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“Take courage, get up, He’s calling you.” Joan Chittister, OSB

October 2015

As I prepared for this anniversary and this presentation, three pieces of wisdom literature kept repeating themselves in my ears.

The first was the words of the philosopher Camus who writes, “The saints of our time are those who refuse to be either its executioners or its victims.”

The second is from John Dryden who writes, “Good people starve for want of impudence.”

And the third is from a story I heard last St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland about a duck who waddled into a public house, flew up on a bar stool, looked at the publican behind the bar and said, “You got any grapes?” The publican said, “Are you nuts? This is a pub, not a grocery’s store. I don’t sell grapes, I sell beer! Get outta here.”

So the duck left. But the next day the bar door swung open, the duck waddled across the floor, flew up on the bar stool, looked at the publican and said, “You got any grapes?” The publican said, “You dumb duck. I told you yesterday, I don’t have grapes. Now get outta here and don’t come back.”

So the next day the bar door swung open, the duck flew in, waddled across the floor, flew up on the bar stool, looked at the publican and said, “You got any grapes?”

By this time, the publican was furious! He yelled, “Listen, duck, if you come in here again asking for grapes, I’m gonna nail your beak to the bar. Now get out of here, and stay out!”

So the next day, the door banged open, the duck waddled in, flew up on the bar stool, looked the publican in the eye and said, “You got any nails?”

The publican was beside himself; “No,” he yelled,” I do not have any nails!” So the duck said, “You got any grapes?”

There it is, I thought to myself, in the end the Christian life is about three things: It’s about being holy, it’s about being bold and, just as important, it’s about being persistent.

It’s about refusing to go away when what we’re doing is worth being persistent about. It’s about not quitting. It’s about always, always, always pressing ahead.

And then I remembered another story even more important that tells us why at such a time as this being holy, bold and persistent is a very Christian thing.

The second story is from the Second Book of Kings: In this chapter the Jewish community is under siege, surrounded from the Arameans and in distressing dire straits.

Famine has set in as a result of the siege. The rich are now eating the bony heads of asses which are selling in the market for 80 shekels of silver and the poor of the city are deciding which of their children to eat first.

Four lepers sit at the city gate trying to determine what they should do in such a situation as this.

Are we just going to sit here and die? the first leper asks.

And the second leper answers, “Well, if we go back into the city we will.”

And the third leper says, “But if we sit here and do nothing, we shall also die.”

Then the fourth leper says, “Therefore, if staying where we are is not the answer let us rise up and go out to the camp of the Arameans. If they spare our lives, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall only die there quickly instead of here, slowly.”

So the lepers rose up, went out to the enemy and lo and behold, when they got there, there was no one there.

Startled by noise from heaven, the Arameans had been convinced that the Israelites were sending mercenaries to destroy them. So by the time the lepers get to the camp, the Arameans had fled– leaving their tents up, their tables set with silver and gold and their food served.

Praising God, the lepers said, “We must go back and tell the others.” And so on account of their courage, on account of their commitment to life, the entire city was saved.

The lessons are clear: first, the work of development, in this age as in all others, the work of real renewal, is ours. We cannot blame God for what we do not do to save ourselves.

And second, as the lepers know, unless we care enough about life to risk our own for it, the entire community is in danger.

Unless there are those who are willing to think newly, to begin again in situations like these, the people cannot be saved.

Unless some rise up, whatever the thinking of those around them who are equally sincere, yes, but seriously paralyzed by old thinking and old world views, a new world will never come– can never come.

Too many, afraid of what they don’t know, and full of anxiety about what they can’t control, simply refuse to engage with it. They decline to contend with it, they reject the very thought of transforming it–and so a new world emerges anyway without them!

And so they abandon this undefined, dauntless new world that is coming with or without us, whether we like it or not, to the designs of others.

They leave the world to the rest of the world.

Rather than rise up to meet it, they resist it. Rather than rise up to help shape the new experiments in life, they live locked in mortal combat with it. Rather than rise up to form tomorrow, they retreat from it–harsh and condemning–beyond all the bounds of reason.

These are the same types who insisted in another eras, too, that slavery was “God’s will,” natural, built right into the system as an act of creation; That if women were allowed to vote, as Cardinal Gibbons warned the church in the 1900s, “they would hang around the polling places” and family life would be destroyed.

These same kinds of people told us, too, just 50 years ago, that if the Mass was said in the vernacular and guitars were allowed in church the sacramental system had been blasphemed, the sky was falling in and the Catholic Church was decadent, destroyed, over.

