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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Before the airline hijackings of Sept. 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.
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.
It’s 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. It’s especially hard when the one who’s 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.
Nature, desire and soul, we rarely integrate these well. Yet they are so inextricably linked that how we relate to one deeply colours the others; and, indeed, spirituality itself might be defined as what we each do in terms of integrating these three in our lives.