Fr. Ron Rolheiser

Fr. Ron Rolheiser

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.

Several years ago, at a conference that I was attending, the keynote speaker challenged his audience in this way: All of us, he pointed out, are members of various communities. We live in families, are part of church congregations, have colleagues with whom we work, have a circle of friends and are part of a larger civic community. In every one of these there will come a time when we will get hurt, when we will not be honoured, when we will be taken for granted and treated unfairly. All of us will get hurt. That is a given. However, and this was his challenge, how we handle that hurt, with either bitterness or forgiveness, will colour the rest of our lives and determine what kind of person we are going to be.

Recently an op-ed piece appeared in the New York Times by Frank Bruni, entitled, “The Wages of Celibacy.” The column, while provocative, is fair. Mostly he asks a lot of hard, necessary questions.

Some years ago, a woman shared this story at a workshop. She had a six-year-old son whom she had conscientiously schooled in prayer. Among other things, she made him kneel beside his bed every night and say aloud a number of prayers, ending with an invocation to “bless mummy, daddy, grandma and grandpa.” One night, shortly after he had started school, she took him to his room to hear his prayers and to tuck him in for the night. But when it came time for him to kneel by his bedside and recite his prayers, he refused and crawled into bed instead. His mother asked him: “What’s the matter? Don’t you pray any more?” There was remarkable calm in his reply: “No,” he said, “I don’t pray any more. The sister teaching us at school told us that we are not supposed to pray, she said that we are supposed to talk to God ... and tonight I am tired and have nothing to say.”

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a column entitled “Guidelines for the Long Haul.” Revisiting it recently, I was encouraged that my principles haven’t swayed during the past quarter-century, only taken on more nuance. I still recommend those same commandments, nostalgically revisited, somewhat redacted, but fully re-endorsed:

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:

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

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.

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?

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.

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.”