February 2015 appeared to  fairly turn on end the old criteria both for leadership and for who is considered worthy of inclusion in the community.

Pg 234 – “the thinking God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.’  . . . “the way of Jesus” . . .”the way of mercy and reintegration.”

Pg 234 – he continually pressed the case of encountering and walking with the poor and those considered outcasts.  “Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences.  For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family.”

Pg 234 – His agenda seems far closer to that of the nuns who have taken to the streets in service of the poor and disenfranchised than to clerical careerists making certain that the pure faith is not sullied by those who fall short of true orthodoxy or who ask unsettling questions.  “I have great hope in this man,”

Pg 235 – Francis’s blind spot in the view of many women, is the subject of women. Though he has spoken powerfully in condemning violence against women and the need to see women incorporated into decision-making in all levels of church and society, there has been little real movement within the church.  His language in speaking about women is often awkward, his metaphors dated, and they can even, at times, seem demeaning.

Pg 235 – “Women are the bottom of the bottom, the worst of the poor, and they will always bear the weight of any injustice more than any other part of society, except for children.  So, if he’s honest, he’ll find it and something will happen.  And I believe he’s honest, but he’s not there. . . . what got me there – my heart and honesty”

Pg 235 – Some may find her comments exasperating, far too patient for one who can bring such passion and insistent clarity to articulating the way women remain invisible in the church.

. . . .   and then there’s the final page . . . Pg 236

“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.” That is the explanation, she said, for “how it is possible, necessary even, for me as a Roman Catholic to stay in a church that is riddled with inconsistencies, closed to discussion about the implication of them, and sympathetic only to invisible women.  The fact that I have come to realise over the years that church is not a place, it is a process.  To leave the church may, in fact,  be leaving part of the process of my own development.  And so, intent on the process of grappling with truth, I stay in it, when, for a woman, staying in it is full of pain, frustration, disillusionment and, far too often, even humiliation.  Both of us, this church and I . . . need to grow.  The church needs to grow in its understanding of the Gospel, and I need to grow in my understanding of myself as I strive to live it.  It is, in other words, a journey of conversion for both of us.”

The essay is a finely crafted statement of fidelity, the deeply considered answer to the kind of  “why” questions she asks of so many others.  Her model, she writes, is the Jesus who wept over Jerusalem, who taught in the synagogue and presided over the seder on Holy Thursday, “Jesus proclaiming his truth whatever the situation, whatever the cost; Jesus grappling with the depression that comes from failure, from rejection; Jesus trusting the truth, living the faith, and hoping to the end.”

She stays in, she said, especially as a woman for women because “the sexist church I love needs women for its own salvation.  The truth it holds, women test for authenticity.  We are sanctifying one another, this church and the women who refuse to be silent, refuse to be suppressed.”  But it is not all in one direction, she concedes.  An understanding exists, she writes, that “what each of us sets out to convert will in the end convert us as well. Women will call the church to truth.  The church will call women to faith.”


About mags

Beloved apostle of His Soul x
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