Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
He is a community-builder, lecturer and writer. His books are popular throughout the English-speaking world and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.
Fr. Rolheiser can be reached at his website, www.ronrolheiser.com
The stone which rolled away from the tomb of Jesus continues to roll away from every sort of grave. Goodness cannot be held, captured or put to death. It evades its pursuers, escapes capture, slips away, hides out, even leaves the churches sometimes, but forever rises, again and again, all over the world. Such is the meaning of the Resurrection.
The famed Jungian writer Robert Johnson makes this observation about falling in love: “To fall in love is to project the most noble and infinitely valuable part of one’s being onto another human being... We have to say that the divinity we see in others is truly there, but we don’t have a right to see it until we have taken away our own projections... Making this fine distinction is the most delicate and difficult task in life.”
In the movie based upon Jane Austen’s classic novel Sense and Sensibility, there’s a very poignant scene where one of her young heroines, suffering from acute pneumonia, is lying in bed hovering between life and death. A young man, very much in love with her, is pacing back and forth, highly agitated, frustrated by his helplessness to do anything of use, and literally jumping out of his skin. Unable to contain his agitation any longer, he goes to the girl’s mother and asks what he might do to be helpful. She replies that there’s nothing he can do, the situation is beyond them. Unable to live with that response he says to her: “Give me some task to do, or I shall go mad!”
In her deeply insightful book The Grace of Dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh shares insights she has gleaned as a health professional from being present to hundreds of people while they are dying. Among other things, she suggests that the dying process itself “is exquisitely calibrated to automatically produce union with Spirit.”
Several years ago, while teaching a summer course at Seattle University, I had a female student who, while happily married, was unable to conceive a child. She had no illusions about what this meant for her. It bothered her a great deal. She found Mother’s Day very difficult. Among other things, she wrote a well-researched thesis on the concept of barrenness in Scripture and developed a retreat on that same theme which she offered at various renewal centres.
Many of us, I am sure, have been inspired by the movie Of Gods and Men, the story of a group of Trappist monks who, after making a painful decision not to flee from the violence in Algeria in the 1990s, are eventually martyred by Islamic extremists in 1996. Recently, I was much inspired by reading the diaries of one of those monks, Christophe Lebreton. Published under the title Born from the Gaze of God, The Tibhirine Journal of a Martyr Monk, his diaries chronicle the last three years of his life and give us an insight into his, and his community’s, decision to remain in Algeria in the face of almost certain death.
A colleague of mine shares this story: Recently, after presiding at Eucharist, a woman from the congregation came up to him with this comment: “What a horrible Scripture reading today! If that’s the kind of God we’re worshipping, then I don’t want to go to Heaven!”
At the end of every Roman Catholic liturgy there is an invitation given to the people to receive a blessing. That invitation is worded this way: “Bow your heads and pray for God’s blessing.” The idea behind that, obviously, is that a blessing can only truly be received in reverence, in humility, with head bowed, with pride and arrogance subjugated and silent.
We all have our own images of greatness as these pertain to virtue and saintliness. We picture, for instance, St. Francis of Assisi kissing a leper; Mother Teresa publicly hugging a dying beggar; John Paul II standing before a crowd of millions and telling them how much he loves them; Therese of Lisieux telling a fellow community member who has been deliberately cruel to her how much she loves her; even the iconic Veronica, in the crucifixion scene, who amidst all the fear and brutality of the crucifixion rushes forward and wipes the face of Jesus.
No generation in history, I suspect, has ever experienced as much change as we have experienced in the past 60 years. That change is not just in the areas of science, technology, medicine, travel and communications, it is especially in the area of our social infrastructure, of our communal ethos. And perhaps nowhere is this change more radical than in how we understand sex. In the past 70 years we have witnessed three major, tectonic shifts in how we understand the place of sex in our lives.