Our shadow and self-understanding

IN EXILE

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

RonRolheiser_CMYK

What is meant when certain schools of psychology today warn us about our “shadow?” What’s our shadow?

In essence, it’s this: We have within us powerful, fiery energies that, for multiple reasons, we cannot consciously face and so we handle them by denial and repression so as to not have to deal with them. Metaphorically speaking, we bury them in the hidden ground of our souls where they are out of conscious sight and mind.

But there’s a problem: What we’ve buried doesn’t stay hidden. While these energies are out of conscious sight and conscious mind, they continue to deeply impact our feelings, thoughts and actions by pushing through in all kinds of unconscious ways to color our actions, mostly negatively. Our deep, innate energies will always act out, consciously or unconsciously. Carl Jung, one of the pioneer voices in this, says that we are doomed to act out unconsciously all the archetypal configurations which we do not access and control through conscious ritual.

Perhaps a simple image can be helpful in understanding this. Imagine living in a house with a basement beneath your living room, a basement into which you never venture and every time you need to dispose of some garbage you simply open the basement door and dump the garbage there. For a while, that can work, it’s out of sight and out of mind; but soon enough that garbage will begin to ferment and its toxic fumes will begin to seep upward through the vents, polluting the air you breathe. It wasn’t a bother, for a time, but eventually it poisons the air.

That’s a helpful image, though it’s one-sided in that it has us only throwing our negative garbage downstairs. Interestingly, we also throw into that same place those parts of us that frighten us in their luminosity. Our own greatness also scares us and we too bury huge parts of it. Our shadow is not just made up of the negative parts that frighten us; it is also made up of the most luminous parts of us that we feel too frightened to handle. In the end, both the negative and positive energies inside us, which we are too frightened to handle, come from one and the same source, the image and likeness of God imprinted in us.

The most fundamental thing we believe about ourselves as Christians is that we are made in the image and likeness of God. However it isn’t very helpful to imagine this as a beautiful icon stamped inside our souls. Rather we might think of it as irrepressible divine energy, infinite eros and infinite spirit, constantly wrestling with the confines of our finitude. No surprise then that we have to contend with energies, feelings, pressures and impulses that frighten and threaten us in their magnitude.

Ironically, the struggle with this can be particularly trying for sensitive people; the more sensitive you are, morally and religiously, the more threatening these energies can be. Why? Because two fears tend to afflict sensitive souls: First, the fear of being egoistical. Greatness isn’t easy to carry and few carry it well and sensitive souls know this.

The wild and the wicked unreflectively feed off of sacred fire, except they aren’t known for their sensitivity and too often end up hurting others and themselves. Sensitive souls find themselves considerably more reflective and timid and for good reason. They’re afraid of being full of themselves, egotists, unhealthily imposing. But that timidity doesn’t everywhere serve them well. Too sensitive in dealing with certain energies inside them, they sometimes end up too empty of God.

The second reason sensitive people tend to bury much of their luminosity is because they’re more in touch with that primal fear within us that’s expressed in the famous Greek myth of Prometheus, namely, that our most creative energies might somehow be an affront to God, that we might be stealing fire from the gods. Sensitive people worry about pride, about being too full of ego. Healthy as that is in itself, it often leads them to bury some or much of their luminosity.

The consequence isn’t good. Like the negative parts of ourselves we bury, our buried luminosity too begins to ferment, turn into toxic fumes and seep upward through the vents of our consciousness. Those fumes take the form of free-range anger, jealousy, bitterness and cold judgments of others. So much of our undirected anger, constantly looking for someone or something to land on, is the shadow side of a greatness, which is repressed and buried.

Where to go in the face of this? James Hillman suggests that a symptom suffers most when it doesn’t know where it belongs. We need more spiritual guides who can diagnose this. Too often our spiritualities have been naïve in their diagnosis of human pride and ego. We need more spiritual guides who can recognize how we too much bury parts of our luminosity and how our fear of being too full of ourselves can leave us too empty of God.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

 

