Sr. Simone Campbell "A Voice for Hope & Change" | Episode Transcript
Karen: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen: Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri to audiences around the world. Each week, we endeavor to bring you a new interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen, or perhaps even a recording of Henri himself. We invite you to share the Daily Meditations and these podcasts with your friends and family. Through them, we can continue to introduce new audiences to the writings and teachings of Henri Nouwen, and remind each listener that they’re a beloved child of God.
Now, let me take a moment to introduce today’s guest. Today on this podcast, I have the pleasure of introducing Sister Simone Campbell. This is a woman who can best be described as compassionate conviction in action. She’s a real champion for the cause of peace and justice. As Executive Director for Network, Sister Simone is well known for the Nuns on the Bus action that she and her sisters initiated in 2012. I wanted you to meet this feisty and inspiring nun, who brings moral authority rooted in her love of Jesus and her dependence on the Holy Spirit. Sister Simone Campbell is a clear and compelling voice for social and economic justice.
Sister Simone, I’ve read both A Nun on the Bus and your new book, Hunger for Hope. I learned from these two books a bit about the journey you have been on. Let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell me why you became a nun?
Sister Simone: Well, back – and it sort of feels like a million years ago. Actually, I was fairly young. It was after my freshman year of college. I joined my religious community because I was eager to get on about justice. And it’s more complicated than just joining the community, because so much of my care and concern were focused on civil rights, on the social justice at the time. I was taught by this amazing group of Immaculate Heart sisters in Southern California. And I watched with my sister, Katie, on television. We watched the civil rights movement in the fifties and early sixties. And for me, listening to Dr. King, knowing that for me, Christianity, for Jesus’ message and justice always went together. And then my religious community were the Sisters of Social Service. So, we’re all about engaging in social change, and it was just such a good fit. But after my freshman year of college, where I was really fed up with being in the classroom and just wanting to get on with it, to just do it, I ended up joining my community. And I’ve been a part of it ever since, more than 50 years. It’s pretty amazing.
Karen: I loved learning about the charism of your community, of the Sisters of Social Service, and I hear it over and over throughout your books – “Come, Holy Spirit” – a real sense of an acute listening, longing for and expecting the Holy Spirit to lead and to guide. Has that always been part of your life?
Sister Simone: Well, I think without knowing it. It was before I joined the community, but the community gave me words for it, because we are dedicated to the Holy Spirit. It’s all about living the Pentecost moment. Pentecost is our big communal feast, and it’s all about living the Spirit, being sent out into the streets. And which is what happened on Pentecost and that is the apostles were communally sent out in groups of two or more together. And that’s how we see the work of the Spirit among us to make the gospel live now. That’s our duty and our job. But it requires some intense listening, both to people, but also in the silence that contemplative listening in prayer to: Where are we being led? What’s the next step? How do we move? And, I think always for me, there was some sense of that. But I don’t think I, as a young person, I don’t think I had words to articulate it. And then my community gave me ways to talk about it and to share the experience with my sisters, which was quite a good sense of coming home.
Karen: I read this line in your book: “My path was more organic than dramatic,” and I thought that was kind of interesting. I love reading biographies and, in a way, there’s a lot of biography within these books that tell me about a journey that you went on. You ended up becoming a lawyer. Tell us a little bit about why and what was achieved in that.
Sister Simone: Well, okay. So, most of my sisters are social workers and I’m not a good social worker and I’m not patient enough to have people have their discoveries and work with groups and all that. I want to organize stuff and get stuff done. And when I was a young sister in Portland, Oregon, I was a volunteer as, on the side, we were doing community organizing. And I went down to Salem, the state capital, to testify about the needs for tenants’ rights legislation. And some curmudgeon of a legislator – I thought he was probably older than God. He was probably younger than I am now, but anyway, as a young person, I thought he was really old – and this legislator asked us about, “Well, what about the covenant of something or another?” And I had no idea what he was talking about.
And so, I went home and I told our sisters that I lived with, “Oh, I’ve got to go to law school. I just have to go to law school.” Because I wanted to do public policy. My imagination was captured by that. I really wanted to do systemic change.
