God’s silence in the face of evil

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Theologians sometimes try to express the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection in one sentence: In the resurrection, God vindicated Jesus, his life, his message and his fidelity. What does that mean?

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

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

What was God’s response to those taunts? Seemingly nothing, no commentary, no defense, no apologia, no counter challenge, just silence. Jesus dies in silence. Neither he nor the God he believed in tried to fill that excruciating void with any consoling words or explanations challenging people to look at the bigger picture or to look at the brighter side of things. None of that. Just silence.

Jesus died in silence, inside God’s silence and inside the world’s incomprehension. And we can let ourselves be scandalized by that silence, just as we can let ourselves be scandalized by the seeming triumph of evil, pain and suffering in our world. God’s seeming silence in the face of evil and death can forever scandalize us: in the Jewish holocaust, in ethnic genocides, in brutal and senseless wars, in the earthquakes and tsunamis which kill thousands of people and devastate whole countries, in the deaths of countless people taken out of this life by cancer and by violence, in how unfair life can be sometimes, and in the casual manner that those without conscience can rape whole areas of life seemingly without consequence. Where is God in all of this? What’s God’s answer?

God’s answer is the resurrection, the resurrection of Jesus and the perennial resurrection of goodness within life itself. But resurrection is not necessarily rescue. God doesn’t necessarily rescue us from the effects of evil, nor even from death. Evil does what it does, natural disasters are what they are, and those without conscience can rape even as they are feeding off life’s sacred fire. Normally, God doesn’t intervene. The parting of the Red Sea isn’t a weekly occurrence. God lets his loved ones suffer and die, just as Jesus let his dear friend Lazarus die, and God let Jesus die. God redeems, raises us up afterwards, in a deeper, more lasting vindication. Moreover, the truth of that statement can even be tested empirically.

Despite every appearance to the contrary at times, in the end, love does triumph over hatred. Peace does triumph over chaos. Forgiveness does triumph over bitterness. Hope does triumph over cynicism. Fidelity does triumph over despair. Virtue does triumph over sin. Conscience does triumph over callousness. Life does triumph over death, and good does triumph over evil, always. Mohandas K. Gandhi once wrote: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always.”

The resurrection, most forcibly, makes that point. In the end, God has the last word. The resurrection of Jesus is that last word. From the ashes of shame, of seeming defeat, failure and death, a new, deeper and eternal life perennially bursts forth. Our faith begins at the very point where it seems it should end, in God’s seeming silence in the face of evil.

And what does this ask of us?

First, simply that we trust in the truth of the resurrection. The resurrection asks us to believe what Gandhi affirmed, namely, that in the end evil will not have the last word. It will fail. Good will eventually triumph.

More concretely, it asks us to roll the dice on trust and truth, namely, trusting that what Jesus taught is true. Virtue is not naïve, even when it is shamed. Sin and cynicism are naïve, even when they appear to triumph. Those who genuflect before God and others in conscience will find meaning and joy, even when they are deprived of some of the world’s pleasures. Those who drink in and manipulate sacred energy without conscience will not find meaning in life, even when they taste pleasure. Those who live in honesty, no matter the cost, will find freedom. Those who lie and rationalize will find themselves imprisoned in self-hate. Those who live in trust will find love. God’s silence can be trusted, even when we die inside of it.

We need to remain faithful in love, forgiveness, and conscience, despite everything that suggests they are naive. They will bring us to what is deepest inside of life. Ultimately, God vindicates virtue. God vindicates love. God vindicates conscience. God vindicates forgiveness. God vindicates fidelity. Ultimately, God vindicated Jesus and will vindicate us too if we remain faithful.

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

Forever ahead of our souls

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Sometimes there’s nothing as helpful as a good metaphor.

In his book, The God Instinct, Tom Stella shares this story: A number of men who made their living as porters were hired one day to carry a huge load of supplies for a group on safari. Their loads were unusually heavy and the trek through the jungle was rough. Several days into the journey they stopped, unshouldered their loads and refused to go on. No pleas, bribes or threats, worked in terms of persuading them to go on. Asked why they couldn’t continue, they answered: “We can’t go on; we have to wait for our souls to catch up with us.”

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

That also happens to us in life, except mostly we never wait for our souls to catch up. We continue without them, sometimes for years. What this means is that we struggle to be in the present moment, to be inside our own skin, to be aware of the richness of our own experience. Too often our experiences aren’t very soulful because we aren’t present to them. I cite myself as an example:

For the past twenty-five years, I’ve kept a journal, a diary of sorts. My intent in keeping this journal is to record the deeper things that I’m aware of throughout each day; but mostly what I end up actually writing down is a simple chronology of my day, a daybook, a bare, no-frills, recounting of what I did from hour to hour. My diaries don’t much resemble Anne Frank’s diary, Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings or Henri Nouwen’s Genesee Diary. My journals resemble more what you might get from a schoolboy describing his day at school, a simple chronology of what happened. Yet when I go back some years later and read an account of what I did on a given day, I’m always amazed at how rich and full my life was on that day, except that I wasn’t much aware of it at the time. While actually living through those days, mostly I was struggling to get my work done, to stay on top of things, to meet expectations, to carve out some moments of friendship and recreation amid the pressures of the day, and to get to bed at a reasonable hour. There wasn’t a lot of soul there, just routine, work and hurry.