Nothing is Ever Really Ours

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

RonRolheiser_CMYK

Father Ron Rolheiser

Everything is gift. That’s a principle that ultimately undergirds all spirituality, all morality and every commandment. Everything is gift. Nothing can be ultimately claimed as our own. Genuine moral and religious sensitivity should make us aware of that. Nothing comes to us by right.
This isn’t something we automatically know. During a class some years ago, a monk shared with me how, for all the early years of his religious life, he had been resentful because he had to ask permission of his Abbott if he wanted anything: “I used to think it was silly, me, a grown man, supposedly an adult, having to ask a superior if I wanted something. If I wanted a new shirt, I would have to ask the Abbott for permission to buy it. I thought it was ridiculous that a grown man was reduced to being like a child.”
But there came a day when he felt differently. “I am not sure of all the reasons, but one day I came to realize that there was a purpose and wisdom in having to ask permission for everything. I came to realize that nothing is ours by right and nothing may be taken as owned. Everything’s a gift. Everything needs to be asked for. We need to be grateful to the universe and to God just for giving us a little space.
Now, when I ask permission from the Abbott because I need something, I no longer feel like a child. Rather, I feel like I’m properly in tune with the way things should be, in a gift-oriented universe within which none of us has a right to ultimately claim anything as one’s own.
This is moral and religious wisdom, but it’s a wisdom that goes against the dominant ethos within our culture and against some of our strongest inclinations. Both from without and from within, we hear voices telling us: If you cannot take what you desire then you’re weak, and weak in a double way. First, you’re a weak person, too timid to fully claim what’s yours. Second, you’ve been weakened by religious and moral scruples so as to be incapable of seizing the day. To not claim what is yours, to not claim ownership, is not a virtue but a fault.
It was those kinds of voices that this monk was hearing during his younger years and because of them he felt resentful and immature.
But Jesus wouldn’t echo these voices. The Gospels make it pretty clear that Jesus would not look on so much that is assertive, aggressive and accumulative within our society, despite the praise and envy it receives, and see this as admirable, as healthily seizing the day. I doubt too that Jesus would share our admiration of the rich and famous who claim, as by right, their excessive wealth and status.
When Jesus states that it is harder for a rich person to go to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, he might have mitigated this by adding: “Unless, of course, the rich person, childlike, asks permission from the universe, from the community, and from God, every time he buys a shirt!” When Jesus tells us that children and the poor go to heaven more easily he is not idolizing either their innocence or poverty. He’s idolizing the need to recognize and admit our dependence. Ultimately we don’t provide for ourselves and nothing is ours by right.
When I was in the Oblate novitiate, our novice master tried to impress upon us the meaning of religious poverty by making us write inside of every book that was given us the Latin words: Ad Usum. Latin for: For use. The idea was that, although this book was given to you for your personal use, you ultimately did not own it. It’s was just yours temporarily.
We were then told that this was true of everything else given us for our personal use, from our toothbrushes to the shirts on our backs. They were not really ours, but merely given us for our use.
One of the young men in that novitiate eventually left the order and became a medical doctor. He remains a close friend and he once shared with me how even today, as a doctor, he still writes those words, Ad Usum, inside all his books: “I don’t belong to a religious order and don’t have the vow of poverty, but that principle our novice master taught us is just as valid for me in the world as it is for any professed religious. Ultimately we don’t own anything. Those books aren’t mine, really. They’ve been given me, temporarily, for my use. Nothing belongs to anybody and it’s good never to forget that!”
It’s not a bad thing as an adult to have to ask permission to buy a new shirt. It reminds us that the universe belongs to everyone and that all of us should be deeply grateful that it gives us even a little space.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Of Virtue and Sin

