By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
If you dream your dream alone, you may make a splash but you will not make a real difference in peoples’ lives Father Ron Rolheiser told Saint Paul University (SPU) graduates Apr. 13 after receiving an honorary doctorate.
After accepting the award, the popular author, speaker and columnist told SPU graduates to dream in community if they want to make a real difference in peoples’ lives. He told the story of the founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Eugene de Mazenod, who dreamed of serving the poor.
Father Rolheiser said de Mazenod fell ill and realized that if he died, his dream would die with him. So when he recovered, he founded a community, which then sent missionaries around the world.
Since Oblates founded Saint Paul University, Rolheiser said he wished to leave the students with a message from the Oblate charism and quoted from a document: “What we dream alone remains a dream; what we dream with others can become a reality.”
He urged people to gather in community to watch the news together, rather than sitting alone and feeling helpless at the poverty and violence we see. A Church that watched the news together all over the world could change the world, he said.
President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, Rolheiser is among the world’s most popular writers on contemporary spirituality, with nine books and a syndicated column that appears weekly in more than 60 newspapers.
On Apr. 12, Rolheiser gave a talk to the wider community on how to navigate the ten undercurrents affecting Church life and spirituality in the western world.
The first is the struggle “with the atheism of our everyday consciousness” to be a mystic rather than an unbeliever. He described secularism as a “powerful narcotic.”
“God is dead in our ordinary consciousness,” he said. He is dead in the malls, in the fields where kids play, in the workplaces. He warned the God who has died in the marketplace will eventually die in the churches as well.
“We go to churches striving to crank up a relationship with God,” he said, noting that theologian Karl Rahner predicted future generations would either be mystics or unbelievers. “What he meant was we would have to be more inner-directed and connected to our faith than ever before.”
Rolheiser noted that when he was growing up in Saskatchewan everyone went to church. “You had to be a deviant not to go to church.” Today, you’re a deviant if you go to Church he said.
The second is the struggle to be a peacemaker rather than to respond in kind while living in divided and deeply polarized communities, he said. The world is deeply polarized, he said, noting the conflicts with Islam dwarf that of the Cold War.
Even inside churches there is a form of emotional apartheid. He said he can see it at conferences where the Vatican II priests sit in one section, the John Paul II priests in another, each group holding different notions of ecclesiology. How do we as wounded people live in these tensions without resentment? he asked.
The third is the struggle to be a person of true compassion, rising above ideologies---to be neither liberal nor conservative, but authentic. We inhale ideologies and that makes it hard for us to achieve sincerity, he said.
The fourth is the struggle to “put chastity together with passion,” to find a health balance that does not dip into frigidity or irresponsibility. In the Church, we have to be “healthily and robustly chaste,” but Father Rolheiser noted “we don’t have a healthy robust theology of sexuality.”
The highly sexualized culture that even has babies wearing t-shirts that say “My Mommy’s hot!” has caused an opposite reaction in Islam, Evangelicalism and some Catholic circles, he said.
The fifth is the struggle to gain interiority and a deep prayer life inside the explosion of information technology, he said. That explosion is “robbing us of what little interiority we have left,” he said.
The sixth is the struggle to overcome both personal grandiosity and its opposite dejection to find a balance between elation and despair, he said. In seminary, professors taught us how to do ministry, but they did not prepare us for “what ministry was going to do to us,” he said, noting the importance of receiving praise or criticism with equanimity.
The seventh is the struggle to maintain an attitude of compassion and regard for truth while tempted to fear or paranoia, he said. “We’re letting our need for security trump truth and compassion.” Every religion around the world is experiencing a “powerful re-entrenchment,” he said. Groups are defining themselves by what they are against.
The eighth is “the struggle with moral loneliness” or the sense that we are “deeply alone in what’s most important” to us, he said. He told the story of a young man who was dying, surrounded by loved ones who stood watch, holding his hand. But the young man, knowing he was loved, still felt deeply alone on his journey.
The ninth is the struggle to take our belief in justice to the streets where we can “get a proper letter of reference from the poor,” about our compassion for them, he said. The Catholic Church had once institutionalized its concern for the poor through building hospitals and schools but “now government does a lot of that.” The challenge becomes how one addresses issues of justice, ecology, gender and ethnicity, he said. “Islam is the single most important item facing the Church whether we want it or not,” he said.
The struggle is to “get ourselves out onto the street,” where we can make a difference, he said. Everyone should seek a “letter of reference” from the poor.
The tenth is the struggle for community and church, to find a healthy balance with our individuality. “Christ came to set us free,” he said. “The problem comes in re-directing that into family and community,” he said.
Parishes are no longer neighborhood communities, he said. “People treat churches like family: we want you around, but not much. Not every Sunday, but Christmas and Easter.”
People saying, “I’m spiritual but I don’t go to church,” is similar to saying, “I love my family but I don’t go home a lot,” he said.