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

In his novel A Month of Sundays, John Updike presents us with a character, a lapsed vicar, who, though struggling himself with faith, is extremely critical of his young assistant whose faith and theology he judges to be fluffy and lightweight. He describes his young assistant this way:

The Christian struggle with secularity

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We live in a highly secularized culture. Generally this draws one of three reactions from Christians struggling to live out faith in this context.

Lucky sevens: the lists are endless

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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 70 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.

Jesus shows us how to pray in a crisis

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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?

Major imperatives within mature discipleship

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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.

What does it mean to focus our attention on God?

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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 centre of our conscious attention.”

Solitude is being content in our own skin

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Eight-hundred years ago, the poet Rumi wrote: “What I want is to leap out of this personality and then sit apart from that leaping. I’ve lived too long where I can be reached.”

Isn’t that true for all of us, especially today? Our lives are often like over-packed suitcases. It seems like we are always busy, always over-pressured, always one phone call, one text message, one e-mail, one visit and one task behind. We are forever anxious about what we have still left undone, about whom we have disappointed, about unmet expectations.

Mystically driven life

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Mysticism is an exotic word. Few of us connect mysticism with ordinary experience, especially with our own experience. Mysticism is generally seen as an exotic thing, a paranormal thing, a special kind of consciousness given only to the most elite within the spiritual life.

But mysticism isn’t extraordinary, paranormal or weird, but an important, ordinary experience.

British Carmelite Ruth Burrows defines mysticism this way: Mysticism is being touched by God in a way that is deeper than language, thought, imagination and feeling. It’s knowing God and ourselves beyond explicit thought and feeling.

Moving beyond our bad habits

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We all have our faults, weaknesses, places where we short-circuit morally, dark spots, secret and not-so-secret addictions. When we’re honest, we know how universally true are St. Paul’s words when he writes: “The good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing that I do not want to do — that is what I do.” None of us are whole, saints through and through. There’s always something we are struggling with: anger, bitterness, vengefulness, selfishness, laziness or lack of self-control (major or minor) with sex, food, drink or entertainment.

‘There’s always something!’

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A friend of mine jokingly says that when she dies she wants this epitaph on her gravestone: There was always something!

And there always is. All of us appreciate her frustration. Invariably, there’s always something, big or small, that casts a shadow and somehow keeps us from fully entering the present moment and appreciating its richness. There is always some anxiety, some worry about something that we should have done or should be doing, some unpaid bill, some concern about what we need to face tomorrow, some lingering heartache, some concern about our health or the health of another, some hurt that is still burning or some longing for someone who is absent that mitigates our joy. There’s always something, some loss, some hurt, some jealousy, some obsession or some headache, that is forever draining the present moment of its joy.

The crack in our pitcher

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There’s a much quoted line from Leonard Cohen that suggests that the place where we are broken is also the place where our redemption starts: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

That’s true, a major wound is often the place where wisdom flows into our lives and a weakness that habitually overpowers us can keep us aware of our need for grace. But that’s half of the equation. A fault, while keeping us humble, can also keep us in mediocrity and joylessness.

John of the Cross offers us this image by way of an explanation: