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
If someone who had never heard the story of Jesus were to ask about His origins, we would, I suspect, begin with the story of His annunciation and birth and end with the story of His resurrection and ascension. While that does capture His life, that’s not how the Gospels either begin or end His story. The story of Jesus and the meaning of Christmas can only really be understood by looking at where Jesus came from, His family tree, and by looking at how His story has continued in history. Indeed, that’s how the Gospels tell His story.
Spiritual literature has always highlighted the primordial struggle between good and evil, and this has generally been conceived of as a war, a spiritual battle. Thus, as Christians, we have been warned that we must be vigilant against the powers of Satan and various other forces of evil. And we’ve fought these powers not just with prayer and private moral vigilance but with everything from Holy Water, to exorcisms, to a dogmatic avoidance of everything to do with the occult, the paranormal, alchemy, astrology, spiritualism, etc. For Christians these were seen as dangerous venues through which malevolent spirits could enter our lives and do us harm.
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.
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.
Ancient Greece expressed much of its psychological and spiritual wisdom inside its myths. The Greeks 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.
Anthropologists tell us that father hunger, a frustrated desire to be blessed by our own fathers, is one of the deepest hungers in the world today, especially among men. Millions of people sense that they have not received their father’s blessing. Robert Bly, Robert Moore, Richard Rohr and James Hillman, among others, offer some rich insights into this.
Although I grew up in a loving, safe and nurturing family and community, one of the dominant memories of my childhood and teenage years is that of being restless and somehow discontent. My life always seemed too small, too confined, a life away from what was important in the world. I was forever longing to be more connected to life and I feared that other people didn’t feel that way and that I was somehow singular and unhealthy in my restlessness.
My youth had both its strengths and its weaknesses. I grew up on a farm in the 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.