Why I Stay

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 31, 2006 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

The following excerpts are from a speech by Joan D. Chittister, OSB. This speech can be found in the book “New Designs: An Anthology of Spiritual Vision.” This anthology includes of 20 of her speeches and articles on peace, prophecy, Sabbath, prayer, work, justice and other topics. It is best argument I have ever heard for “why we should stay.”

“It is good to have an end to journey towards,” Ursula Le Guin writes, “but is is the journey that matters in the end.” The truth of that statement explains, as well as anything, I think, how it is possible, necessary even, for me as a Roman Catholic to stay in a church that is riddled with inconsistencies, closed to discussion about the implications of them, and sympathetic only to invisible women. The fact is that I have come to realize over the years that the church is not a place, it is a process. To leave the church may, in fact, be leaving part of the process of my own development. And so, intent on the process of grappling with the truth, I stay in it, when, for a woman, staying in it is full of pain, frustration, disillusionment and, far too often, even humiliation. Both of us, this church and I, have need to grow. The church needs to grow in its understanding of the Gospel and I need to grow in my understanding of myself as I strive to live it. It is, in other words, a journey of conversion for both of us.

I stay in the church, a restless pilgrim, not because I don’t believe what the church has taught me, but precisely because I do. I believed when they taught us that God made us equal and Jesus came for us all. I believed in the Jesus they showed me who listened to women and taught theology to women and sent women to teach theology and raised women from the dead. And so today, I believe the church, if it is ever to be true to the same Gospel, must someday do the same–it must commission women as Jesus did the Samaritan woman, listen to women as Jesus did the Caananite women, raise women to new life as Jesus did the daughter of Jairus. I stay in the church because there is no where else that satisfies in me what the church itself teaches us to seek: a sacramental life that makes all life sacred, a community of faith that celebrates life together, the proclaimation of the image of God alive in each of us, the contemplation of truth that makes life meaningful. I know clubs and societies and congregations of deep sincerity who do great good. The problem is I need sacrament and common faith and a sense of the divine in the core of my humanity as well as I need good talk, good works and good intentions…

We are sanctifying one another, this church and the women who refuse to be silent, refuse to be suppressed. What each of us sets out to convert in the other will in the end convert us as well. Women will call the church to truth. The church will call women to faith. Together, God willing, we will persist, women despite the decades of the madness of authoritarianism, and the church regardless of the irritation of unrelenting challenge. We will perdure together. We will propel ourselves to the edges of our potentials for holiness.

“Why does a woman like you stay in the church?” a woman asked me from the depths of a dark audience years ago. “Because,” I answered, “every time I thought about leaving, I found myself thinking of oysters.” “Oysters?” she said. “What do oysters have to do with it?” “Well,” I answered her in the darkness of the large auditorium, “I realized that an oyster is an organism that defends itself by excreting a substance to protect itself against the sand of its spawning bed. The more sand in the oyster, the more chemical the oyster produces until finally, after layer upon layer of gel, the sand turns into a pearl. And the oyster itself becomes for valuable in the process. At that moment, I discovered the ministry of irritation.”

I stay in the church with all my challenges and despite its resistance knowing that before this is over, both it and I will have become what we have the capacity to be–followers of the Christ who listened to women, taught them theology and raised them from the dead.”

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3 Responses to “Why I Stay”

  1. Leah Says:

    Ministry of irritation-that is a phrase I will borrow and share generously. Thank you for this post. My mom has sent me a Monastic Way subscription for several years-I love Joan’s humor and perspective and relish my daily dose!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    And to think – in less than 72 hours – I will see and hear Joan Chittister in person again! Mary

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Leah, I love “Ministry of Irritation”, too! The second I read it I intuitively knew I finally had words for my true calling! Mary, I think Sr. Joan Chittister is the closest we will ever come to a saint, prophet, and angel on earth. Thank you both for writing. Karen

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