Thursday, August 30, 2007

In the Garden of Spirituality: Ron Rolheiser


“We are not on earth to guard a museum,

but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

- Pope John XXIII

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on spirituality continues with an excerpt from an essay by author and theologian Ron Rolheiser – whom I had the honor of recently sharing a meal with and hearing speak at St. Martin’s Table in Minneapolis.

This particular essay is entitled “A Heart with One Room,” and explores the “fundamentalist heart” – a way of being that Rolheiser contends is anti-Catholic, as true Catholicism “speaks of a comprehensive embrace.”

According to Rolheiser, “the opposite of Catholic is not Protestant,” but rather “narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.”

Following is an excerpt from Fr. Rolheiser’s essay, “A Heart with One Room.”


Our age is witnessing an erosion of Catholicism. The consequence of this, besides our drab somberness, is a polarization which, both in the world and in the church, is rendering us incapable of working together against the problems which threaten us all. Let me explain.

We are, I submit, becoming ever less Catholic. What is implied here? What is slipping? What does it mean to be Catholic?

The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant. All Christians, Protestants or Roman Catholics, characterize their faith as Catholic – as well as one, holy and apostolic.

The word Catholic means universal, wide. It speaks of a comprehensive embrace. Its opposite, therefore, is narrowness, pettiness, lack of openness, sectarianism, provincialism, factionalism, fundamentalism and ideology.

To my mind, the best definition of the word Catholic comes from Jesus himself, who tells us: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2).

In speaking of the Father’s house, Jesus is not pointing to a mansion in the sky, but to God’s heart. God’s heart has many rooms. It can embrace everything. It is wide, unpetty, open and antithetical to all that is factional, fundamentalistic and ideological. It is a heart that does not divide things up according to ours and theirs.

Nikos Kazantzakis wrote: “The bosom of God is not a ghetto.” That is another way of saying that God has a Catholic heart.

To affirm this, however, is not to say that, since God is open to all and embraces all, nothing makes any difference; we may do as we like, all morality is relative, all beliefs are equal, and nobody may lay claim to truth.

There is a false concept of openness which affirms that to embrace all means to render all equal. Jesus belies this. He affirms the universal embrace of God’s heart without affirming, as a consequence, that everything is OK. His Father loves everyone, even as he discriminates between right and wrong.

Catholicism can be spoken of as slipping, in that, unlike God’s heart, more and more it seems, our hearts have just one room.

Today we are seeing a creeping narrowness and intolerance. Fundamentalism, with its many types of ideology, has infected us. This is as true in the secular world as in the church. Fundamentalism and the narrowness and consequent polarization it spawns are everywhere. But this needs to be understood.

We tend to think of fundamentalism as a conservative view which takes Scripture so literally as to be unable to relate to the world in a realistic way. But that is just one, and a very small, kind of fundamentalism. We see fundamentalism wherever we see a heart with just one room.

The characteristic of all fundamentalism is that, precisely, it seizes onto some fundamental value, for example the wisdom of the past, the divine inspiration of Scripture or the importance of justice and equality, and makes that the sole criterion for judging goodness and authenticity.

In that sense, the fundamentalist’s heart has just one room – a conservative, liberal, biblical, charismatic, feminist, anti-feminist, social justice, anti-abortion or pro-choice room. It judges you as good, acceptable, decent, sincere, Christian, loving and worth listening to only if you are in that room. If you are not ideologically committed to that fundamental, complete with all the prescribed rhetoric and accepted indignations, then you are judged as insincere or ignorant, and in need of either conversion or of having your consciousness raised.

In the end, all fundamentalism is ideology and all ideology is fundamentalism - and both are a heart with one room, a bosom that is a ghetto.

That is the real un-Catholicism.

Excerpted from “A Heart with One Room,” an essay in Ron Rolheiser’s book, Forgotten Among the Lilies (Image Books, 2007).

Recommended Off-site Link:
Ron Rolheiser’s Official Website

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Stumbling Block of Fundamentalism
Praying for George W. Bush
In the Garden of Spirituality: Zainab Salbi
In the Garden of Spirituality: Daniel Helminiak
In the Garden of Spirituality: Rod Cameron
In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Chittister
In the Garden of Spirituality: Toby Johnson
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Timmerman
In the Garden of Spirituality: Uta Ranke-Heinemanm
In the Garden of Spirituality: Caroline Jones

Image: Michael J. Bayly.


Anonymous said...

I thought you went Calvinist on me. Since when did "catholic" mean "universal?" Luther and Calvin sure thought so, and look at their sense of "universal."

The benchmark of catholic is the Vicentian Canon, authored by Vincent of Lerins around 434, and held as paradigmatic through J. H. Newman.

Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.

{That which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.)

By this Canon's standard, "universal" is so impoverished, it could and does mean little.

