Joan Chittister: To Be A Moral Force in the World

Sr. Joan's recent lecture in Boston was cut short due to a false fire alarm.

The invitation to be a “perfect fool” is at least an invitation to perfection.

As brother Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Speaking up for justice within the incomprehensible love of God is part of the process of salvation, the journey of becoming “children of God.”

Sr. Joan reminds me of my responsibility to the process of my salvation, the ongoing practice of following Christ. She says:

There are three obstacles to our personal development that would make us a moral force in the world.

First, fear of loss of status has done more to chill character than history will ever know. We do not curry favor with kings by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. We do not gain promotions by countering the beloved viewpoints of the chair of the board or the bishop of the diocese. We do not figure in the neighborhood barbecues if we embarrass the Pentagon employees in the gathering by a public commitment to demilitarization. It is hard time, this choice of destiny between public conscience and social acceptability. Then we tell ourselves that nothing is to be gained by upsetting people. And sure enough, nothing is.

Second, personal comfort is a factor, too, in the decision to let other people bear responsibility for the tenor of our times. It takes a great deal of effort to turn my attention beyond the confines of where I work and where I live and what my children do. It lies in registering interest in something beyond my small, small world and perhaps taking part in group discussions or lectures. It requires turning my mind to substance beyond sitcoms and the sports channel and the local weekly. It means not allowing myself to go brain-dead before the age of forty. But these things that cost comfort are exactly the things that will, ultimately, make life better for my work and my children.

Third, fear of criticism is no small part, surely, of this unwillingness to be born into the world for which I have been born. To differ from the mainstream of humanity, to take a position that is not popular tests the tenor of the best debaters, the strongest thinkers, the most skilled of speakers. To do that at the family table or in the office takes the utmost in courage, the ultimate in love, the keenest communication skills. And who of us have them?

The process of human discourse is a risky one. Other people speak more clearly or convincingly than we do. Other people have better academic backgrounds than we do. Other people have authority and robes and buttons and titles that we do not now and ever will have, and to confront those things takes nerve of a special gauge. I may lose. I may make a perfect fool out of myself. But everybody has to be perfect about something. What else can be more worth it than giving the gift of the perfect question in a world uncomfortable with the answers but too frightened or too complacent or too ambitious to raise these doubts again? — Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

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