Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Called to Question, Joan Chittister explores many of the questions that have haunted her as she has traveled on her spiritual journey. For persons who were raised, as Chittister was, in the era before Vatican II (1963), which reformed some basic Catholic teachings, the Church had all the answers. No one questioned; one merely accepted, or if one could not accept, one left the Church or did not take part in the Sacraments. A Benedictine sister, Chittister is representative of many “women religious” who faced profound changes in the Church after Vatican II. The religious institution in which they had believed no longer was seen as infallible. As a result, almost everything became ripe for questioning.

It is important to note that Chittister did not leave the Catholic Church. She sought change from within and has made both friends and enemies in the process. In the best Christian tradition, Chittister speaks for those who are often considered powerless. She wants a Church that treats women as equals and that will get involved in political issues and social justice causes. Called to Question illustrates the reasoning behind her positions. As the title suggests, Chittister believes her God-given role in life is to question everything, to seek God’s (not necessarily the Church’s) answers.

Chittister has much to offer in her writing for those who struggle in their spiritual lives. Although she offers few answers to the questions and struggles that plague people as they travel on their spiritual journey, she makes a strong case that the struggle itself has value. In the end, she concludes that it may be the journey, the seeking, that is the most important part of life. For Catholics, Called to Question also raises the issue of what it means to be faithful to the Catholic Church. Chittister seems to have very little respect for the tradition of which she is a part. While she would no doubt argue that she is trying to make the Catholic Church better, she wants a Catholic Church of her own making. She is attempting to discard two thousand years of authority and spiritual teaching. It is not surprising that many find her ideas controversial.