At least Newman discerned a difficulty with this axiom, which he never questions as the true and only force that counts. How does one in the 19th C. proclaim the immaculate concepetion, when even Thomas Aquinas and other rejceted its utter improbability?

In "On Consulting the Faithful," Newman believes he may have the answer. sensus fidelium Lo, and behold, even Vatican II captured it -- briefly, and then lost it. And of all the unlikely places for it to appear, was on the Sacred Liturgy. If anything has not met the test of the Vicentian Canon. But here's the text that uses it:

"there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinley and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some manner grow organically from forms already existing" (SC, 1963, III.A. 23.)

This brilliant adaptation of the Canon through the lens of "development," that Newman worked tirelessly to reconcile, recognized that only "organic growth" from the existent could possibly be entertained.

Well, primus inteer pares [first among equals] of antiquity would never have sanctioned papal supremacy, infallibility, much less a Marion dogma that merely fed the superstitious. Now, the church's canon law regards the bishop of Rome not merely as the "first among equals," he's the supreme pastor. That a pope of his curia would be so insecure as to demand that pope become "supreme?" Certainly JPII and RRI may hold themselves out as "supreme." But only another fanatic would not question it?

It's one thing for faith, practice, and morals, not to mention, understanding and enlightenment to develop organically from what proceeded.

But, how can the such basic biblical texts, Didache, Ignatius, Justin, Tertullian say X, and then 20 centuries later say NOT-X? That is NOT development; it's outright contradiction. Homoerotic love has never been sanctioned or approved by the church. Abortion likewise. Papal supremacy, up to 1860s.

I'm not interested in the dogmatic truths and falsity, but rather how a "process" makes Tertullian's "absurdity" seem tamed in contrast.

If any one thing has been consistent since the Judo-Christo-Islamic nexus, we might easily marginalize Saint Paul of John of Patmos, for their own oddities, as just a tribal people asserting their will.

But what NO ONE can expunge is the contempt for all (i) gays, (ii) abortion, and (iii) patricide. Frankly that Jesus' last meal was with all men obviously excludes all the ladies, we can all rewrite differently, more appropriate to more modern sensibilites.

But NONE of the Tribal religions, notwithstanding all the gay efforts to "remake," can only "break." Putting a womyn in the back to learn to get salvation through THEIR bearing men, in which, cut their penises.

Civilization can and does develop. Newman, one of the most civilized men of the 19th century, make that chorus resound. But it can never negate its own history, texts, beliefs, without reverting into a complete FARCE.

ALWAYS, EVERYWHERE, by ALL, does not leave a lot of room for change, much less development by Organic growth. This very problem caused Newman to have a crisis. When ALWAYS, EVERYWHERE, and BY ALL has discovered gay hate, The Oxford Apostles, fled into the wilderness. How does one bring out homoerotic love from antiquity? Which is, was, and remains that Hebraism will never remake Christianity into the law of love.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hey, thanks so much, Gay Species, for your great comment. I appreciate your perspective and am honored that you are a regular visitor and contributor to The Wild Reed.

Now, about that well-known formula of Vincent of Lérins (often referred to as the “Vincentian Canon”): Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. (What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all).

Like you, many others both within and outside of the Roman Catholic Church have noted that this particular understanding of the catholic nature of the Church is extremely inexact.

Russian Orthodox theologian and priest Georges Florovsky, for instance, has noted that: “First of all, it is not clear whether this is an empirical criterion or not. If this be so, then the 'Vincentian Canon' proves to be inapplicable and quite false. For about what omnes is he speaking? Is it a demand for a general, universal questioning of all the faithful, and even of those who only deem themselves such? At any rate, all the weak and poor of faith, all those who doubt and waver, all those who rebel, ought to be excluded.”

(And as we now know, “those who doubt” includes Mother Theresa! I wonder if advocates of the Vincentian understanding of “catholic” would dare suggest that she or any one of us who experience a “dark night of the soul” are, at that time, not actually Catholic?)

“The Vincentian Canon,” continues Florovsky, “gives us no criterion, whereby to distinguish and select. Many disputes arise about faith, still more about dogma. . . . Very often the measure of truth is the witness of the minority.”

“It appears that the Vincentian Canon is a postulate of historical simplification, of a harmful primitivism,” observes Florovsky. “This means that we are not to seek for outward, formal criteria of catholicity; we are not to dissect catholicity in empirical universality. Charismatic tradition is truly universal; in its fullness it embraces every kind of simper and ubique and unites all. But empirically, it may not be accepted by all. At any rate we are not to prove the truth of Christianity by means of ‘universal consent,’ per consensum omnium. In general, no consensus can prove truth.”

Oh and by the way, Gay Species, I loved your recent post, On Beauty and Love: Why They Go Together!

You and Felix look so, well, beautiful together on the beach!