RonRolheiser,OMI

What is Love Asking of Me Now?

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Several years ago, a colleague of mine suffered a crushing disappointment. Her instinctual temptation was towards anger, towards shutting a series of doors and withdrawing. Instead, wounded in spirit, she asked herself the question, what is love asking of me now? In answering that, she found that despite her every instinct to the contrary, love was asking her to move away from bitterness and withdrawal, asking her to stretch her heart in ways it had never been stretched before.

What is love asking of me now? That is the question we need to ask ourselves every time the circumstances of our lives are shaken (by wound or by grace) to a point where we no longer want to respond graciously and lovingly because everything inside of us wants to shut down and withdraw.

Thus …

  • When I have just been through a bitter divorce, when I feel my heart hardening and  find myself growing hateful towards someone I once trusted, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When I have lost a loved one to suicide, not just to death but to a manner of death that becomes a prism that recolors every memory of that person so that my love turns to anger, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When a colleague humiliates me at a meeting with insinuations that are untrue and my blood literally boils at the unfairness, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When my own child rejects my faith and values, complete with the hint that I am naïve and out of step with the world and my temptation is to self-pity and (however subtle) to withdraw my love and support, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When a medical diagnosis reveals that my health will be forever compromised and every fiber in my body and spirit wants to sink into anger and depression, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When the church that is my mother-tongue, that gave me the faith, is found to be unfair, to be the bearer of sin, when I see its flaws and am left to ponder the question of how I can stay in a church with that history and those dysfunctions, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When I am betrayed in a relationship, lied to by someone I trusted, when I am tempted in bitterness never to trust anyone again, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When I myself betray a trust, when out of weakness I sin, when I want to wallow in self-hatred or rationalize or deny my weakness, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When an election in the country produces a leader whose personality and policies go against everything I stand for, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When the parochial world I grew up in begins to give way to a multilingual, multicultural, multiracial, and multi-religious world that leaves me feeling left behind, when paranoia and defensiveness have me desperately trying to hang on to what once was, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When I live with someone in my family who is dysfunctional and my every desire is to avoid him and live my own life, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When I have to deal daily with someone who hates me and everything inside me wants to respond in kind, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now.

However, it is not only negative things that upset us in this way, tempt us towards hatred and withdrawal, and leave us in a space that forces us to respond in a new way, huge grace can do the same thing.

Thus …

  • When I finally get that long longed-for promotion, complete with the big salary and a voice in decision-making and the temptation is to inflate and feel superior to those around me, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When I am invited to be the valedictorian for my graduating class and am on the podium basking in the adulation of the crowd (aware of the jealousy of my classmates) multiple temptations will beset me, most of them unhealthy. The question then becomes, what is love asking of me now?
  • When someone blesses me in a deep way with love, gratitude, and affirmation and my temptation is to feed my ego with that blessing, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?

We cannot protect ourselves against the spontaneous feelings that beset us, both when things go well and when they go badly – and most of those feelings tempt us away from love. So, whenever either a depression or an inflation is tempting us away from what is best and most noble, the question becomes, what is love asking of me now?

A Eucharistic Prayer

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As a seminarian, I was privileged one summer to take a course from the renowned liturgist, Godfrey Diekmann. This was back in those heady days shortly after Vatican II when it was very much in fashion to frown on prescribed ritual prayers and write your own. This was particularly true for the Eucharist Prayer, the “Canon” of the mass, which a number of priests began writing for themselves. Diekmann, it turned out, was not a great fan of this. Asked about it in class one day, he said, “It seems today that everyone who has a tiny bit of imagination and even less theology feels obliged to write a Eucharistic Prayer.”

Because of the Covid restrictions this year, I have often celebrated some form of the Eucharist virtually. At first, leading those services, my thought was, what’s the value of a Eucharistic prayer if there is to be no communion? Therefore, I simply jumped from the Liturgy of the Word straight to the Lord’s Prayer. Eventually though I deemed that something more might be offered. Thus (with Godfrey Diekmann’s words now forty years distant) I wrote a Eucharistic Prayer for a virtual mass.

What is a Eucharistic Prayer? Most people would say it’s that part of the Eucharist where the priest consecrates the bread and wine, but that’s only part of it. The Eucharistic Prayer is that part of the Eucharist where we make memorial (Zikkaron, in Hebrew) of the major event by which Christ saved us, in order to make that event present for us to participate in today.  We come to the Eucharist not just to receive the body and blood of Christ, but (just as importantly) to participate in an event, namely, the saving action of Christ as he undergoes his Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost. The Eucharist is the Christian Passover Supper and, like the Jewish Passover Supper, its purpose is to make a past event present to us.

How does this work? We don’t have a metaphysics within which to understand this. In sacred ritual, in the Eucharist, as in a Passover supper, something happens that transcends time. This doesn’t contradict the intellect, the imagination, or the laws of nature; it only takes them beyond their normal limits.

Here’s a Eucharistic Prayer for those times when there is no bread and wine to be consecrated.

Lord, God, you break into our lives in extraordinary ways to manifest your love and save us.

