Giving up on fear

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
A friend of mine shares this story. He was an only child. When he was in his late twenties, still single, building a successful career and living in the same city as his mother and father, his father died, leaving his mother widowed. His mother, who had centered her life on her family and on her son, was understandably devastated. Much of her world collapsed, she’d lost her husband, but she still had her son.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

The next years were not always easy for her son. His mother had lost much of her world, save him, and he felt a heavy responsibility toward her. She lived for his visits. His days off and his vacation times had to be spent with her. Much as he loved his mother, it was a burden that prevented him from having the social life and relational freedom he yearned for, and it prevented him from making some career decisions that he would otherwise have made. He had to take care of his mother, to be there for her. As one can guess, their times together were sometimes a test of loyalty and duty for the son. But he did it faithfully, year after year. There was no one else his mother could lean on.

When his mother’s health began to decline, she sold her house and moved into a Seniors’ complex. Most times on his day off he would pick up his mother, take her for a drive in the country, and then take her to dinner before dropping her back at her mini apartment. One day on such an outing, driving along a country road in silence, his mother broke the quiet with words that both surprised him and, for the first time in a long time, had his full attention.

She shared words to this effect: Something huge has happened in my life. I’ve given up on fear. All my life I have been afraid of everything – of not measuring up, of not being good enough, of being boring, of being excluded, of being alone, of ending up alone, of ending up without any money or a place to live, of people talking about me behind my back. I’ve been afraid of my own shadow. Well, I’ve given up on fear. And why not? I’ve lost everything – my husband, my place in society, my home, my physical looks, my health, my teeth and my dignity. I’ve nothing left to lose anymore, and do you know something? It’s good! I’m not afraid of anything anymore. I feel free in a way I have never felt before. I’ve given up on fear.

For the first time in a long time, he began to listen closely to what his mother was saying. He also sensed something new in her, a new strength and a deeper wisdom from which he wished to drink. The next time he took her for a drive, he said to her: Mom, teach me that. Teach me how not to be afraid.
She lived for two more years and during those years he took her for drives in the country and for lunches and dinners together, and he drew something from her, from that new strength in her, that he had not been able to draw from before. When she eventually died and he lost her earthly presence, he could only describe what she had given him in those final years by using biblical terms: “My mother gave me birth twice, once from below and once from above.”

It’s not easy to give up on fear, nor to teach others how to do so. Fear has such a grip on us because for most of our lives we in fact have much to lose. So, it’s hard, understandably so, not to live with a lot of fear for most of our lives. Moreover, this is not a question of being mature or immature, spiritual or earthy. Indeed, sometimes the more mature and spiritual we are, the more we appreciate the preciousness of life, of health, of family, of friendship, of community – all of which have their own fragility and all of which we can lose. There are good reasons to be afraid.

It is no accident that this man’s mother was able to move beyond fear only after she had lost most everything in life. God and nature recognize that and have written it into the aging process. The aging process is calibrated to take us to a place where we can give up on fear because as we age and lose more and more of our health, our importance in the world, our physical attractiveness, our loved ones to death and our dignity, we have less and less to lose – and less and less to be afraid of.

This is one of nature’s last gifts to us, and living in a way that others see this new freedom in us can also be one of the last great gifts we leave behind with those we love.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

Divine permission for human fatigue

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Someone once asked Therese of Lisieux if it was wrong to fall asleep while in prayer. Her answer: Absolutely not. A little child is equally pleasing to her parents, awake or asleep – probably more when asleep!

That’s more than a warm, cute answer. There’s a wisdom in her reply that’s generally lost to us, namely, that God understands the human condition and gives us sacred permission to be human, even in the face of our most important human and spiritual commitments.

This struck me recently while listening to a homily. The preacher, a sincere and dedicated priest, challenged us with the idea that God must always be first in our lives. So far so good. But then he shared how upset he gets whenever he hears people say things like: “Let’s go to the Saturday evening mass, to get it over with.” Or, when a celebrant says: “We will keep things short today, because the game starts at noon.” Phrases like that, he suggested, betray a serious weakness in our prayer lives. Do they?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Comments like that can issue out of laziness, spiritual indifference, or misplaced priorities. They might also simply be an expression of normal, understandable human fatigue – a fatigue which God, the author of human nature, gives us permission to feel.

There can be, and often is, a naïveté about the place of high energy and enthusiasm in our lives. For example, imagine a family who, with the best of intentions, decides that to foster family togetherness they agree to make their evening meal, every evening, a full-blown banquet, demanding everyone’s participation and enthusiasm and lasting for ninety minutes. Wish them luck! Some days this would foster togetherness and there would be a certain enthusiasm at the table; but, soon enough, this would be unsustainable in terms of their energy, and more than one of the family members would be saying silently, let’s get this over with, or can we cut it a little short tonight because the game is on at 7 o’clock. Granted, that could betray an attitude of disinterest; but, more likely, it would simply be a valid expression of normal fatigue.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

None of us can sustain high energy and enthusiasm forever. Nor are we intended to. Our lives are a marathon, not a sprint. That’s why it is good sometimes to have lengthy banquets and sometimes to simply grab a hotdog and run. God and nature give us permission to sometimes say, let’s get it over with, and sometimes to rush things so as to not miss the beginning of the game.