And so, one of the sisters that I lived with, a good friend of mine, she says, “Simone, none of our sisters has gone to law school.” And, I found out just a year or so ago, she was really worried that I’d get a “no,” and I’d be really disappointed. So, she didn’t want to get my hopes up. But the result was, because of her saying, “Oh, I don’t know, Simone,” I wrote this whole first brief about why go to law school, how it’s the intersection of justice and the gospel. And you have to know that the founder of our religious community, Margaret Slachta, was the first woman in the Hungarian parliament when she was the head of our community, back in the 1920s.
So, we have politics and political engagement in our bones. But this was a new step for us in the U.S. And eventually, I got the community’s approval to go to law school. So, I went to law school to do public policy, but then in the process discovered that I liked practicing law, and ended up starting a low-cost legal service center to serve the needs of the working poor in Oakland, California, that ended up doing most of the high-conflict, low-income family law cases in our county. It was great. I loved it. I did that for 18 years, but it really was a wonderful service to families in crisis.
Karen: What a great foundation. I mean, I was impressed. I just thought it’s interesting all the ways that God leads you. I mean, there’s just no two ways about it. It’s fascinating. You then went on to do other things. You headed your community for a time and then along comes Network. Tell me about what is Network. I mean, I’m a Canadian, okay, so I have learned about you. I’m like the many who’ve heard about Nuns on the Bus, but don’t really know about Network. So, tell me about it. What was that all about?
Sister Simone: Right. Well, in the early seventies – late sixties, early seventies – the church leadership was talking about systemic change and the need for, you know, engaging the gospel in changing our laws, and civil rights and those kinds of things. And so, in December of 1971, 47 Catholic sisters gathered in Washington, D.C. They were from various religious communities and they decided that, at this three-day meeting, what we needed to do as women religious in the United States, was to work on changing the laws and on political engagement in Washington, D.C. And so, the question was, what they said was: “We don’t need another organization; we need a network so we can work together to impact legislation, to lobby for change.” And so, they created this lobby and opened the doors in April of ’72 with two sisters from two different communities who were lent by their congregations, to get it started.
And over the years, we’re almost 50 years old now, but we have worked on Capitol Hill where the old-timers on Capitol Hill, like Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Dodd, bunch of the ’80s and ’90s senators, they called us the “nuns’ lobby.” And we’re way more than nuns, Catholic sisters. Our membership now is about 20, but we have about a hundred thousand activists around the U.S. and so, obviously, that’s way more than Catholic sisters.
But what happened in 2012, at our 40th anniversary party of Network, we said, “Well, how are we going to get our name out there? How are we going to let people know we’ve been working on Capitol Hill for 40 years impacting social issues?” And it was pretty funny. We had a lot of little ideas. And then four days later, though, I say that the Vatican answered our prayer, because we wanted to get known.
And what the Vatican did was, in the censure of a leadership conference of women religious, they named Network – so, at the time, we had nine full-time staff. I mean, can you believe that? The Vatican named Network, with nine staff, as being a bad influence on Catholic sisters, because we were too much on the issues of poverty and not upon the issues like gay marriage and abortion. It was like, “But our focus, our mission is on poverty.” So, I sort of thought, “mission accomplished.” But it was that notoriety that was really started with our healthcare work in 2010. That’s really why we got named, because the bishops had opposed the legislation and we were in favor of it. And we were a tipping point in getting legislation passed, so the bishops were still mad at us. But we won and they lost.
Karen: You have always been in the corner of the poor. You’ve always been in the corner of the people that aren’t being spoken for. I mean, that was so evident as I read these books. But, what a breakthrough! These “radical, feminist nuns,” I guess they labeled you, I don’t know. But at any rate, what an amazing miracle! How did you respond when the Vatican basically censured you? How did that become, in a way, a bonus for you?
Sister Simone: Well, the thing that I knew right away was that the leadership conference was formed by the Vatican, and they had to be very quiet and careful. But Network, our organization, we had no contact with the Vatican. We had no connection to the Vatican, so I could be public. And so, what my prayer became was, “How do we use this moment for mission?” Because this was the opportunity to let people know we’d been working on Capitol Hill for 40 years. I mean, coming just four days after we asked the question, you know, we got hit over the head with the answers. So, what I did was, I used my good, political or, you know, community-organizing skills to go around talking to everybody. So, I talked to a lot of my colleagues in D.C. and convened this group of our secular colleagues who wanted to help.
And I said, “Okay, here’s what’s going on. What do we do with this? We want to use this for mission.” Which was my prayer.
