Called to Question Summary
by Joan D. Chittister

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Called to Question Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sister Joan Chittister has been an influential person in the Catholic Church for more than three decades. A former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, she has been a strong advocate for women’s ordination and has spoken out on other issues of social justice, such as rights for homosexuals and environmental concerns. A controversial figure, she is held in great esteem by those on the left and is sometimes vilified by those on the right.

In Called to Question, Chittister invites the reader to share in her thought processes and her spiritual journey. When she was younger, she was convinced of the correctness of the Catholic Church’s position. She tells how she struggled to accept pre-Vatican II teachings concerning Protestants in the light of her own Presbyterian stepfather. She also had difficulty with her mother’s not attending Mass. Her questions about the Church were therefore planted in her youth, but she suppressed them and willingly accepted Church teachings. Then, when a cardinal at a conference in Rome made some questionable assertions about the Eucharist, she no longer took the Church’s teachings for granted and began to take responsibility for her own spirituality.

Chittister began to keep a journal—a dialogue with other spiritual writers in which she recorded her questions and what others from a variety of faith traditions had to say about each topic. Then she would record her responses. Excerpts from that journal are included in Called to Question, which expands on her original ideas.

Chittister begins by questioning the role of religion in our lives, exploring the difference between religion and spirituality. According to Chittister, religion is external; it provides rules and rituals to lead us to the divine. Spirituality is the internal process that takes us beyond religion to the divine. Chittister questions the nature of that divine being. One day she was at prayer with her community and realized that prayers were always addressed to “God the Father,” never to “God the Mother.” This assumption that God is male barred women from being seen in the image of the divine. Chittister therefore set out to change that understanding of God and received much opposition in the process. She also questions the image of God as an eternal judge, keeping close track of the multiple levels of sin that one might commit. Chittister instead seeks an emphasis on regarding God with awe. She states that the focus should be on God, not on human sin. She values prayer to God and its role in aligning our will with his, but she questions those who pray without corresponding action. In her eyes, prayer should never be used as an escape from life.

She also discusses what it means to be “called.” God calls each of us to contribute in some way to creation. God gives us the tools to carry out our particular mission in life. While acknowledging how difficult it can be to strip away all the other voices that speak to us and that try to influence the direction of our lives, Chittister emphasizes the importance of listening to God’s direction, no matter where it may lead or what others might say. She also delves into what it means to have commitment and balance in our lives.

The second half of Called to Question deals with relationships with other people and the world at large. Chittister encourages us to love with passion, convinced that it is only through human love that we can come to know God’s love. Her position on love leads to her emphasis on social action. Love must be taken out into the world and...

(The entire section is 918 words.)