“You have to stop sitting there with your jaw loose, hoping that somebody else will say something important. . . . You must speak up.”
With a tremendous buzz in the air, Joan Chittister OSB unfurled her call to action to 160 religious and clergy who gathered in Parramatta for her presentation, “Roots and Wings: The Emergence of a Synodal Church”, an event co-sponsored by Catholic Religious Australia (CRA) and the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.
Chittister is an American Benedictine nun, theologian, internationally renowned author and speaker. She is also an outspoken advocate of justice, peace and equality, especially for women worldwide, and has been one of America’s visionary spiritual voices for more than 30 years.
That visionary voice was in full flight at Parramatta as she worked her way through the major themes and documents of the Second Vatican Council, citing the liberating movements, so long overdue, that were unleashed by the authority of a General Ecumenical Council and the Holy Spirit.
“People do not belong to the Church, they are the Church”, Chittister reminded her audience, impressing on them that the believer has both the right and a duty to use their gifts in the Church.
In a similar vein, she described how Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation unleashed the energy of Scripture on what had become an overly ‘catechetical’ Catholic landscape. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy moved us from attending “Father’s Mass” to participating in the worship of the community. Other Council documents called ordained ministers to be deeply ‘familied’ rather than set apart, to be mature leaders and not ‘altar boys’. Teachings such as the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Decree on Ecumenism, and the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, moved us from being a Catholic ‘ghetto’ to being a Church engaged with society’s multi-cultural, multi-faith and myriad other complexities, seeking healing, justice, reconciliation and unity.
Again and again, Chittister circled back to the central challenge for her audience. Synodality, she insisted, requires your voice and experience. “You must speak up!… You are the angel carriers [of the Council’s dreams and plans.] If you don’t do it, not only will it not be done, you will have been, this time, at fault.”
“Joan doesn’t pull any punches,” commented Anne Walker, CRA’s National Executive Director. “Her speaking circuit these past weeks has provided a fitting stimulus for Catholics in this time of synodality consultations and Plenary Council discussions.”
In Chittister’s use of imagery, we the Church need “roots” (tradition, rather than traditionalism), just as we need “wings” – the courage to take initiative and move forward with the developments that the Church itself mandated nearly 60 years ago.
Chittister added, “At Vatican II, the Church told us what the Church wanted to be. And told us to make it so.”
May we make it so!
With thanks to Catholic Religious Australia.