Thursday, April 17, 2014


"Our error (thank God there is an error or life would be unendurable!) is that we use the word religious in a wrong way. The word religion stems from the Latin roots re, meaning again, and ligare, meaning to bind, bond, or bridge. Our common word ligature comes from the same root. Religion means, then, to bind together again. It can never be affixed to one of a pair of opposites. In the preceding discussion I have pointed out the secular versus the religious attitude. This is a flaming, flagrant error and is the seat of the most of the neurotic suffering of mankind. To think that one way of action is profane and another sacred is to make terrible misuse of the language. There is no such thing as a religious act or list of characteristics. There can only be a religious insight that bridges or heals. This is what restores and reconciles the opposites that have been torturing each of us. The religious faculty is the art of taking the opposites and binding them back together again, surmounting the split that has been causing so much suffering. It helps us move from contradiction—that painful condition where things oppose each other—to the realm of paradox, where we are able to entertain simultaneously two contradictory notions and give them equal dignity. Then, and only then, is there the possibility of grace, the spiritual experience of contradictions brought into a coherent whole—giving us a unity greater than either one of them.

To say [for example] that it is better to give than to receive is to indulge in the same kind of error that proves that 2 equals 3. To focus on one pair of opposites as 'religious' is truly a mistake. It is only the realm of synthesis that is worthy of the adjective.

We must restore the word religious to its true meaning: then it will regain its healing power. To heal, to bond, to join, to bridge, to put back together again—these are our sacred faculties."
pp. 84-85

"It is good to win; it is also good to lose. It is good to have money; it is also good to give to the poor. Freedom is good; so is the acceptance of authority. To view the elements of our life in this paradoxical manner is to open a whole new series of possibilities. Let us not say that the opposites are adverse, but that they make up divine reality that is accessible to us in our human condition. It’s incorrect to label one of a pair is secular and the other religious. We must reframe this perspective and think that each represents a divine truth. It is only our inability to see the hidden unity that is problematic. To stay loyal to paradox is to earn the right to unity. Indeed, the most valuable experience of life is this “unified” vision, the most treasured experience of mystical theology, which is achieved by surrendering to paradox. The medieval world understood this experience, which took one beyond the collision of opposites and brought one into harmony with God."
p. 88

--Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow


For more Easter reflections, check out my column in this week's ALETEIA: Love or Vinegar?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014



“Permit me to inform you,” I said frankly and freely to the tax man—or high, respectable revenue official—who gave me his governmental ear in order to follow attentively the report I was about to deliver, “that I enjoy, as a poor writer or homme de lettres, a very dubious income.

“It is self-evident that you will not find in my case the tiniest bit of amassed fortune, as I here affirm with deep regret, without, however, shedding any tears over the unfortunate fact.

“Despair I do not, but just as little can I exult or rejoice. I generally get along as best I can, as they say.

“I dispense with all luxuries. A single glance at my person should tell you this. The food I eat can be described as sufficient and frugal.

“It apparently occurred to you to consider that I might have at my disposal many sources of income. I feel myself, however, compelled to oppose, courteously but decisively, this belief along with all such suppositions, and to tell the simple unadorned truth, which is, in any case, that I am extremely free from wealth, but, on the other hand, laden with every sort of poverty, as you might be so kind as to write in your notebook.

“On Sundays I may scarcely allow myself to be seen on the streets, for I have no Sunday clothes. In my steady, thrifty way of life I am like a field mouse. Even a sparrow seems to have better prospects of prosperity than thid deliverer of a report and taxpayer you see before you. I have written several books, which unfortunately were quite poorly received by the reading public, and the consequences of this oppress my heart. Not for a moment do I doubt that you understand this, and that you will consequently realize my peculiar financial situation.

