Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest, is the General Councillor for Canada for his order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He has offices in both Toronto and Rome. For most of the 26 years of his priesthood, he taught theology and philosophy at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta. He remains an adjunct faculty member at Seattle University. He has written many books, (won Catholic Book Award in 1996), is a regular columnist in a number of papers, and has articles published in Louvain Studies, Critic, America, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Spirituality and in various other popular magazines.
Areas of Specialty: Systematic Theology and Philosophy Areas of Concentration: Augustine, Mysticism (John of the Cross, Therese of Lisieux) and Spirituality (contemporary spiritualities, contemporary questions: ecology, feminism, masculine spirituality, religion and culture) Graduate Education: University of San Francisco, USA and University of Louvain, Belgium.
Looking at religious history through the centuries, we cannot help but be struck by the fact that God seemingly takes his time in the face of our impatience. Our scriptures are often a record of frustrated desire, of non-fulfillment, and of human impatience. Itís more the exception when God intervenes directly and decisively to resolve a particular human tension. We are always longing for a messiah to take away our pain and to avenge oppression, but mostly those prayers seem to fall on deaf ears.
Date posted: 2013-12-03
Anyone familiar with the life and writings of Simone Weil will, I am sure, agree that she was a woman of exceptional faith. She was also a woman with an unwavering commitment to the poor. But, and this may seem anomalous, she was also exceptional and unwavering in a certain resistance she had towards the institutional church. During her lifetime she longed for daily Eucharist, even as she resisted baptism and membership in the church. Why?
Date posted: 2013-11-27
Faith is not something you achieve. If you try to nail it down, it gets up and walks away with the nail. Faith works this way: Some days you walk on water, other days you sink like a stone. You live with a deep secret, the poet Rumi says, that sometimes you know, and then not, and then know again. Sometimes you feel the real presence, and sometimes you feel the real absence. Why?
Date posted: 2013-11-17
When astronauts journey into space their capsules are equipped with a machine that gets rid of the carbon monoxide they produce as they breathe. If that machine breaks down, they're in trouble, as was shown in the movie Apollo 13. Traveling inside a space capsule is possible only if there's a machine constantly getting rid of the carbon monoxide being produced.
That's also true for our human journey.
Date posted: 2013-11-11
Itís hard to say something consoling in the face of death, even when the person who died lived a full life and died in the best of circumstances. Itís especially hard when the one whoís died is a young person, still in need of nurturing and care in this life, and when that young person dies in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Date posted: 2013-11-05
The universe works in pairs. From the atoms to the human species, generativity is predicated on union with another. Happiness, it would seem, is also predicated on that. So where does that leave singles and celibates? How can they be normal, generative, and happy?
Date posted: 2013-10-28
There has always been an innate and healthy tension between theology and catechesis, between whatís happening in theology departments in universities and the church pew. Theologians and bishops are often not each otherís favorite people. And thatís understandable. Why?
Date posted: 2013-10-22
What are we ultimately, saints or sinners? Whatís deepest inside us, goodness or selfishness? Or, are we dualists with two innate principles inside us, one good and one evil, in a perpetual dual with each other?
Date posted: 2013-10-14
Many of us, I suspect, have heard snippets of an interview that Pope Francis did for a series of Jesuit publications, including the USA magazine, America, where, among other things, he suggested that we might be wise to not always emphasize the moral issues around abortion, gay marriage, and contraception in our conversations. Thatís, of course, the phrase that most caught the attention of the media, but the whole interview is remarkable for its candor and includes a whole range of thoughts that help give us a sense of how Francis intends to color his papacy. Here are a few of his thoughts, in his own words.
Date posted: 2013-10-08
Several years ago, Hollywood produced a movie about the famous Camino walk in Spain. Entitled The Way, it chronicles the story of a father whose son was killed in an accident shortly after beginning this famous five-hundred mile pilgrimage. The father, played by Martin Sheen, had been largely estranged from his son, but when he goes to France (where the Camino begins) to collect the ashes of his dead son, he feels a compulsion to complete the walk for his son and sets out with his sonís hiking equipment and backpack, carrying his ashes.
