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Book Excerpt: THE TIME IS NOW: A Call to Uncommon Courage

The question, “What will you do?” is at the core of spiritual maturity, of spiritual commitment. To follow Jesus means that we, too, must each do something to redeem our battered, beaten world from the greed that smothers it. We must put ourselves between the defenseless and the nuclearism that would destroy it in the name of peace. We must confront the sexism that demeans half the human race. We must redeem it from the anthropology of false human superiority that consumes its resources and diminishes its peoples at the cost of everything on the planet except humankind. And then, as a result, most of humankind, as well.

The poor in our cities sleep rough in the summertime and die of cold in the winter. Our children go to bed hungry. Our women can’t walk down our streets alone, for fear of rape, robbery, and mayhem. The rest of the world, caught in the violence of the time, knocks at our gates begging for “room in the inn.” And you and I, what are we doing about it? Simply standing there looking on?

The temptation, of course, is to refuse the invitation to really “follow” Jesus—that is, to be in our time as he was in his, to really feed the hungry or contest with the practices of oppression or deny the piety of sexism, racism, and economic slavery. In fact, we often ignore, resist, reject the idea that, like Jesus, we have a role to play in righting a world whose axle is tilting in the wrong direction. We refuse to accept the notion that to turn the compass points of our worlds back to the True North of the soul is what it means to be truly spiritual. Our task is to be “obedient,” to keep the laws, the fasts, the dogmas, and the feast days, we argue. But the question we fail so often to ask is, Obedient to what and obedient to whom? Our task is to be obedient all our lives to the Will of God for the world. And therein lies the difference between being good for nothing and good for something. Between religion for show and religion for real. Between personal spirituality that dedicates itself to achieving private sanctification and prophetic spirituality, the other half of the Christian dispensation.

Yes, the Christian ideal is personal goodness, of course, but personal goodness requires that we be more than pious, more than faithful to the system, more than mere card- carrying members of the Christian community. Christianity requires, as well, that we each be so much a prophetic presence that our corner of the world becomes a better place because we have been there.

There is no room here for dedicating a lifetime to maintaining the perfect spiritual routine, the antiseptic moral cleanliness, an acerbic and long- suff ering silence alone. None of that, in fact, marked the life of Jesus himself, who “consorted with sinners,” healed foreigners, called women to discipleship, contended with scribes and Pharisees about the nature of the faith itself, and irritated the leaders of both the temple and the throne, both religion and government.

Instead, the call of Jesus is the call to prophesy, to speak a word of God to a world that prefers religious rituals and spiritual comfort to the demands of moral maturity. It is to be a prophet’s witness in a prophetless place.

Prophetic spirituality calls us to walk in the wake of the biblical prophets of ancient Israel, to hear the word of God for the world and repeat it, shout it, model it until the world comes awake. It is to demand it until the hungry are fed and the sick are cared for and the violent are sent away empty of their power to destroy.

Prophets then and prophets now are those who look at life as it is— hard of heart for many, unfair for most—and set out to expand it. Prophets simply refuse to accept a vision of tomorrow that is limited to the boundaries of yesterday and empty of God’s word for today.

Adapted from THE TIME IS NOW: A Call to Uncommon Courage © 2019 by Joan Chittister. To be published by Convergent, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, on April 5. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Joan Chittister is one of the most influential religious and social leaders of our time. For 40 years she has passionately advocated on behalf of peace, human rights, women’s issues, and church renewal. A much sought-after speaker, counselor and clear voice that bridges across all religions, she is also a best-selling author of more than 50 books, hundreds of articles, an online column for the National Catholic Reporter, and a blog for the Huffington Post.

This excerpt was featured in the March 10th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.