For your chosen people you miraculously parted the waters of Red Sea and led them to safety by suspending the laws of nature. Then, in the desert, you miraculously fed them with manna and revealed to them the law within your heart.

Since only one generation walked through the parted waters of the Red Sea and only that generation ate your manna in the desert, You, Lord God, instituted the Passover supper as a ritual through which every generation until the end time could walk through the parted waters of the Red Sea and eat your bread in the desert. The Passover supper calls these saving events to mind in a way that, in your timelessness, makes them real again for us today.

This is true too for the saving actions of your son, Jesus Christ. His Passion was a new bondage; his trust in Death a new faith; your raising of him in the Resurrection and his Ascension a new Exodus; and his sending of the Spirit at Pentecost a new entry into the Promised Land.

Therefore, Lord God, on the night before he died, your son left us the Eucharist as a Passover Supper through which you make these saving events present again.

We ask you, therefore, to send your Spirit upon all of us gathered here to make memorial of your Son’s saving acts. Grant that through this ritual remembrance each of us, and all of us as one community, may be united with Christ in his Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and in his Sending of the Spirit. You who are beyond time, grant us today the grace of being one with Christ in his sacrifice, one with him in his dying and rising.

As we celebrate this memorial, help us know that we are one with Your Son, our Lord, Jesus, united with him as he is undergoing his Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost.

Lord, God, help us to know that the food of this Eucharist is the new manna by which You feed your people with heavenly food.

Lord, as we make this memorial, above all we ask you to help us break down everything that separates us from each other, all division in our world, so that You may be able to feed us all at one table, as one family, as one God of us all.

We pray all of this through, with, and in your son, Christ, our Lord … AMEN.

In the Eucharist, we don’t just eat the bread of life, we also die and rise with Christ.

More Than a House or a Place

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Home is more than a house or a place on a map. It’s a place in the heart, the place where you most want to be at the end of the day. The metaphorical idea of home can help us sort out many things, not least how sex connects to love.

Sex can never be simply casual, purely recreational, something which does not touch the soul. Sex always touches the soul, for good or for bad. It’s either sacramental or harmful. It’s either building up the soul or tearing it apart. When it’s right, it’s making you a better person and when it’s wrong, it’s making you less of a person. Metaphorically, when it’s right, it’s taking you home; when it’s not, it’s taking you away from home. Sex is designed by God and nature to take you home. Indeed, it’s meant (metaphorically) to be your home. If you are going home after sex, something is very wrong. This is not, first of all, a moral judgment, but an anthropological one on behalf of the soul.

The soul, as we know, is not some invisible spiritual tissue floating inside our bodies. A soul cannot be pictured imaginatively, but it can be grasped as a principle.  As we see in the insights of philosophers like Aristotle and Aquinas, the soul is a double principle inside us. It’s the principle of life (of all our energies) and it’s the principle of integration (what holds us together). This may sound abstract, but it’s not. If you have ever been present with someone who is dying, you know the exact moment when the soul leaves the body. Not because you see some spirit float up from the body, but because one minute the body is alive, an organism, and the next minute it is inert, lifeless, dead, and beginning to decompose. The soul keeps us alive and the soul keeps us glued together.

If this is true, and it is, then anything meaningful we do, anything that touches us at any depth, affects our soul, both its fire and its glue, either weakening them or strengthening them. Sex is no exception. Indeed, it’s the preeminent example. Sex is powerful and that’s why it can never be simply casual. It is either building up the soul or tearing it down. 

Thirty years ago, teaching a night course at a college campus, I assigned my class a book of essays by Christopher de Vinck, Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them – Precious Memories for a Faithless Time. These essays are simple reflections by the author on his life as a young husband and father. They are warm, not unduly romantic, aesthetically crafted, and devoid of sentimentality. They make a strong case for marriage, not by making any apologetic arguments in its favor, but simply by sharing how marriage can make for a home, a calm place of mutual solitude that can take us beyond that overpowering restless search that besets us at puberty and drives us away from parents’ home in search of our own home. Marriage and the marriage bed can bring us home again.

At the end of the semester, a student in the course, a woman in her late twenties, came into my office to drop off her term paper. She was carrying de Vinck’s book and she shared this: This is the best book I’ve ever read. I grew up without a lot of religious or ethical guidance and I have slept my way through a couple of Canadian provinces; but now I know what I really want. I want what this man has! I want the marriage bed. I want my sex to take me home, to become home. Her insight merits repeating, not least today in a culture where sex is often divorced from marriage and home.

Earlier in my teaching and ministry, when I was still working more with young people who were sorting out what love means and who they might choose to marry and try to spend their lives with, the question often arose: how to does one recognize the kind of love on which you can build a marriage? It is a crucial question because love is not an easy thing to read or gauge. We can, and do, fall in love with all kinds of people, often with people who are all wrong for us, people we can enjoyably flirt with or have a honeymoon with, but with whom we could not share the rest of our lives.

What kind of love can you build a marriage on? It needs to be the kind of love that takes you home. You need a strong sense that with this other person you are at home because a marriage is quite different from a honeymoon. You go home from a honeymoon. In marriage, you are at home.

So too with sex. It’s meant to be something that takes you home and is your home rather than something from which you go home.