Moreover, beyond taking seriously the normal ebb and flow of our energies, there is still another, even more important angle to this. Enthusiastic energy or lack of them don’t necessarily define meaning. We can do a thing because it means something affectively to us – or we can do something simply because it means something in itself, independent of how we feel about it on a given day. Too often, we don’t grasp this. For example, take the response people often give when explaining why they are no longer going to church services, “it doesn’t mean anything to me.” What they are blind to in saying this is the fact that being together in a church means something in itself, independent of how it feels affectively on any given day. A church service means something in itself, akin to visiting your aging mother. You do this, not because you are always enthusiastic about it or because it always feels good emotionally. No. You do it because this is your aging mother and that’s what God, nature and maturity call us to do.

The same holds true for a family meal together. You don’t necessarily go to dinner with your family each night with enthusiasm. You go because this is how families sustain their common life. There will be times when you do come with high energy and appreciate both the preciousness of the moment and the length of the dinner. But there will be other times when, despite a deeper awareness that being together in this way is important, you will be wanting to get this over with, or sneaking glances at your watch and calculating what time the game starts.

So, scripture advises, avoid Job’s friends. For spiritual advice in this area, avoid the spiritual novice, the over-pious, the anthropological naïve, the couple on their honeymoon, the recent convert and at least half of all liturgists and worship leaders. The true manual on marriage is never written by a couple on their honeymoon and the true manual on prayer is never written by someone who believes that we should be on a high all the time. Find a spiritual mentor who challenges you enough to keep you from selfishness and laziness, even as she or he gives you divine permission to be tired sometimes.

A woman or man at prayer is equally pleasing to God, enthusiastic or tired – perhaps even more when tired.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

The illusion of self-sufficiency

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

A number of years ago, I attended the funeral of a man who died at the age of ninety. From every indication, he had been a good man, solidly religious, the father of a large family, a man respected in the community, and a man with a generous heart. However, he had also been a strong man, a gifted man, a natural leader, someone to whom a group would naturally look to take the reins and lead. Hence, he held a number of prominent positions in the community. He was a man very much in charge.

One of his sons, a Catholic priest, gave the homily at his funeral. He began with these words: Scripture tells us that the sum of a man’s life is seventy years, eighty for those who are strong. Now our dad lived for ninety years. Why the extra twenty years? Well, it’s no mystery. He was too strong and too much in charge of things to die at seventy or eighty. It took God an extra twenty years to mellow him out. And it worked. The last ten years his life were years of massive diminishment. His wife died, and he never got over that. He had a stroke which put him into assisted living and that was a massive blow to him. Then he spent the last years of his life with others having to help him take care of his basic bodily needs. For a man like him, that was humbling.

But this was the effect of all that. It mellowed him. In those last years, whenever you visited him, he would take your hand and say, “help me.” He hadn’t been able to say those words since he was five years old and able to tie his own shoelaces. By the time he died, he was ready. When he met Jesus and St. Peter on the other side, I’m sure he simply reached for a hand and said, “help me.” Ten and twenty years ago, he would, I’m sure, have given Jesus and Peter some advice as to how they might run the pearly gates more efficiently.

That’s a parable that speaks deeply and directly about a place we must all eventually come to, either through proactive choice or by submission to circumstance; we all must eventually come to a place where we accept that we are not self-sufficient, that we need help, that we need others, that we need community, that we need grace, that we need God.

Why is that so important? Because we are not God and we become wise and more loving when we realize and accept that. Classical Christian theologians defined God as self-sufficient being, and highlight that only God is self-sufficient. God alone has no need of anything beyond Himself. Everything else, everything that is not God, is defined as contingent, as not self-sufficient, as needing something beyond itself to bring it into existence and to keep it in existence every second of its being.

That can sound like abstract theology, but ironically it’s little children who get it, who have an awareness of this. They know that they cannot provide for themselves and that all comes to us as gifts. They know they need help. However, not long after they learn to tie their own shoelaces this awareness begins to fade and as they grow into adolescence and then adulthood, particularly if they are healthy, strong and successful, they begin to live with the illusion of self-sufficiency. I provide for myself!

And, that in fact serves them well in terms of making their way in this world. But it doesn’t serve truth, community, love or the soul. It’s an illusion, the greatest of all illusions. None of us will enter deeply into community as long as we nurse the illusion of self-sufficiency, when we are still saying, I don’t need others! I choose who and what I let into my life!

