Fr. Ron Rolheiser

BW writes: Please do an article on Fr. Rolheiser, especially regarding his Holy Longing book.  If you haven’t read it, please do, I’m begging.  He is so widespread and I see much that discomforts me in his writings.”

I am very familiar with the problems surrounding Fr. Rolheiser’s book, The Holy Longing. A dear friend of mine was given the book to read as part of an Archdiocesan ministry program. She was so shocked by what it contained she reported it to the Cardinal who (to his credit) promptly removed the book from the institute’s reading list.

For those who are not familiar with him, Fr. Rolheiser has been a Roman Catholic priest for more than 30 years and is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.  He is a lecturer and the author of many books as well as a weekly column that is carried in more than 50 newspapers worldwide.  (When I worked for the Archdiocesan newspaper, it was always standard procedure to “review” Fr. Rolheiser’s column for anything unorthodox before it went into print.)

Fr. Rolheiser expresses many questionable ideas in The Holy Longing (as well as his other writings), but the most oft cited section – and the one that got the book banned (from the minisry program) in my Archdiocese – concerned his teaching on forgiveness.

Here is a sample of what he has to say on this subject:

We can forgive each other’s sins; not we, but the power of Christ within us.”

 “Hell is possible only when one has put oneself totally out of the range of love…actively rejected not so much explicit religious or moral teaching and practice as the sincere love of humanity.”

“If a child or brother or a sister or a loved one of yours strays from the church in terms of faith practice and morality, as long as you continue to love that person, and hold him or her in union and forgiveness, he or she is touching ‘the hem of the garment’, is held to the Body of Christ, and is forgiven irrespective of his or her official external relationship to be church and Christian morality.”

“Your touch is Christ’s touch…. If someone close to you dies in a state which, externally at least, has her or him at odds ecclesially and morally with the visible church, your love and forgiveness will continue to bind that person to the Body of Christ and continue to forgive that individual, even after death.”

But the statement that really got him into trouble in my neck of the woods was this one:

We do not, at the most basic of all levels, need explicit confession to a priest to have our sins forgiven.”

Unfortunately, that’s not all. In this particular book, he defines spirituality in a bizarre way, saying that it is “what we do with the fires inside us, about how we channel our eros.”

Sr. Joseph Mary Maximilian, FTI, a Franciscan tertiary whose writings frequently appear on Catholic Exchange, reviewed The Holy Longing and explains that the definition of eros is the aggregate of pleasure-directed life instincts whose energy is derived from libido.

“Whoa!” Sister writes. “The ‘channeling of eros’ does not seem to be in line with a spirituality as taught and understood by the Roman Catholic faith. Father Rolheiser says that how we channel that fire is our spirituality and compares the burning of the spiritual fires in Mother Teresa, Janis Joplin and Princess Diana. One of those truly is a model for authentic spirituality and has been beatified by the Church but the other two do not show great promise for leading souls to union with God.”

Father’s work also includes writing about a “spirituality of sexuality” in which he says this about celibacy. “ . . . (W)hen Christ went to bed at night he was in real solidarity with the many persons who, not by choice but by circumstance, sleep alone… Anyone who because of unwanted circumstances is effectively blocked from enjoying sexual consummation is a victim of a most painful poverty… To sleep alone is to be poor. To sleep alone is to be stigmatized… outside the norm for human intimacy and to feel acutely the sting of that… when Jesus went to bed alone he was in solidarity with that pain, in solidarity with the poor.”

He also claimed that St. Therese was a lonely person because she lived in a celibate life in a monastery in which there were long periods of silence and rules that forbad most kinds of intimacy and contact.
“Her loneliness was more of a moral nature—it is in this deep inner place that we ultimately feel most alone. More deeply than we long for a sexual partner, we long for moral affinity—our deepest longing is for someone to sleep with morally.”

He goes on to say that St. Therese, as she “slept alone on her celibate cot” was, “as are all restless persons, tormented by constant yearning.”

Sr. Joseph also points out in her review how Father Rolheiser once wrote about what it means to “lose one’s soul.”  It has nothing to do with eternal damnation, he suggests, but to become “unglued” or to fall apart.

When I don’t know where I am going, then I lose my soul,” he writes. “This is what Jesus meant when He asked, ‘What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?’”�

“This reviewer can see where to come unglued might mean the loss of peace but the loss of the eternal soul is something totally different,” Sr. Joseph says. “Jesus meant what He said when He said that the loss of the soul meant eternal damnation and this was the greatest loss of all.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Sr. Joseph’s conclusion about Fr. Rolheiser:

“One who is a priest and who has lived Holy Orders for many years and who had many years of training to enter that Sacrament, does command a certain respect based on those facts alone. Such a person is deemed credible and perhaps as a guide to help souls in the seeking of God and in the Catholic sense because he is a priest. Yet the ‘spirituality’ that Father writes of is of his own thought and making and not in keeping with the science of spiritual direction so long established in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Much of the advice I give in the blog, “How to Deal with Famous Writers who Mix Christian and Eastern Religions” applies to writers such as Fr. Rolheiser who distort Catholic teaching. As I say in this blog, if it’s a spiritual book by a controversial author and there’s no imprimatur, stay away from it!

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