NEWS REPORT by Brian Coyne...
In an address last night that was as hard hitting politically as it was theologically, visiting Benedictine Sister, Sr Joan Chittister, called on Christian people to rediscover the spirituality of St Benedict that played such a crucial role in saving European civilisation at the beginning of the sixth century.
Sr Chittister's address was delivered as the keynote address of the 150th Anniversary Celebrations in Australia of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict. The popularity and appeal of Sr Chittister was testified to by the fact that the 900 tickets on sale for the lecture were sold out seven weeks in advance of the lecture being held. Organisers of the lecture informed the audience last night that the demand for tickets was so high that the lecture hall at Mount St Benedict's College in Pennant Hills could have been filled many times over. The audience was also informed that large groups of people travelled from all States of Australia to attend this lecture.
The thrust of the lecture…
The thrust of Sr Joan's lecture was to link the major ills of Western society — its arrogance; its exploitation of the third world; its exploition of our environment and our planet's finite renewable resources; the social disintegration of communities; the relentless measurement of everything in terms of monetary profit and the discounting of the importance of understanding the value in leisure and sabbath; the ungodly emphasis on the production of armaments at the expense of other forms of human productive effort; a culture that encourages violence and exploitation rather than the pursuit of peace through what we screen on our media — to a contrasting set of values that sit at the heart of Benedictine Spirituality. These values, Sr Chittister argued, are the values that St Benedict preserved and nurtured and which are credited with being the tools that this Patron Saint of Europe used to save Western civilisation when it was in imminent danger of being snuffed out at the beginning of the sixth century.
She argues the world needs to urgently re-discover the wisdom and gentleness of Benedictine spirituality if we are to successfully address the many challenges that face our present-day world.
Certainly to this reporter, this lecture was a tour de force — probably the single most powerful address I have heard delivered by any spiritual leader or politician in this country in half a century. Sr Joan Chittister is such an unlikely figure to project the power and passion that she does. She could be the favourite and gentlest of aunts to any of us. Yet the way she modulates her voice; her capacity for "the memorable phrase" that condenses complex concepts in science, sociology, economics, politics or theology down to a thimble-sized idea that packs more power than that contained in a nuclear power plant; her powerful use of gesture; all these things she uses with consumate skill that it is little wonder she has become one of the most powerful leaders in modern Catholicism and is euphemistically referred to as "Pope Joan" by critics and fans alike.
The full recording of Sr Joan Chittister's lecture is going to be published on the Good Samaritan's website (www.goodsams.org.au) in the next few days. To whet your appetite for that here are a few edited highlights from my reporter's recorder. Please forgive the quality. I am sure the full recording that will be available on the Good Samaritan's website will be a significant improvement on this. Any of these excerpts though could have provided multiple headlines for this story.
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