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
There’s an axiom which says: Nothing feels better than virtue. There’s a deep truth here, but it has an underside. When we do good things we feel good about ourselves. Virtue is indeed its own reward, and that’s good. However, feeling righteous can soon enough turn into feeling self-righteous. Nothing feels better than virtue; but self-righteousness feels pretty good too.
We see this famously expressed in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee is practicing virtue, his actions are exactly what they should be, but what this produces in him is not humility, nor a sense of his need for God and mercy, but self-righteousness and a critical judgment of others. So too for all of us, we easily become the Pharisee: Whenever we look at another person who’s struggling and say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’, our seeming humble gratitude can indicate two very different things. It can be expressing a sincere thanks for having been undeservedly blessed or can just as easily be expressing a smug self-righteousness about our own sense of superiority.
Classical spiritual writers like John of the Cross, when talking about the challenges we face as walk the way of discipleship, speak about something they call: The faults of those who are beyond initial conversion. What they highlight is this: We are never free from struggle with sin.
As we mature, sin simply takes on ever more subtle modalities inside us. For example, before initial maturity, what we’ve classically called the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, envy, lust, anger, gluttony and sloth) express themselves in us in ways that are normally pretty crass and overt. We see this in children, in adolescents and in the immature. For them, pride is plainly pride, jealousy is jealousy, selfishness is selfishness, lust is lust and anger is anger. There’s nothing subtle or hidden here, the fault is out in the open.
But as we overcome these sins in there crasser forms they invariably take on more subtle forms in our lives. So that now, for instance, when we’re humble, we become proud and self-righteous in our humility. Witness: Nobody can be more smug and judgmental than a new convert or someone in first fervor.
But sin too, has its complexities. Some of our naïve ideas about sin and humility also needed to be critically examined. For example, we sometimes nurse the romantic notion that sinners are humble, aware of their need for forgiveness, and open to God. In fact, as a generalization, this is true for the gospels. As Jesus was preaching, it was the Pharisees that struggled more with his person and message, whereas the sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes, were more open to him. So this can pose a question: Does sin, more than virtue, make us aware of our need for God?
Yes, when the sin is honest, humble, admitted and contrite or when our wrong actions are the result of being wounded, taken advantage of, or exploited. Not all sin is born morally equal: There’s honest sin and dishonest sin.
As human beings, we’re weak and lack the moral strength to always act according to what’s best in us. Sometimes we just succumb to temptation, to weakness. Sin needs no explanation beyond this: We’re human! Sometimes too, people are caught in sinful situations which are really not of their own making. They’ve been abused, made to live in sinful circumstances not of their own choosing, are victims of trafficking, are victims of unjust familial or social situations, or are too-deeply wounded to actualize their own moral faculties.
In situations like this, wrong action is a question of survival not of free choice. As one woman described it to me: “I was simply a dog, biting in order not to be bitten.” In these cases, generally, beneath an understandably hardened, calloused surface lies a still innocent heart that clearly knows its need for God’s mercy. There’s such a thing as honest sin.
But there’s also sin that’s not honest, that’s rationalized, that’s forever buffered by a pride that cannot admit its own sinfulness. The result then, most often, is a hardened, bitter, judgmental soul. When sin is rationalized, bitterness will invariably follow, accompanied by a hatred towards the kind of virtue from which it has fallen. When we rationalize, our moral DNA will not let itself be fooled. It reacts and punishes us by having us hate ourselves. And, when someone hates himself, that hatred will issue forth in a hatred of others and, more particularly, in a hatred of the exact virtue from which he has fallen. For example, it’s no accident that a lot of people having adulterous affairs have a particular cynicism towards chastity.
Finding ourselves as weak and sinful can soften our hearts, make us humble, and open us to receive God’s mercy. It can also harden our souls and make us bitter and judgmental. Not every sinner prays like the Publican.
Virtue makes us grateful. Sin makes us humble.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher, and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.
Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser)