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that familiarity is the greatest of all illusions. He’s right, and what we are most familiar with is taking care of ourselves and believing that we are sufficient onto ourselves. As we know, this serves us well in terms of getting ahead in this life. However, fortunate for us, though painful, God and nature are always conspiring together to teach us that we are not self-sufficient. The process of maturing, aging and eventually dying is calibrated to teach us, whether we welcome the lesson or not; that we are not in charge, that self-sufficiency is an illusion. Eventually for all of us there will come a day when, as it was with us before we could tie our own shoelaces, we will have to reach out for a hand and say, “help me.”

The philosopher Eric Mascall has an axiom that says we are neither wise nor mature as long as we take life for granted. We become wise and mature precisely when we take it as granted – by God, by others, by love.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

No lasting city

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Scripture tells us that in this life we have no lasting city. True enough. But, it seems, we also don’t have a lasting house, school, neighborhood, town, zip code address, or most anything else. Eventually nothing lasts.

Perhaps my case isn’t typical, but a lot of things in my life haven’t lasted. My grandparents were immigrants, Russian-Germans, moving to the Canadian prairies and being among the first farmers to break the soil there at the beginning of the 1900s. They were young, so too was life then on the prairies, and their generation planted new farms, schools, towns and cities across the great plains of Canada and the USA. I was born into the second generation of all that – but just as urbanization and other changes were already beginning to cause the disappearance of a lot of what they had built.

So, here’s my story of having no lasting city. The elementary school I went to closed after I’d finished the sixth grade. We were bused to a bigger centralized school and our old school building was carted away. Nothing remains today to indicate there once was a school there. The new school I attended closed several years after I’d graduated. The building itself was razed and today the entire former campus is part of a farmer’s field with only a small plaque to indicate there once was vibrant life there, with hundreds of young voices filling the air with energy. That school was a couple of miles out of a small town and that town itself has now completely disappeared, without a single building left.

I went from high school to an Oblate novitiate house situated in the heart of the Qu’Appelle valley, a beautiful stately building on a lake. Several years after I’d graduated from there, the building was sold and soon afterwards was destroyed in a fire. Only an empty stretch of prairie sits there now. From there, I moved to another seminary, a magnificent old building (formerly the Government House for the Northwest Territories) and spent six wonderful years there. Again, several years after I’d graduated, the building was abandoned, and it too was eventually destroyed by a fire.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

From there I moved to Newman Theological College in Edmonton where I spent the next fifteen years. Newman College had a beautiful campus on the outskirts of the city, but several years after I’d left, the campus was expropriated by the city to build a ring road and all its buildings were razed. From there, I moved to a wonderfully homey building, the Oblate Provincial residence in Saskatoon. Several years later, after I’d moved out, that building too was razed and nothing remains where it once stood. And, while all this was happening, the little town to which our family was connected (for mail, for groceries, for services, for identity) became a ghost town with no inhabitants, all its buildings shuttered.
Eventually, I moved to Oblate School of Theology in Texas to live in a welcoming little house designated for the president of the school. However, after a few years, the land it was on was needed for a new seminary and that house too was razed. Finally, most painful of all, two years ago, our family house, our home for more than 70 years, was sold and the new owners (sensitive enough to ask our family’s permission to do so) burned the old house to the ground.

That’s a lot of roots disappearing: my elementary school, my high school, the town our family was connected to, both seminaries from which I graduated, the college where I first taught, both Oblate houses I’d spent wonderful years within, and the family house – all gone, razed to the ground, nothing left to go back to.

What does that do to you? Well, there’s nostalgia, yes. How I would again love to walk into any of those buildings, feel what they once meant to me and bask in memories. None of that can happen. Each of these is a mini death, leaving a part of my soul rootless. On the other hand, more positively, all that unwanted letting go is helping prepare me for an ultimate letting go, when I will be facing my own death, and not just some haunting nostalgia.

As well, this has taught me something else of substance. Buildings and houses may disappear, but home is not contingent on them. Rene Fumoleau, a poet among the Dene tribes, shares how he once visited a family the day after their house had been destroyed by fire and had this conversation with a young girl:

The next day I visited the burned out family.
What could I say after such a tragedy?
I tried with the ten-year old daughter: ‘Joan, you must feel terrible without home.’
The young girl knew better: ‘Oh, we still have our home,
But we have no house to put on it.” (Home – Here I Sit)
Yes, we can still have a home even without our former house on it.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

The taste of banter and wine

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Elizabeth Poreba ends a poem, No Good Company, with these words:
I’ve got no banter,
I’m all judgement and edges, an edgy white lady
Wondering what to do, what to do next
As in Jesus is coming, look busy.

At the wedding feast in Cana, Mary tells Jesus – they have no wine – asking him to create some. What do wine and banter have in common? Both bring a needed extra into our lives.