I suspect that this is not atypical. Most of us live most of our days not very aware of how rich our lives are, forever leaving our souls behind. For example, many is the woman who gives ten to fifteen years of her life to bearing and raising children, with all that entails, tending constantly to someone else’s needs, getting up at night to nurse a child, spending 24 hours a day on constant alert, sacrificing all leisure time, and putting a career and personal creativity on hold. And yet often that same woman, later on looks back on those years and wishes she could relive them – but now, in a more soulful way, more consciously aware of how privileged it was to do precisely those things she did within so much tedium and tiredness. Years later, looking back, she sees how rich and precious her experience was and how because of the burden and stress how little her soul was present then to what she was experiencing.

This can be multiplied with a thousand examples. We’ve all read accounts wherein someone shares what he or she would do differently if he or she had life to live over again. Mostly these stories rework the same motif. Given another chance, I would try to enjoy it more, that is, I would try to keep my soul more present and more aware.

For most of us, I fear, our souls will only catch up with us when, finally, we are in retirement, with diminished health, diminished energy, and no opportunity to work. It seems we need to first lose something before we fully appreciate it. We tend to take life, health, energy and work for granted, until they are taken away from us. Only after the fact do we realize how rich our lives have been and how little of those riches we drank in at the time.

Our souls eventually do catch up with us, but it would be good if we didn’t wait until we were in assisted living for this to happen. Like the porters who dropped their loads and stopped, we need to stop and wait for our souls to catch up.

Early on in his priesthood, when Pope Francis was principal of a school, he would at a certain point each day have the public address system cut in and interrupt the work that was going on in each classroom with this announcement: Be grateful. Set your horizon. Take stock of your day.

We all need, regularly, to lay down our burdens for a minute so our souls can catch up with us.

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

After the bloom has left the rose

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
What is our deepest center? Normally, we take that to mean the deepest part of our heart, the deepest part of our soul, our affective center, our moral center, that place inside of us which Thomas Merton called le pointe vierge. And that is a good way of imagining it. But there’s another.

The classical mystic, John of the Cross saw things differently. For him, the deepest center of anything is the furthest point attainable by that object’s being and power and force of operation and movement. What does he mean by that? In essence, this is what he is saying: The deepest center of anything, be it a flower or a human being, is the furthest point to which can grow before it dies.

Take a flower for example: It begins as a seed, then grows into a tiny bud that sprouts into a young plant. That plant eventually bursts forth in a beautiful bloom. That bloom lasts for a while, and then begins to dry out and wither. Eventually, what was once the substance of a beautiful bloom turns into seeds, and then in its very act of dying, the flower gives off those seeds to leave new life behind.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Thus, for John of the Cross, the deepest center for a flower is not its moment of spectacular beauty, its bloom, but its last moment when its bloom has turned to seed, and it is able to give off that seed in its very act of dying.

There’s a lesson in which goes against how we commonly assess things. When are we the most generative potentially? When do we have the greatest capacity to use our lives to give off the seeds for new life? What is our deepest center of growth?

Normally, of course, we think of the deepest center as the bloom, namely, that period or moment in our lives when a combination of good health, physical attractiveness, talent, achievement, and influence make us someone who is admired and perhaps envied. This is the time in our lives when we look our best and, as they say, are at the peak of our game. This is our bloom! The best we will ever look!

John of the Cross wouldn’t denigrate that moment in our lives. Indeed, he would challenge us to be in that moment, to enjoy it, be grateful to God for it, and to try to use the advantages and privileges that come with that to help others. But, he wouldn’t say this is the peak moment of our generativity, that this is the moment or period of our lives when we are giving off the most seeds for new life. No, like a flower that gives off its seeds in its very act of dying, we too are potentially most generative after the bloom has given way to the grey of age and our achievements have given way to a different kind of fruitfulness.

Imagine a young woman who is beautiful and talented, and becomes a famous movie actor. At the height of her career, she is in full bloom and is given the gaze of admiration. Indeed, she is adulated. Moreover, in her life outside of the movies she may be a generous person, a wonderful wife, a dedicated mother, and a trusted friend. However, that bloom is not her furthest point of growth, her deepest center, that time in her life when she is giving off the most vis-a-vis generating new life. Instead, when she is an aged grandmother, struggling with health issues, her physical looks diminished, facing the prospect of assisted living and imminent death that, potentially, like the flower whose bloom has dried and turned to seed, she can give her life away in a manner that helps create new life in a way she couldn’t do when she was young, attractive, admired, envied and in full bloom.

