The Quality of Friendship

“The rule of friendship,” the Buddha said, “means there should be mutual sympathy between them, each supplying what the other lacks and trying to benefit the other…” The words ring true. Friendship is not as much a matter of happenstance as we are inclined to think.
Perhaps one of life’s most precious lessons is that we must learn to choose our friends as well as to find them. The corollary of this insight, of course, is that we must learn not to allow ourselves simply to fall into alliances and acquaintances that come and go like starlight on the water, exciting for a while but easily forgotten. We must learn, in other words, not to make life a playground of faceless, nameless people—all of whom are useful for a while but who never really touch the soul or stretch the mind or prod the conscience.
On the contrary, the realization that friendship is one of the great spiritual resources of the human existence drives us beyond the superficial to the meaningful. It leads us to create relationships that count for something, rather than to simply wander from one casual social affair to another.
It may, in fact, be the friends we make who most accurately measure the depth of our own souls. For that we are each responsible.
To grow, then, requires that we provide for ourselves the kinds of relationships that demand more of us than continual immersion in the mundane. It requires us to surround ourselves with people who speak to the best part of us from the best part of themselves. It means that we must actively seek out as friends those who have something worth saying. And then we must learn to listen well to them so that they can hone our own best intuitions, challenge our least profound assumptions, point out directions that take us to another level of thought and care and determination. At times when life is most unclear, most confusing, we need … this quality of friendship. But only an awareness of our own limitations can possibly prepare us for it.

            —from Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible, (Blue Bridge) by Joan Chittister


Confronting the Fear of Aging


Confronting the fear of aging

An ancient monastic story tells of the holy one who asked his disciples a question about life. “Tell me which is greater,” he said to them, “wisdom or action?” And the disciples answered, “Why, it’s action, of course. What good is wisdom without action?” But the holy one answered, “Ah, yes… but what good is action that comes from an unenlightened heart?”

Stories like this challenge modern thought to the center of the soul. We can forget that every stage of life has both purpose and gift. For the young, the purpose is growth and the gift is possibility—the young give us hope. For the middle aged, the purpose of life lies in generativity and the gift is responsibility—the middle-aged give us direction. But to the older generation, we look beyond the stages of public action for experience and the gift of reflection. As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “The first forty years give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.” Or, so we tell ourselves… But, somewhere along the way, something seems to have shifted. In the world as we experience it now, the elders disappear quickly from the public stage, the middle-aged bear the burden of the system, and the young are the focus of attention. …

The fact is that there is nothing a youth-centered culture needs more than it needs its elders. If ever we are meant to have a real role in life, it is surely now. It is precisely at this stage in life that we discover that our real purpose in life is to understand it, and then to pass that wisdom on. … Youth without insights risks action without wisdom.

Elders have things to give that no other segment of society can possibly match and, in the giving of them, come to see the past newly and the future with new faith. They come to know that the future, whatever it is, is not to be feared. What elders have to give a world worshipping at the shrine of newness and energy is memory, experience, objectivity, wisdom, and vision. They know now what really matters, what life is really about—beyond body-building, money-making, and social standing. …

It is the perspective that comes with age that sees failures as the beginning of growth… and it is spiritual persons who come to appreciate the depths of life more than the cosmetics. When we learn to value experience rather than to avoid it, when we value life more than we do the approval of the social police we harbor in our heads, then we are ready to go on growing. More than that, we are ready to be the role models of the generations coming after us. By living fully and well, we can be an antidote to a society that thinks that being high is the only way to be happy.

—“Confronting the Fear of Aging,” by Joan Chittister. CareNotes, Abbey Press.

