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.
We are all familiar with the biblical story of the Visitation. It happens at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, both pregnant, meet. One is carrying Jesus and the other is carrying John the Baptist. And the Gospels want us to recognize that both these pregnancies are biologically impossible; one is a virginal conception and the other a conception that occurs far beyond someone’s childbearing years. So there is clearly something of the divine in each. In simple language, each woman is carrying a special gift from heaven and each is carrying a part of the divine promise that will one day establish God’s peace on this earth.
Date posted: 2014-12-16
For those of you who aren’t Canadian, perhaps this name might not mean much, but, this past week, Canada lost one of its great cultural icons, Jean Beliveau, a famed athlete. He died and all Canadians, including this Canadian in exile, mourn his passing.
Date posted: 2014-12-09
In 1996, Muslim extremists martyred nearly an entire community of Trappist monks in Atlas, Algeria. Many of us, thanks to the movie, Of Gods and Men, are familiar with their story and are familiar too with the extraordinary faith and courage with which these monks, particularly their Abbott, Christian de Cherge, met their deaths. Indeed the last letters of Christian de Cherge reveal a faith and love that is truly extraordinary.
Date posted: 2014-12-02
Among Jesus’ many teachings we find this, rather harsh-sounding, invitation: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. I suspect that each of us has a gut-sense of what this means and what it will cost us; but, I suspect too that many of us misunderstand that Jesus is asking here and struggle unhealthily with this invitation. What, concretely, does Jesus mean by this?
Date posted: 2014-11-04
All of us struggle, and we struggle in three ways. First, sometimes we struggle simply to maintain ourselves, to stay healthy and stable, to stay normal, to not fall apart, to not have our lives unravel into chaos and depression. It takes real effort just to maintain our ordinary health, stability, and happiness.
Date posted: 2014-10-28
Ancient Greece expressed much of its psychological and spiritual wisdom inside their myths. They didn’t intend these to be taken literally or as historical, but as metaphor and as an archetypal illustration of why life is as it is and how people engage life both generatively and destructively.
Date posted: 2014-10-20
It’s not only love that makes the world go round. Resentment too is prominent in stirring the drink. In so many ways our world is drowning in resentment. Everywhere you look, it seems, someone is bitter about something and breathing out resentment. What is resentment? Why is this feeling so prevalent in our lives? How do we move beyond it?
Date posted: 2014-10-14
Sometimes certain texts in the bible make you wonder: Is this really the word of God? Why is this text in scripture? What’s the lesson here? For example, we have verses in the Psalms, in passages that we pray liturgically, where we ask God to bash the heads of the children of our enemies against a rock. How does that invite us to love our enemies?
Date posted: 2014-10-06
Some people talk about the five people they would like to meet in heaven. These are the five people who have helped me understand what it means to walk on this earth.
Date posted: 2014-09-30
Have you ever noted how we spontaneously react to a perceived threat? Faced with a threat, our primal instincts tend to take over and we instantly freeze over and begin to shut all the doors opening to warmth, gentleness, and empathy inside us.
Date posted: 2014-09-16
My youth had both its strengths and its weaknesses. I grew up on a farm in heart of the Canadian prairies, a second-generation immigrant. Our family was a large one and the small farm we lived on gave us enough to live on, though just enough. There were never any extras. We were never hungry or genuinely poor, but we lived in a conscriptive frugality. You were given what you needed, but rarely anything extra. You got just one portion of the main course at a meal and one dessert because these had to be measured out in a way that left enough for everyone. And I lived happily inside that, taking for granted that this was the way life was meant to be, assuming that all resources are limited and you shouldn’t ever be asking for or taking more than what’s necessary.
Date posted: 2014-09-09
A friend of mine likes to humor about his struggles in growing up. When I was in my twenties, he quips, I felt that by the time I was forty I would have grown-up enough to let go of my bad habits. But, when I turned forty, I gave myself an extra ten years, promising myself that by age fifty, I’d have conquered these habits. Well, now I’m my fifties and I’ve promised myself that by age sixty, I’ll be more mature and more-serious about the deeper things in life.
Date posted: 2014-08-31
Our bodies and our souls each have their separate aging process, and they aren’t always in harmony. Thus, T.E. Laurence, in, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, makes this comment about someone: “He feared his maturity as it grew upon him, with its ripe thought and finished art, but which lacked the poetry of boyhood to make living a full end of life ... his rangeful, mortal soul was aging faster than his body, was going to die before it, like most of ours.”
Date posted: 2014-08-26
Faith isn’t something you ever simply achieve. It’s not something that you ever nail down as a fait accompli. Faith works this way: Some days you walk on water and other days you sink like a stone. Faith invariably gives way to doubt before it again recovers its confidence, then it loses it again.
Date posted: 2014-08-14
In 1991 Hollywood produced a comedy entitled, City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal. In a quirky way it was a wonderfully moral film, focusing on three, middle-aged men from New York City who were dealing with midlife crisis.