A similar case might be made for a star male athlete. At the height of his career, winning a championship, becoming a household name, his envied youthful athletic image seen everywhere in ads and on billboards, he is in full bloom; but at that time, he is not optimally generative in terms of his life giving off seeds to bring about new life. That can happen later, in his old age, when his achievements no longer define him, and he, like everyone else, with his hair greying, is facing physical diminishment, marginalization and imminent death. It is then, after the bloom has left the rose, that in his dying he can give off seeds to create new life.

We tend to identify a spectacular bloom with powerful generativity. Fair enough, that bloom has its own importance, legitimate purpose and value. Indeed, one of our challenges is to give that bloom the gaze of admiration without envy. Not easy to do, and something we often don’t do well. The bigger challenge however is to learn what we ourselves are called to do after the bloom has left the rose.

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

Praying the Psalms

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

God behaves in the psalms in ways that God is not allowed to behave in theology.
That quip comes from Sebastian Moore and should be highlighted at a time when fewer people want to use the psalms in prayer because they feel offended by what they sometimes find there. More and more, we see people resisting the psalms as a way to pray (or desire to sanitize them) because the psalms speak of murder, revenge, anger, violence, war-making, and patriarchy.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Some ask, how can I pray with words that are full of hatred, anger, violence, speak of the glories of war, and of crushing one’s enemies in the name of God? For others, the objection is to a patriarchal coloring in the psalms – where the divine is masculine and the masculine is too-much deified. For yet others, the offense is aesthetic. Their objection: “They’re bad poetry!”

Perhaps the psalms aren’t great poetry and undeniably do smack of violence, war, hatred of one’s enemies, and the desire for vengeance, all in the name of God. Admittedly, they’re also patriarchal in character. But does that make them a bad language for prayer? Let me suggest something to the contrary.

One of the classical definitions of prayer says “prayer is lifting mind and heart to God.” Simple, clear, accurate. I suggest that the actual problem is that we seldom actually do this when we pray. Rather than lifting up to God what is actually on our minds and in our hearts, we tend to treat God as someone from whom we need to hide the real truth of our thoughts and feelings. Instead of pouring out mind and heart, we tell God what we think God wants to hear – not murderous thoughts, desire for vengeance, or our disappointment with God.

But expressing those feelings is the whole point. What makes the psalms particularly apt for prayer is that they do not hide the truth from God but express the whole gamut of our actual feelings. They give an honest voice to what’s actually going on in our minds and hearts.

Sometimes we feel good and our spontaneous impulse is to speak words of praise and gratitude, and the psalms give us that voice. They speak of God’s goodness in everything – love, friends, faith, health, food, wine, enjoyment. But we don’t always feel that way. Our lives also have their cold, lonely seasons when disappointment and bitterness simmer or rage under the surface. The psalms give us honest voice where we can open up all those simmering feelings to God. Also, there are times when we are filled with the sense of our own inadequacy, with the fact that we cannot measure up to the trust and love that’s given us. Again, the psalms give us voice for this, asking God to be merciful and to soften our hearts, wash us clean, and give us a new start.

As well, there are times when we feel bitterly disappointed with God and need some way to express this. The psalms give us voice for this (“Why are you so silent?” “Why are you so far from me?”) even as they make us aware that God is not afraid of our anger and bitterness; but, like a loving parent, only wants us to come and talk about it. The psalms are a privileged vehicle for prayer because they lift the full range of our thoughts and feelings to God.

However, there are a number of reasons why we struggle with that. First, because our age tends to eschew metaphor and taken literally, some of the images in the psalms are offensive. Second, we tend to be in denial about our actual feelings. It’s hard to admit that we feel some of the things we sometimes feel – grandiosity, sexual obsessions, jealousies, bitterness, paranoia, murderous thoughts, disappointment with God, doubts in our faith. Too often our prayer belies our actual thoughts and feelings. It tells God what we think God wants to hear. The psalms are more honest.

To pray with full honesty is a challenge. Kathleen Norris puts it this way: If you pray regularly “there is no way you can do it right. You are not always going to sit up straight, let alone think holy thoughts. You’re not going to wear your best clothes but whatever isn’t in the dirty clothes basket. You come to the Bible’s great `book of praise’ through all the moods and conditions of life, and while you feel like hell, you sing anyway. To your surprise, you find that the psalms do not deny your true feelings but allow you to reflect them, right in front of God and everyone.”

Feel-good aphorisms that express how we think we ought to feel are no substitute for the earthy realism of the psalms which express how sometimes we actually do feel. Anyone who would lift mind and heart to God without ever mentioning feelings of bitterness, jealousy, vengeance, hatred, and war, should write slogans for greeting cards and not be anyone’s spiritual advisor.