And they said, “Well, you have to go on the road, you have to push back against the Speaker, he wasn’t Speaker at the time, Chairman Ryan’s budget. And you have to lift up the works of Catholic sisters and you have to go on a bus – a wrapped bus.”
“Okay, let’s do it.”
But we had to raise the money. And we had the money pledged like, in 10 days. I mean, the whole thing was a miracle and it really was a gift of the Spirit. At that first meeting with our secular colleagues, there were about 35 of us gathered in a little conference room. And it was like Pentecost. We were of one mind and one heart. And, the Spirit just gave us the gift of what turned out to be Nuns on the Bus. Nuns on the Bus was never supposed to be the title; it was just a joke, you know, it was the joke title. But it’s what stuck. It was perfect.
Karen: It’s what all of us could remember – Nuns on the Bus: The Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness. I mean, it was brilliant. It was quite brilliant. And, it didn’t really stop there. I mean, obviously this Nuns on the Bus was a miracle. I’m absolutely amazed at how it’s gone forward and what it’s meant and how it’s been not just a source of encouragement, but a real inspiration around the world. I mean, really, it’s said to Christians, “What are you going to do? How are you going to take your faith out and be what Jesus has called us to be?” And, you folks have done it in spades. I’m really impressed.
Sister Simone: Well, but it’s the thing about when you stay focused on mission, gifts are given. I mean, because it’s total gift, and I’m more aware of the political effort that we have made. And so, I’m focused on that political work, but you’re right. The ripple impacts are amazing, surprising, awesome. You know, the first year, I guess it was in 2012, I didn’t even know this organization, Parliamentarians for Global Action. They are members of various countries’ parliaments or legislative bodies. They have this organization and they have an award they give every other year, for defending democracy. I got nominated for and awarded their Defender of Democracy award by this international group. It was totally surprising to me. But the ultimate irony was it was given in Rome in December of 2012, at the height of those trouble with the Vatican for Catholic sisters in the U.S. But it was given in the Italian Senate chambers. So, it’s like the ultimate irony. It was pretty funny.
Karen: Well, I know that this wasn’t about, from your perspective, it wasn’t about opposing Catholicism. It was about actually calling forth people, engaging people, stopping us couch potatoes from being comfortable on the couches and really becoming active. Your work on healthcare reform was a gift to America. I mean, millions of people got healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act. And that was something you played an important part in. And I’m so grateful. I thank you on behalf of those that have healthcare. I’m so grateful for that.
Before we go on, I’m going to look at both books that you’ve written, because they both inspire me. But I’d love to hear a little bit more. There wasn’t just one road trip, was there? What were some of the other things that Nuns on the Bus took on? I love, for example, the point at which you got people to sign the bus, so that they felt that they were part of it. I loved that.
Sister Simone: Well, that started in 2014. Well okay, first of all, you need to know in 2012, I never thought there’d be another bus trip. I thought it was unique in all the world. And so, we didn’t even do an evaluation of our bus trip. It was pretty funny. But then, in 2013, we were working on immigration reform and we knew we had to, as we said, throw everything we could at trying to get a new immigration law in the U.S., and especially getting it out of the Senate. So, we did a bus trip in 2013, all-on, for immigration reform. We went to the key states with Republicans that we either needed to support in their speaking out for immigration reform, or encourage them to do it. And so, it was a great trip.
But then, in between the bus trip in 2013 and 2014, somebody had given me the idea that people could sign the bus. And so, in 2014, that was the first time it was on voter turnout, getting people committed to vote. And it was the first time people signed the bus. And the first person to sign the bus, who had been vice-president and is now our president, was Joe Biden. And I explained to Mr. Biden that there were going to be thousands of signatures, so he might not want to sign too big. But he was the very first one. He goes, “Oh, that’s great. Good, good.”
And so, we had this ceremony, we had the cameras, we had the sisters, we had these flags on either side of the place he was going to sign, and it was quite pomp and circumstance. It was very sweet. And so, he comes off the bus with us and I hand him a pen, one of these big, black marker pens. And he takes it and he starts writing “Joe,” a big J.O.E. And then he starts on the B for Biden, and you could see it dawn on him.
And he leans over and he says, “I didn’t sign too big, did I?”
“No, no, no. It’s just fine.”
