Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lead a Peace March, Lead the Rosary

John Allen, the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, focused his column last Friday on the Paulist Fathers' recent 150th Anniversary convocation in Washington, D.C.

Allen reports the on-target advice that Father Ron Rolheiser, O.M.I., gave to the Paulists.

It's a much-need call to move beyond intra-Church divisions:

... Rolheiser’s presentation to the Paulists was devoted to what he called “setting our ecclesial gauges” correctly in the new century now dawning. Specifically, he offered a list of “Ten Commandments” for Catholic life today, with a bit of commentary on each.

(1) Be Beyond Ideology

Rolheiser urged his audience to position themselves “beyond liberal, beyond conservative” -- in other words, to “have an unlisted number” with respect to the ideological infighting in Catholicism that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Instead, Rolheiser advised being “women and men of faith and compassion,” going wherever those instincts may lead.

In that regard, Rolheiser noted the irony that two of the most popular, and most controversial, movies of 2004 were both from filmmakers with a Catholic background: Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” It’s remarkable, Rolheiser said, that Catholicism can contain both of these ways of seeing the world, “though not often in the same person.”

Setting one’s gauges correctly, Rolheiser suggested, involves being able to see both the wisdom and the defects of each of the Catholic sensibilities expressed in those two movies -- and many others beyond them.

(2) Incarnate both the Kenotic and the Triumphant Christ

The “kenotic” Christ, Rolheiser explained, is the Christ of humility and suffering (from the Greek word kenosis, for “emptiness”), while the triumphant Christ is the Christ of glory. The contrast between these two images, he said, forms “one of the great archetypal tensions in the church today.”

Christians often appear divided between these two poles, Rolheiser said, as if it’s a matter of choosing one or the other. Instead, he said, Christian life needs both.

“Don’t be afraid to be everything,” he counseled, “and don’t be afraid to be nothing.”

(3) Be for the Marginalized without being Marginalized Yourself

Sometimes, Rolheiser said, Christians who emphasize service to those on the margins -- the poor, those alienated from the church, and so on -- tend to end up marginalized themselves, stressing the need to “speak truth to power” to such an extent that they drift out of the mainstream.

In the end, he argued, doing so undercuts the effectiveness of one’s ministry. The trick, he suggested, is to be an effective voice for the margins but from the heart of one’s own community.

(4) Be Leaders without being Elitist

Rolheiser said leadership is badly needed in today’s world, and Christians with a clear vision shouldn’t be afraid to strike out in bold new directions. At the same time, however, he suggested it’s important not to lose contact with the grass roots.

“Be led by the artists, but listen to the street,” he advised.

Later, a member of the audience asked Rolheiser how to strike the right balance. His advice was rather than seeking to construct abstract theories about leadership, the best thing to do is to observe effective leaders in action. In virtually every case, he said, you’ll see a deft combination of personal vision and yet deep sensitivity to the rhythms and perspectives of the community.

(5) Be Iconoclastic and Pious at the Same Time

Rolheiser quoted the great German scripture scholar Ernst Kasemann to the effect that the problem with modern Christianity is that, “the liberals are impious, and the pious aren’t liberal.” The trick, Rolheiser said, is having the capacity both to “smash idols” and to “kneel in reverence,” depending upon what the moment demands.

“It’s the two together that make the great heart,” Rolheiser said.

(6) Be Equally Committed to Social Justice and Intimacy with Jesus

A balanced Catholic, Rolheiser argued, should be ready both “to lead a peace march and to lead the rosary.” As an example, Rolheiser offered Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Too often, Rolheiser suggested, Catholics tend to choose between social activism and a deep spiritual life, when in fact the two belong together.

(7) Be Thoroughly in the World, even as You are Rooted Elsewhere

Quoting the life of a saint Rolheiser said he’d once come across, he called upon his audience to accept a life of “tortured complexity.” In part, he said, this means a thorough immersion in modern culture, and yet a capacity to allow one’s deepest sense of belonging and identity to be shaped by sources outside that culture.

(8) Ponder as Mary Did

Another way of putting this bit of counsel, Rolheiser said, is to “eat the tension that’s around you.”

Rolheiser warned that sometimes the Mary of popular Catholic devotion threatens to obscure the Mary of Scripture. He noted that Mary is the only figure in the New Testament described as “pondering” the words and deeds of Christ; typically, his disciples and the crowds are said to have been “amazed.”

“Amazement,” Rolheiser said, is akin to an electrical current -- all it does is transmit energy. “Ponder,” on the other hand, he compared to a water purifier. It “carries, holds and transforms” what enters it, so that it comes out more pure.

At the foot of the cross, Rolheiser said, Mary wasn’t simply “amazed” by the suffering of her son, a response that might have led to a lust for vengeance. Instead, she “pondered” it, so that hate was transformed into grace and love.

“We need ponderers at every level of the church,” Rolheiser said.

(9) Incarnate a Deeper Maturity

One of the modern world’s most urgent needs, Rolhesier said, is for models of responsible freedom. Christians should never seek to limit human freedom, he argued, but they also understand that real freedom does not mean license to do anything at all. Christians today ought to be “pioneers” in illustrating a life of true freedom.

Applying the point to Catholicism, Rolheiser noted the irony that questions of Catholic identity somehow seemed less pressing in North America in an age in which most Catholics were poor, immigrants, and living in various forms of a socio-ethnic ghetto -- in other words, in a world in which their freedom often chafed under both de jure and de facto restraints.

What we seem to be less clear about, he said, is how to be solidly Catholic in a world in which we’re “affluent, educated, and culturally mainstream.”

(10) “Make Love to the Song”

Quoting a friend in a rock band, Rolheiser said that real artistry is not about trying to inflate oneself, or even to appeal to the audience. Art begins, he said, when everything else falls away and the focus is exclusively on the song.

“That’s ultimately what ministry is,” Rolheiser said. If ministers are caught up either in trying to impress others with their skills, or playing to the sensitivities of their audiences, they have not yet “got it.”

The trick, Rolheiser said, is to become so caught up in the ministry that doing it well, according to its own inner logic, becomes an end in itself. Once that happens, he said, everything else will usually take care of itself.

Hat-tip: Gashwin

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