Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Catholic Conference 2005: ‘Hope is based on the promise of God’

by Bonita Lawhead, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 20, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Ronald Rolheiser paid a visit to the Spokane Diocese last month, filling his schedule with several appearances before various groups.

He spent Sept. 22 with the diocese’s priests during their presbyteral assembly in Sandpoint, Idaho; he addressed a session in the “Catholicism for a New Millennium” series at St. Aloysius Church Sept. 24; and he spent the day of Sept. 25 at the annual Catholic Conference, giving two major addresses and one workshop.

With registrations this year at almost 200, Catholics from throughout Eastern Washington gathered for the day-long Catholic Conference at Gonzaga Prep. The annual event featured a wide variety of speakers and workshops from 10 different presenters, addressing several topics pertinent to Church life.

The day began with a bi-lingual prayer service, led by Bishop William Skylstad.

Father Rolheiser was certainly one of the attractions for this year’s event.

The popular author-lecturer is currently president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. He writes a regular column on spirituality, used internationally by a number of Catholic publications, including the Inland Register.

Theme of this year’s Catholic Conference was “Blessed and Broken: Bearers of Hope in a Changing World.” Father Rolheiser addressed the theme in the opening session by describing the changing world in which we live, and by defining hope.

He presented “some commandments for the long haul,” to enable Christians to become bearers of hope.

Father Rolheiser quoted Mary Jo Leddy in his first address: “We are both better and worse than we think.” Said Father Rolheiser, “Yes, and the world (is that way), too. It’s a very mixed, mixed world,” he said. “We live in a culture with powerful goodness and strong weaknesses.”

Father Rolheiser gave examples of both.

The moral strengths are “an ever-growing compassion, ever-growing tolerance, an increasing sensitivity to the earth, abhorrence for war, and a growing sensitivity to racism, sexism, and spirituality.” The moral weaknesses as listed by Father Rolheiser were what one might expect in this area: “struggles with fidelity and commitment; with building community; with shallowness and distraction; with greed, which is now sanctioned; with self-centeredness and individuality.”

“The heart is in trouble,” he said.

How do we bring hope to such a world? Father Rolheiser suggested five ways:

• Love the world and bless what’s good in it – and there is good in it.
• At the same time, as we love the world, we need to challenge it from our own suffering and that of others, from “the place where the cross of Christ is being forever erected.”
• Live in hope and in fidelity, not in wishful thinking. “Hope is not optimism,” said Father Rolheiser. “Hope is based on the promise of God and faith in the resurrection; of enduring to the very end; hope is changing the wind.”
• Pray. Participate in liturgical prayer; pray affectively for yourself and your loved ones; and pray “in the midst of flames, as did the three young men in the book of Daniel,” offering ourselves as sacrifices to justice. We are to pray beyond our individual neuroses and obsessions, using the example of Jesus in the Gospels: “Get thee behind me, Satan.”
• Finally, respond to the invitation given to the rich young man in the Gospel, who was told to sell what he had to give to the poor and then follow Jesus.

In his afternoon session, Father Rolheiser presented an in-depth look at “pondering,” which is another way to be bearers of hope.

“Pondering” is more than thinking deep thoughts. In the Hebrew sense of the term, Father Rolheiser said “pondering” means “holding, carrying, and transforming tension so as not to give it back in kind, knowing that whatever we don’t transform, we will transmit.”

An example of this kind of pondering in Scripture is Mary at the foot of the cross. “What is she doing there?” he asked. “Nothing. She is standing in solidarity with pain. There is no overt protest; she is standing as strength. Mary is the prototype of the best disciple.”

Mary “is the only one who heard the word of God and kept it in her heart,” a perfect description of pondering.

He further explained that “pondering” is the opposite of amazement. “Amazement is like an electrical wire. The current flows through it, coming out the same as it went in. While this is good, it is no more than a simple conduit for either virtue or crucifixion. Ponder-ing is more like a water purifier, in which the water comes out cleaner and purer than it went in.”

Jesus, too, “takes amazement and pondering to a central point” of his teaching, Father Rolheiser said, in these words: ‘Unless your virtue goes deeper than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. ‘The Scribes and Pharisees’ virtue was amazement.”

How can it go deeper? The answer lies in pondering, by following the Ten Commandments, doing justice, and loving those who hate, curse, and treat others unfairly. “We transform (their actions) by our pondering, changing the hatred and injustice to love.”

Jesus’ death and rising was a supreme example of pondering and transformation. “The crucifixion is the single most revolutionary moral event that ever happened, and even 2,000 years later, we don’t quite understand it.”

Father Rolheiser also explained that there are cautions for those who would ponder.

First, the tension carried within may need to “be downloaded and dumped to get it out.” Also, “we don’t absorb abuse in the name of pondering and love. This can enable the sin.”

Then we need to know when we are ready for pondering and when we aren’t. “This needs maturity and discernment,” he said.

A third caution is that our own inner sense of injustice and outrage at being wronged can make pondering difficult. The very human “obsessional neurosis” of needing to speak our piece trips up many people.

Finally, giving up our need to be right is also a stumbling block.

Prayer is essential and Father Rolheiser gave a couple of examples from Scripture: Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles, who turned his eyes to heaven when he was being stoned, signifying that there is a life beyond this life; and the three young men in the Book of Daniel, who sang sacred songs as they walked about in the flames. Christians need to fix their focus beyond, to get beyond their faults and failings, again with the example of Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan.”

When we ponder, Father Rolheiser said, “we should imitate Jesus who said, ‘No one takes my life from me. I give it freely.’ Sometimes we have to do a thing, for God, country, family. Let’s give it over freely. When we carry a cross, we shouldn’t send a bill for it.”

Father Rolheiser spent time after lunch signing copies of his books, including the latest, As Forgotten as the Lilies, as well as works written earlier, such as The Holy Longing. He said he is currently working on a book about spirituality for the second half of life.

Father Rolheiser answered questions from the audience during a morning workshop at the conference. Some of the topics:

• Prayer. The kind of prayer used to become bearers of hope is not important. Father Rolheiser said there is only rule: “Show up; just show up. Our relationship with God is in being together.”
• Sexuality: “There is a sexual fracturing and a sexual sadness in young people today. We need more courage to talk about it. Sexuality is an issue in 80 to 90 percent of teen suicides.”
• Tension between Catholics on various issues: “Tension is necessary for growth, but being true to oneself is difficult. It seems we no longer have the capacity to talk to those who share different views. There is good will and sincerity on both sides...there is no ‘we’ and ‘them,’ only us.”
• Using the phrase, “if it’s your will, O God,” in our prayer: “Jesus doesn’t teach that. What he teaches is, if you want it, ask for it. It should be ‘Your will be changed, O God.’ We seem to have to fight with God sometimes. But we must put action to our prayer. If we pray for peace, we must work for peace.”

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