“Essential Spiritual Writing” by Ronald Rolheiser presents the Christian message in all its vividness


Do you want to experience a mature, healthy and dynamic spirituality? Read Ronald Rolheiser, priest, theologian, teacher, author of 16 books and 2,000 columns, and prolific retreat leader and speaker. Whether you are a Rolheiser enthusiast or a Rolheiser neophyte, its Essential Spiritual Writings will convince you that his human, accessible and hopeful spirituality makes him an important contemporary writer.

Rolheiser comes from unlikely beginnings. grew up on the prairies of Saskatchewan in a family of 16 children. At 17, he entered the community of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and later earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Louvain in Belgium. He was regional superior of his order and more recently president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. He has taught and lectured all over the world.

Rolheiser is clear that spirituality must be based on theology lest it become unhealthy, and he draws on the works of Augustine, Aquinas, John of the Cross, Karl Rahner and Henri Nouwen . However, he focuses on spirituality, what he calls “applied theology” and without it, theology is just an “intellectual aesthetic”. He asserts that there are four essential elements of the Christian life: private prayer and morality, gentleness of heart, community as part of worship, and participation in the work of social justice.

Although his pivotal writings include discussions of these topics, Rolheiser’s central premise from which everything else stems is that of a “holy fire” implanted by God in all of creation. In humans, this manifests as a desire for unity, wholeness and community. Our spirituality is how we live in that longing, that longing, how we overcome our separation. As a defining characteristic, this “holy fire” is a mixed blessing leading to a creative and exuberant life or a feeling of being thwarted. If our desire is for the trivial, the result will be continued loneliness, restlessness, and grounding. The human quest is to create a life and then to give that life.

One of the dominant expressions of this sacred fire is human sexuality. In a religion that historically feared sexuality and worked to control it, Rolheiser offers a holistic understanding of this most human desire, which promotes neither frigidity nor irresponsibility, but is both chaste and passionate. Sexuality is good, a manifestation of sacred energy in all humans and a desire to overcome loneliness. It has many expressions – friendship, family, service, hospitality, food and genitality – which are just a few aspects of this powerful drive towards unity. Healthy sexuality of all kinds leads to joy and altruism; unhealthy sexuality to unhappiness, selfishness, greater loneliness and separation.

The major problem in life is how we experience our longing and longing. How do we overcome our separation? It is our spirituality. In life, separation continues until we lay down our lives. Augustine said it first; we stay restless until we rest in God. Rolheiser asks us to consider the notion of continuous incarnation. As members of the Body of Christ, Christians bear the responsibility of being the physical reality of God in the world. Our ordinary lives provide the opportunity to live creatively and generatively – to lay down our lives. We are nourished in this work by prayer which helps us to find an intimacy with God and fulfills our desire to overcome our separation.

In works of charity and social justice, we also overcome our loneliness. Rolheiser insists that personal charity is not enough; we must challenge the unjust structures and institutions in which we are embedded. As we age and can no longer be productive, we can live in acceptance, which prepares us to give even our death, bringing peace to those left behind.

It is the life of Jesus, in particular his death, which serves as a model for our life and our death. Jesus pleaded to be saved by his father, but he experienced abandonment by dying an ignominious death. Yet he trusted and in that dark hour he took within himself the hatred and cruelty of those who crucified him and transformed him through forgiveness. It is redeeming Christianity. The mystery of the Incarnation impels us in life and in death to pursue this transformation. By living our sacred fire, our spirituality, we overcome our loneliness and separation and help redeem the world.

Ronald Rolheiser presents the Christian message in all its vividness, making him one of America’s most important spiritual writers. His Essential Spiritual Writings prove why.


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