Sr. Joan Chittister: An American Catholic in Rome
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Posted April 13, 2005 at 2:05 p.m. CDT

Win a couple, lose a couple

By Joan Chittister, OSB

Fathers have favorite sayings that grate on the nerves of anyone under 40 like welted thistles, harmless looking but hard to shake. Most of them, eventually, slip into disuse. After the age of 40, though, what little remains of them in memory has a way of getting collected into a new category called "wisdom."

I am operating off one of my father's sayings right now, in fact, the final assessment of which has yet to be determined.

"Win a couple, lose a couple," he would sigh every time the road of life took another unexpected turn. Here, or at least now, I have decided this could be an insight that deserves fresh consideration.

Read Joan Chittister's weekly columns
Previous and current columns from An American Catholic in Rome

Adolescence or adulthood: which? Posted April 22, 2005 at 3:30 p.m. CDT
And he shall be called . . .  Posted April 20, 2005 at 4:30 p.m. CDT
I missed the smoke; I got the idea Posted April 19, 2005 at 10:00 a.m. CDT
Never mind the papabile, consider the papacy Posted April 17, 2005 at 3:30 p.m. CDT
The underside of the issue Posted April 16, 2005 at 4:10 p.m. CDT
Antigone or Ismene: The new choice Posted April 15, 2005 at 6:24 a.m. CDT
Win a couple, lose a couple Posted April 13, 2005 at 2:05 p.m. CDT
When demonstrations are not demonstrations Posted  
Posted April 12, 2005 at 11:56 a.m. CDT
The purpose of the interregnum Posted April 11, 2005 at 3:37 p.m. CDT
Be aware of Greeks bearing gifts
Posted April 10, 2005 at 10:42 a.m. CDT
He was the grandfather of their souls Posted April 8, 2005 at 10:21 a.m. CDT
Poignant and paradoxical Posted April 7, 2005 at 8:09 a.m. CDT

Two years ago this week, Sr. Chittister began writing a weekly Web column for NCR. Click on this link to read From Where I Stand by Sr. Joan Chittister,OSB.

Little is done in a clear, straight line in the Italian culture. Nothing happens when you think it will happen. Nothing comes when you order it. Nothing gets fixed by the time you need it. New directives are announced suddenly and without warning: the store is closed though it says it's open; the meeting place has been changed from one place to another; the event is on that date, not this one. Little by little, a feeling of personal proficiency begins to slip slowly away.

On the other hand, though you lose a sense of control in a climate like this, you can also gain a sense of calm. Life becomes something to be lived rather than something to be managed.

So, with the world press waiting with pencils poised, the announcement that the cardinals will not be giving public interviews in the period between the papal funeral and the conclave was not unusual. It was, however, a blow to the whole notion of public dialogue and information.

There are some clear benefits to the move away from public discussion of church issues at the present time.

In the first place, the electors gain personal privacy during what should be a time of serious reflection.

In the second place, they avoid the kind of public scrutiny of prominent cardinals that worldwide coverage automatically brings.

Most of all, perhaps, they are defended against the likelihood of any cardinal's saying some ecclesiastically indefensible thing.

But there are serious losses to the arrangement, as well.

The fact that the public can no longer count on open interviews with cardinals from around the world to help them understand how the conclave may define the serious issues facing the church at a time like this is, unarguably, a major loss. Reflection groups, academic seminars, formation programs, parish study groups, religious everywhere are denied the opportunity to consider these same ideas at a moment when a universal church is living in a segmented world and a segmented world is trying to be a universal church.

The inability to mull over the various theological leanings of those leaders of the church who will select the next pope is the loss of a major teaching moment. The vision of church that will color the election will affect the whole church and needs to be shared in order to be understood.

The lack of interlocutors who can ask the kind of questions that come from the ground up in the church is a troublesome factor. Questions alert people to the major streams of thought flowing through the entire church at a time like this. Otherwise, the cardinals themselves may be left blind to the concerns around them and unconscious of church's broader needs.

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Finally, the sense of being locked out of the process entirely can only distance the church, which Vatican II called "the people of God," from a sense of being part of it. We are, after all, electing a pope for the whole church not simply for the cardinals.

Oh, some reporters, I'm sure, who have personal ties to various cardinals will manage to run into one or two of them on the street and wrest an idea from them -- on the grounds, of course, that its "off the record."

This morning's New York Times carries an article by Robert F. Worth, In Jeans or veils, Iraqi women are split on new political power, detailing the passionate involvement of Iraqi women in the present government processes there. Reading that story leads observers watching this church election to wonder: Without any hope for someone to speak their concerns publicly, how will the rest of the Catholic church -- women, for instance -- be able to participate?

Don't bother to answer: We know.

So is "Win a couple, lose a couple" the ultimate philosophical attitude at a time like this? Only, I think, if what is to be gained overrides what is lost. Now there's the real question.

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