These are the same types who in other periods of crisis, burned Joan of Arc at the stake, the greatest and most serious charge against her being that she wore men’s pants instead of dresses, her Cardinal-accusers said were proper to a woman.

Indeed, rise up we must or, like the lepers at the city gates, we shall surely find ourselves starving from this same lack of spiritual nourishment around us.

But there’s the problem: What does rise up really mean? And how shall we know when and for what we are meant to rise up? And what does it have to do with today? With us? With this 50 th anniversary of the National Catholic Reporter?

In the newly revised standard edition of the Bible, I discovered, with some degree of shock, that though the psalmist continually urges God to rise up in our behalf, God urges the chosen people to rise up in only six distinct situations.

Those situations, I think, are a sign to us of where we must put our own energies if we ourselves–and the city with us–are to be saved.

1. First, God says to Abraham in Genesis. 13:17 “Rise up, walk the length and breadth of this place, for to you I will give this land.”

Genesis 13, I think, is God’s call to us today to face reality, to understand the world we’re living in and to take responsibility for it.

It is God’s command to Abraham to bring new life to Canaan, an area that had become a veritable confusion of cultures, where life had great potential but little spiritual focus as one people after another took root there, merged there, melted into one another there and lived in perpetual and relentless conflict.

We understand that kind of situation only too well. We are watching one church melt into another now and one nation–ours–reshaping itself again, as well.

We have left a church rooted in the immigrant communities of Europe and find ourselves embedded now in a completely other world.

We are left with a church light years beyond a Christian community formed 50 years ago in an era of Christian ecumenism.

We have left an older model of nationhood, too, once basically white and largely European, with all the common cultural expectations that implies, and in its stead we are becoming a nation without a majority race which is getting more multi-colored by the day.

All institutions, we know, even not, even here, go through regular cycles of natural deaths as the world around them changes; but if no one sets out to walk this land and understand it now, if no one is committed to stirring up its singular energy again, if no one is intent on bringing a new national character out of these teeming streams of emerging, but different, life, how will we ever become again the democratic best of what we once struggled to create and to maintain so that they can stay what they were?

When an institution fails to enrich the society in which it grows, it dies!

And no number of declarations or documents, constitutional or canonical, can decree its continuance. Instead, what must be now waits for those who will rise up and make it happen.

The state is being strained for ideas, and for resources. The church is being tested for relevance in a world fast evolving beyond the models of morality that brought us here.

The pre-Vatican II church has gone as far as ecclesiastical monarchy could possibly take it.

The inviolable nation, after 9/11, can no longer take refuge in the thought/conclusion that it is an invincible/impenetrable island in the middle of otherness.

“Walk through this land–its length and breadth”–the new borders and old boundaries of both church and state, God says to us in Vatican II, and be a living, dreaming, doing new part of it.

And it is that rising that we celebrate today.

We celebrate the 50 years the National Catholic Reporter has led us through this land again, showing us the green shoots, however few, however small, of the people and parishes, the new ideas and new populations striving for life around us.

For the last 50 years, the National Catholic Reporter has risen up week after week calling the Catholic community to cry out together for peace and justice, both in the church and in the state

While we talked peace and justice NCR cried out as we bombed Iraq and rejected Iran.

They cry out while we tilt the national budget precipitously close to starvation for the working poor and the children.

They cry to us to respond as some still speak seriously of deporting the 11 million people to whom we refused hardship visas in the first place.

They cry out for us to see that we let those people work our fields in the hot sun for years carrying their babies on their backs as they did the rows and, then, when they wanted to share in the rewards of their labor, as Americans, we refused them a way to citizenship.

Rise up, people of God and with Abraham claim the church and renew the state that NCR makes visible to us without ceasing, and make them both live again!

In the second place in scripture, in Exodus, scripture teaches us that Yahweh said to Moses, “Rise up, present yourself to the pharaoh, and say to him. “Let my people go!” (Ex. 3:10)

The fact is that tyrants seldom simply disappear of their own accord: they must be made to disappear by sheer insistence; by the simple, perpetual refusal to forego the really important questions of the time.

Only years of insistence, led by the National Catholic Reporter, to its eternal credit, unmasked the institutional cover up which fueled the ecclesiastical collusion with the violators of our children–to the horror of the people, to the shame of the church.

