Each great spiritual tradition, in its own way, suggests a model of what it means to be a holy person. Each of them shines a light on the human ideal. Each of them talks about what it takes to grow, to endure, to develop, to live a spiritual life in a world calculatingly material and sometimes maddeningly unclear.
The question is what is the way to the beginning of peace?
It seems at first glance to be hardly the stuff of which contemporary sanctity is made. The story of Joan of Arc as we have known it is an almost mythical one, a fantasy of divine proportions. She was a peasant, a simple girl from the unsophisticated countryside, who took it upon herself to save the country when its leaders could not. She was impelled by the voices of St. Catherine of Siena, St. Margaret,and the Archangel Michael, she said, to follow the will of God. She was to liberate a city, lead an army, save a king, and free a nation from foreign control.
During his speech to Congress on September 24, 2015, Pope Francis singled out four great Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day. The woman in the group is the least known and celebrated. In 1996, Joan Chittister included an essay about Dorothy Day in her book, A Passion for Life: Fragments of the Face of God, which was also published in the Spring 2016 issue of Parabola magazine. Read what Sister Joan has to say about her.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Joan Chittister that appeared in the March,1989 issue of SALT, a magazine for justice-hungry Christians. The contents of this interview are still relevant for today's readers.
Q. You do a lot of traveling and writing about peacemaking. You’ve probably had many ups and downs along the way. What keeps you going?
The 19th century was a period of public and political turmoil in Russia, which is perhaps why the influential novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky is said to have commented, "To live without hope is to cease to live." Perhaps Americans have never understood that feeling better than we can now. We are also facing grave national choices in a whirlpool of public and political turmoil. The way ahead is uncertain and the voices of leadership are tangled. It is time to consider what role we play as Americans when hope is at a premium for many and our own very definition of self is stake.
Suddenly, perhaps, or painfully slowly, I begin to see into myself. The gulf opens up between what I am and what I must be if divine life is ever to come to fullness in me. There is no more concealing it from myself, no more ignoring it. There is nowhere to go now but into the heart of God with arms up and hands open. Then, we open ourselves to the work of divinity in us, to the One who binds all brokenness together, to the Life that simmers in our deadest, driest parts.
“To be without mercy is to be yet without an honest awareness of our own humanity.”
My first struggle with Scripture came early. The Sister who taught second grade made it a practice to read bible stories to us as part of our daily recess period. I went to school every day barely able to wait for the moment to come. I love the telling of them. I loved the surprises in every single one of them. But one day one of them threatened my faith in ways no child can plumb. If truth were told, the story of the Tower of Babel plagued me with troubling questions for years.