e-mail us

Inside NCR

This book is dedicated to the questions of the age to come … It is an exercise in the power of questions,” writes Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister in an afterword in Spiritual Questions for the Twenty-First Century. “It recognizes the necessity of questions to test the truth of our own lives.”

The newly published book, subtitled Essays in Honor of Joan D. Chittister (Orbis), contains pieces from 13 leading religious figures, including Sri Lankan theologian Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, Brazilian theologian Sr. Ivone Gebara, Protestant historian Martin E. Marty, Fr. Richard Rohr, widely read author and speaker, and Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland. It crossed my desk, in a delightful coincidence, just as Chittister’s first installment of Lenten reflections was going into our pages. In those reflections, Chittister digs for the Lenten “questions that, year after year … measure our progress on the way to fullness of life.”

This ruminating over questions, the elevation of the question to a central place in the journey of faith -- an affirmation that questioning and living the journey are not mutually exclusive or contradictory undertakings -- struck me deeply. For if the pages of NCR offer a service to the larger community, I think it is to provide a place, a forum, where questions can be asked.

It takes just a short rummage through back issues to find the topics -- Dominus Iesus, the death penalty, the place of women in the church, the issue of newly emerging family forms, to mention a few -- that demonstrate the depth of adult discussion and questions that you, readers, bring to the NCR table. These are not questions for questions’ sake or to relativize the faith, but they are questions that, in Chittister’s language, propel us along.

“The ability -- the commitment -- to question, to examine every aspect of the human journey is the only form of fidelity worth the price of admission to this sojourn called life,” she writes elsewhere in the book mentioned above.

I really do believe that among the most important things we can do, all of us, is to ask the question, especially in the stead of those who cannot ask the question, to provide the place where questions can surface and to protect the questioners among us.

In Catholicism, Fr. Richard McBrien writes of martyrs: “Heaven for them is not a reward for being good.” Quoting John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology, he continues, “Rather, ‘ … it is the reward of having been delivered from any seeking for rewards.’ The only reward for such self-giving love is an increased capacity for it.”

Today, martyrdom is so often a case of staying where others won’t, of remaining, like those profiled in John Allen’s cover piece on Africa, with a flock that is in imminent danger.

These are powerful, moving stories, and I am certain they will raise for you deep and powerful questions.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 23, 2001