Joan Chittister

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 15 — The Resurrection by Joan Chittister

April 16, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience Perhaps the most difficult – even spiritually dangerous – dimension of the Stations of the Cross is that lacking a sense or slightest awareness of resurrection, they leave the Christian standing at the edge of the tomb.  Numb, lost.  Bereft.  Without a single thought of what comes next.  And all of that despite the fact that Christians are not meant to be the people of the cross; Christians are the people of the empty tomb.  We are alleluia people, Augustine writes, and alleluia is our cry.  Perhaps that’s true, theologically so.  But it is not the final emotional impression of those whose immersion in the life of Jesus centers around the crucifixion in the Stations of the Cross [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 14 — Jesus Is Laid In The Tomb, by Joan Chittister

April 15, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience Death is not a single action; it is many actions overlapping that haunt, plague, empty the soul of every strand of life and all at the same time.  It is a time of mixed emotions.  There is a relief that comes when the suffering ends.  The one we love cannot be hurt again.  And that is good. But now the focus shifts from them to us.  Everything that was glorious and challenging, uplifting, and meaningful in life has ended.  What is there left for us in life now?  Is there the means to go on?  And if the means is present, is there yet the will to go on, the energy the down-deep care of even beginning to go on again? There is the sense of weightlessness, the thought that life comes down [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 13 — Jesus Is Taken Down From The Cross, by Joan Chittister

April 14, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience Now when it is finally, irrevocably over, when there is nothing left to do but to admit the loss, the inevitability of reality takes over.  Faith is bruised.  Hope is gone.  The door to yesterday has clanged shut and we are forever bereft of whole segments of our life.  We are alone – the worst word in the English language has descended on our shoulders.  And suddenly we begin to realize how limited we ourselves have always been but only now had to admit.  We are not meant to be alone. The insight crushes us to the ground.  Where is the rest of me, if not in a coffin of pain in the front of the world, never to be able to hide again? The realization that death eclipses time, that it alone [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 12 — Jesus Dies On The Cross, by Joan Chittister

April 13, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience What is worse than the actual event of death is the awareness of the degree of loss that comes with it.  Simply announcing that someone has had “a peaceful death” does nothing to damp the pain of it.  When the death is a violent one, the deprivation – the sense of having been able to do nothing to have stopped the pain – burrows down into the center of the soul dark and endless. Violent death, natural or not, haunts us at night and plagues us during the day.  It stops time at the moment before the loss.  It suspends us in an orbit of pain.  Now what? What can possibly fix the lives that are left to mourn the dead who die out of time and at the hands of the uncaring, the [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 11 — Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross, by Joan Chittister

April 7, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience The words, Jesus is nailed to the cross, trip lightly off the tongue.  Not to worry.  After all, it’s Jesus on this cross, and God will take care of him, we think.  Or to put it another way, the whole event has taken on the character of play acting: It’s Jesus – who is God – and so the pain of it really doesn’t hurt him.  It’s not the real thing.  The humanity of Jesus is forgotten and the cross becomes more symbol than real. The problem is that, as a result of that kind of spiritual trivialization at the eleventh station, we stand to lose the very meaning of the moment.  As if our crosses are “real” but Jesus’s crosses are not and so there is [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 10 — Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments, by Joan Chittister

April 4, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience There is something about the thought of being stripped naked in public that is particularly chilling.  Clothing, after all, makes us what we are: the professional, the academic, the official, the hard-working, the accomplished, the stylish, the straight-forward, the credible.  Without clothing, the very notion of personage disappears.  Once stripped, there is no dignity left.  There is no status, no solemnity, no real person left to see. It is a devastating thought: George Washington, naked.  Teresa of Avila, naked.  Thomas Merton, naked.  Dorothy day, naked.  Nelson Mandela, naked.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, naked.  We wince and turn away.  It is simply too much to imagine: the great, [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 9 — Jesus Falls The Third Time, by Joan Chittister

April 1, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience There is something about the taste of failure that damps the spirit.  But when the failure comes time after time, as it does in this ninth station when, having already fallen twice, Jesus falls again, then the very marrow of a person’s soul is frozen in place.  What is the use? we say.  Why bother? we begin to wonder. At these moments, there are parts of life that die in us.  Our dreams wither a bit.  What we had hoped to be able to do has come undone.  What we had planned for years to do is no longer in the realm of the possible, we think.  Everything we were sure we could do alone, could do at all, could do maybe as well as anyone else if not better, has come to dust. Then, there is [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 8 — Jesus Meets The Weeping Women Of Jerusalem, by Joan Chittister