But what happened was that people then, who knew he had signed the bus, then tried signing, like, in the loop of the J or close to his name. And it really became a gift, because people wanted to be close. But the joy of signing the bus is the ritual that it’s not just nuns on the bus. By the end, everybody’s on the bus. And it’s that shared commitment that we need in order to make change in our country, because really this is a crisis of community. How are we going to be a nation together? So, it’s been an amazing gift. And so then, let’s see, ’14, ’15, Pope Francis came. So, we did a bus trip in advance of Pope Francis. In ’16, we went to the Republican convention and the Democratic convention and did a bus trip along the way, trying – again, it was about bridge the divides, transform politics. That’s what we were trying to do. And talk to Republicans and talk to Democrats.
Karen: I think it was so interesting, how you were trying to get roundtables of people that aren’t being heard, that you’re trying to hear the voices in between the Capitol and the event, to really listen to people, to really listen, period.
Sister Simone: Exactly, because so often I think some of – at least in our country – some of the acting out, some of the craziness is people are not feeling heard. And so, they’re sort of like kids, you know? Kids keep acting out more and more to get their parents’ attention – this is the old family law lawyer in me speaking now. So, what we were trying to do is to listen proactively and gather data and information and share it with legislators, so it’s grounded in the reality. Because too often, at least especially the one we were working on in 2019 and rolled out just before the pandemic in 2020, was the work in rural parts of our country, just listening to rural America. And so often, people in rural communities said that they felt dismissed, disregarded, you know, demeaned by urban folks. That urban folks thought they were stupid and uneducated.
And then I came back to D.C. from doing these round-table sessions. I was shocked. I said, “Oh, this is so painful. These people think that city folks think they’re dumb and uneducated.” And some of my city friends said, “Well, they are.”
I was blown away. But it’s because of this perception. It’s also because people in rural America, to leave home, have to get kind of some energy up, and often it’s an anger energy, to get them to leave in order to get a better job or, you know, to go to school, those kinds of things. So, they have to psychologically maintain this justification for having left. And it’s a complicated social reality. But if we can really listen to each other, and what the needs are, we can find ways forward together. I mean, that’s what we’re about.
Karen: You have just very recently, within this past month, retired as the Executive Director of Network. This is a big next step in your life. What’s on the horizon now?
Sister Simone: Oh, good question. Lots of people are asking that. They’re giving me a lot of ideas, but right now, I’m on sabbatical. I have a four-month sabbatical. And, actually, the first month was about resting. I realized I was really tired. I’d been working really hard. And, so now I’m vaccinated and able to visit some friends, which is fantastic, after over a year of being quarantined. So, that’s these four months of reading, pondering, seeing what’s next. But I say I have this virtual shoe box and so people give me ideas and I put them in the virtual shoe box. And then, come August, then I’m going to open the shoe box and see what happens. We’ll see. Stay tuned. I’ll be active in something, but right now, I’m not sure what.
Karen: We are so very, very, very grateful that you said “yes” to speaking at our Henri Nouwen and the Art of Living conference. And honestly, it’s going to be one of the highlights, I’m sure, so I want to encourage everyone who’s listening. You must sign up for the conference, because this is going to be such a treat. I can tell you, this is somebody you want to hear and won’t want to miss.
One of the things that has been fun for me in the last week has been to read Hunger for Hope: Prophetic Communities, Contemplation and Common Good. It’s a book that you have written, and I got so much out of it. It starts with the contemplative, and I want to know why that’s your base for action.
Sister Simone: Well, the thing is that for me, this is all about listening to the Spirit. Like we were talking about, we’re dedicated to the Holy Spirit. And unless we engage in that contemplative art of listening, then I don’t know where to move, how to go, or what’s the next step. And I think too often, we, at least in the U.S. society, we’re more about control and plans and, you know, strategic planning strategy – “get it done” – without doing the part of listening for the deeper good, the deeper needs. And so, I go along with, I suppose, Karl Rahner, who said that in the future, Christians will be contemplative or there won’t be Christians at all. And it’s really about this crisis of listening and being led. So, I think that we each need to develop a reflective practice. And ironically, what I find out is people find it scary to just stop and listen, because we’re so used to being filled with all kinds of noise and social devices and plans and busy and all this.