Date posted: 2014-08-05
Sometimes everything can seem right on the surface while, deep down, nothing is right at all. We see this, for example, in the famous parable in the gospels about the Prodigal Son and his Older Brother. By every outward appearance the Older Brother is doing everything right: He’s perfectly obedient to his father, is at home, and is doing everything his father asks of him. And, unlike his younger brother, he’s not wasting his father’s property on prostitutes and partying. He seems a model of generosity and morality.
Date posted: 2014-07-30
Each year I write a column on suicide. Mostly I say the same thing over and over again, simply because it needs to be said. I don’t claim any originality or special insight, I only write about suicide because there is such a desperate need for anyone to address the question. Moreover, in my case, as a Catholic priest and spiritual writer, I feel it important to offer something to try to help dispel the false perception which so many people, not least many inside the church itself, have of the church’s understanding of suicide. Simply put, I’m no expert, not anyone’s savior, there’s just so little out there.
Date posted: 2014-07-22
There are few more insightful studies into the spirituality of aging than the late James Hillman’s book, The Force of Character. Ironically Hillman was more critical of Christian spirituality than sympathetic to it; yet his brilliant insights into nature’s design and intent offer perspectives on the spirituality of aging that often eclipse what is found in explicitly Christian writings.
Date posted: 2014-07-14
In a new book entitled, Jesus of Nazareth, famed German scripture-scholar, Gerhard Lohfink, describes how people in the gospels related to Jesus in different ways. Not everyone was an apostle, not everyone was a disciple, and not everyone who contributed to Jesus' cause even followed him. Different individuals had their own way of connecting to Jesus. Here's how he puts it:
"We may say that the gospels, especially Mark, are aware of a great variety of forms of participation in Jesus' cause. There were the Twelve. There was a broader circle of disciples. There were those who participated in Jesus' life. There were localized, resident adherents who made their houses available. There were people who helped in particular situations, if only by offering a cup of water. Finally, there were the beneficiaries who profited from Jesus' cause and for that reason did not speak against it."
Date posted: 2014-07-09
Few thinkers have influenced me as profoundly as Robert L. Moore. Who is he? He’s a scholar who has spent almost 50 years studying human energy from the perspective of psychology, anthropology, and spirituality. Few scholars are his equal in linking human energy, even when it is raw and grandiose, to the image and likeness of God inside of us. He merits an audience.
Date posted: 2014-07-02
There’s a story in the Hindu tradition that runs something like this: God and a man are walking down a road. The man asks God: “What is the world like?” God answers: “I’d like to tell you, but my throat is parched. I need a cup of cold water. If you can go and get me a cup of cold water, I’ll tell you what the world is like.” The man heads off to the nearest house to ask for a cup of cold water. He knocks on the door and it is opened by a beautiful young woman. He asks for a cup of cold water. She answers: “I will gladly get it for you, but it’s just time for the noon meal, why don’t you come in first and eat.” He does.
Date posted: 2014-06-25
George Eliot once wrote: “When death, the great reconciler, has come, it is never our tenderness that we repent of, but our severity.”
Date posted: 2014-06-17
In her recent book, The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd presents us with a deeply conflicted heroine, Sarah, a highly-sensitive woman who grows up the daughter of a slave-owner and a child of privilege. But Sarah’s moral sensitivity soon trumps her sense of privilege and she makes a series of hard choices to distance herself from both slavery and privilege.
Date posted: 2014-06-11
Thirty years ago, before the airline hijackings of September 11, 2001, before the shoe-bomber and others like him, it was simpler to travel by air. You didn’t need to take off your shoes to pass through security, you could carry liquids with you, laptops and other electronic devices, if you had any, did not have to be brought out of your carry-on bags, the door to the cockpit wasn’t barricaded with steel, and there was much less paranoia in general about security. You even got to see the pilot occasionally.
Date posted: 2014-06-02
Jesus, it seems, had mixed feelings towards the world. He loved the world, laid down his life for it, and challenged us to love the world, even as he criticized it harshly and stated clearly that it was opposed to him.
Date posted: 2014-05-28
"The lusts of the flesh reveal the loneliness of the soul." Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote those words and they highlight part of the deeper intentionality of sexual desire. And this insight was more than just a theoretical one for Hammarskjold. He knew loneliness and unfulfilled desire.
Date posted: 2014-05-21
There’s an old adage that offers a wise counsel, even as it leaves us powerless to heed its advice: Pick your parents wisely!
Date posted: 2014-05-14
Nature, desire, and soul, we rarely integrate these well. Yet they are so inextricably linked that how we relate to one deeply colors the others; and, indeed, spirituality itself might be defined as what we each do in terms of integrating these three in our lives.
Date posted: 2014-05-07
When I was student in the seminary, I had two kinds of teachers: One kind, precisely because they were fiercely loyal to all that is Christian and Catholic, would have us read great secular thinkers but always with the intent of wanting to help show where these thinkers were wrong. Our intellectual task as a Catholic seminarian, they would tell us, is to be able to defend Catholicism against the kinds of criticisms found in the writings of these secular, sometimes, anti-Christian thinkers and to keep own faith and teaching free of their influence. The second set of professors approached things differently: They would have us read great secular thinkers, even if they were bitterly critical of Christianity and Catholicism, but with the intent of seeing what we could positively learn from them. These are great minds, they told us, and, whether sympathetic to Christianity or not, we have something to learn from them. Do not read uncritically, was their challenge, but still read with the intent of being instructed.