A New Beginning by Joan Chittister


                                                                  A new beginning

Abba Poemen said of Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning.
   —from the Desert Mothers and Fathers
It’s July when the summer begins to wear even the most dedicated of sun lovers down. Life begins to feel sticky; nights get close; days get long and dry. Everything becomes a major effort we slow down like rusted bogs on old wheels. Time suspends. Nothing much gets done. Day follows day with not much to show for any of them. Oh, yes, monastics know all about that kind of thing. In ancient monasteries, the warning of Evagrius of Pontus to “beware the devil of the noonday sun” loomed large. Acedia they called it. Spiritual sloth. The burden of the long haul. The question in every life, of course, is how to keep on going when going on seems fruitless.
It is precisely here where Abba Poemen and Abba Pior, two of the early desert’s most sought after spiritual guides, emerge again. As they did in ages past, their lives and wisdom which seem so other than ours, comes to help us find our way through a life now filled with dread and debacle on every side. The Abbas know that life is what comes from within us, not from what clings to the cloaks of our heart, demanding our attention and draining our resources.

Into this climate of spiritual ennui, of dulling sensitivities, boredom takes over. And it is boredom that smothers the soul. Bored, we lose sight of the beautiful in our midst. Bored, we overlook the world’s call for our attention. Bored, we ourselves become lethargic, out of touch, and uncaring about the needs of others.
So, what is the cure for such shrinkage of the soul? Abba Poeman is clear. We must forever remember, each and every day of our life, to make a new beginning. It is this beginner’s mind—the stage of perpetual alertness—that keeps us in tune with the songs of the rest of the world.
The call from the Desert Monastics is a totally different one than the call to irresponsibility like In God's Holy Light by Joan Chittisterthe one we ourselves are toying with at present. It is a call to begin again, every day of our lives, to complete the work on earth that the Creator has begun for us to finish. Life is a community enterprise. What we do not do for the other, will not be done for us.
Every day, like Abba Poeman, we must begin to see again our role in the creation of the world, in the development of the human race, and in the preservation of the planet.

   —from A Monastery Almanac by Joan Chittister (Benetvision) and In God’s Holy Light by Joan Chittister (Franciscan Media)

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Struggle Transforms Us -Joan Chittister

When we find ourselves immersed in struggle, we find ourselves trafficking in more than the superficial, more than the mundane. That’s why maturity has very little to do with age. That’s why wisdom has more to do with experience that it does with education. We begin to feel in ways we could never feel before the struggle began. Before a death of someone I myself have loved, someone else’s grief is a simple formality. We don’t know what to say and we don’t know why we’re saying it because we never needed to have someone say it to us. Before feeling humiliated ourselves we can never know how painful the daily paper can be to those who find themselves in it with no way to defend themselves to the great faceless and anonymous population out there that is using it to judge them. Silently, harshly, even gleefully, perhaps. Until my own reputation is at stake, I can look at another person’s shame and never have the grace to turn away.
After we ourselves know struggle, we begin to weigh one value against another, to choose between them and the future, rather than simply the present, as our measure. Some things, often quite common things, we come to realize—peace, security, love—are infinitely better than the great things —the money, the position, the fame—that we once wanted for ourselves. Then we begin to make different kinds of decisions.
We begin to see beyond the present moment to the whole scheme of things, to the very edges of the soul, to the core of what is desirable as well as what is doable. The bright young man who had worked the pit in the futures market, planned a big international career in trading, and worked hard to start his own business, changed jobs after the collapse of the World Trade Center. He stood in shock a thousand miles away as television cameras watched the building go down with dozens of his friends in it. All of them young, like he was. All of them bright, like he was. All of them on their way up, like he was. But to where? He had lost too many of his hard-driving young friends, he said later, to ignore the meaning of life any longer. He quit his job in the center of Bigtime. He went back to Smalltown, USA, to hunt with his dogs and fish the streams and buy the average family home in a small cul-de-sac in a local suburb.
Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister 
No one comes out of struggle, out of suffering, the same kind of person they were when they went in. It’s possible, of course, to come out worse than we were when we went into the throes of pain. Struggle can turn to sour in us, of course. But it is equally possible, if we choose to reflect on it, to come out stronger and wiser than we were when it began. What is not possible, however, is to stay the same.

—from Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister (Eerdmans)

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DO NOT GIVE UP Read Sister’s Joan’s reflection on the 4th step of humility.


Do not give up

“O snail, climb Mount Fuji, But slowly, slowly…” the haiku master and lay Buddhist priest Issa writes. Some might call that a Japanese version of the fourth step of humility (Endure the Pain of Development and Do Not Give Up). Psychiatry might call it recognition of the place of patience in life. The monastic might see it as a call to the virtue of endurance. But if endurance is such a universal part of life, what is the human question that drives it? 

