The Time Is Now
By Joan Chittister
Convergent Books, 2019
$22 144 pp.
The Time Is Now by Joan Chittister could not have been written at a better moment. The focus of the book is the need for each one of us to be a prophet in our own world, which is not easy, as the subtitle infers: “A Call to Uncommon Courage.” As the author writes, “Tomorrow is the gift we are given to create for ourselves. If something has to be done, we will have to be the people who do it.”
Early in the book, Chittister points out that the biblical prophets were seldom appreciated by the powers that be. Their message was ignored by the very people to whom it was addressed, but they went on proclaiming God’s Word regardless, obviously not an easy task. And that task is no easier for us, all these hundreds of years later. Again, she says, “If the world in which we live is to be a better one, our spirituality must be about more than seeing what needs to be done, it’s about doing something about what is lacking. It’s about standing up and speaking out, the lone voice in the room, if necessary, the voice that the others ignore—or worse, laugh at.” Let us imagine how this would affect our world, our country, our church, and, in a more personal way, our families.
When we read the prophets in the Bible, we tend to think of them as strong, undeterred, inspired by God to be who they were. However, in many ways, they were just like you and me—and others throughout history, like Daniel Berrigan, Dom Hélder Câmara, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Thomas Merton, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Richard P. McBrien, and so many more. None of these people have even been canonized, but they all stood up for what they believed was God’s Word, and they were all truly prophets in their time. Keep in mind that Thomas Merton was rejected by many of his own brothers in community, and Dorothy Day was scorned by bishops but persisted in her call to meet the needs of the poor. It is easy to focus our lives on Jesus the healer because it makes us feel good, but we cannot forget the Jesus was also a prophet who contended with those of the Temple and the Throne who condemned his condemnations of the system.
Today, in 2022, we look at our world: Russia has invaded the Ukraine, January 6th is labeled “legitimate, political discourse,” divisions in our church have caused many to leave it, and families are dealing with problems of their own. How do we become prophets in these settings? Chittister describes what needs to be done:
- To be spiritually mature, we must each be about something greater than ourselves. We must think beyond our small world to issues that are affecting the lives of others.
- We need to think and study the causes as well as consequences of issues.
- We need to set out to help others understand what is going on so that we can all do something about it together.
- We must take responsibility to spread the word.
- We need to clearly identify the issue and “proclaim it from the housetops.”
- We must remember that a prophetic Christian implements in his or her own life the changes that will help others.
- We must remember that a present-day prophet does all he or she can to make an issue known.
- We need to do more than pray about issues; we need to do something.
- Prophets work toward enabling two groups of people to come together and prevent boundaries to be set up between peoples. The poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Chittister points out that the “leadership of a prophet is fearless because it is rooted in the faith that God’s will, will be done. Eventually, certainly, surely, and lovingly.” She continues by challenging all of us to “change the opinions of people whose lives have become quietly given over to profit and power rather than to the people who have made their status and wealth possible.” Yes, this is what God asks of us. But the same God will send us all the help we need, if we only ask. Faith in God will make it all the easier.
In the acknowledgements, Chittester expresses her hope “that groups will read [this book] together and bring the same kind of spiritual fire to it” that her staff and readers did. Her final prayer for us is as follows: “Dear Prophet, for the sake of the children, for the sake of the world, for the sake of the gospel, cry out.”
The Time Is Now helps us to understand that being a Christian is more than going to Mass and praying. Chittister calls us to be Christian, to live a life addressing the many needs of the people with whom we live, be it the world, the country, the church, or our families. We need to stand up and be counted among the followers of Jesus, living the words of the Beatitudes. “Then we may all become the shapers of the world we want and as responsible for life as it was meant to be.” ♦
Beverly Brazauskas has graduate degrees from Wayne State University, Boston College, and the University of Notre Dame. She spent one half of her ministerial life as a high school math teacher and the other half as a pastoral associate. Today she is retired and volunteers at Holy Family Retreat Center in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is president of the board of directors of Today’s American Catholic.