Ancient mandate to welcome strangers still applies

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
In the Hebrew Scriptures, that part of the bible we call the Old Testament, we find a strong religious challenge to always welcome the stranger, the foreigner. This was emphasized for two reasons: First, because the Jewish people themselves had once been foreigners and immigrants. Their scriptures kept reminding them not to forget that. Second, they believed that God’s revelation, most often, comes to us through the stranger, in what’s foreign to us. That belief was integral to their faith.
The great prophets developed this much further. They taught that God favors the poor preferentially and that consequently we will be judged, judged religiously, by how we treat the poor. The prophets coined this mantra (still worth memorizing): The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land; and the quality of justice in the land will always be judged by how orphans, widows and strangers fare while you are alive.
Orphans, widows and strangers! That’s scriptural code for who, at any given time, are the three most vulnerable groups in society. And the prophets’ message didn’t go down easy. Rather it was a religious affront to many of the pious at the time who strongly believed that we will be judged religiously and morally by the rigor and strictness of our religious observance. Then, like now, social justice was often religiously marginalized.
But Jesus sides with the Hebrew prophets. For him, God not only makes a preferential option for the poor, but God is in the poor. How we treat the poor is how we treat God. Moreover the prophets’ mantra, that we will be judged religiously by how we treat the poor, is given a normative expression in Jesus’ discourse on the final judgment in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. We are all familiar, perhaps too familiar, with that text. Jesus, in effect, was answering a question: What will the last judgment be like? What will be the test? How will we be judged?
His answer is stunning and, taken baldly, is perhaps the most challenging text in the Gospels. He tells us that we will be judged, seemingly solely, on the basis of how we treated the poor, that is, on how we have treated the most vulnerable among us. Moreover at one point, he singles out “the stranger”, the foreigner, the refugee: “I was a stranger and you made me welcome … or … you never made me welcome.” We end up on the right or wrong side of God on the basis of how we treat the stranger.
What also needs to be highlighted in this text about the last judgment is that neither group, those who got it right and those who got it wrong, knew what they were doing. Both initially protest: the first by saying: “We didn’t know it was you we were serving” and the second by saying: “Had we known it was you we would have responded.” Both protests, it would seem, are beside the point. In Matthew’s Gospel, mature discipleship doesn’t depend upon us believing that we have it right, it depends only upon us doing it right.
These scriptural principles, I believe, are very apropos today in the face of the refugee and immigrant issues we are facing in the Western world. Today, without doubt, we are facing the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. Millions upon millions of people, under unjust persecution and the threat of death, are being driven from their homes and homelands with no place to go and no country or community to receive them. As Christians we may not turn our backs on them or turn them away.
If Jesus is to be believed, we will be judged religiously more by how we treat refugees than by whether or not we are going to church. When we stand before God in judgment and say in protest: “When did I see you a stranger and not welcome you?” Our generation is likely to hear: “I was a Syrian refugee and you did not welcome me.”
This, no doubt, might sound naïve, over-idealistic and fundamentalist. The issue of refugees and immigrants is both highly sensitive and very complex. Countries have borders that need to be respected and defended, just as its citizens have a right to be protected. Admittedly, there are very real political, social, economic and security issues that have to be addressed. But, as we, our churches and our governments, address them we must remain clear on what the scriptures, Jesus and the social teachings of the church uncompromisingly teach: We are to welcome the stranger, irrespective of inconvenience and even if there are some dangers.
For all sorts of pragmatic reasons, political, social, economic and security, we can perhaps justify not welcoming the stranger; but we can never justify this on Christian grounds. Not welcoming stranger is antithetical to the very heart of Jesus’ message and makes us too-easily forget that we too once were the outsider.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Welcoming the Stranger

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

In the Hebrew Scriptures, that part of the bible we call the Old Testament, we find a strong religious challenge to always welcome the stranger, the foreigner. This was emphasized for two reasons: First, because the Jewish people themselves had once been foreigners and immigrants. Their scriptures kept reminding them not to forget that. Second, they believed that God’s revelation, most often, comes to us through the stranger, in what’s foreign to us. That belief was integral to their faith.

The great prophets developed this much further. They taught that God favors the poor preferentially and that consequently we will be judged, judged religiously, by how we treat the poor. The prophets coined this mantra (still worth memorizing): The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land; and the quality of justice in the land will always be judged by how orphans, widows, and strangers fare while you are alive.

Orphans, widows, and strangers! That’s scriptural code for who, at any given time, are the three most vulnerable groups in society. And the prophets’ message didn’t go down easy. Rather it was a religious affront to many of the pious at the time who strongly believed that we will be judged religiously and morally by the rigor and strictness of our religious observance. Then, like now, social justice was often religiously marginalized.

But Jesus sides with the Hebrew prophets. For him, God not only makes a preferential option for the poor, but God is in the poor. How we treat the poor is how we treat God. Moreover the prophets’ mantra, that we will be judged religiously by how we treat the poor, is given a normative expression in Jesus’ discourse on the final judgment in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. We are all familiar, perhaps too familiar, with that text. Jesus, in effect, was answering a question: What will the last judgment be like? What will be the test? How will we be judged?

His answer is stunning and, taken baldly, is perhaps the most challenging text in the Gospels. He tells us that we will be judged, seemingly solely, on the basis of how we treated the poor, that is, on how we have treated the most vulnerable among us. Moreover at one point, he singles out “the stranger”, the foreigner, the refugee: “I was a stranger and you made me welcome … or … you never made me welcome.” We end up on the right or wrong side of God on the basis of how we treat the stranger.