The haiku, in its short, sharp way makes three points:

In the first place, there are great, important things to do in life however small, however frail we feel, however stacked the odds are against us. 

And yet, at the same time, there is more to life than speed. What’s the use of speed? The mountain is not going to go anywhere as we climb it. Conditions may well change as we go and demand a revision of both our plans and our schedule. 

Finally, of course, the difficulties involved in the project must be confronted head-on, but it’s unlikely that they can be resolved immediately. After all, a mountain is a mountain with everything that has to say about what can be learned as we climb and everything that will need to be endured as we go. 

Obviously, what is needed for the long haul is not heedlessness or a series of senseless attempts as we get more and more tired, more and more frustrated, more and more stressed. What is needed is patience. 

It takes patience to come to know God. We must give ourselves a lifetime to do it. 

It takes patience to appreciate every stage of the climb—the hard beginning, the lofty but unreal schedule, and, most of all, the wearying repetition of the process. We must be willing to immerse ourselves in each of them. 

It takes patience to overcome the impulse to frustration, the kind that comes from demanding from ourselves instantaneous results. Frustration ruins the journey by pushing on blindly, past the joy of the goals met and the sense of achievement in the understandings gained, and the comfort of security that comes from forming friendships along the way, and joy of reaching one plateau after another. By allowing frustration to cloud our vision, we miss the scenes and views, the flora and fauna on the way. 

The snail’s journey is clearly, like the fourth step of humility, a call to live life with a quiet mind. The climb toward humility points to the effect of frustration on the spiritual life and the spirit of patience it will take to succeed.

 —from The Radical Spirit:12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life by Joan Chittister (Convergent)

Blessed Among Women

No one ever taught us Marian theology in any organized academic way. They didn’t need to even try. It came with the May altars we built in grade school. It came with the crowning of May queens in high school. It came with the rosaries we said in October and carried in our purses and fingered in the dark before sleep at night. It was the DNA of religion in our bones. And it was all about Mary, the Theotokos, the Eastern church called her: the Mother of God.

The feasts of Mary in the liturgical year are a virtual catalog of the works of God in humanity and the collaboration of humanity in the Incarnation of the divine in our midst. She is, the ancient prayer reminds us all, “blessed among women.” She is simply a woman like ourselves whose acceptance of the will of God changed the trajectory of humanity. The implications for the rest of us are awesome. The implications for women as women are particularly impacting. If God worked through one woman to bring redemption, how is it that anyone can argue that God does not go on working through other women as well?

Recognition of this relationship between God and humankind in the ongoing creation of the world is one of the most ancient teachings of liturgical theology. If it applies to Mary, it also applies to us.

The proper place for devotion to Mary is a clear one: she is the mother, the woman, the human participant in the work of redemption by her Son. She is the one who heard the Word of God in her heart and followed it to the end, whatever the cost to herself. By her unconditional fiat, she became the perfect recipient of God’s will that each of us would like to be. Her life belongs not simply to her own life but the life of the world as well.

It is in Mary that we see God’s creative will being done. In her, God not only prevails over the inherent weakness of mortality but brings it to the fullness of life for all our sakes. In the memories of the May altars, the crowning of May queens, and the droning of a thousand decades of the Rosary, all those ideas came to life in me and generations of others, came to heart in us, came to stay forever.

—from The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister (Thomas Nelson)

Joan Chittister Event-7/15/17 Register early-Limited seating- This will sell out!

Consistently…. A Speaker who continues to reshape Christian thought and imagination!
Consistently…. A prophetic voice for 21st Century Spirituality!
Don’t miss internationally known and highly respected speaker,Joan Chittister, OSB.
address a critical topic for our time: “The Role of the Public Intellectual”.
Seating limited!  Register early!!


To see differently

To see differently

Feast of Saint Benedict, March 21
Of all the stories told about Benedict of Nursia, this one may be the most impacting of all on our lives. Most of us will never work miracles or found monasteries, but one thing we can all learn to do is to see. This story is about a special kind of seeing.