Let’s start with wine. Wine is not a protein, something the body needs to be nourished and kept alive, part of an essential diet. It’s an extra that provides something special for one’s health. Taken with the right spirit and in moderation, wine can help lift the mood, lighten the heart and warm the conversation, even as it helps (at least for the moment) lessen some of the tensions among us. It’s a grease that can help make a conversation, a family dinner or a social gathering flow more pleasantly.

Banter? Well, like wine, if taken with the right spirit and in moderation, it can also lift the mood, lighten the heart, warm a conversation and lessen tensions at a gathering. Classical Greek thought suggested that love has six components: Eros – emotional and sexual attraction; mania – emotional obsession; asteismos – playfulness and banter; storge – care and solicitousness; pragma – practical arrangement and accommodation; philia – friendship; and agape – altruism.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Normally, when we think of love, we think of each of these components, except the aspect of banter and playfulness. Our romantic selves identify love very much with emotional obsession and sexual attraction. Our religious and moral selves identify love with care, friendship and altruism; and our pragmatic selves identify it with practical arrangement. Few speak of the place and importance of banter or playfulness, of healthy teasing, of humor, but these are often the grease that keeps the others flowing more smoothly.

Here’s an example: For all my adult life, I’ve lived in various religious houses, in community with other vowed religious (in my case, men). We don’t get to pick with whom we live, but are assigned to a community, along with everyone else who lives there. And we come together with our different backgrounds, different personalities and different eccentricities. This can be a formula for tension and yet, for the most part, it works, is pleasant and provides life-giving support and fellowship. What makes it work? Why don’t we end up killing each other? How do we live (for the most part) pleasantly together beyond our differences, immaturities and egos?

Well, there’s a common mission that keeps us working together and, most importantly, there’s regular common prayer that helps us see each other in a better light. But, very importantly, there is banter, playfulness, healthy teasing and humor which, like wine at a table, help take the edge off things and ease the tension inherent in our differences. A community that doesn’t stay light-hearted through banter, playfulness and healthy teasing will eventually become everything that light-hearted is not, namely, heavy, drab, full of tension and pompous. In every healthy community I’ve lived in, one of the things that made it healthy (and pleasant to come home to) was banter, playfulness, loving teasing and humor. These are rich wines that can enliven the table of any family and any community.

This, of course, like drinking wine, can be overdone and be a way of avoiding harder conversations that need to be had. As well, banter can keep us relating to each other in ways that actually hinder genuine community. Humor, banter, the jokester and the prankster need to know when enough is enough and when serious conversation needs to happen. The risk of overdoing banter is real, though perhaps the greater risk lies in trying to live together in its absence.

Banter, playfulness, loving teasing and humor don’t just help us relate to each other beyond our differences, they also help deflate the pomposity that is invariably the child of over-seriousness. They help keep our families and communities grounded and pleasant.

I grew up in a large family, with each of us having strong personalities and plenty of faults; yet save for very few occasions, our house, which was physically too small for so large a family, was pleasant to be in because it was perennially filled with banter, playfulness, humor and healthy teasing. We seldom had wine, but we had banter! When I look back on what my family gave me, I am deeply grateful for many gifts: faith, love, safety, trust, support, education, moderation and moral sensitivity. But it also taught me banter, playfulness, healthy teasing and humor. No small gift.

At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus’ mother noticed that, even though a wedding celebration was happening, something wasn’t right. Was it a heaviness? An over-seriousness? Was it an unhealthy pomposity? Was there a noticeable tension in the room? Whatever. Something was missing, so she goes to Jesus and says: “Son, they have no banter!”

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

Quiet prophecy

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Christian discipleship calls all of us to be prophetic, to be advocates for justice, to help give voice to the poor, and to defend truth. But not all of us, by temperament or by particular vocation, are called to civil disobedience, public demonstrations and the picket lines, as were Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan and other such prophetic figures. All are asked to be prophetic, but for some this means more wielding a basin and towel than wielding a placard.

There is a powerful way of being prophetic that, while seemingly quiet and personal, is never private. And its rules are the same as the rules for those who, in the name of Jesus, are wielding placards and risking civil disobedience. What are those rules, rules for a Christian prophecy?

First, a prophet makes a vow of love, not of alienation. There is a critical distinction between stirring up trouble and offering prophecy out of love, a distinction between operating out of egoism and operating out of faith and hope. A prophet risks misunderstanding, but never seeks it, and a prophet seeks always to have a mellow rather than an angry heart.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Second, a prophet draws his or her cause from Jesus and not from an ideology. Ideologies can carry a lot of truth and be genuine advocates for justice. But, people can walk away from an ideology, seeing it precisely as an ideology, as political correctness, and thus justify their rejection of the truth it carries. Sincere people often walk away from Greenpeace, from Feminism, or Liberation Theology, from Critical Race Theory and many other ideologies which in fact carry a lot of truth because those truths are wrapped inside an ideology. Sincere people will not walk away from Jesus. In our struggle for justice and truth, we must be ever vigilant that we are drawing our truth from the Gospels and not from some ideology.

