Look to Fr. Rolheiser


It’s time again for a special service to our readers.
A question: are you reading Father Ron Rolheiser’s column on this page? Reading it faithfully, carefully every week?
He writes for adults and pre-adults who desire a mature, thoughtful Catholic mind. As a consequence, reading him makes you think, often in surprising ways. His is comfort food for the inquiring spirit as it challenges the settled spirit.
Isn’t that a necessity if we really mean it when we say “I believe in God?”
Every now and then in this space we direct your attention to Fr. Rolheiser’s work. His column in the March 15 issue seemed like a call to do that again.
It was about ways we are all “consecrated” for service toward the reign of God. That word, consecrated, means something taken out of the ordinary in life and set into a special orbit. We are trained as religious people to understand that it applies to priests and churches. Fr. Rolheiser points out that it is not limited in that way. It can happen to any of us — and might happen at any moment, such as a sudden accident with injuries in front of us requiring our response.
Do we go around the injured people and on with our business, not stopping to offer help? Or do we accept this consecration for service as needed? It requires that we give up a certain kind of freedom. We have, in a sense, been drafted for the emergency in the same way God drafted Moses to lead his people to greater freedom.
Not that Moses looked like or felt like a great leader. He got the call because he was a witness to the suffering of the people. That was what consecrated him, set him apart for special work: he had simply seen a need, and the seeing took him out of his old self.
Fr. Rolheiser is no genius for making this point. We all know it instinctively. Being witness to a need is the same as being drawn into its relief. We feel that something must be done. That’s why we look away and pretend ignorance if a situation appears dangerous.
What Fr. Rolheiser does is take what we instinctively know and give it meaning we can use for growing spiritually. Most of us will do what we can in response to an accident. It just seems like ordinary human decency. Now we understand our behavior in a new way; as tied in with all that is holy and part of the salvation of the world.
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One of Fr. Rolheiser’s distinctive contributions as a spiritual guide is his notion of “carrying tension.” It is related to the principle of balance in life. There is so much to desire, so many goods, so little time, so many conflicting pressures. The constant temptation is to simplify by cutting the tension, forgetting balance, and just adopting one side. Go with the flow, for example, in matters of sex. If everyone is doing it, or at least it seems that way, it can’t be all bad.
When the world to a teenager looks like a free-wheeling sexual exploratorium, how is that child helped to see differently? When the American bishops met with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome earlier this month, they heard him ask for a fresh effort to help our children see sex differently.
Pope Benedict wants the kids to gain a “Christian understanding of sexuality as a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfillment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love.”
It will take wise and gentle teaching to carry out that vision, along with a much more consistent healthy example in our families to move toward that goal. Without models, children don’t learn moral lessons that stick.
They need to see people in their lives who carry the tensions of sexuality in a healthy way: people who are friendly and outgoing while also modest in language and appearance; people who play with abandon but respect the vulnerabilities of others; people whose hearts are always open while their brains are always engaged to direct interest and passion in appropriate ways.
The wisdom found in Fr. Rolheiser’s writing is a ready resource for helping all of us to be the models America’s children need. So, read him regularly, carefully. Make that part of your consecrated life.

Frank Wessling

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