It was, too, persistent civil-rights Christians who condemned the insidious segregation–the hidden slavery–that marks the new racism and it was the National Catholic Reporter who showed us the situation, who amplified their minority voices, who teaches us the effects of their marginalization and who stays with us every step of the weary way until the oppressors are dethroned and the silenced are finally heard.

It is the National Catholic Reporter yet, who says even to the Church itself: “Let my people

Let the whole notion that there can possibly be a “just war” in a nuclear age go!

go

Let the notion that any of us are “intrinsically disordered” by a loving God, go!

And to the world of Christian politicians, NCR says, “Let the fear of Islam go!

After all, the Bible holds up Mary nineteen times; the Koran holds up Mary thirty-four times– do we really believe that we have nothing in common with these people?

That’s the NCR we celebrate today: its integrity, its quality, its persistent attempts to support our rising up.

In the third place in scripture, God says to Joshua at Jericho, “Rise up and take possession of the city which I will give you. (Joshua 8:7)

When Israel finally repented the fact that there were those in the community who were making personal profit from Israel’s wars and taking what should have been used for the work of God and stashing it away for their own aggrandizement, they realized that they had ceased, in the mind of God, as scripture says, to be real Israelites, they only looked like Israelites then.

We understand this story with special poignancy because, like Israel, we have also been it.

U.S. contractors and companies made 138 billion dollars in Iraq while over 50% of all Iraqis, without a government, a country or a future–were destitute, in despair, and unemployed, and in the meantime, when they brought that money back to the U.S., standard wages and the minimum wage never budged by a penny here either.

Then this scripture becomes startlingly clear, all too close to our own profiteering.

When we, too, think only of ourselves, nationally as well as internationally, personally as well as publicly; when as a culture we consider it good business to take more profit than the work justifies, when we to pay fewer taxes but want more service, when militarism is the way we make our money to save our economy, we, too, take for ourselves what belongs to the poor.

When as a nation of legislators, we forgot the neighborhood that are decaying, the schools that must be built, the teachers that must be paid, the arts that must be released in a truly human, human society; the housing that must be provided, the social services that must be given away, the social security that must be protected for those who cannot protect themselves, then, like Joshua’s Israelites, we ignore the word of God.

Then, we, too, lose the right to call ourselves Catholics, as they did to call themselves Israelites, we, too, can only pretend then to be Christians.

Indeed, concern for fetal life must be a Catholic priority, and thank God for that, but with the National Catholic Reporter, whose coverage for 50 years has been written from the perspective of those on the bottom of the social ladder, we must go on insisting for the next 50 years, if necessary, that we be just as concerned about the humanization of prisons, the elimination of capital punishment, and the development of programs that make abortion unnecessary rather than condemn those who, desperate and impoverished, frightened, alone and incapable of caring for another child, see no other solution to the problem than abortion–because, despite all our self- righteousness, we don’t offer any other options.

Otherwise all our single-sighted attention to the “life issues” is just commitment to another kind of death, the kind of death that dries out the soul one inch, one ounce at a time.

It is for this kind of Catholic reporting that we celebrate the NCR, the little paper with a big voice and an even greater vision of what it really means to be Catholic.

The little paper that sets out to make real Catholics of us all!

In the fourth scripture, written directly to women, that is never read, never preached, we are all brought up short. In theoracle of Isaiah to the women of Jerusalem about the coming disaster and decline of Israel and their responsibility as official mourners of that society to lament it, the call is clear: the scriptures reads, “rise up, you confident and complacent ones.” (Isaiah 32.9) Or, to put it another way, rise up you well-placed and privileged women, you satisfied and serene ones, and revolt!

Don’t just sit there and say, “The men will take care of us.”

Don’t say, don’t let anyone else in your presence say, “That’s not a women’s business.”

Don’t say, don’t let anyone else in your presence say, “We have no power to deal with these things.”

Don’t say, don’t let anyone else in your presence say, “Prostitution is woman’s oldest profession”! Prostitution is not woman’s profession, prostitution is a male’s profession. It always has been. Only professional men allow women to have it. Men pimp, men pleasure, men profit.

Instead, rise up, revolt!

Take the power that is yours as “made in the image of God” and insist on being heard before the decisions of on-half of the world, both in church and state, state and church, destroy us all.

Women are protected some say; women are defended, others say; women are comfortable, many say; and women are enslaved everywhere around the world. But few realize it and even fewer do anything about this universal slavery “in the name of God.”

