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Day 3: Sister Joan Chittister, OSB speaks at CWR

October 03, 2019
By Dusty Krikau
Sisters Joan Chittister with one of more than 60 books she has published.

This blog post is part of a series reflecting the experience of Dusty Krikau as she visits the sisters in Bisbee and Tuscon and attends the conference for Communicators for Women Religious. While Dusty is an employee of the congregation, the views expressed here are her own personal reflections on the time spent near the border, with the sisters, and learning from other congregations at the conference; they are not necessarily endorsed by the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes.

Attending professional conferences is always enriching. I inevitably leave with many ideas to implement in my office, but rarely do I feel quite as inspired about why my job is important as I did this morning when listening to Sister Joan Chittister, OSB.

Before I begin, I feel it is important to clarify that I am not Catholic; I’m not even Christian. Here’s why that matters: I’m about to talk about all the great things that Jesus said and did and for those reading along that don’t identify as Catholic, I think it is important to realize that regardless of whether or not you believe Jesus is the Savior, there is still much to be gained by examining his life. Part of the reason I love working for sisters is because they live their lives looking at Jesus through two lenses. These lenses, as described this morning by Sister Joan, are Jesus the healer and Jesus the prophet.

  • Jesus the healer is all mercy and love and “warm fuzzies.” Jesus the healer is easy to follow because showing mercy and being nice make us feel good inside. It is a “spiritual jacuzzi.”
  • Jesus the prophet refuses to ignore injustices and operates in the way of the ancient prophets, a “herald in the camp,” bringing attention to times when we are not caring for creation in all of its forms.

During her keynote address today, Sister Joan challenged us, “We have managed to domesticate Jesus … made him sweetness and light in a nuclear world. … We have learned to be nice and equated it with being good.” She explained that it is easy to follow Jesus the healer, but we must not only learn from Jesus the healer. Instead we must embrace the prophetic Jesus in addition to the healer. We must ask ourselves on a daily basis, what choice we are making when we see injustice in the world. She outlined three options:

  1. Withdrawal – In this case we see the problem, but, knowing we do not have the answers to the problem, we choose to pass the question along to someone else.
  2. Passive Acceptance – Here we choose to stay silent and allow an unjust status quo to remain in place and unquestioned.
  3. Speak as a Prophet – Refuse to accept the status quo, by speaking up against things like violence, trafficking, wage inequality, homelessness, the wanton disregard for the destruction of the planet, militarism, false prosperity…

Obviously, the answer that reflects the values of Jesus the prophet is to speak as a prophet, but that is a scary prospect. If ancient prophets are any indication of how prophets are received by their communities, we know the reward for speaking as a prophet is often to be ostracized or, as was the case for Jesus, death at the hands of those we are trying to help. Additionally, the work is often not something that can be completed in one lifetime, so we may never see the fruits of our labor. However, Sister Jean encouraged us, “If not for us, then because of us.” She provided four imperatives that make prophetic spirituality possible:

  1. A strong spiritual life – The spirit of God provides long-lasting strength to sustain the efforts of prophetic voices
  2. Recognize we are one link in a large chain of prophetic voices and hopes
  3. A heart of deep friendships, because you cannot walk the prophetic life alone
  4. Time & distance to live a distinctly “other” part of your life in which you can recognize a good joke, laugh heartily, love parties, and are a good friend to those around you.

This is what sisters around the world have been doing for centuries. The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes served as a prophetic voice in Fond du Lac 160 years ago when they saw the value of education and opened their school doors to people of all of faith backgrounds. Mother Agnes spoke with a prophetic voice when she persisted through bureaucracy to open the city’s first hospital and provide healthcare to all who needed it. The prophetic voices in CSA and many other congregations stayed loud and clear in the fields of education and healthcare and they succeeded in bringing accessible education and healthcare into the mainstream conversation. Now congregations are using their voices to bring about change in a much broader array of topics. The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes has sisters currently working with UN organizations to reduce homelessness worldwide, other sisters who have gone to the border to remind us regularly that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity, more who are helping the working poor find a way to navigate their way to a stable living wage, and others who are working with municipalities to develop green energy plans and reduce pesticide use. As a culture, we became so used to hearing their voices in the fields of education and healthcare, that we sometimes fail to realize that they have taken on new challenges with just as much ferocity as Jesus took on the moneychangers in the temple.

The sisters voices are directed at the systems they are working to change, so they can be easily overlooked by the general public. The Mission Advancement staff is here to showcase that work and inspire future change makers, so that those who are also shining a light on injustices know they are part of a larger community and those who are considering speaking out for the first time know they are not alone.

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