Third, a prophet is committed to non-violence. A prophet is always seeking to personally disarm rather than to arm, to be in the words of Daniel Berrigan, a powerless criminal in a time of criminal power. A prophet takes Jesus seriously when he asks us, in the face of violence, to turn the other cheek. A prophet incarnates in his or her way of living the eschatological truth that in heaven there will be no guns.

Fourth, a prophet articulates God’s voice for the poor and for the earth. Any preaching, teaching, or political action that is not good news for the poor is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, to “widows, orphans, and strangers” (biblical code for the most vulnerable groups in society). As Pastor Forbes once famously said: Nobody goes to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor. We are not meant to be the church compatible.

Fifth, a prophet doesn’t foretell the future but properly names the present in terms of God’s vision of things. A prophet reads where the finger of God is within everyday life, in function of naming our fidelity or infidelity to God and in function of pointing to our future in terms of God’s plan for us. This is Jesus’ challenge to read the signs of the times.

Sixth, a prophet speaks out of a horizon of hope. A prophet draws his or her vision and energy not from wishful thinking nor from optimism, but from hope. And Christian hope is not based on whether the world situation is better or worse on a given day. Christian hope is based on God’s promise, a promise that was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus, which assures us that we can entrust ourselves to love, truth, and justice, even if the world kills us for it. The stone will always roll back from the tomb.

Seventh, a prophet’s heart and cause are never a ghetto. Jesus assures us that in his Father’s house there are many rooms. Christian prophecy must ensure that no person or group can make God their own tribal or national deity. God is equally solicitous vis-à-vis all people and all nations.

Finally, a prophet doesn’t just speak or write about injustice, a prophet also acts and acts with courage, even at the cost of death. A prophet is a wisdom figure, a Magus or a Sophia, who will act, no matter the cost in lost friends, lost prestige, lost freedom, or danger to his or her own life. A prophet has enough altruistic love, hope, and courage to act, no matter the cost. A prophet never seeks martyrdom but accepts it if it finds him or her.

This last counsel is, I believe, the one most challenging for “quiet” prophets. Wisdom figures are not renowned for being on the picket lines, but in that lies the challenge. A prophet can discern at what time to park the placard and bring out the basin and towel – and at what time to lay aside the basin and towel and pick up the placard.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

Callada profecía

En el exilio
Por Ron Rolheiser

El discipulado cristiano nos llama a todos a ser proféticos, a ser defensores de la justicia, a ayudar a dar voz a los pobres ya defender la verdad. Pero no todos nosotros, por temperamento o por vocación particular, estamos llamados a la desobediencia civil, las manifestaciones públicas y los piquetes, como lo fueron Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan y otras figuras proféticas similares. A todos se les pide que sean proféticos, pero para algunos, esto significa más empuñar una palangana y una toalla que empuñar una pancarta.

Padre Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Hay una forma poderosa de ser profético que, aunque aparentemente tranquila y personal, nunca es privada. Y sus reglas son las mismas que las reglas para aquellos que, en el nombre de Jesús, están empuñando pancartas y arriesgándose a la desobediencia civil. ¿Cuáles son esas reglas, reglas para una profecía cristiana?

Primero, un profeta hace un voto de amor, no de alienación. Hay una distinción crítica entre provocar problemas y ofrecer profecía por amor, una distinción entre operar por egoísmo y operar por fe y esperanza. Un profeta se arriesga a malentendidos, pero nunca los busca, y un profeta siempre busca tener un corazón apacible en lugar de un corazón enojado.

Segundo, un profeta saca su causa de Jesús y no de una ideología. Las ideologías pueden llevar mucha verdad y ser auténticos defensores de la justicia. Pero la gente puede alejarse de una ideología, viéndola precisamente como una ideología, como corrección política, y así justificar su rechazo a la verdad que conlleva. La gente sincera a menudo se aleja de Greenpeace, del Feminismo, de la Teología de la Liberación, de la Teoría Crítica de la Raza y de muchas otras ideologías que de hecho tienen mucha verdad porque esas verdades están envueltas dentro de una ideología. La gente sincera no se alejará de Jesús. En nuestra lucha por la justicia y la verdad, debemos estar siempre atentos a que extraigamos nuestra verdad de los Evangelios y no de alguna ideología.

Tercero, un profeta está comprometido con la no violencia. Un profeta siempre busca desarmar personalmente en lugar de armar, para ser, en palabras de Daniel Berrigan, un criminal impotente en una época de poder criminal. Un profeta toma en serio a Jesús cuando nos pide, ante la violencia, que pongamos la otra mejilla. Un profeta encarna en su forma de vivir la verdad escatológica de que en el cielo no habrá armas.