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

Breaking faith with each other

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Is this new or are we just more aware of it? Hatred and contempt are everywhere. They are in our government houses, in our communities, in our churches and in our families. We are struggling, mostly without success, to be civil with each other; let alone to respect each other. Why? Why is this happening and intensifying?

Moreover, on both sides, we are often justifying this hatred on moral grounds, even biblical grounds, claiming that the Gospel itself gives us grounds for our disrespect – My truth is so right and you are so wrong that I can disrespect you and I have biblical grounds to hate you!

Well, even a cursory look at scripture should be enough to enable us to see this for what it is; rationalization, self-interest – and the farthest thing from Jesus.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Let’s begin with something already taught long before Jesus. In the Jewish scriptures, we already find this text: “I have made you contemptible and base before all the people, since you do not keep my ways, but show partiality in your decisions. Have we not all the one Father? Has not the one God created us? Why do we break faith with one another?” (Malachi 2:8-10) Long before Jesus, Jewish spirituality already demanded that we be fair and never show partiality. However, it still gave us permission to hate our enemies and to take revenge when we have been wronged – “an eye for an eye.”

Jesus turns this on its head. Everywhere in his person and in his teaching, most explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount, he challenges us in a radically new way, telling us that, if we want to go to heaven, our virtue needs to go deeper than that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. What was their virtue?

The Scribes and Pharisees of his time were very much like the church-going Christians of our time. They were sincere, essentially honest, basically good people, who kept the commandments and practiced strict justice. But, according to Jesus, that isn’t enough. Why? If you are a sincere person who is honest, keeps the commandments, and is fair to everyone, what’s still missing? What’s still missing lies at the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching, namely, the practice of a love and forgiveness that goes beyond hatred and grievance. What exactly is this?

In justice and fairness, you are still entitled to hate someone who hates you and to extract an appropriate vengeance on someone who has wronged you. However, Jesus asks something else of us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

This is the very essence of Christian morality. Can you love someone who hates you? Can you do good to someone who wishes you evil? Can you forgive someone who has wronged you? Can you forgive a murderer? It’s this, and not some particular issue in moral theology, which is the litmus test for who is a Christian and who isn’t. Can you love someone who hates you? Can you forgive someone who has hurt you? Can you move beyond your natural proclivity for vengeance?

Sadly, today we are failing that test on both sides of the ideological and religious spectrum. We see this everywhere – from the highest levels of government, from high levels in our churches, and in public and private discourse everywhere, that is, people openly espousing disrespect, division, hatred and vengeance – and trying to claim the moral high ground in doing this. Major politicians speak openly and explicitly about hating others and about exacting revenge on those who oppose them. Worse still, churches and church leaders of every kind are lining up behind them and giving them “Gospel” support for their espousal of hatred and vengeance.

This needs to be named and challenged: anyone who is advocating division, disrespect, hatred or revenge is antithetical to Jesus and the Gospels. As well, anyone supporting such a person by an appeal to Jesus, the Gospels, or authentic morality, is also antithetical to Jesus and the Gospels.

God is love. Jesus is love enfleshed. Disrespect, hatred, division and revenge may never be preached in God’s or Jesus’ name, no matter the cause, no matter the anger, no matter the wrong. This doesn’t mean that we cannot have disagreements, spirited discussions and bitter debates. But disrespect, hatred, division and revenge (no matter how deeply they may in fact be felt inside us) may not be advocated in the name of goodness and Jesus. Division, disrespect, hatred and vengeance are the Anti-Christ.

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

The law of gravity and the Holy Spirit

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

A sound theology and a sound science will both recognize that the law of gravity and the Holy Spirit are one in the same principle. There isn’t a different spirit undergirding the physical than the spiritual. There’s one spirit that’s speaking through both the law of gravity and the Sermon on the Mount.

If we recognized that same Spirit is present in everything, in physical creation, in love, in beauty, in human creativity and in human morality; we could hold more things together in a fruitful tension rather than putting them in opposition and having the different gifts of the God’s Spirit fight each other. What does this mean?

We have too many unhealthy dichotomies in our lives. Too often we find ourselves choosing between things that should not be in opposition to each other and are in the unhappy position of having to pick between two things which are both, in themselves, good. We live in a world in which, too often, the spiritual is set against the physical, morality is set against creativity, wisdom is set against education, commitment is set against sex, conscience is set against pleasure, and personal fidelity is set against creative and professional success.

Padre Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Obviously there’s something wrong here. If one force, God’s Spirit, is the single source that animates all these things then clearly we should not be in a position of having to choose between them. Ideally we should be choosing both because the one, same Spirit undergirds both.

Is this true? Is the Holy Spirit both the source of gravity and the source of love? Yes. At least if the Scriptures are to be believed. They tell us that the Holy Spirit is both a physical and a spiritual force, the source of all physicality and of all spirituality all at the same time.