Or they feel like they’re not doing a good job of it, and so, they’re working at it. It’s like, relax. It’s okay. Just listen, just take a deep breath and listen. And that listening then leads us to places we wouldn’t go otherwise.
Karen: It’s interesting. What you remind me of is how Henri entered into this, Henri Nouwen, in that he was really drawn to the various social justice responses, whether it was Sojourners, or it was protesting nuclear submarines or whatever. But in the midst of it, understanding how much we people needed to be grounded in something contemplative, something that would hold them. Otherwise, you can just burn out on the edges, I think.
I love something you wrote here: “Contemplative practice helps to ground me in the experience of the divine as creating us at every moment. I have learned that when I’m insecure, I’m more inclined to fight or get defensive. When I’m grounded in the deep listening of contemplative practice, I have no need for fear, only a need to connect.”
Sister Simone: Well, yes. And the thing that I’ve learned is that it’s that effort at control, that effort at management, that effort at thinking, “I’m in charge” – that that’s when fear rises, because we’re not built for that.
But when we know that God is at the center of our lives, the divine is at the center of our life – I don’t even really like to use the word God, because it generates so many, you know, misconceptions – but when the divine is at the center of our lives, then I’m not in charge. I just need to do my part. And that for me is the freedom of the contemplative life. Just to know that I am a piece, and I contribute my part, and all together we make it whole. Isn’t that freeing?
Karen: It’s very freeing. You write: “I believe that these times call for all of us to listen deeply to the world around us and let the divine flame up in our lives. Only the Spirit alive in our midst can breathe over the chaos and draw out a new creation.”
Sister Simone: Absolutely, absolutely. Especially in the U.S. at this point, oh my God, please! Chaos is the new creation, I mean it.
Karen: Well, one of the things that comes up in this book is really, in a way, the corrosive lie that the foundation of your nation is individualism. And quite frankly, that spirit hits many Western nations, probably many nations in the world, that spirit of individualism. Could you talk a little bit about that as opposed to what you think is, in a way, the founding spirit of your nation that you need to return to?
Sister Simone: Right. Well, the challenge is, our wealth as a nation has allowed individuals to think they can do it alone. So, we all live in our individual houses, you know, have our individual everything that we need. It’s all about our little unit. And the fact is that if I use that as my measure of what’s right, then I become protective of that. And by setting up walls and being defensive, then I am going to lash out if anybody threatens my little unit. But the reality is, the way we talk about it within the Catholic tradition, that’s about being the mystical body. We are all one body, as a whole entity is one body. And so, when I know I’m connected to you, and we share responsibility for each other, that is immensely freeing, and I don’t have to be defensive or protective.
And much of the political divide right now in our country is those who don’t know the communal nature of the human species, or of all of creation. They’re busy fighting each other, wanting to protect “mine,” and bravado about being the best. And the source of racism and denigration of immigrants, and all this other evil, is because many people are busy protecting their own thing and they’re frightened. And so, in that defensive posture, they’re going to lash out. But if we are grounded in the contemplative truth that we’re all connected, that’s an entirely – I don’t know if you can feel within yourself, the difference of the relaxing, that, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to protect my people because we are all in this together. I’ll protect you, you protect me, we’ll care for each other.” What a liberating reality.
Karen: It is. It could be one of the things that could emerge from this time of COVID that has, in a sense, shown us how interconnected we are, both for the negative and the positive. But the great reality that we’ve never had anything that’s so impacted the entire world and our neighborhoods and our countries and whatever. I mean, it really is quite amazing. You wrote something here: “The old ways are not working, something new needs to emerge. How can we hunger and thirst for justice sufficiently to create new ideas, new ways forward? We need a new vision and how can we find it amid the little soundbites and swirling chaos?” I love the fact you have courage for the new and that you have hope for the new, out of that leaning on and trusting the Holy Spirit to speak and to give you direction
Sister Simone: Well, right? Because it’s been my experience over and over that’s what’s happened. So, it’s like, I do have kind of some experience of it. But I think that piece for me that’s so critical is this idea of hunger in the Beatitudes. So, hunger and thirst for justice. What I realized is, or at least where I am right at this point, is that hunger and thirst mean we really have to engage in a visceral quest for justice, not just for me and my friends, but for everyone. And that’s why some of the racial justice reckoning in the United States right now and globally is so critically important. It’s because we need to hunger and thirst. We need to admit the past and hunger and thirst for something new, for a new way of acknowledging the dignity of all and ensuring that all can flourish. So, the effort at hunger and thirsting is, I think, that contemplative stance of nourishing that, and something becomes the ground for new seeds to sprout new ideas, to come.