Cuarto, un profeta articula la voz de Dios por los pobres y por la tierra. Cualquier predicación, enseñanza o acción política que no sea una buena noticia para los pobres no es el Evangelio de Jesucristo. Jesús vino a traer la buena noticia a los pobres, a las “viudas, huérfanos y extranjeros” (código bíblico para los grupos más vulnerables de la sociedad). Como dijo una vez el pastor Forbes: Nadie va al cielo sin una carta de referencia de los pobres. No estamos destinados a ser compatibles con la iglesia.

Quinto, un profeta no predice el futuro sino que nombra apropiadamente el presente en términos de la visión de Dios de las cosas. Un profeta lee dónde está el dedo de Dios dentro de la vida cotidiana, en función de nombrar nuestra fidelidad o infidelidad a Dios y en función de señalar nuestro futuro en términos del plan de Dios para nosotros. Este es el desafío de Jesús para leer los signos de los tiempos.

Sexto, un profeta habla desde un horizonte de esperanza. Un profeta saca su visión y energía no de la ilusión ni del optimismo, sino de la esperanza. Y la esperanza cristiana no se basa en si la situación del mundo es mejor o peor en un día determinado. La esperanza cristiana se basa en la promesa de Dios, promesa que se cumplió en la resurrección de Jesús, que nos asegura que podemos confiarnos al amor, la verdad y la justicia, aunque el mundo nos mate por ello. La piedra siempre rodará hacia atrás de la tumba.

Una estatua de bronce patinado de San Juan Bautista se encuentra afuera de la Antigua Misión San Juan Bautista a fines de mayo en San Juan Bautista, California. Cuando uno piensa en la obra espiritual de misericordia “amonestar al pecador”, la imagen de Juan el Bautista en la desierto – el profeta ardiente que vemos en Mateo 3:1-10 llamando a la gente a arrepentirse de sus malos caminos y producir buenos frutos como señal de arrepentimiento – viene a la mente. (Foto CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Séptimo, el corazón y la causa de un profeta nunca son un gueto. Jesús nos asegura que en la casa de su Padre hay muchas moradas. La profecía cristiana debe asegurar que ninguna persona o grupo pueda hacer de Dios su propia deidad tribal o nacional. Dios es igualmente solícito frente a todos los pueblos y todas las naciones.

Finalmente, un profeta no solo habla o escribe sobre la injusticia, un profeta también actúa y actúa con valentía, incluso a costa de la muerte. Un profeta es una figura de sabiduría, un Mago o una Sofía, que actuará, sin importar el costo en amigos perdidos, prestigio perdido, libertad perdida o peligro para su propia vida. Un profeta tiene suficiente amor altruista, esperanza y coraje para actuar, sin importar el costo. Un profeta nunca busca el martirio, pero lo acepta si lo encuentra.

Creo que este último consejo es el más desafiante para los profetas “tranquilos”. Las figuras de la sabiduría no son famosas por estar en los piquetes, pero ahí radica el desafío. Un profeta puede discernir en qué momento colocar el cartel y sacar la palangana y la toalla, y en qué momento dejar a un lado la palangana y la toalla y recoger la pancarta.

(El padre oblato Ron Rolheiser es teólogo, maestro y autor galardonado. Se le puede contactar a través de su sitio web Facebook/ronrolheiser)

Generous orthodoxy

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

There’s a saying attributed to Attila the Hun, a 5th century ruler infamous for his cruelty, which reads this way: For me to be happy, it’s not just important that I succeed; it’s also important that everyone else fails. I suspect that Atilla the Hun was not the author of that, but, no matter, there’s a lesson here.

The Gospels tell us that God’s mercy is unlimited and unconditional, that God has no favorites, that God is equally solicitous for everyone’s happiness and salvation, and that God does not ration his gift of the Spirit. If that is true, then we need to ask ourselves why we so frequently tend to withhold God’s Spirit from others in our judgments – particularly in our religious judgments. We are blind to the fact that sometimes there’s a little of Attila the Hun in us.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

For example, how prone are we to think this way? For my religion to be the true, it’s important to me that other religions are not true! For my Christian denomination to be faithful to Christ, it’s important that all the other denominations be considered less faithful. For the Eucharist in my denomination to be valid, it’s important that the Eucharist in other denominations be invalid or less valid. And, since I’m living a certain sustained fidelity in my faith and moral life, it’s important to me that everyone else who isn’t living as faithfully does not get to heaven or is assigned to a secondary place in heaven.

Well, we aren’t the first disciples of Jesus to think this way and to be challenged by him in our Attila the Hun proclivities. This is in fact a large part of the lesson in Jesus’ parable regarding an over-generous landowner who paid everyone the same generous wage no matter how much or little each had worked.