We first meet the person of the Holy Spirit in the opening line of the Bible: In the beginning there was a formless void and the Spirit of God hovered over the chaos. In the early chapters of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is presented as a physical force, a wind that comes from the very mouth of God and not only shapes and orders physical creation but is also the energy that lies at the base of everything, animate and inanimate alike: Take away your breath, and everything returns to dust.

The ancients believed there was a soul in everything and that soul, God’s breath, held everything together and gave it meaning. They believed this even though they did not understand, as we do today, the workings of the infra-atomic world: how the tiniest particles and energy waves already possess erotic electrical charges, how hydrogen seeks out oxygen, and how at the most elemental level of physical reality energies are already attracting and repelling each other just as people do. They could not explain these things scientifically as we can, but they recognized, just as we do, that there is already some form of “love” inside all things, however inanimate. They attributed all of this to God’s breath, a wind that comes from God’s mouth and ultimately animates rocks, water, animals and human beings.

They understood that the same breath that animates and orders physical creation is also the source of all wisdom, harmony, peace, creativity, morality and fidelity. God’s breath was understood to be as moral as it is physical, as unifying as it is creative, and as wise as it is daring. For them, the breath of God was one force and it did not contradict itself. The physical and the spiritual world were not set against each other. One Spirit was understood to be the source of both.

We need to understand things in the same way. We need to let the Holy Spirit, in all its fullness, animate our lives. What this means concretely is that we must not let ourselves be energized and driven too much by one part of the Spirit to the detriment of other parts of that same Spirit.

Thus, there shouldn’t be creativity in the absence of morality, education in the absence of wisdom, sex in the absence of commitment, pleasure in the absence of conscience, and artistic or professional achievement in the absence of personal fidelity. Not least, there shouldn’t be a good life for some in the absence of justice for everyone. Conversely, however, we need to be suspicious of ourselves when we are moral but not creative, when our wisdom fears critical education, when our spirituality has a problem with pleasure, and when our personal fidelity is over-defensive in the face of art and achievement. One Spirit is the author of all of these. Hence, we must be equally sensitive to each of them.

Someone once quipped that a heresy is something that is nine-tenths true. That’s our problem with the Holy Spirit. We’re forever into partial truth when we don’t allow for a connection between the law of gravity and the Sermon on the Mount.

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

Ley de Gravedad y Espíritu Santo

Por Ron Rolheiser
Una teología sólida y una ciencia sólida reconocerán que la ley de la gravedad y el Espíritu Santo son uno en el mismo principio.

No hay un espíritu diferente al de lo espiritual que sustenta lo físico. Hay un espíritu que habla tanto a través de la ley de la gravedad como del Sermón del Monte.

Si reconociéramos que ese mismo Espíritu está presente en todo, en la creación física, en el amor, en la belleza, en la creatividad humana y en la moral humana; podríamos mantener más cosas juntas en una tensión fructífera en lugar de ponerlas en oposición y que los diferentes dones del Espíritu de Dios luchen entre sí.

¿Qué quiere decir esto?

Tenemos demasiadas dicotomías nocivas en nuestras vidas. Con demasiada frecuencia nos encontramos eligiendo entre cosas que no deberían estar en oposición entre sí y nos encontramos en la infeliz posición de tener que elegir entre dos cosas que son buenas en sí mismas.

Una ilustración de Sandro Botticelli del abismo infernal de la “Divina Comedia” de Dante Alighieri forma parte de la colección de manuscritos de la Biblioteca Vaticana. Recientemente el Papa Francisco dijo en una entrevista que “Es difícil imaginarlo. Lo que yo diría no es un dogma de fe, sino mi pensamiento personal: me gusta pensar que el infierno está vacío; espero que así sea”. (Foto de OSV News/cortesía de la Biblioteca del Vaticano)

Vivimos en un mundo en el que, con demasiada frecuencia, lo espiritual se opone a lo físico, la moralidad se opone a la creatividad, la sabiduría se opone a la educación, el compromiso se opone al sexo, la conciencia se opone al placer y la fidelidad personal se opone a la creatividad. y éxito profesional.

Obviamente hay algo mal aquí. Si una fuerza, el Espíritu de Dios, es la única fuente que anima todas estas cosas, entonces claramente no deberíamos estar en una posición de tener que elegir entre ellas. Idealmente deberíamos elegir ambos porque el mismo Espíritu sustenta a ambos.

¿Es esto cierto? ¿Es el Espíritu Santo a la vez la fuente de la gravedad y la fuente del amor?

Sí. Al menos si hay que creer en las Escrituras.