Date posted: 2013-10-01
The biblical invitation to not consider oneself better than others begs the question: Can someone who is living an essentially moral and generous life really believe that he or she is no better than someone who is uncaring, selfish, or even malicious in how he or she relates to God, others, and the world? Do we really believe that we are no better than others? Did Mother Theresa really believe in her heart that she was no better than anyone else? Could she really look at herself and say: ďIím just as great a sinner as there is on this planet?Ē Or, did she, and must we, in the end, feign humility because we donít really believe that weíre no better than whatís worst on this planet?
Date posted: 2013-09-24
ďHome is where we start from.Ē T.S. Eliot wrote that and it describes an experience that can be felt both as a freedom and as a heartache. I cite my own case:
Date posted: 2013-09-16
God writes straight with crooked lines. That axiom sounds clever, but is there real truth or depth to it? Can good ever really arise out of evil? Do love, truth, and justice ever work out through hatred, lies, and injustice? Do crooked lines really straighten?
Date posted: 2013-09-11
In his monumental study of atheism, Michael Buckley suggests that atheism is invariably a parasite that feeds off bad religion. It feeds off bad religion, picks on bad religion, and picks apart bad religion.
Date posted: 2013-09-07
The famed and feisty psychologist, Fritz Pearls, was once asked by a well-meaning Christian if he was saved. He responded by saying, I am still trying to figure out how to be spent! His retort echoes a line from Theresa of Avila who states that once we reach the highest mansion of maturity we are left with only one question: How can I be helpful? Theyíre right, and their insight is a needed challenge. We too easily and too frequently get the wrong focus apposite both Christian discipleship and human maturity.
Date posted: 2013-08-27
This saying of Jesus is one of the most misunderstood teachings in all of scripture and, because of this, from the time of Jesusí birth until this very day, we have been able to cloak a lot of our lack of charity, lack of respect, bitterness, and hatred inside the mantle of prophecy, claiming that the divisions we cause are the divisions to which Jesus is referring when he said he is bringing fire to the earth. But we are wrong. Why?
Date posted: 2013-08-19
In a masterful book on grace, Piet Fransen suggests that we can test how well we understand grace by gauging our reaction to this story:
Imagine a man who during his whole life is entirely careless about God and morality. Heís selfish, ignores the commandments, ignores all things religious, and is basically consumed with pursuing his own pleasure - wine, sex, and song. Then, just hours before his death, he repents of his irresponsibility, makes a sincere confession, receives the sacraments of the church, and dies inside that conversion.
Whatís our spontaneous reaction to that story? Isnít it wonderful that he received the grace of conversion before he died? Or, more likely: The lucky beggar! He got away with it! He got to have all that pleasure and still gets to go to heaven!
Date posted: 2013-08-14
We need to give to the poor, not because they need it, though they do, but because we need to do that in order to be healthy. Thatís an axiom which is grounded in scripture where, time and again, we are taught that giving to the poor is something that we need to do for our own health.
Date posted: 2013-08-05
Sadly, today, there are many deaths by suicide. Very few people have not been deeply affected by the suicide of a loved one. In the United States alone, there are more than thirty-three thousand suicides a year. That averages out to ninety such deaths per day, about three to four every hour.
Date posted: 2013-07-30
Sometimes our private tears are only that, private tears, tears which are ours alone and which donít resonate with the feelings of others but rather cause them an unhealthy discomfort. Why donít all of our tears draw empathy?
Date posted: 2013-07-22
We do have thoughts, images, and words about God and many of these are given to us in scripture. Whatís to be made of our traditional biblical and theological images of God? Arenít they accurate and adequate? In a word, no, they arenít. To paraphrase Annie Dillard, the concepts and language about God that are given us in scripture and church tradition are simply words that we have permission to use without being struck dead for idolatry. We should never pretend they are accurate and adequate; scripture itself makes that clear. Not understanding this confuses our notion of faith and doubt.
Date posted: 2013-07-16
Fifty years ago, Kay Cronin, wrote a book entitled, Cross in the Wilderness, chronicling how, in 1847, a small band of Oblate missionaries came from France to the American Pacific Northwest and, after some bitter setbacks in Washington State and Oregon, moved up the coast into Canada and helped found the Roman Catholic church in Vancouver and in significant parts of British Columbiaís mainland.
Date posted: 2013-07-08
We struggle today in our churches to offer...a vision, one that provides food for the heart and the head equally. We tend to sell off one for the other.