Women are being married off as children to old men; in most of the world they are denied the right to own land and cattle despite the fact that they themselves produce 50-90% of the agriculture around the world.

They are made homeless and penniless as widows, even here; they are defined–body and soul–as sex objects in documents both sacred and secular.

They are denied some degree of civil right everywhere, and they go on being underpaid in every institution on earth, despite the fact that a loaf of bread, a bottle of milk, a gallon of gas, medicine and child care cost an unmarried woman exactly what is costs a man who gets 25% more money for doing exactly the same work that she does.

Indeed, women have been told that they’ll be taken care of; but men, and too many privileged women, say little or nothing when the invisibility, the oppression, the sexual abuse of women, the sale and trafficking of little girls, the general social, political and economic abuse of the women of the world is called “God’s will for them.” And we are silent.

But it is the very God who created women who says to them, to us, to all of us in Isaiah, “Rise up”!

Rise up and take your responsibility for the development of this world. Write, speak and organize; sound the alarm to resist the violence, to provide the child care, to free the oppressed, and to refuse the invisibility of women.

And all the while, with the National Catholic Reporter, we must educate the next generation of women and men to realize that this woman’s issue is not a woman’s issue, this is a human issue and all of humanity, females and males, are suffering because of it, because of our silence, because we are, in Isaiah’s words, “confident and complacent.”

There is no doubt about what Isaiah is saying: It is up to us.

We privileged ones have a special responsibility to speak for the women who cannot speak at all.

And when the Church itself adds to that invisibility and unconcern by erasing you even from its language of prayer, removes your daughters from its altars, closes its offices to women, yet, still, always, when it refuses to talk about the woman’s issue–even the restoration of the historically confirmed diaconate for women–Refuse the refusal!

Refuse to allow the question of women in church and society to die or the full glory of God dies with it.

Rise up and cry out for the recognition of the equality of women in both church and state.

For the sake of women? Of course. But more than that: for the sake of the integrity of the state and the sanctity of the church itself.

Women are discovering that the Catholic Church is not a women-friendly place, and we’re blaming it on God!

Instead, rise up, as has the National Catholic Reporter, the Catholic woman’s almost sole Catholic support in these last 50 years and do not be complacent anymore.

Half the population of the world is waiting to hear a Catholic voice in behalf of women, rather than the mind-numbing Catholic sin of male superiority and privilege.

The fifth time God says, “Rise up” God says it to Ezekiel. “Rise up, go out into the valley, and there I will speak with you.” (Ezek 3:23)

The geography here is very important: Ezekiel became a prophet in, of all places, in Babylon, (that’s Iraq to you and me) and in exile. Ezekiel was the first prophet to receive the call outside the Holy Land, the first prophet to recognize that the glory of God shone over Babylon, over the foreigners, as well as over Jerusalem.

The message was clear and it was a cataclysmic revelation: No one owned God. God, Ezekiel realized, worked through every people, everyone.

Parochialism was not a virtue. National chauvinism was not a divine right. But we all went on for centuries acting as though it were.

Now, we must all call with NCR for the kind of interfaith understanding and respect that world peace demands. We must go beyond Christian ecumenism to interfaith understanding and genuine respect.

We must call ourselves to realize our own national insularity. The movement of the planet into a global village is changing relationships everywhere.

Once upon a time the world we knew was basically white, largely Christian, and those who weren’t we ignored. Now that same world is a multicolored amalgam of mosques and temples on one corner, of churches and synagogues on the other.

And it is growing. 58% of Muslims are between the ages of 18-29; 56% of Buddhists are between the ages of 18-29; but only 35% of Christians are between the ages of 18-29.

Diversity is clearly no longer a cocktail party conversation opener.Iit is a reality to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately this diversity is too often seen as divisive rather than sign of the presence of the one God who comes to us all in ways we understand but differently.

But these great traditions all strive for the same holiness we do.

They do it with variations in custom or practice, yes, but they all do it, like us, in hope of eternal peace, universal justice, inclusive community, human wholeness, and divine fulfillment.

“The seed of God is in us all,” Meister Eckhart writes. “Pear seeds grow into pear trees; nut seeds into nut trees and God-seed into God.”

But for that to happen, we must all come to know the other as God-seed; that’s what diversity is all about.

We must call out this time against the new walls, against the barriers growing up between us, against the tendency to call the violence of some the mark of the many.

Rise up like a sentry on a watchtower and warn the people.

