2009 Conference: Excerpt from Sister Joan Chittister
DVDs of Sister Joan’s speech will be available soon for purchase from Voice of the Faithful. Until then, we are posting this excerpt from her presentation which, to echo the words of one attendee: “was the best speech I have ever heard in my entire life.”
Sister Joan focused on the four types of “transformative leadership” that change a society, as defined by James MacGregor Burns. In this passage she concludes her remarks about reform leadership and begins speaking about revolutionary leadership, two of the four types needed for change.
Excerpt from Speech
Reform requires a leadership that does not take sides and does not pit one side against another: Opus Dei against Pax Christi, medieval nuns against modern nuns, the vernacular Mass against the prime time Mass. A real reform leadership brings people together around a common goal of pervasive commitment, a universal dream, the renewal and revitalization of the Church in many ways and many voices.
At heart you see, reform has nothing to do with the survival of the church. Reform has to do with the survival of the gospel.
And the survival of the gospel is a commodity far too rare to risk for the sake of bureaucracies, far too precious to spend on clerical litmus tests. For that is not the model we have been given.
Queen Esther was a reformer who risked her own life to guarantee life for her people. She spoke the hard truth of the common human needs, not division of the community and not the defeat of those who were different than the ruling elite. Let us have bishops named Esther. Let us have bishops who are willing to die to the past, to die even to their own ecclesiastical ambitions so that the Church might live now, bishops who care more for development than they do for authority. In a church riddled by differences, as it was when the council of Jerusalem first reformed its very composition, let us again raise up the voice of Esther everywhere.
It is for the sake of the Church that the voices of the reformist faithful be heard.
Revolutionary leadership, Burns’ third schema of transformation, is leadership that guides with a powerful sense of mission and transcendent purpose, the cultural undercurrents that are already underway that cannot possibly be undone under any circumstances.
Revolutionary leadership is awake to the world around it and prepares a people to direct its reshaping rather than to hunker down frightened and passive before the riptides and undertows of the present, yearning for a static and a stagnant past.
Today the world around us is in a state of shattering on people. Every institution known to human kind is in the process of redefinition, not simply the Church. Education, government, marriage, science, ethics, economics, religion, religious life, church yes, and human gender roles are all reeling from the findings of science and the impact of psychology and the emergence of global consciences and the immediacy of communications and the implications of outer space. And there is no institution on earth that can stop those changes from coming.
It is, without doubt, revolution time.
But revolution time is not the time to choose authority over development. Revolution time is no time to choose past answers over new questions. Revolution time is no time to choose a sterile, a childish notion of obedience over thinking. On the contrary, it is time to join the revolution.
So that tradition can be scuttled? No, my friends; so that tradition can be saved.