March 30, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience This station we understand in this day and age only too well.  In a digital world people fall in and out of favor too quickly for us to remember their names – if we have even had enough time to learn them in the first place.  Social media and entertainment sites update with glee the list of public figures – politicians, entertainers, artists, scions – who have fallen from public grace.  They tell us from one day to another who’s out and who’s in, who’s up and who’s down.  If we never understood the truth of what past generations have taught us about the vulnerability of a person’s public image, we know it now as never before.  The messages they gave us were [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 7 — Jesus Falls The Second Time, by Joan Chittister

March 25, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience The problem with life is that it never really gets resolved.  What’s more, the same issue that tested our mettle the first time we attempted it leaves us in doubt that we should ever attempt it again.  The things that confuse us the first time we deal with them are just as likely to make us wonder about them the second time around as well.  Certainty is a chimera.  All we really know for sure is that what we did last time in dealing with a problem either did or didn’t work.  Will the same thing work again?  Who knows? This station touches the deepest part of that truth.  Faced with something that bested us the last time we met it, the whole thought of dealing with it again can [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 6 — Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus, by Joan Chittister

March 22, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience The story of Veronica, whose act of compassion left the wounded face of Jesus imprinted on the veil with which she wiped his bleeding face, is a mixture of tradition, legend, and devotions that developed over the centuries from one end of Europe to another. There is no ascertainable historical accuracy attached to any of the tellings, let alone to any of the “veils” themselves, but there is a great deal of spiritual truth to be recognized here.  The truth is that nothing we do for the suffering other ever goes unnoticed or unnoted.  The kindness we bring to great moments of pain and grief marks us and lasts forever not only in the heart of the person whose pain we assuage but in our [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 5 — Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross, by Joan Chittister

March 18, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience The fifth station confronts a rigidly stratified world with the great crossover moments of life.  What are we supposed to do when we find ourselves face to face with something no one wants to get involved in but what we also know must be done?  It’s more common a problem than we like to think. You and I, for instance, come to realize that two children in our block are living with their homeless mother in a car.  What do we do: Forget about it and hope some agency will come along and deal with the problem?  Call the police?  Find a tiny efficiency apartment and pay the rent for a year?  Join an organization that concentrates on finding shelter for homeless people?  Obviously it [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 4 — Jesus Meets His Mother, by Joan Chittister

March 15, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience This fourth station is a life lesson far beyond either the dull or dour particulars of life.  This station is about the place of love in life. It is one thing to have zest enough for the future; it is valiant to recognize reality and to embrace it with spirit.  But it is something else entirely to find ourselves alone in the midst of the painful but defining moments of life – birth, death, castigation, humiliation, failure, and rejection.  With love we can do anything, even the clouded parts of life, so tenebrous but at the same time so necessary, so commonplace.  But without love, we can only die long before death takes us. Even in the Stations of the Cross we find this comment on human need [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 3 — Jesus Falls The First Time, by Joan Chittister

March 10, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience Somehow or other, a kind of “bread and circuses” approach to life has begun to permeate modern society.  Everything we do is about winning something or measuring one person against another or garnering goods in great quantity, not because we need them but in order that others can’t have them.  We make life one great competition, a win-lose situation, a measuring stick by which we parade our value to others and, saddest of all, use those same things to convince ourselves of our own value.  As if what we get outside of ourselves is any measure whatsoever, any indicator at all of what is at the soul of us internally. We dedicate our lives to collecting things that have little or [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 2 — Jesus Takes Up His Cross, by Joan Chittister

March 8, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience Who does not understand this second station of the cross?  Who is it that cannot feel the depth of the emotional anguish that goes with it?  In fact, who has not lived through it themselves in some way, somehow in life?  After all, the unpredictable burdens of life are part and parcel of being alive.  Difficulties are everywhere and at every level of existence: The relationship ends, the friends go, the success goes to someone else, the illness comes on quickly and fells us without warning. Clearly, there are some things we simply cannot avoid.  These things disappoint us, of course.  They bear down on our lives in very real ways.  They change us, sometimes for life.  They try us to the [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Station 1 — Jesus Is Condemned To Death, by Joan Chittister

March 1, 2017

From: The Way of the Cross The Experience The look on the face of Jesus in McKenzie’s rendering of the first station says it all: Accused, judged, and condemned Jesus stands totally undone, emotionally drained, more by the charges against him than by any act of physical violence.  Here, in this first station, we see what actually happens to the person who is publicly incriminated by a system that is clearly arrayed against him.  It is one of those rush-to-judgment moments when no one really bothers to ask or let alone to listen to your own explanation of circumstances or your understanding of it or even your distance from the issue at hand. It is as much a shocking time as it is a sad one.  This moment is about the accusal of the [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Introduction, by Joan Chittister

February 28, 2017

From: The Way Of The Cross Every journey through life is a deeply personal and forever unpredictable one.  No two of us ever do it in quite the same way.  Except for one thing: However stable our circumstances, however solid our formation, however fortuitous both our beginnings and our immediate circumstances, we are all of us at the mercy of change and beholden to the fragility of time. The bends and curves of personal experience move back and forth in seamless fashion between the startling luminance of life at one moment to the dark night of the soul at the next.  On one day, life, it seems, is unambiguous.  Everything has been settled once and for all.  The job is secure, the marriage is firm, the house is in the right place, the [...]