Benedict left the company of a neighboring abbot after an evening’s conversation about the spiritual life. The period predates both universities and books, remember, let alone televisions and computers. Personal conversation was the key to learning then—a factor that may well explain the popularity of gurus and spiritual masters in that culture. At any rate, people came in droves to talk to Benedict about their spiritual questions, the great no less than the simple.

On this particular night, it is Abbot Severanus, a deeply prayerful person himself, with whom Benedict has been talking. But then, returning to his own room, alone and filled with ideas on the spiritual life, Benedict suddenly began to see what he had never seen before: the sky filled with light “more brilliant than the sun, and with it every trace of darkness cleared away.” Then according to his biographer, Benedict “saw the whole world as a single ray of light.” Benedict had developed sight and insight.  Benedict had begun to see things differently.

The implications for us and our own lives abound.

•What Benedict saw outside of himself is what he already had inside of himself—breadth of soul, compassion and openheartedness.
•The spiritual life enlarges a person’s vision.
•When we begin to see as God sees, we see far beyond ourselves.
The Radical Christian Life by Joan Chittister•When we fail “to see the whole world in one ray of light,” we imprison ourselves inside our own small selves without ideas, without experiences, without love.
•Remember that it was after they had been discussing spiritual things that Benedict’s vision was enlarged to include the whole world. It takes a spiritual sensitivity to hold the whole globe and all its needs in our heart. Any spirituality that makes our hearts narrower than the globe is a bogus spirituality for sure.

—from The Radical Christian Life by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press)



What needs to change in us?


What needs to change in us?

Changing the way we go about life is not all that difficult. We all do it all the time. We change jobs, states, houses, relationships, lifestyles over and over again as the years go by. But those are, in the main, very superficial changes. Real change is far deeper than that. It is changing the way we look at life that is the stuff of conversion.
Metanoia, conversion, is an ancient concept that is deeply embedded in the monastic worldview. Early seekers went to the desert to escape the spiritual aridity of the cities, to concentrate on the things of God. “Flight from the world”—separation from the systems and vitiated values that drove the world around them—became the mark of the true contemplative. To be a contemplative in a world bent on materialism and suffocated with itself, conversion was fundamental. But conversion to what? To deserts? Hardly. The goal was purity of heart, single-mindedness of search, focus of life.
We do not need to leave where we are to become contemplative. Otherwise, the Jesus who walked the dusty roads of Galilee surrounded by lepers and children and sick people and disciples and crowds of the curious and the committed was no contemplative either. Jesus the healer, the prophet, the preacher, the teacher, by that standard, was not engrafted into the mind of God. The thought appalls. No, surely contemplation is not a matter of place.
“Flight from the world” is not about leaving any specific location. “Flight from the world” is about shedding one set of attitudes, one kind of consciousness for another. On the contrary, we simply have to be where we are with a different state of mind. We have to be in the office with the good of the whole world in mind. We have to be on the corporate board with the public at heart. We have to be in the home in a way that has more to do with development than with control.
What needs to be changed in us? Anything that makes us the sole center of ourselves. Anything that deludes us into thinking that we are not simply a work in progress, all of those degrees, status, achievements, and power are no substitute for the wisdom that a world full of God everywhere, in everyone, has to teach us.

To become a contemplative, a daily schedule of religious events and practices is not enough. We must begin to do life, to be with people, to accept circumstances, to bring good to evil in ways that speak of the presence of God in every moment.
     —from Illuminated Life by Joan Chittister (Orbis)

Lent starts in one week

Here are a few Lenten resources:

From Center for Action and Contemplation-Richard Rohr

Companions for Your Journey through Lent
Explore the meaning of this liturgical season (Lent begins March 1) through contemplative reading. Two excellent books for personal devotions and group study:

Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent
by Richard Rohr

God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter
featuring Richard Rohr, Kathleen Norris, Ronald Rolheiser, Luci Shaw, and others
Find these and other resources at

Living Lent Daily

Click Here for Lenten Resources from Loyola Press


Click Here for Lenten Resources from Monasteries of the Heart


Click Here for Lenten Resources from USCCB