We are all familiar with this story. A landowner goes out one morning and hires workers to work in his fields. He hires some early in the morning, some at noon, some in mid-afternoon, and some with only an hour left in the workday. Then he pays them all the same wage – a generous one. The people who worked the full day understandably became resentful, upset that (while their wage was in fact a generous one) they felt it was unfair to them that those who had worked a lot less should also receive an equally generous wage. The landowner in response says to the complainant, “Friend, I am not being unjust to you. Didn’t you agree to this wage? Why are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:1-16)
Notice that Jesus addresses the one making the complaint as ‘friend.” That’s a designation for us, we, the ones who are faithfully doing the full day’s work. Note his tone is warm and soft. However, his challenge is less warm and soft: Why are you jealous because God is overly generous? Why is it important to us that because we are doing things right, that God should be hard on those who aren’t?

Full disclosure: sometimes I imagine myself, after having lived a life of celibacy, entering heaven and meeting there the world’s most notorious playboy and asking God, “How did he get in here?” and God answering, “Friend, isn’t heaven a wonderful place! Are you envious because I am generous?” Who knows, we might even meet Attila the Hun there.

One of the core values held by a certain group of Quakers is something they call generous orthodoxy. I like the combination of those two words. Generosity speaks of openness, hospitality, empathy, wide tolerance and of sacrificing some of ourselves for others. Orthodoxy speaks of certain non-negotiable truths, of keeping proper boundaries, of staying true to what you believe and of not compromising truth for the sake of being nice. These two are often pitted against each other as opposites, but they are meant to be together. Holding ground on our truth, keeping proper boundaries and refusing to compromise even at the risk of not being nice is one side of the equation, but the full equation requires us to be also fully respectful and gracious regarding other people’s truth, cherished beliefs and boundaries.
And this is not an unhealthy syncretism, if what the other person holds as truth does not contradict what we hold – although it might be very different and may not in our judgment be nearly as full and rich as what we hold.

Hence, you can be a Christian, convinced that Christianity is the truest expression of religion in the world without making the judgment that other religions are false. You can be a Roman Catholic, convinced that Roman Catholicism is the truest and fullest expression of Christianity, and your Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus, without making the judgment that other Christian denominations are not valid expressions of Christ and do not have a valid Eucharist. There’s no contradiction there.
You can be right, without that being contingent on everyone else being wrong!

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

Struggling to give birth to hope

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

After Jesus rose from the dead, his first appearances were to women. Why? One obvious reason might be that it was women who followed him to his death on Good Friday, while the men largely abandoned him. As well, it was women, not men, who set off for his tomb on Easter morning, hoping to anoint his dead body with spices – so it was women who were in the garden when he first appeared. But there is, I believe, a deeper and more symbolic reason. Women are the midwives. It is generally women who attend to new birth and women who are more paramount in initially nurturing new life in its infancy.

In any birth a midwife can be helpful. When a baby is born, normally the head pushes its way through the birth canal first, opening the way for the body to follow. A good midwife can be very helpful at this time, helping to ease that passage through the birth canal, helping ensure that the baby begins to breathe, and helping the mother to immediately begin to nurture that new life. A midwife can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, and she always makes the birth easier and healthier.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Jesus’ resurrection birthed new life into our world, and in its infancy that life had to be specially midwifed, both in its emergence and in the initial breaths it took in this world. The resurrection birthed many things, and these had to be midwifed; initially by the women to whom Jesus first appeared, then by the apostles who left us their eyewitness accounts of the risen Jesus, then by the early church, then by its martyrs, then by the lived faith of countless women and men through the centuries, and sometimes too by theologians and spiritual writers. We still need to midwife what was born in the resurrection.

And many things were born in that event – an event as radical as the original creation in what it gave birth to. The resurrection of Jesus was the “first day” a second time, the second time light separated from darkness. Indeed, the world measures time by the resurrection. We are in the year 2023 since it happened. (Christianity was born with that event. New time began then. But scholars calculated that Jesus was thirty-three years old when he died and so they added thirty-three years so as to begin new time with the date of his birth.)

Prominent within what the resurrection gives birth to and what needs still to be midwifed, is hope. The resurrection gives birth to hope. The women in the Gospels who first met the resurrected Jesus were the first to be given a true reason for hope and were the first to act as midwifes of that new birth. So too must we. We need to become midwives of hope. But what is hope and how is it given birth in the resurrection?

Genuine hope is never to be confused with either wishful thinking or temperamental optimism. Unlike hope, wishful thinking isn’t based on anything. It’s pure wishing. Optimism, for its part, takes its root either in a natural temperament (“I always see the bright side of things”) or on how good or bad the evening news looks on a given day. And we know how that can change from day to day. Hope has a different basis.