LOVE: A Listening Heart by Joan Chittister

June 20, 2016

From The Monastery of the Heart Listen carefully to my instructions…and attend to them with the ear of your heart. (The Rule of Saint Benedict) There is a magnet in a seeker’s heart whose true north is God. It bends toward the Voice of God with the ear of the heart and, like sunflowers in the sun, turns all of life toward the living of the Word. This listening heart is pure of pride and free of arrogance. It seeks wisdom— everywhere, at all times— and knows wisdom by the way it echoes the call of the scriptures. The compass for God implanted in the seeker’s heart stretches toward truth and signals the way to justice. It is attuned to the cries of the poor and oppressed with a timbre that allows no interruption, no [...]

PAIN: A Time To Heal, by Joan Chittister

March 4, 2016

From For Everything a Season I remember the rush of insight that seeped through me the day I realized the situation.  It had suddenly occurred to me that none of us can really be sure that we understand the Book of Ecclesiastes.  What’s more, I realized that maybe no one is supposed to be able to grasp its meanings completely, in one burst of consciousness, in one gift of light.  Maybe it is supposed to come over us slowly, in layers, one bright moment at a time when life becomes new with pain, fresh with joy, different from its beginnings.  Maybe it is the very obscurity of the book of Ecclesiastes that is its meaning. The problem with the book lies in the fact that it is very deceptive.  It reads with such simplicity that, at [...]

WISDOM: Across The Centuries by Joan Chittister

December 25, 2015

From Illuminated Life Abba Anthony said: “The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying: ‘You are insane because you are not like us.'” W   e so often think that those who refuse under any conditions to deny the essential goodness of life are mad.  Look at the suffering.  Look at the evil.  Be real, we say.  We are so often inclined to think that those who continue to see life where life seems to be empty and futile are, at best, foolish.  Be sensible, we say.  But in that case, we may be the ones who are mad.  The truth is that contemplation, the ability to see behind the obvious to the soul of life, is the ultimate sanity. [...]

WISDOM: Zeal by Joan Chittister

December 24, 2015

From Illuminated Life Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba Joseph, as far as I am able I say my little office, I keep my little fasts, I pray my little prayers, I meditate a little, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts.  What else can I do?”  Then Abba Joseph stood up and stretched his hands toward Heaven.  His fingers became like ten torches of flame and he said to him, “Why not be turned completely into fire?” W   ho can see God and live?” the ancients asked.  It’s an important question.  While we look for marks of our spiritual progress, the measure may well be in the question: Who can see God and live the same dull, directionless, complacent way [...]

WISDOM: Yearning by Joan Chittister

December 23, 2015

From Illuminated Life Abba Nilus said: “Do not want things to turn out as they seem best to you but as God pleases.  Then you will be free of confusion and thankful in your prayer.” W   ho is there who hasn’t, at some time or other, wanted life to be different than it is?  Who of us has not wanted it ourselves?  We get tired of what we’re doing or where we are.  We look for better days somewhere else.  We want to do something different but, down deep, we don’t really know what it is.  All we know is that we yearn for what we do not have.  We feel the confusion.  We lack the gratitude for life of which the desert monastics speak.  We lack and groan through life.  And so we miss it.  Life ends [...]

WISDOM: Xenophilia—The Love of Strangers by Joan Chittister

December 22, 2015

From Illuminated Life Amma Sarah said: “If I pray to God that all people might be inspired because of me, I would find myself repentant at the door of every house.  I would rather pray that my heart be pure toward them than that I changed something in theirs.” I   t is not what others think of us; it is what we think of others that singles the contemplative out in a crowd.  Our role in life is not to convert others.  It’s not even to influence them.  It certainly is not to impress them.  Our goal in life is to convert ourselves from the pernicious agenda that is the self to an awareness of God’s goodness present in the other.  It is no idle prayer.  The beauty of the open soul is not easy to come by in [...]