What also needs to be highlighted in this text about the last judgment is that neither group, those who got it right and those who got it wrong, knew what they were doing. Both initially protest: the first by saying: “We didn’t know it was you we were serving” and the second by saying: “Had we known it was you we would have responded.” Both protests, it would seem, are beside the point. In Matthew’s Gospel, mature discipleship doesn’t depend upon us believing that we have it right, it depends only upon us doing it right.

These scriptural principles, I believe, are very apropos today in the face of the refugee and immigrant issues we are facing in the Western world. Today, without doubt, we are facing the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. Millions upon millions of people, under unjust persecution and the threat of death, are being driven from their homes and homelands with no place to go and no country or community to receive them. As Christians we may not turn our backs on them or turn them away. If Jesus is to be believed, we will be judged religiously more by how we treat refugees than by whether or not we are going to church. When we stand before God in judgment and say in protest: “When did I see you a stranger and not welcome you?” Our generation is likely to hear: “I was a Syrian refugee, and you did not welcome me.”

This, no doubt, might sound naïve, over-idealistic, and fundamentalist. The issue of refugees and immigrants is both highly sensitive and very complex. Countries have borders that need to be respected and defended, just as its citizens have a right to be protected. Admittedly, there are very real political, social, economic, and security issues that have to be addressed. But, as we, our churches, and our governments, address them we must remain clear on what the scriptures, Jesus, and the social teachings of the church uncompromisingly teach: We are to welcome the stranger, irrespective of inconvenience and even if there are some dangers.

For all sorts of pragmatic reasons, political, social, economic, and security, we can perhaps justify not welcoming the stranger; but we can never justify this on Christian grounds. Not welcoming stranger is antithetical to the very heart of Jesus’ message and makes us too-easily forget that we too once were the outsider.

Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher, and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.
Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser

Our Churches as Sanctuaries

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Whenever we have been at our best, as Christians, we have opened our churches as sanctuaries to the poor and the endangered. We have a long, proud history wherein refugees, homeless persons, immigrants facing deportation, and others who are endangered, take shelter inside our churches. If we believe what Jesus tells us about the Last Judgment in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, this should serve us well when we stand before God at the end.
Unfortunately, our churches have not always provided that same kind of sanctuary (safety and shelter) to those who are refugees, immigrants and homeless in their relationship to God and our churches. There are millions of persons, today perhaps the majority within our nations, who are looking for a safe harbor in terms of sorting out their faith and their relationship to the church. Sadly, too often our rigid paradigms of orthodoxy, ecclesiology, ecumenism, liturgy, sacramental practice and canon law, however well-intentioned, have made our churches places where no such sanctuary is offered and where the wide embrace practiced by Jesus is not mirrored. Instead, our churches are often harbors only for persons who are already safe, already comforted, already church-observing, already solid ecclesial citizens.
That was hardly the situation within Jesus’ own ministry. He was a safe sanctuary for everyone, religious and non-religious alike. While he didn’t ignore the committed religious persons around him, the Scribes and Pharisees, his ministry always reached out and included those whose religious practice was weak or non-existent. Moreover, he reached out especially to those whose moral lives where not in formal harmony with the religious practices of the time, those deemed as sinners. Significantly too, he did not ask for repentance from those deemed as sinners before he sat down at table with them. He set out no moral or ecclesial conditions as a prerequisite to meet or dine with him. Many repented after meeting and dining with him, but that repentance was never a pre-condition. In his person and in his ministry, Jesus did not discriminate. He offered a safe sanctuary for everyone.
We need today in our churches to challenge ourselves on this. From pastors, to parish councils, to pastoral teams, to diocesan regulators, to bishops’ conferences, to those responsible for applying canon and church law, to our own personal attitudes, we all need to ask: Are our churches places of sanctuary for those who are refugees, homeless, and poor ecclesially? Do our pastoral practices mirror Jesus? Is our embrace as wide as that of Jesus?
These are not fanciful ideals. This is the gospel which we can easily lose sight of, for seemingly all the right reasons. I remember a diocesan synod within which I participated some 20 years ago. At one stage in the process we were divided in small groups and each group was given the question: What, before all else, should the church be saying to the world today?
The groups returned with their answers and everyone, every single group, proposed as its first priority apposite what the church should be saying to the world some moral or ecclesial challenge: We need to challenge the world in terms of justice! We need to challenge people to pray more!
We need to speak again of sin! We need to challenge people about the importance of going to church! We need to stop the evil of abortion! All of these suggestions are good and important. But none of the groups dared say: We need to comfort the world!
Handel’s Messiah begins with that wonderful line from Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” That, I believe, is first task of religion. Challenge follows after that, but may not precede it. A mother first comforts her child by assuring the baby of her love and stilling its chaos. Only after that, in the safe shelter produced by that comfort, can she begin to offer it some hard challenges to grow beyond its own instinctual struggles.
People are swayed a lot by the perception they have of things. Within our churches today we can protest that we are being perceived unfairly by our culture, that is, as narrow, judgmental, hypocritical and hateful. No doubt this is unfair, but we must have the courage to ask ourselves why this perception abounds, in the academy, in the media and in the popular culture. Why aren’t we being perceived more as “a field hospital” for the wounded, as is the ideal of Pope Francis?
Why are we not flinging our churches doors open much more widely? What lies at the root of our reticence? Fear of being too generous with God’s grace? Fear of contamination? Of scandal?
One wonders whether more people, especially the young and the estranged, would grace our churches today if we were perceived in the popular mind precisely as being sanctuaries for searchers, for the confused, the wounded, the broken and the non-religious, rather than as places only for those who are already religiously solid and whose religious search is already completed.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher, and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas)