Padre Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Nos dicen que el Espíritu Santo es una fuerza física y espiritual, la fuente de toda fisicalidad y de toda espiritualidad al mismo tiempo. Encontramos por primera vez a la persona del Espíritu Santo en la primera línea de la Biblia: En el principio había un vacío informe y el Espíritu de Dios se cernía sobre el caos. En los primeros capítulos de las Escrituras, el Espíritu Santo se presenta como una fuerza física, un viento que proviene de la misma boca de Dios y que no sólo da forma y ordena la creación física sino que también es la energía que se encuentra en la base de todo lo animado. e inanimados por igual: Quita el aliento, y todo vuelve al polvo.
Los antiguos creían que había un alma en todo y que esa alma, el aliento de Dios, mantenía todo unido y le daba significado.

!ORA!, !SONRIE!, !ESCUCHA!, !HABLA!, !ÁNIMO!, !ESCUCHA DE NUEVO!, etc, se leen en una pantalla de computadora llena de notas sobre cómo ayudar y animar a otros a considerar hacia qué están siendo llamados por Dios. (Foto de noticias OSV/Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

Creían esto a pesar de que no entendían, como lo hacemos hoy, el funcionamiento del mundo infraatómico: cómo las partículas y ondas de energía más pequeñas ya poseen cargas eléctricas eróticas, cómo el hidrógeno busca oxígeno y cómo, en el nivel más elemental, de la realidad física las energías ya se están atrayendo y repeliendo unas a otras tal como lo hace la gente.
No podían explicar estas cosas científicamente como nosotros podemos, pero reconocieron, al igual que nosotros, que ya existe alguna forma de “amor” dentro de todas las cosas, por inanimadas que sean. Todo esto lo atribuían al soplo de Dios, un viento que sale de la boca de Dios y que en última instancia anima las rocas, el agua, los animales y los seres humanos.
Entendieron que el mismo aliento que anima y ordena la creación física es también fuente de toda sabiduría, armonía, paz, creatividad, moral y fidelidad.
Se entendía que el aliento de Dios era tan moral como físico, tan unificador como creativo y tan sabio como audaz. Para ellos, el soplo de Dios era una fuerza y no se contradecía.
El mundo físico y el espiritual no estaban enfrentados entre sí. Se entendía que un Espíritu era la fuente de ambos.
Necesitamos entender las cosas de la misma manera. Necesitamos dejar que el Espíritu Santo, en toda su plenitud, anime nuestras vidas. Lo que esto significa concretamente es que no debemos dejarnos energizar e impulsar demasiado por una parte del Espíritu en detrimento de otras partes de ese mismo Espíritu.

La imagen de un hombre sumergiendo sus pies en el agua de un lago ilustra la discusión de un escritor sobre cómo responder a la preocupación, incluso en la vida de fe. (Foto de noticias OSV/Pixabay)

Así, no debería haber creatividad sin moralidad, educación sin sabiduría, sexo sin compromiso, placer sin conciencia, ni logros artísticos o profesionales sin fidelidad personal.
Lo que es más importante, no debería haber una buena vida para algunos si no hay justicia para todos.
Sin embargo, a la inversa, debemos desconfiar de nosotros mismos cuando somos morales pero no creativos, cuando nuestra sabiduría teme la educación crítica, cuando nuestra espiritualidad tiene problemas con el placer y cuando nuestra fidelidad personal se muestra demasiado defensiva frente al arte y al logro. Un Espíritu es el autor de todos estos. Por tanto, debemos ser igualmente sensibles con cada uno de ellos.
Alguien una vez bromeó diciendo que una herejía es algo que tiene nueve décimas partes de verdad. Ese es nuestro problema con el Espíritu Santo. Siempre nos quedamos en una verdad parcial cuando no permitimos una conexión entre la ley de la gravedad y el Sermón del Monte.

