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Joan Chittister, OSB
Sr. Joan Chittister signs one of her many books at FutureChurch event.

Over 600 Explore Roots, Wings

By: Mary Ann Flannery VSC

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, nationally recognized writer and speaker spoke to over 600 people for FutureChurch’s October 2nd annual fundraising dinner. Her theme Roots and Wings, Toward a Spirituality of Church Renewal tied the challenge of scriptural interpretation -- in this case the story of
Samuel -- to the documents of Vatican II.
The scriptural rootedness of Catholicism cannot be overlooked for its powerful
meaning in interpreting today’s religious challenges. Taking the story of Eli, the priest who neglected to censure his wayward sons but was able to see, even through his physical blindness, that God had selected Samuel as the young leader of a new Israel, and connecting this scriptural “rootedness” to the “wings” of the Vatican II documents, Chittister pointedly asked if the the Church of today can penetrate the prevailing blindness of the world that refuses to see “the borderless world” and “the rage of the oppressed and invisible.”

Explaining that the “wings of change” are developed from the “roots of change” inherited in scripture, Catholics are compelled to ask, said Chittister, “...how is the Church acting in the modern world? Faith must be re-taught in present circumstances. We must be faithful to the Church to renew it.”

“FutureChurch must make evident what is implied in Vatican II,” said Chittister.
And what is implied?

Chittister referred to several Vatican II documents and left no doubt as to what she thought would give the Church its wings today. “The turning point in the Constitution on the Church was the emphasis on the people of God, not the hierarchy, as instruments in the Church,” she said. With this change of roles we need to ask ourselves how are we open to women, to marginated Catholics, to homosexuals, to married priests?
The roles of the Church are changing but we have yet to decide who acts in what role, Chittister continued. The document on the laity defines the life of the laity as a vocation involving a right and a duty to be responsible for parish programs and other major roles. But, she asked, “...can women, as well as men, seek full investiture in the sacraments of the Church or as officers of the Church?”

Right now, the answer is no.

Listening to Sr. Joan and reflecting on my 40 plus years as a woman religious in service to my Church, I could not help but think of the many individuals I have encountered who sought a more life-generating relationship with their faith, a holistic completion, if you will, of a call deep inside of them which needed “wings.” Some dreamed of serving as priests despite their gender, some dreamed of returning to minister as priests even though married. I wonder how can these faithful grow the wings of ministry for which they may be gifted, educated and dedicated in a Church that excludes them on the basis of a medieval anthropology or arcane, man-made laws?
And if some of us are not convinced by theology, I believe the glaring statistics showing plummeting numbers of priests should be enough to make us take a sober look at what the Holy Spirit seems to be saying? It is a depressing reality that our fundamental right to the Eucharist is in serious jeopardy.

So, what might the Holy Spirit be asking?

For starters, said Chittister, “We are faced with altering the shape of our faith. We are no longer a hierarchical Church. We are an increasingly diverse Church, a reality predicted in Vatican II and now knocking at our door. We need to look seriously and courageously at optional celibacy for clergy and the ordination of women to the diaconate at least. Roots are not enough.”

New leaders, like Samuel, will emerge if given the wings that Eli recognized. “We must do more in our Church,” said Chittister, “by way of activism with prayerful hope in discerning the Spirit’s direction for us. The Holy Spirit won’t give up on us. Samuel built a new people in the shadow of the old.”

Exactly what Catholics today are called to do. Once they spread their wings.

Fall 2003



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