Dangers of ‘warrior prophets’

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
A prophet makes a vow of love, not of alienation. Daniel Berrigan wrote those words and they need to be highlighted today when a lot of very sincere, committed, religious people self-define as cultural warriors, as prophets at war with secular culture.
This is the stance of many seminarians, clergy, bishops and whole denominations of Christians today. It is a virtual mantra within in the “religious right” and in many Roman Catholic seminaries. In this outlook, secular culture is seen as a negative force that’s threatening our faith, morals, religious liberties and churches. Secular culture is viewed as, for the main part, being anti-Christian, anti-ecclesial and anti-clerical and its political correctness is seen to protect everyone except Christians.
More worrisome for these cultural warriors is what they see as the “slippery slope” wherein they see our culture as sliding ever further away from our Judeo-Christian roots. In the face of this, they believe, the churches must be highly vigilant, defensive and in a warrior stance.
Partly they’re correct. There are voices and movements within secular culture that do threaten some essentials within our faith and moral lives, as is seen in the issue of abortion, and there is the danger of the “slippery slope.” But the real picture is far more nuanced than this defensiveness merits. Secularity, for all its narcissism, false freedoms and superficiality, also carries many key Christian values that challenge to us to live more deeply our own principles.
Moreover the issues on which they challenge us are not minor ones. Secular culture, in its best expressions, is a powerful challenge to everyone in the world to be more sensitive and more moral in the face of economic inequality, human rights violations, war, racism, sexism and the ravaging of Mother Nature for short-term gain. The voice of God is also inside secular culture.
Christian prophecy must account for that. Secular culture is not the anti-Christ. It ultimately comes out of Judeo-Christian roots and has inextricably embedded within its core many central values of Judeo-Christianity. We need then to be careful, as cultural warriors, to not blindly be fighting truth, justice, the poor, equality and the integrity of creation. Too often, in a black-and-white approach, we end up having God fighting God.
A prophet has to be characterized first of all by love, by empathy for the very persons he or she is challenging. Moreover, as Gustavo Gutierrez teaches, our words of challenge must come more out of our gratitude than out of our anger, no matter how justified the anger.
Being angry, being in someone else’s face, shredding those who don’t agree with us with hate-filled rhetoric and winning bitter arguments, admittedly, might be politically effective sometimes. But all of these are counter-productive long term because they harden hearts rather than soften them. True conversion can never come about by coercion, physical or intellectual. Hearts only change when they’re touched by love.
All of us know this from experience. We can only truly accept a strong challenge to clean up something in our lives if we first know that this challenge is coming to us because someone loves us and loves us enough to care for us in this deep way. This alone can soften our hearts. Every other kind of challenge only works to harden hearts. So before we can effectively speak a prophetic challenge to our culture we must first let the people we are trying to win over know that we love them and love them enough to care about them in this deep way. Too often this is not the case. Our culture doesn’t sense or believe that we love it, which, I believe, more than any other factor renders so much of our prophetic challenge useless and even counter-productive today.
Our prophecy must mirror that of Jesus: As he approached the city of Jerusalem shortly before his death, knowing that it inhabitants, in all good conscience, were going to kill him, he wept over it. But his tears were not for himself, that he was right and they were wrong and that his death would make that clear.
His tears were for them, for the very ones who opposed him, who would kill him and then fall flat on their faces. There was no glee that they would fall, only empathy, sadness, love, for them, not for himself.
Father Larry Rosebaugh OMI, one of my Oblate confreres who spent his priesthood fighting for the peace and justice and was shot to death in Guatemala, shares in his autobiography how on the night before his first arrest for civil disobedience he spent the entire night in prayer and in the morning as he walked out to do the non-violent act that would lead to his arrest, was told by Daniel Berrigan: “If you can’t do this without getting angry at the people who oppose you, don’t do it! This has to be an act of love.”
Prophecy has to be an act of love; otherwise it’s merely alienation.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com. 
Now on Facebook www.facebook.com/ronrolheiser.)