Date posted: 2013-07-01
Recently I attended an Institute on contemplative awareness at which James Finley was the keynote-speaker. He brings some pedigree to the task. He has nearly forty years of experience as a therapist, is a much sought-after lecturer, has written extensively and deeply on the subject of contemplation, and, as a young man, for several years, had Thomas Merton as his spiritual director and mentor. He knows of what he speaks.
Date posted: 2013-06-25
When I was in elementary school, we were made to memorize a number of poems by William Blake. We didnít understand them, but they had a wonderful jingle to them, were easy to commit to memory, and remain branded inside me to this day.
One of those was a piece entitled, Infant Sorrow:
Date posted: 2013-06-19
As a young seminarian in the late 1960s, I was very taken by the writings of Andrew Greeley, a priest in Chicago, who was churning out books on popular spirituality. I found his approach wonderfully refreshing because, at least to my mind, he dealt with our perennial religious struggles in a way that was both more realistic and more hope-filled than most of the religious literature to which I had been exposed to until then. He was the spiritual bread I needed, and when I went on a retreat to prepare for final vows, I had a couple of his books in hand. He helped me make that decision.
Date posted: 2013-06-12
Haste is our enemy. It puts us under stress, raises our blood pressure, makes us impatient, renders us more vulnerable to accidents and, most seriously of all, blinds us to the needs of others. Haste is normally not a virtue, irrespective of the goodness of the thing towards which we are hurrying.
Date posted: 2013-06-04
In a marvelous little book entitled, The Music of Silence, David Steindl-Rast highlights how each hour of the day has its own special light and its own particular mood and how we are more attentive to the present moment when we recognize and honor these ďspecial angelsĒ lurking inside each hour. Heís right. Every hour of the day and every season of the year have something special to give us, but often times we cannot make ourselves present to meet that gift.
Date posted: 2013-05-31
Several years ago, at a conference that I was attending the keynote speaker challenged his audience in this way: All of us, he pointed out, are members of various communities: we live in families, are part of church congregations, have colleagues with whom we work, have a circle of friends, and are part of a larger civic community. In every one of these there will come a time when we will get hurt, when we will not be honored, when we will be taken for granted, and treated unfairly. All of us will get hurt. That is a given. However, and this was his challenge, how we handle that hurt, with either bitterness or forgiveness, will color the rest of our lives and determine what kind of person we are going to be.
Date posted: 2013-05-21
Recently an op-ed piece appeared in the New York Times by Frank Bruni, entitled, The Wages of Celibacy. The column, while provocative, is fair. Mostly he asks a lot of hard, necessary questions. Looking at the various sexual scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic priesthood in the past number of years, Bruni suggests that it's time to re-examine celibacy with an honest and courageous eye and ask ourselves whether its downside outweighs its potential benefits.
Date posted: 2013-05-14
Some years ago, a woman shared this story at a workshop. She had a six year-old son whom she had conscientiously schooled in prayer. Among other things, she made him kneel beside his bed every night and say aloud a number of prayers, ending with an invocation to ďbless mummy, daddy, grandma, and grandpaĒ. One night, shortly after he had started school, she took him to his room to hear his prayers and to tuck him in for the night. But when it came time for him to kneel by his bedside and recite his prayers, he refused and crawled into bed instead. His mother asked him: ďWhatís the matter? Donít you pray anymore?Ē There was remarkable calm in his reply: ďNo,Ē he said, ďI donít pray anymore. The sister teaching us at school told us that we are not supposed to pray, she said that we are supposed to talk to God ... and tonight I am tired and have nothing to say!Ē
Date posted: 2013-05-07
Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a column entitled, Guidelines for the Long Haul. Revisiting it recently, I was encouraged that my principles havenít swayed during the past quarter-century, only taken on more nuance. I still recommend those same commandments, nostalgically revisited, somewhat redacted, but fully re-endorsed.
Date posted: 2013-04-30
Today, among many of us church-goers, there is growing-propensity to self-protect rather than risk crucifixion for the world. We are well-intentioned in this, but, good intentions notwithstanding, our actions are the opposite of Jesus. He loved the world enough to let himself be crucified rather than self-protect.
Date posted: 2013-04-23
Embittered moralizing, no matter how valid the indignation enflaming it, takes many forms and is always recognizable in its lack of warmth and its inability to bless others.