Prophesy with the NCR that religious chauvinism, and national chauvinism, and patriarchal chauvinism, and clerical chauvinism doom us all.

They warp the word of God.

They are more for the good of the rulers than of the ruled, more for the sake of the divine pretenders than for the divine.

Rise up, Yahweh said to Ezekiel, proclaim me where I am and that is everywhere, in everyone.

Finally, this time, the sixth time, we find the mandate to rise up in scripture, it is the people Israel who say to the scribe priest Esdras, “Rise up and take action.”

It is a cry for religious leadership from the one who is not a cleric!

Israel now was in a period of political reorganization and religious renewal. Those who returned from Babylon had learned how to live in the presence of God without the temple, without the sacrifices.

Those who had been left behind, who had not been taken into captivity, had maintained the old ways, the way that defined the temple as central to Jewish worship and claimed Jerusalem for the Jews.

What could possibly be done to bring these two peoples of Israel together again?

Confused about which was really the proper way to live the law of God and divided among themselves, the cry was not for Esdras to rid the people of their differences.

No the cry was for leadership that would enable the community to live with them: to confront their questions together, to learn together, to grow together again, to become a new people together.

What Israel lacked was the kind of leadership that would make it possible to identify the elements that bound them together so that they could safely go their separate ways.

To this day, that is one of the things that successful communities do best.

They want leaders who understand the essence and can laugh at anything less than that.

Leaders like that do not confuse conformity and commitment; they make a distinction between belief and practice, between what is changeless and what must change if the community is really to continue to be what it says it is.

The healthy community, the developing community, is willing to question each and everything.

It is precisely that kind of community leadership that the National Catholic Reporter has given the Catholic community and most of us here today for 50 years.

It has honored every question. It has not left us orphans.

It has focused unreservedly on the questions of genuine Catholic identity, on a common recognition of truly basic beliefs, as the creeds of the church have always done and at the same time recognized and affirmed the multiple practices, devotions and continuing questions that emerge in every transition of every peoples everywhere.

So what must we and the National Catholic Reporter do together now, for the next 50 years? Why more of the same, of course!

The NCR and we must, like Abraham, rise up, walk the land and not allow the church to be turned into a ghetto again.

Together we must, like Moses, rise up against the oppression of the poor, any poor and every poor, calling all of us to let go of the chains we make for one another.

We and NCR must, like Joshua, rise up and recommit ourselves to the selfless building of a truly Christian community that does not happen in the course of a single discussion or die in the face of every obstacle.

We must, like Isaiah says, rise up, like watchers on the tower; speak up and speak out against the shredding of the U.S. constitution and its commitment to human rights, as well as call for the empowering of the laity in a church more clerical than communal, before both church and country become mere shadows of their truer, more prophetic selves.

We must, as Isaiah commands the women of Jerusalem, rise up from either our complacence as privileged women or as Christians from our sense of confidence in a vending-machine God and ourselves speak for all the peoples of the world, but especially its women, who are being crushed by a globalization that favors the oligarchy more than it does the very people on whose backs it is being built.

We must rise up, like Ezekiel, and see that the God we preach is indeed one, and so the God of all.

We must realize, however, that this God has a face of many colors and speaks one and the same message in many tongues.

We must be willing to see this God in whomever and wherever the God-light shines.

Finally, the National Catholic Reporter must, like Esdras, rise up and go on bringing leadership to the kind of church unity that is strong enough and brave enough and intellectually faithful enough to follow the work of the spirit: beyond slavery (however it is masked), beyond ecclesiastical monarchy, beyond inquisitions and absolutism, beyond the liturgical, political and cultural wars of a church in between the already but not yet, to the light of God’s amazing, astounding equal, infinitely glorious and unthinkable future.

The Zen master says, “The purpose of life is to see.”

From the National Catholic Reporter on its 50 th anniversary that has enabled us to see so much these years, we beg only this: Go on being the light, go on showing the way, go on demanding that we see, go on shouting, shouting, shouting for what, as a church, as a people we go on needing: a church that is a community, a country that is just, a dedication to the equality of women, the liberation of the poor, the worship of a global God, and the leadership to take us there.

As Camus says, show us how to be holy by refusing to be either executioners or victims.

As John Dryden instructs us, show us how to be impudent, how to be bold, how to be courageous in the pursuit of peace, justice and equality.

And, finally, like the Irish duck, teach us to be persistent!

Happy 50 th Anniversary to the National Catholic Reporter

For all our sakes, we’re begging you: don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t quit.