In Exile: Understanding Real Presence

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
When I was a graduate student in Belgium, I was privileged one day to sit in on a conference given by Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels. He was commenting on the Eucharist and our lack of understanding of it full richness when he highlighted this contrast: If you stood outside of a Roman Catholic church today as people were coming out of the church and asked them: “Was that a good Eucharist,?” most everyone would answer on the basis of the homily and the music. If the homily was interesting and the music lively, most people would answer that it had been a good Eucharist.
Now, he continued, if you had stood outside a Roman Catholic church 60 or 70 years ago and asked: “Was that a good Mass today?” nobody would have even understood the question. They would have answered something to the effect of: “Aren’t they all the same!”
Today our understanding of the Eucharist, in Roman Catholic circles and indeed in most Protestant and Anglican circles, is very much concentrated on three things: the liturgy of the Word, the music and Communion. Moreover, in Roman Catholic churches, we speak of the real presence only in reference to the last element, the presence of Christ in the bread and wine.
While none of this is wrong, the liturgy of the word, the music and Communion are important, something is missing in this understanding. It misses the fact that the real presence is not just in the bread and wine, it is also in the liturgy of the Word and in the salvific event that is recalled in the Eucharistic prayer, namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Most churchgoers already recognize that when the scriptures are celebrated in a liturgical service God’s presence is made special, more physically tangible, than God’s normal presence everywhere or God’s presence inside our private prayer. The Word of God, when celebrated in a church is, like Christ’s presence in the consecrated bread and wine, also the real presence.
But there’s a further element that’s less understood: The Eucharist doesn’t just make a person present; it also makes an event present. We participate in the Eucharist not just to receive Christ in Communion, but also to participate in the major salvific event of his life, his death and resurrection.
What’s at issue here?
At the Last Supper, Jesus invited his followers to continue to meet and celebrate the Eucharist “in memory of me.” But his use of the word “memory” and our use of that word are very different. For us “memory” is a weaker word. It simply means calling something to mind, remembering an event like the birth of your child, your wedding day, or the game when your favorite sports team finally won the championship. That’s a simple remembering, a passing recollection. It can stir deep feelings but it does nothing more. Whereas in the Hebrew concept out of which Jesus was speaking, memory, making ritual remembrance of something, implied much more than simply recalling something. To remember something was not simply to nostalgically recall it. Rather it meant to recall and ritually re-enact it so as to make it present again in a real way.
For example, that’s how the Passover Supper is understood within Judaism. The Passover meal recalls the Exodus from Egypt and the miraculous passing through the Red Sea into freedom. The idea is that one generation, led by Moses, did this historically, but that by re-enacting that event ritually, in the Passover Meal, the event is made present again, in a real way, for those at the table to experience.
The Eucharist is the same, except that the saving event we re-enact so as to remake it present through ritual is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the new Exodus. Our Christian belief here is exactly the same as that of our Jewish brothers and sisters, namely, that we are not just remembering an event, we are actually making it present to participate in. The Eucharist, parallel to a Jewish Passover meal, remakes present the central saving event in Christian history, namely, Jesus’ Passover from death to life in the Paschal mystery. And just as the consecrated bread and wine give us the real presence of Christ, the Eucharist also gives us the real presence of the central saving event in our history, Jesus’ passage from death to life.
Thus at a Eucharist, there are, in effect, three real presences: Christ is really present in the Word, namely, the scriptures, the preaching and the music. Christ is really present in the consecrated bread and wine; they are his body and blood. And Christ is really present in a saving event: Jesus’ sacrificial passing from death to life.
And so we go to the Eucharist not just to be brought into community by Jesus’ word and to receive Jesus in communion, we go there too to enter into the saving event of his death and resurrection. The real presence is in both a person and in an event.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.