Karen: You talk about creating a community that nurtures a prophetic imagination: “We must touch the pain of the world and weep together.” I think that’s wonderfully insightful about where we are.
Sister Simone: Right. But what happens is often, at least in the U.S. culture, you touch the pain of the world and you want to manage it, you want to control it, you want to change it, you want to give people some pills to take it away. And rather, what I think we’re really called to is letting our hearts be broken open so that we take in everyone. And sometimes I sort of feel like we’re walnuts, and we’ve got this hard shell, and we’ve got to break it open so that we can flourish and feed others with who we are. And that requires breaking a shell, and one thing that can break shells is being touched by other people, by their stories.
Karen: I’m curious if Henri Nouwen has been a useful resource in your life, a useful spiritual resource or ideas resource. Have you over the years found Nouwen’s writing to be helpful?
Sister Simone: Well, I must say that his book, The Wounded Healer, has been one that I have gone to many times, because I think he so clearly lays out that way of letting our ministry come through, even in our woundedness, or acknowledging that as an important vehicle for understanding and being connected in community. And so, I remember reading it as a young sister, and I have gone back to it over the years as a critical piece. I’m forever grateful for that contribution. Right now, what stirs me more, I have to say, are Pope Francis’s writings right now, which really surprise me, because usually Vatican documents are so boring. They’re important, but they’re boring. But Pope Francis writes in such an accessible way that I find it really exciting to engage his insights. But they are, in that humanness, also quite akin to some of Henri Nouwen’s writings. They’re also about taking our frailties, our feelings and making, letting those be gateways to something more.
Karen: It is interesting that our wounds don’t prevent us from helping. Our wounds, in fact, enable us or our wounds become a connection to others in a really deep way. “Solidarity is fueled by hearts that have been broken open.” That’s something that you wrote, and I was touched by.
One of the things I haven’t mentioned, and I want our audience to know: You’re a poet! You’re a wonderful poet! There’s lovely poetry in your books, and I was so delighted to discover that. It was kind of a bit of a surprise to me. I don’t know if we could get you to share a poem, if you have one that you would be willing to share. I know I found a few that I thought were quite wonderful. So, if you’re at all interested, I would suggest them, but have you got a poem that you’d like to share?
Sister Simone: Well, there’s only one that I know by heart – and I don’t have my work in front of me – but there’s one that I do know by heart that I really appreciate, and it’s called Loaves and Fish. And it’s the story, just so everybody knows, set in the situation where all these people have followed Jesus. We remember this story. And they’re hungry and the apostles say, “Send them back to town, they’re going to get hungry,” and Jesus says, “No, feed them yourselves.” And good old Peter says, “Oh, all we’ve got are a couple of day-old loaves of bread and a couple of stinky fish. What’s that among so many?”
So, Jesus has everybody sit down in groups of 15 – ever the community organizer – and then blesses the bread, the fish, hands it out. And it says 5,000 men were fed, not counting the women and children. So, there’s a whole ‘nother story to them. I won’t go into that. But this is the poem that goes with that:
Loaves and Fish
I always joked that the miracle of loaves and fish was sharing.
The women always knew this.
But in this moment of need and notoriety,
I ache, tremble, almost weep
at folks so hungry, malnourished,
faced with spiritual famine of epic proportions.
My heart aches with their need.
Apostle-like, I whine: “What are we among so many?”
The consistent, 2000-year-old, ever-new response is this:
“Blessed and broken, you are enough.”
I savor the blessed, cower at the broken, and pray to be enough.
Karen: I marked this poem and said, “Ask her to read this one.” So, that is a treat, because I loved it, too. That’s beautiful. That’s just beautiful. Thank you. Thank you. Really lovely.
Can I ask, here you are – there was a wonderful line I came across; I’m going to throw it at you: “The contemplative stance allows you to be an equal-opportunity annoyer.” I thought it was a terrific self-concept, an equal-opportunity annoyer. Obviously, you had the energy and the feistiness to say, “I will not be quiet over things that are unjust and which hurt the poorest of the poor, that hurt the people that don’t have a voice.” I want to thank you for that.