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

Our over-complex, tortured selves

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
When all is said and done, our lives are not all that serene and peaceful. In a manner of speaking, we are always somewhat pathetic. That shouldn’t scare us. Pathetic is not a pejorative term. The word comes from the Greek, pathos, which means pain. To be pathetic is to live in pain, and we all do because of the very way we are made.
You might say that doesn’t sound right. Aren’t we made in the image and likeness of God so that each of us, no matter how messed up our lives might be, carry a special dignity and a certain godliness within us? We do carry that special dignity. However, despite that and largely because of it, our lives tend to be so complex as to be pain filled. Why?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Godliness isn’t easy to carry. The infinite inside us doesn’t easily fit itself into the finite. We carry too much divine fire inside to find much peace in this life.
That struggle begins early in life. To create a self-identity as a very young child, we need to make a series of mental contractions which ultimately limit our awareness. First, we need to differentiate ourselves from others (That’s mom – I’m me); then, we need to differentiate between what is living and what is not (the puppy is alive – my doll isn’t); next, we need to differentiate between what is physical and what is mental (this is my body – but I think with my mind). Finally, and critically, as we are doing all this, we need split off as much of our luminosity we can consciously handle from what is too much to consciously handle. With that we create a self-identity – but we also create a shadow, namely, an area inside us which is split off from our consciousness.
Notice that our shadow is not first of all a looming darkness. Rather, it’s all the light and energy inside us that we cannot consciously handle. Most of us, I suspect, are familiar with the words of Marianne Williamson made famous by Nelson Mandela in his inauguration speech: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
Our light frightens us because it is not easy to carry. It gives us great dignity and infinite depth, but it also makes us pathologically complex and restless. Ruth Burrows, one of the foremost spiritual writers of our time, begins her autobiography with these words: I was born into this world with a tortured sensitivity and my life has not been an easy one. You wouldn’t expect those words from a mystic, from someone who has been a faithful nun for more than seventy-five years. You wouldn’t expect that her struggle in life was as much with the light within herself as with the darkness within and around her. That’s also true for each of us.
There’s a famous passage in the Book of Qoheleth where the sacred writer tells us that God has made everything beautiful in its own time. However, the passage doesn’t end on a peaceful note. It ends by telling us that, while God has made everything beautiful in its own time, God has put timelessness into the human heart so that we are congenitally out of sync with time and the seasons from beginning to end. Both our special dignity and our pathological complexity take their origins in that anomaly in our nature. We are overcharged for life on this planet.
St. Augustine gave this classic expression in his famous line: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. There is an entire anthropology and spirituality in that single line. Our dignity and our perpetual restlessness have one and the same source.
Thus, you need to give yourself sacred permission for being wild of heart, restless of heart, insatiable of heart, complex of heart and driven of heart. Too often, where both psychology and spirituality have failed you is in giving you the impression that you should be living without chaos and restlessness in your life. Admittedly, these can beset you more acutely because of moral inadequacy, but they will beset you no matter how good a life you are living. Indeed, if you are a deeply sensitive person, you will probably feel your complexity more acutely than if you are less sensitive or are deadening your sensitivity with distractions.
Karl Rahner once wrote to a friend who had written to him complaining that he wasn’t finding the fulfillment he longed for in life. His friend expressed disappointment with himself, his marriage and his job. Rahner gave him this counsel: In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we ultimately learn that in this life there is no finished symphony.
There can be no finished symphony in this life – not because our souls are defective, but because they carry godliness.

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

Lighting an Advent candle

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

In the days of apartheid in South Africa, Christians there used to light candles and place them in their windows as a sign to themselves and others that they believed that someday this injustice would end. A candle burning in a window was a sign of hope and a political statement. The government didn’t miss the message. It passed a law making it illegal to place a lit candle in a window, the offense being equal to owning a firearm; both were considered equally dangerous. This eventually became a joke among the kids: “Our government is afraid of lit candles!”

And well they should be! Lit candles, more than firearms, overthrew apartheid. Hope, not guns, is what ultimately transforms things. To light a candle as an act of hope is to say to yourself and to others that, despite anything that might be happening in the world, you are still nursing a vision of peace and unity that’s based upon something beyond the present state of things and upon deeper realities and powers than what the world admits. To light a candle is to state publicly that you believe that, at the end of the day, more than what you see on the evening news will shape the final outcome of things. There are other powers also at work. To light a candle is an act of political defiance and an act of hope.

What is hope?

First, it’s not wishful thinking. I can wish to win a lottery, but that wish, in itself, contains no real power to make it happen. Second, hope is not simply temperamental optimism, an upbeat temperament that always sees the bright side of things. An unwavering optimism about things can sometimes be helpful, but it’s no basis for hope; like wishful thinking it lacks the power to make its own dream come true. Finally, hope is not simply shrewd observation and common sense, a talent for sorting out the real from the fluff. Useful as this is, it’s still not hope. Why not?

Because hope doesn’t base itself upon a shrewd assessment of the empirical facts, but upon belief in a deeper set of realities: God’s existence, God’s power, God’s goodness and the promise that flows from that.

There’s a story told about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that helps illustrate this. Teilhard wasn’t much given to wishful thinking or even to an optimistic temperament; he tended rather toward a lonely realism. Yet he was a man of real hope. For example, on one occasion, after giving a conference where he laid out a vision within which ultimately unity and peace will be achieved on earth in a way that parallels the vision of scripture, he was challenged by some colleagues to this effect: “That’s a wonderful, idealistic vision of things, but suppose we blow up the world with a nuclear bomb, what happens to your vision then?” Teilhard replied, “that would set things back some millions of years, but this will still come to fruition, not because I say so or because the facts right now indicate that it will, but because God promised it and in the resurrection of Jesus has shown that He is powerful enough to deliver on that promise.”

Hope, as we can see from this, requires both faith and patience. It works like yeast, not like a microwave oven. Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, expresses this colorfully: “All politicians are alike,” he says, “they hold a finger up and check which way the wind is blowing and then make their decisions in that direction. That will never change, even if we change politicians. So, we must change the wind! That’s hope’s task – to change the wind!”

