Joan Chittister: ‘A Call Is A Sacred Reason to be Alive’

Joan Chittister, OSB
Joan Chittister, OSB

“Life is pure flame,” Thomas Browne wrote, “and we live by an invisible sun within us.” It is this invisible sun, this light within, this call to something worthwhile in life that is meant to dispel life’s darkness. It gives us our reason to be. And it is this call to the fullness of ourselves that drives us on, that becomes our internal measure of worth and, in the end, it is, as well, the judge of our quality of happiness.

Life is not about having a job. Life is about responding to the great human call to make life more than a series of aimless occupations. A call is a sacred reason to be alive.

The spiritual value of discovering the star by which we are steering the entire rest of our lives shapes us both internally and publicly. It affects the way we feel about ourselves, it determines how we relate to others, it defines our place in the world, and it provides a sense of purpose to life. When those things are defined, the emptiness goes, the rootlessness goes, the capriciousness of life that eats away at the heart of us disappears. Days may be difficult after that, yes, but they at least have a sense of meaning. We are no longer simply spinning around in the space called our lives, fearful of the future, dissatisfied with the present. We are now going someplace for a reason larger than ourselves and feeling more humanly significant than simply self-important.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Following the Path: the Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy by Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister on Passion and Purpose

Gerrie Govert's The Stone Cutter, Indiana

“What’s your passion? In the end, it is passion and purpose—passion and purpose—that are of the essence of a vocation, a call to do something that makes me a conscious co-creator of the world.

An old medieval story makes the point best. A traveler came across three stonecutters. “What are you doing?” the traveler asked the first man. “I am making a living,” the man said. “And what are you doing?” the traveler asked the second man. And that man answered, “I am practicing to become the best stonecutter in Europe.” Then the man asked the third laborer. And the third man answered, “I am building a cathedral.”

In my commitment to my vocation, whatever it may be—helping cripples to walk and people to die dignified deaths and children to learn and the world to grow seeds and nations to live in peace—I myself become a holy person, a mystic whose God is alive and present and waiting for us to do what must be done to make creation itself a holy place.

A call demands endurance and persistence, commitment and stability. To be a real call it must be something worth giving my time, my resources, myself to doing. It has nothing to do with success as measured in the number of people served or the numbers of units produced or the number of events attended. It has everything to do with trying. As the Sufi say, “If you are expecting to find an answer to your problem, you have simply not asked a big enough question.” It is out of awareness of our role on earth that we find our place on earth.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Following The Path by Joan Chittister

Abbot Philip: ‘We Rise Early, We Pray A Lot’

Occasional excerpts from the extraordinary letters of Abbot Phillip from Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico.

… At home in Christ in the Desert, everything continues to function well, even in my absence. This is one of the most important aspects of monastic life: the monastery continues to live a normal and regular life even when the abbot is away. Far too often people think that the whole monastery depends on the abbot. There is no doubt that any abbot gives a particular identity to a community. That is simply part of the job. One day there will be another abbot and all of us will have to adjust to his way of doing things. On the other hand, if an abbot can keep delegating as much as possible, the community takes on its own fairly clear identity, more leaders are formed and when it is time to change abbots, the change is not so difficult. …

Our life is supposed to be a life that is not easy to live. It is not supposed to be so difficult that no one can live it. The challenge comes from the necessary focus on the inner life and the disciplines that support that inner life. We rise early, we pray a lot, we work hard and we read the Scriptures and commentaries on them. The life is pretty much the same, day after day, week after week and month after month. The monotony is to free our inner energies so that they focus on prayer and contemplation. For me, it is an enormous blessing of God that we have so many men try our life. It is another great blessing that so many actually stay and persevere….–Abbot Philip, OSB

Read his whole letter.

Thomas Merton: Vocation is Working with God

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and [children] of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth.”–Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, 1961, p 32)