Date posted: 2013-04-15
As an adult child of Rene Descartes, I breathe in secularity, a very mixed air, pure and polluted; and I find myself torn between hope and fear, comfortable but uneasy, defending secularity even as I am critical of it.
Date posted: 2013-04-09
From the bible to casinos, seven is often considered to be a magical, perfect, and lucky number. Jesus told us to forgive those who hurt us seventy times seven times. Clearly he meant that to mean infinity. Genesis speaks of the seven days of creation, scripture speaks of seven archangels, and the Book of Revelation speaks of the Seven Seals of Revelation. The bible is saturated with the number seven. It would take several pages just to list the references.
Date posted: 2013-04-05
Before you get serious about Jesus, first consider how good you are going to look on wood!
Date posted: 2013-03-26
How do we lift our darkest, most depressed, most lonely moments up to God? How can we pray when we are most deeply alone, helpless, and our whole world seems to be collapsing?
Date posted: 2013-03-19
In his autobiography, Morris West suggests that at a certain age our lives simplify and we need have only three phrases left in our spiritual vocabulary: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! He is right, if we understand fully what is implied in living out gratitude. Gratitude is the ultimate virtue, undergirding everything else, even love. It is synonymous with holiness.
Date posted: 2013-03-12
Thereís a disturbing trend within our churches today. Simply put, we are seeing the embrace of our churches become less-and-less inclusive. More-and-more, our churches are demanding a purity and exclusivity not demanded by Jesus in Gospels.
Date posted: 2013-03-05
Anxiety, like all tensions, eats at us at various levels. More superficially, we worry about many things. Deep down though we are anxious in a way that colors most everything we do. So much of what motivates and drives us is an unconscious attempt to free ourselves from anxiety. We are forever nursing the hope that we can free ourselves from anxiety through achievement, success, financial security, fame, leaving a mark, and through power and sex. We nurse the secret belief that if we have the right combination of these our lives we will have the substance we need to feel secure and non-anxious.
Date posted: 2013-02-26
A friend of mine likes to jokingly pretend heís the ultimate egoist and will occasionally crack this quip: ďLife is hard because I have to deal with the magnitude me!Ē Ironically our ultimate struggle in life is exactly the opposite: We are forever dealing with the insubstantiality of me! We are forever fearful that we have no substance, nothing of lasting value, no immortality. We fear that we might ultimately disappear.
Date posted: 2013-02-18
Some years ago, I was at a religious conference where one of the speakers, widely known and respected for her work among the poor, made this comment: “I’m not a theologian, so I don’t know how this plays out theologically; but here’s the base from which I’m operating: I work with the poor. Partly I do this out of my humanity, out of natural compassion; but ultimately my motivation is Christ. I work with the poor because I’m a Christian. However I can go for two or three years on the streets and never mention Christ’s name because I believe that God is mature enough that He doesn’t demand to always be the center of our conscious attention.”
Date posted: 2013-02-12
Our generative years are a marathon, not a sprint, and so it’s difficult to sustain graciousness, generosity, and patience through the tiredness, trials, and temptations that beset us through the years of our adult lives. All on our own, relying on willpower alone, we too often fatigue, get worn down, and compromise both our maturity and our discipleship. We need help from beyond, from somewhere even beyond the human supports that help bolster us. We need God’s help, strength from something beyond what’s human. We need prayer.
Date posted: 2013-02-04
While saying farewell the night before he died, Jesus told those with him that he “had other sheep that are not of this fold” and that those with him at that particular moment were not his only followers. Very importantly, he also said that he longed for unity with those others just as urgently and deeply as he longed for unity with those in the room with him.
Date posted: 2013-01-28
What can God and nature have had in mind when they designed the aging process? Why is it that just when our mental prowess, our human maturity, and our emotional freedom are at their peak, the body begins to fall apart?
Date posted: 2013-01-21
All of us, naturally, try to form some picture of God and try to imagine Godís existence. The problem when we try to do this is that we end up in one of two places, both not good.
Date posted: 2013-01-16
In our more reflective moments we know how hard it is not to get caught up in ideology, hype, fad, group-think, and crowd-hysteria in a way that leaves us mindless. It’s hard to know what we really think and believe, as opposed to what the cultural circles we move within prescribe for us. It’s hard not to be caught up in the fashion of the moment.
Date posted: 2013-01-07