WISDOM: Work by Joan Chittister

December 21, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light One of the elders said: “I never wanted work which was useful to me but a loss to others.  For I have this expectation, that what helps the other is fruitful for me.” And Abba Theodore of Pherme said, “In these days many take their rest before God gives it to them.” I   n this society, work has become the way we make money, the way we enable ourselves to do what we would really prefer to do if we didn’t need to work.  No other approach to life, perhaps, explains so clearly what has really happened to the quality of the world around us than this.  If there is anything that measures spiritual depth in a work-oriented society, it is surely the [...]

WISDOM: Vision by Joan Chittister

December 20, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Zacharias had a vision.  He told his spiritual father, Carion the ascetic, about it.  Exasperated, Carion beat him and told him the vision came from demons.  Zacharias went to Abba Poemen to tell him about it.  Seeing his sincerity, Abba Poemen sent him on to a monk who was a mystic.  This monk knew all about the vision before Zacharias even told him and said it was indeed from God.  Then the mystic instructed him, “Now go back and submit yourself to your father.” T   he desert monastics are very clear: Vision is one thing; visions are another.  Visions are psychological phenomena that, in the end, may have nothing whatsoever to do with the way a [...]

WISDOM: Understanding by Joan Chittister

December 19, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Some disciples came to see Abba Poeman and said to him: “Tell us, when we see brothers dozing during the sacred office, should we pinch them so they will stay awake?”  And the old man said to them: “Actually, if I saw a brother sleeping, I would put his head on my knees and let him rest.” U   nderstanding – compassion – is the foundation of a monastic lifestyle.  Without it there is no hope at all for developing a community out of strangers.  The Rule of Benedict is brimming with the concept: Monastics are not to bother the procurator of the monastery at undue times.  People are not here simply to meet our demands.  The doorkeeper is to [...]

WISDOM: Time by Joan Chittister

December 18, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light A brother came to see Abba Theodore and started to talk and inquire about things which  he himself had not tried yet.  The old man said to him: “You have not found a boat or put your gear into it,, and you haven’t even sailed, but you seem to have arrived in the city already.  Well, do your work first; then you will come to the point you are talking about now.” One of the obsessive concerns of contemporary society is speed.  Everything we produce we produce to go faster than the ones before it.  Planes go faster than the speed of sound, though no one cares.  Cars are sold for their capacity to go from zero to sixty miles an hour in seconds, as if anyone [...]

WISDOM: Silence by Joan Chittister

December 17, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light One of the elders said, “Just as it is impossible to see your face in troubled water, so also the soul, unless it is clear of alien thoughts, is not able to pray to God in contemplation.” S   ilence is the lost art in a society made of noise.  Radios wake us up, and timers on TVs turn off the day-full of programs long after we have gone to sleep at night.  We have music in cars and elevators and office waiting rooms.  We have surround-sound that follows us from the living room to the kitchen to the upstairs bath.  We have public address hookups in every office building and large, loud, screaming sound systems mounted on street corners.  We exercise with [...]

WISDOM: Re-Creation by Joan Chittister

December 16, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Once two brothers went to visit an old monastic.  It was not the old man’s habit to eat every day.  When he saw the brothers, however, he welcomed them with joy and said: “Fasting has its own reward, but if you eat for the sake of love you satisfy two commandments, for you give up your own will and also fulfill the commandment to refresh others.” I   t’s not something that most of us like to admit, but the truth is that “fasting,” any disciplinary or dour approach to life – relentless concentration on work, duty, responsibilities, business, productivity – has its own rewards.  However difficult the work itself may seem to those [...]

WISDOM: Quest by Joan Chittister

December 15, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Poemen said to Abba Joseph: “Tell me how I can become a monastic.”  And Abba Joseph replied, “If you want to find rest here, and hereafter, say in every occasion, ‘Who am I?'” W   ho is there anywhere in the world who is not looking for something: for approval, for money, for a home, for a career, for success, for security, for happiness?  We are, by nature, spiritual foragers, seekers after grails.  We look constantly for laurels and trophies cast in the crystal of time or the stardust of eternity.  We are all on a quest for something.  The distinguishing questions are two: For what am I seeking, and who am I as a result of the [...]

WISDOM: Prayer by Joan Chittister

December 14, 2015

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light Abba Poemen said: “The nature of water is yielding, and that of a stone is hard.  Yet if you hang a bottle filled with water above the stone so that the water drips drop-by-drop, it will wear a hole in the stone.  In the same way the word of God is tender, and our heart is hard.  So when people hear the word of God frequently, their hearts are opened to the fear of God. T   here is only one thing wrong with the traditional definition of prayer: it misrepresents God.  “Prayer,” the old teaching said, was “the raising of our hearts and minds to God.”  As if God were some regal, distant judge outside ourselves.  But science – with its new [...]