Date posted: 2014-04-28
Why doesn’t God show himself to us more directly and more powerfully so as to make faith easier? That’s a fair question for which, partly, there is no fully satisfying answer.
Date posted: 2014-04-21
The biblical accounts of Jesus' passion and death focus very much on his trial, describing it in length and in detail.
Date posted: 2014-04-18
What is this unconscious prayer? It is our deep innate desire, relentlessly on fire, forever somewhat frustrated, making itself felt through the groaning of our bodies and souls, silently begging the very energies of the universe, not least God Himself, to let it come to consummation.
Date posted: 2014-03-24
After Mother Theresa died, her diaries revealed something that shocked many people, namely, during the last sixty years of her life, from age 27 until she died at age 87, she struggled to imagine that God existed and had no affective experience of either the person or the existence of God. Yet, during all those years, everything in her life incarnated and radiated an exceptional, one-in-a-hundred-million, selflessness, altruism, and faith commitment.
Date posted: 2014-03-17
Some day you will have to face your Maker! We’ve all heard that phrase. The hour will come when we will stand alone before God with no place to hide, no room to rationalize, and no excuses to offer for our weaknesses and sin. We will stand in a searing light, naked and exposed, and all we ever did, good and bad, will stand with us in that light. That prospect, however vaguely felt, makes for a dark corner in every person’s mind.
Date posted: 2014-03-10
The church has always struggled with sex, but so have everyone else. There aren’t any cultures, religious or secular, pre-modern or modern, post-modern or post-religious, that exhibit a truly healthy sexual ethos. Every church and every culture struggles with integrating sexual energy, if not in its creed about sex, at least in the living out of that creed. Secular culture looks at the church and accuses it of being uptight and anti-erotic. Partly this true, but the church might well protest that much of its sexual reticence is rooted in the fact that it is one of the few voices still remaining who are challenging anyone towards sexual responsibility. As well, the church might also challenge any culture that claims to have found the key to healthy sexuality to step forward and show the evidence. No culture will take up that claim. Everyone is struggling.
Date posted: 2014-03-03
There are three kinds of performers: The first, while singing a song or doing a dance, are making love to themselves. The second, while performing, are making love to the audience. The third, while on stage, are making love to the song, to the dance, to the drama itself.
Date posted: 2014-02-25
No one, be that an individual or an institution, controls access to God. Jesus makes this abundantly clear.
We see this, for example, in the story of Jesus cleansing the temple by overturning the money-tables. This incident is often used to justify anger and violence in God’s name. Invariably, when someone affirms that God is non-violent, he or she is met with the reaction: “What about Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple?” “What about Jesus losing his temper and displaying anger?”
Date posted: 2014-02-16
Sometimes while presiding at the Eucharist or preaching, I scan the faces in the front pews. What do they reveal? A few are eager, attentive, focused on what’s happening, but a goodly number of faces, particularly among the young, speak of boredom, of dram duty, and of a resignation that says: I have to be in the church just now, though I wish I was elsewhere. These reactions are, of course, understandable. We’re human after all, flesh and blood, and when we try to focus on the world of spirit or on what relativizes flesh and blood, mortality and self-sacrifice, we can expect that most times the reality of this life will trump the promise of other world.
Date posted: 2014-02-09
In our normal, daily lives we are invariably so self-preoccupied that we find it difficult to be able to accord others the same reality and value we give to ourselves. In brief, it’s difficult for us to live in true empathy because we are forever consumed with our own heartaches and headaches. From two famous intellectuals, one speaking philosophically and the other psychologically, we get that same insight.
Date posted: 2014-02-02
External appearances can easily fool us, and often do. That’s true in every area of human life, and religion is no exception.
Date posted: 2014-01-29
For more than a thousand years, Christians have not had the joy of being one family around Christ. Although there were already tensions within the earliest Christian communities, it was not until the year 1054 that there was a formal split so as to, in effect, establish two formal Christian communities, the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in the West. Then, with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, there was a further split within the Western Church and Christianity fragmented still further. Today there are more than a hundred Christian denominations, many of them, sadly, not on friendly terms with each other.
Date posted: 2014-01-19
They called it human sacrifice; we call it capital punishment. In either case, someone dies because we feel that God needs and wants this death for some divine reason.
Date posted: 2014-01-13
Given the speed and change in our world today, the oceans of information being given us by the new technologies, the speed with which knowledge now passes through our lives, the increasing specialization and fragmentation inside higher education, and the ever-increasing complexity of our lives, you occasionally hear someone say, usually just after offering an opinion on something: But what do I know anyway? Good question: What do we know anyway?
Date posted: 2014-01-06