In Exile: Our Resistance to Love

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
There’s nothing simple about being a human being. We’re a mystery to ourselves and often our own worst enemies. Our inner complexity befuddles us and, not infrequently, stymies us. Nowhere is this truer than in our struggle with love and intimacy.
More than anything else, we hunger for intimacy, to be touched where we are most tender, where we are most ourselves, where all that’s most precious in us lies, vulnerable and yearning. Yet, in the actual face of intimacy, sensitive people often become disquieted and resistant.
We see two powerful instances of this in the Gospels: The first in a story, recorded in all four Gospels, where a woman enters a room where Jesus is dining and, in a series of lavish gestures, breaks an expensive bottle of perfume, pours the perfume onto his feet, washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and then begins to kiss his feet. What’s the response of those in the room, save for Jesus?
Discomfort and resistance. This shouldn’t be happening! Everyone shifts uncomfortably in their chairs in the face of this raw expression of love and Jesus, himself, has to challenge them to look at the source of their discomfort.
Among other things, he points out that, ironically, what they are uncomfortable with is what lies at the very center of life and at the very center of their deepest desires, namely, the pure giving and receiving of love and affection. It’s this, Jesus affirms, for which we are alive and it’s this experience which prepares us for death. It’s what we are alive for. It’s also what we most yearn for? So why our discomfort and resistance when we actually face it in life?
The second instance occurs in John’s Gospel where, at the Last Supper, Jesus tries to wash his disciples’ feet. As John records it, Jesus got up from the table, stripped off his outer robe, took a basin and towel, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. But he meets discomfort and resistance, clearly voiced by Peter who simply tells Jesus: “Never! You will never wash my feet!”
Why? Why the resistance? Why resistance in the face of the fact that, no doubt, more than anything else, what Peter most deeply desired was exactly that Jesus should wash his feet, that he would enjoy this kind of intimacy with Jesus?
Answering the question of our struggle with intimacy in this context provides one clue for why we sometimes become uncomfortable and resistant when we are in the actual face of what we desire so deeply. Our feet are too-intimate; they’re a part of our bodies where we worry about dirt and smell, not a part of ourselves that we feel comfortable having others touch.
There’s an innate vulnerability, a discomfort, an inchoate shame, attached to having someone else touch and wash so intimate a part of us. Intimacy demands an ease which our vulnerability sometimes renders impossible. And so this text speaks to one kind of resistance to intimacy, to a particular unease within certain circumstances.
But Peter’s resistance here speaks too of something else, something more salient: If we are healthy and sensitive, we all will naturally experience a certain discomfort and resistance in the face of raw gift, before raw intimacy, before raw gratuity. And, while this is something to be overcome, it’s not a fault, a moral or psychological flaw on our part.
On the contrary, in its normal expression, it’s a sign of moral and psychological sensitivity. Why do I say this?
Why is something that seems to block us from moving towards the very essence of life not a sign that there’s something fundamentally wrong inside of us? I suggest that it’s not a flaw but rather a healthy mechanism inside us because narcissistic, boorish
and insensitive persons are often immune to this discomfort and resistance. Their narcissism shields them from shame and their callousness allows them an easy and brute ease with intimacy, like someone who is sexually jaded enough to be comfortable with pornography or like someone who takes intimacy as something to be had by right, casually or even aggressively. In this case, there’s no shame or discomfort because there’s no real intimacy.
Sensitive people, on the other hand, struggle with the rawness of intimacy because genuine intimacy, like heaven, is not something that can be glibly or easily achieved. It’s a lifelong struggle, a give and take with many setbacks, a revealing and a hiding, a giving over and a resistance, an ecstasy and a feeling of unworthiness, an acceptance that struggles with real surrender, an altruism that still contains selfishness, a warmth that sometimes turns cold, a commitment that still has some conditions, and a hope that struggles to sustain itself.
Intimacy isn’t like heaven. It is salvation. It is the Kingdom. Thus, like the Kingdom, both the road and the gate towards it are narrow, not easily found. So be gentle, patient, and forgiving towards others and self in that struggle.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas)