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

A number of years ago, accompanied by an excellent Jesuit director, I did a 30-day retreat using the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. In the third week of that retreat there’s a meditation on Jesus’ agony in the garden. I did the meditation to the best of my abilities and met with my director to discuss the result. He wasn’t satisfied and asked me to repeat the exercise. I did, reported back to him, and found him again dissatisfied. I was at a loss to grasp exactly what he wanted me to achieve through that meditation, though obviously I was missing something. He kept trying to explain to me that Ignatius had a concept wherein one was supposed to take the material of a meditation and “apply it to the senses” and I was somehow not getting that part.

Winning hearts for the New Evangelization

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Recently a new expression has made its way into our theological and ecclesial vocabulary. There’s a lot of talk today about the New Evangelization. Indeed the Pope has called for a Synod to meet this year for a month in Rome to try to articulate a vision and strategy for such an endeavour.

What is meant by New Evangelization? In simple terms: Millions of people, particularly in the Western world, are Christian in name, come from Christian backgrounds, are familiar with Christianity, believe that they know and understand Christianity, but no longer practise that faith in a meaningful way. They’ve heard of Christ and the Gospel, even though they may be overrating themselves in their belief that they know and understand what these mean. No matter. Whatever their shortcomings in understanding a faith they no longer practise, they believe that they’ve already been evangelized and that their non-practise is an examined decision. Their attitude toward Christianity, in essence, is: I know what it is. I’ve tried it. And it’s not for me!

The power of powerlessness

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There are different kinds of power and different kinds of authority. There is military power, muscle power, political power, economic power, moral power, charismatic power and psychological power, among other things. There are different kinds of authority too: We can be bitterly forced into acquiescing to certain demands or we can be gently persuaded into accepting them. Power and authority are not all of a kind.

An earthly view of the communion of saints

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In his autobiography, Nikos Kazantzakis tells the story behind his famous book, Zorba the Greek. Zorba is partly fiction, partly history.

After trying unsuccessfully to write a book on Nietzsche, Kazantzakis experienced a certain emotional breakdown and returned to his native Crete for some convalescence. While there he met a man of incredible energy and vitality. The Zorba-character in the book is based on this man’s life; never before in his life had Kazantzakis been so taken by the life and energy of another human being.

Living our lives in the light

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Several years ago, I was approached by a man who asked me to be his spiritual director. He was in his mid-40s and almost everything about him radiated a certain health. As we sat down to talk, I mentioned that he seemed to be in a very good space. He smiled and replied that, yes, this was so, but it hadn’t always been so. His happiness had its own history ... and its own pre-history. Here’s how he told his story:

Facing the 10 major faith struggles of our day

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Sometimes the simple act of naming something can be immensely helpful. Before we can put a name on something we stand more helpless before its effects, not really knowing what’s happening to us.  

Many of us, for example, are familiar with the book The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, by John Allen. The things he names in this book, even when they don’t affect us directly, still help shape us for the better. As a journalist who travels the world as the Vatican analyst for both CNN and the National Catholic Reporter, Allen is able to provide us with a wider, global perspective on Church issues than is generally afforded to those of us whose vision is more emotionally mired in our own local and national issues. Heartaches at home can make us blind to the wider concerns of the planet, just as seeing the concerns and pains of others first-hand can put our own concerns and pain into a healthier perspective. Allen’s global frame of reference, as outlined in the mega-trends he names in his book, helps us keep our own ecclesial concerns in a healthier perspective.

A stone’s throw away from everybody

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Truth finds us in different ways. Sometimes we learn what something means not in a classroom but in a hospital.

Several years ago I was visiting a man dying of cancer in a hospital room. He was dying well, though nobody dies easy. He felt a deep loneliness, even as he was surrounded by people who loved him deeply. Here’s how he described it: “I have a wonderful wife and children, and lots of family and friends. Someone is holding my hand almost every minute, but ... I’m a stone’s throw away from everyone. I’m dying and they’re not. I’m inside of something into which they can’t reach. It’s awfully lonely, dying.”

‘Do not be afraid!’ Jesus came to rid us of fear

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Not all fear is created equal, at least not religiously. There’s a fear that’s healthy and good, a sign of maturity and love. There’s also a fear that’s bad, that blocks maturity and love. But this needs explanation.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about fear inside of religious circles, especially around the scriptural passage that says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Too often texts like these, as well as religion in general, have been used to instill an unhealthy fear inside of people in the name of God.

We need to live in “holy fear” but that is a very particular kind of fear which should not be confused with fear as we normally understand it.

Live in love, forgiveness and conscience

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Theologians sometimes try to simplify the meaning of the Resurrection by packaging its essence into one sentence: In the Resurrection, God vindicated Jesus, His life, His message and His fidelity. What does that mean?

Jesus entered our world preaching faith, love and forgiveness, but the world didn’t accept that. Instead it crucified Him and, in that crucifixion, seemingly shamed His message. We see this most clearly on the cross when Jesus is taunted, mocked and challenged: If you are the son of God, come down from there! If your message is true, let God verify that right now! If your fidelity is more than plain stubbornness and human ignorance then why are you dying in shame?

Searching for God among many voices

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We are surrounded by many voices. There’s rarely a moment within our waking lives that someone or something isn’t calling out to us and, even in our sleep, dreams and nightmares ask for our attention.

Each voice has its own particular cadence and message. Some voices invite us in, promising us life if we do this or that or buy a certain product or idea, while others threaten us. Some voices beckon us towards hatred, bitterness, and anger, while others challenge us towards love, graciousness, and forgiveness. Some voices tell us that they are playful and humorous, not to be taken seriously, even as others trumpet that they are urgent and weighty, the voice of non-negotiable truth, God’s voice.

Sublimation and the sublime

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Celebration is a paradoxical thing, created by a dynamic interplay between anticipation and fulfilment, longing and inconsummation, the ordinary and the special, work and play. Life and love must be celebrated within a certain fast-feast rhythm. Seasons of play most profitably follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude. Presence depends upon absence, intimacy upon solitude, play upon work. Even God rested only after working for six days!