Here’s an example: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a deeply faith-filled scientist, was once challenged by an agnostic colleague after making a presentation within which he tried to show how the story of salvation history fits perfectly with the insights of science regarding the origins of the universe and the process of evolution. Teilhard went on to suggest, in line with Ephesians 1:3-10, that the end of the whole evolutionary process will be the union of all things in one great final harmony in Christ. An agnostic colleague challenged him to this effect: That’s a wonderfully optimistic little schema you propose. But suppose we blow up the world with an atomic bomb. What happens to your optimist schema then? Teilhard answered in words to this effect: If we blow up the world with an atomic bomb, that will be a set-back, perhaps for millions of years. But what I propose is going to happen, not because I wish it or because I am optimistic that it will happen. It will happen because God promised it – and in the resurrection God showed that God has the power to deliver on that promise.

What the women who first met the risen Jesus experienced was hope, the kind of hope that is based on God’s promise to vindicate good over evil and life over death, no matter the circumstance, no matter the obstacle, no matter how awful the news might look on a given day, no matter death itself, and no matter whether we are optimistic or pessimistic. They were the initial midwives helping to give birth to that hope. That task is now ours.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website

Choosing our own storm

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

“We only live, only suspire, consumed by either fire or fire.”

T.S. Eliot wrote those words and, with them, suggests that our choice in this life is not between calm and storm, but between two kinds of storms.

He is right, of course, but sometimes it is good to vary the metaphor: We live in this world caught between two great gods, very different from each other: chaos and order.

Chaos is the god of fire, of fertility, of risk, of creativity, of novelty, of letting go. Chaos is the god of wildness, the god who brings disorder and mess. Most artists worship at his shrine. He is also the god of sleeplessness, of restlessness, and disintegration. In fact, chaos works precisely by disintegration of what is stable. Chaos is the god more worshipped by those of a liberal temperament.

Order is the god of water, of prudence, of chastity, of common sense, of stability, of hanging on. He is the god of pragma. He likes systems, clarity and a roof that doesn’t leak. He is more worshipped by those of a conservative temperament. Few artists pay him homage, but the corporate and ecclesiastical worlds more than compensate for this. By and large, he is their God. He can also be the god of boredom, timidity and rigidity. With him, you will never disintegrate, but you might suffocate. However, while he does not generate a lot of excitement, this god keeps a lot of people sane and alive.

Chaos and order, fire and water, don’t much like each other. However, both demand the respect accorded a deity. Unfortunately, like all one-sided deities, each wants all of us, but to give that submission is dangerous.

Allegiance to either, to the exclusion of the other, not infrequently leads to a self-destruction. When chaos reigns unchecked by order, moral and emotional disintegration soon enough unleash a darkness from which there is often no recovery. That’s what it means to fall apart, to become unglued. Conversely, when order totally dispels chaos, a certain self-annihilating virtue, posturing as God, begins to drain life of delight and possibility.

It is dangerous to worship at only the shrine. Both gods are needed. The soul, the church, practical life, the structures of society and love itself need the tempering that comes from both fire and water, order and chaos. Too much fire and things just burn up, disintegrate. Too much water and nothing ever changes, petrification sets in. Too much letting go and the sublimity of love lies prostituted; too much timidity and love shrivels up like a dried prune. No, both gods are needed – in practical life, in romantic life, in ecclesiology, in morality, in business and in government. Risk and prudence, rock music and Gregorian chant, both contain some whisperings of God. It is not by blind chance that we are caught between the two.

This should not be surprising because God, the God of Jesus Christ, is the God of both – fire and water, chaos, and order, liberal and conservative, chastity and prodigal love. God is the great stillpoint and God is also the principle of novelty, freshness, and resurrection.

Thomas Aquinas once defined the human soul as made up of two principles, the principle of energy and the principle of integration. One principle keeps us alive and the other keeps us glued together. These two principles, while in tension with each other, desperately need each other. A healthy soul keeps us energized, eager for life, but a healthy soul also keeps us solidly glued together, knowing who we are when we look at ourselves in a mirror. Our souls need to provide us with both energy and integrity, fire and glue.

God is love, and love wants and needs both order and chaos. Love wants always to build a home, to settle down, to create a calm, stable and chaste place. Something inside us wants the calm of paradise and thus love is about order. It wants to avoid emotional and moral disintegration. But love is also about chaos. There is something in love that wants to let go, that wants to be taken, that wants to surrender its boundaries, that wants the new, the foreign, and that wants to let go of its old self. That’s a fertile principle within love that has kept the human race going!

Our God hallows both of these gods, chaos and order, and that is why it is healthy that both be kept in a healthy tension. To be healthy, we need to bring them together within ourselves and we need to bring them together not as we would bring two parties to meet at a negotiating table, but as a high and a low-pressure system meet to produce a storm. After a storm, the weather is clear.

In the tempest there is life and there is God. In it we are initiated, initiated through immersion into the intense fires of desire and the ecstatic waters of surrender.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website