Sister Simone: Oh, thank you. What’s important to remember is in this struggle for justice, no one person, no one political party, no one group has, you know, the totality of the truth. And so that’s why it’s really important to keep pushing. Like the other day, I got involved in trying to encourage the Biden administration to ensure that the vaccine patents were waived during COVID-19, so that everyone can get access to the vaccine. And so, while often, many of the things that we worked for, President Biden supports, it’s not always a hundred per cent. So, we were really grateful that he then came out in favor of the waiver of the patents. But, during the time of COVID, we were annoying. So, I am an equal-opportunity annoyer.
Karen: You choose to walk toward trouble and not walk away. I could see that throughout your books and see it as a principle, that that is a choice to make. That, you know, in the power of the Holy Spirit, walk towards it, not away from it. Well done.
Sister Simone: Well, thank you. But when you look at the gospel and how Jesus always walked toward trouble: He walked toward Jerusalem, he walked towards the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He walked towards those who were, you know, ill, or the lepers, the outcasts. He embraced those in the midst of either power or struggle or hurt, and that’s what we’re called to do. So, it’s just being gospel-placed.
Karen: Just being gospel-placed. Yes, absolutely. There is a line that came up that was the last thing that I was struck by. It was: “Practicing holy curiosity is one small step toward weaving the fabric of our society. Democracy depends on the exchange of ideas.” And it’s true. Creating roundtables, creating places where we listen to each other, where we hear the people that we’ve not been listening to, whether they’re people of a different background or race or ethnicity or whatever, that we have to have a holy curiosity to create a new kind of society.
Sister Simone: Absolutely, and there is one virtue that goes along with holy curiosity, which is once you’ve exercised holy curiosity, then the virtue that goes with it is “sacred gossip”. We need to share with each other the stories of things that we’ve discovered. And for me, it’s a variety of stories of people that we’ve heard around the country.
At one of our rural roundtables, this woman came in, and she was an older woman. And she says to me, “I looked you up on the internet and I don’t believe, I don’t think I agree with you on anything.”
And I said, “Oh, good, we’ll have a great conversation.”
And she was pretty defensive. But you know, by the end of an hour-and-a-half conversation, we were really touched and connected, and she started talking about her two sons who had committed suicide, and what anguish it was in her life, and how she felt so alone in that. And I thought, “Oh, my heavens, such a little gift of listening allows for the sharing of such pain.”
And isn’t that what we hunger for? To be connected in those intimate ways? So, what I realized is by our being curious about her insights, I welcomed her into this group. And then I have a responsibility to continue to multiply that and encourage others to do it, so that we can care for the hundred per cent. We need to care for each other.
Karen: I want to encourage our listeners to get these two books. I have really enjoyed them: A Nun on the Bus and Hunger for Hope. They are laced with stories that you have picked up and valued. It’s not just about this feisty journey for economic and social justice. It’s really about seeing people on the journey and telling their stories and sharing them. It breaks you open. It really does, and I thank you for your sharing. I’m so very grateful that you’re going to be part of the Henri Nouwen and the Art of Living conference. I know that it’s going to be a highlight and I thank you for saying “yes” to that, in the midst of all your sabbatical rest. It’s really something very special for all of us. Thank you for being with me today. You’re a joy and an inspiration. I’ve got to say that!
Sister Simone: Oh, thank you for the opportunity. It’s been great to have the conversation. I am looking forward to the conference. It’ll be great.
Karen: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. I bet this conversation with Sister Simone Campbell has inspired and ignited a fire in you.
I want to invite you to join us for our upcoming conference, called Henri Nouwen and the Art of Living. Sister Simone is one of our keynote speakers, and you won’t want to miss her. We also have a wonderful lineup of other speakers: Roberto Goizueta, Sister Helen Prejean, Father Ron Rolheiser, Dr. Vanessa White, Reverend Marjorie Thompson and Chris Pritchett. There’ll be links on our website, so you can register for this important 25th-anniversary celebration that we are holding online on June 4th and 5th. I hope you’ll join us.
For more resources related to today’s podcast, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. You’ll find links to anything mentioned today, book suggestions, and links to sign up for the conference or to sign up to receive our free, daily Henri Nouwen meditations. Thanks for listening. Until next time.
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