When we look at what has morally changed this world – from the great religious traditions coming out of deserts, caves, and catacombs and helping leaven whole cultures morally, to apartheid being overthrown in South Africa – we see that it has happened precisely when individuals and groups lit candles and hoped long enough until the wind changed.

We light Advent candles with just that in mind, accepting that changing the wind is a long process, that the evening news will not always be positive, the stock markets will not always rise, the most sophisticated defenses in the world will not always protect us from terrorism, and secular liberal and conservative ideologies will not rid this planet of selfishness.

However, we continue to light candles and hope anyway, not on the basis of a worsening or improving evening newscast, but because the deepest reality of all is that God exists, that the center holds, that there’s ultimately a gracious Lord who rules this universe, and this Lord is powerful enough to rearrange the atoms of the planet and raise dead bodies to new life. We light candles of hope because God, who is the ultimate power, has promised to establish a kingdom of love and peace on this earth and is gracious, forgiving and powerful enough to eventually make it happen.

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

The pew and the academy

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

I live on both sides of a border. Not a geographical one, but one that separates the church pew from the academic halls of theology.

I was raised a conservative Roman Catholic. Although my dad worked politically for the liberal party, most everything within my upbringing was conservative, particularly as this pertains to religion. I was a staunch Roman Catholic in most every way. I grew up under the papacy of Pius XII (and the fact that my youngest brother is named Pius will tell you how loyal our family was to that Pope’s version of things). We believed that Roman Catholicism was the one true religion and that Protestants and Evangelicals needed to convert and return to the true faith. I memorized the Roman Catholic catechism and defended its every word. Moreover, beyond being faithful churchgoers, my family was given over to piety and devotions: we prayed the rosary together as a family every day; had statues and holy pictures around our house; wore blessed medals around our necks; prayed litanies to Mary, Joseph and the Sacred Heart during certain months; and practiced a warm devotion to the saints. And it was wonderful. I will forever be grateful for that religious foundation.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

I went from my family home to the seminary at the tender age of seventeen and my early seminary years reinforced what my family had given me. The academics were good, and we were encouraged to read great thinkers in every discipline. But this higher learning was still set solidly within a Roman Catholic ethos that honored my religious and devotional background. My initial university studies were still friends with my piety. My mind was expanding, but my piety remained intact.

But home is where we start from. Gradually, through the years, my world has changed. Studying at various graduate schools, teaching on graduate faculties, being in daily contact with other expressions of the faith, reading contemporary novelists and thinkers, and having academic colleagues as cherished friends has, I confess, put some strain on the piety of my youth. Truth be told, we don’t often pray the rosary or litanies to Mary or the Sacred Heart in graduate classrooms or at faculty gatherings.

However academic classrooms and faculty gatherings bring something else, something vitally needed in church pews and in circles of piety, namely, a critical theological vision and principles to keep unbridled piety, naïve fundamentalism, and misguided religious fervor within proper boundaries. What I’ve learned in academic circles is also wonderful and I am forever grateful for the privilege of being in academic circles most of my adult life.

But, of course, that’s a formula for tension, albeit a healthy one. Let me use someone else’s voice to articulate this. In his book “Silence and Beauty,” Japanese American artist, Makoto Fujimura, shares this incident from his own life. Coming out of church one Sunday, he was asked by his pastor to add his name to a list of people who had agreed to boycott the film, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” He liked his pastor and wanted to please him by signing the petition, but felt hesitant to sign for reasons that, at that time, he couldn’t articulate. But his wife could. Before he could sign, she stepped in and said: “Artists may have other roles to play than to boycott this film.” He understood what she meant. He didn’t sign the petition.
But his decision left him pondering the tension between boycotting such a movie and his role as an artist. Here’s how he puts it: “An artist is often pulled in two directions. Religiously conservative people tend to see culture as suspect at best, and when cultural statements are made to transgress the normative reality they hold dear, their default reaction is to oppose and boycott. People in the more liberal artistic community see these transgressive steps as necessary for their ‘freedom of expression.’ An artist like me, who values both religion and art, will be exiled from both. I try to hold together both of these commitments, but it is a struggle.”

That’s also my struggle. The piety of my youth, of my parents, and of that rich branch of Catholicism is real and life-giving; but so too is the critical (sometimes unsettling) iconoclastic theology of the academy. The two desperately need each other; yet someone who is trying to be loyal to both can, like Fujimura, end up feeling exiled from both. Theologians also have other roles to play than boycotting movies.
The people whom I take as mentors in this area are men and women who, in my eyes, can do both: like Dorothy Day, who could be equally comfortable, leading the rosary or the peace march; like Jim Wallis, who can advocate just as passionately for radical social engagement as he can for personal intimacy with Jesus; and like Thomas Aquinas, whose intellect could intimidate intellectuals, even as he could pray with the piety of a child.

Circles of piety and the academy of theology are not enemies. They need to befriend each other.

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