“Ordinary civil status, civil esteem, etc. I by no means possess; that’s as clear as daylight. Toward men such as myself, no sense of obligation seems to exist. Exceedingly few persons profess a lively interest in literature. Besides, the pitiless criticism of our work, which any manjack thinks himself obliged to practice, constitutes yet another abundant hurt that, like a drag chain, drags down the aspirant accomplisher of a state of modest wellbeing.

“Certainly there exist amicable patrons and friendly patronesses, who subsidize the poet nobly from time to time. But a gift is far from being income, and a subsidy is surely no fortune.

“For all these I hope convincing reasons, most honored sir, I would request you kindly to overlook all the increases in taxation which you have communicated to me, and in God’s name to set your rate of taxation in my case at as low a level as possible.”

--Robert Walser, from The Walk, trans. by Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Here's a wonderful piece from the New York Review of Books:  "The Secret Auden" by Edward Mendelsen.

A few excerpts:

"W.H. Auden had a secret life that his closest friends knew little or nothing about. Everything about it was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it."

"Someone else recalled that Auden had once been told that a friend needed a medical operation that he couldn’t afford. Auden invited the friend to dinner, never mentioned the operation, but as the friend was leaving said, “I want you to have this,” and handed him a large notebook containing the manuscript of The Age of Anxiety. The University of Texas bought the notebook and the friend had the operation."

“All the poems I have written were written for love,” [Auden] said; “naturally, when I have written one, I try to market it, but the prospect of a market played no role in its writing.”

A perfect thought with which to begin Holy Week.


Saturday, April 12, 2014


Le moutonnement des haies
C’est en moi que je l’ai.

The frothing of the hedges
I keep deep inside me.
--Jean WahlPoème

Thursday, April 10, 2014


From an interview given in early February with Father Frans van der Lugt, the Superior of a monastery in the old city of Homs and a 75-year-old Dutch priest who had lived in Syria for decades, ministered to both Christians and Muslims, and was shot to death by a lone gunman on April 6, 2014.

From the Jesuit Refugee Service:

"The entirety of the Syrian crisis needs to be taken into account by world leaders to end the conflict that has killed more than 130,000 people and displaced seven million.

According to Fr Frans, what is really missing from leaders is a human understanding of those still living inside the country.

'They talk and meet in restaurants and hotels, but what we are living here is very different. They speak to us, but they don't live with us. They talk about us, but out of their own interest.'

The problem in Homs, he says, is not just about shortages of food and medicine, but also 'a hunger to lead a normal life.'

'The human being is not just a stomach, but also a heart and wants to see his relatives,' Fr Frans concludes."

From an April 4, 2014 NYT article on Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, who recently rampaged through Ft. Hood, killing three and injuring sixteen before turning the gun on himself:

"His [FB] posts in November showed him struggling with the death of his mother, Carmen Lopez, a nurse in Guayanilla [Puerto Rico] who died that month, and grappling with problems with the Army at the time of his mother’s death.

'In shock. Mom died today,' he wrote on Nov. 15. 'Thanks for your condolences. I couldn’t answer your calls,' he wrote, blaming Army bureaucracy, which he described with a vulgarity.

One law enforcement official said Specialist Lopez had told others that he should have received more time off after his mother’s death. It was apparently a source of anger for him, the official said. 'He felt like he wasn’t being treated fairly,' the official said. 'He wasn’t getting what he felt he should have been entitled to.'”


Tuesday, April 8, 2014



“A great faint sound of breakers follows you high up into the inland canons; the roar of water dwells in the clean, empty rooms of Monterey as in a shell upon the chimney; go where you will, you have but to pause and listen to hear the voice of the Pacific.”

 “You follow winding sandy tracks that lead nowhither. You see a deer; a multitude of quail arises. But the sound of the sea still follows you as you advance, like that of wind among the trees, only harsher and stranger to the ear; and when at length you gain the summit, out breaks on every hand and with freshened vigour that same unending, distant, whispering rumble of the ocean; for now you are on the top of Monterey peninsula, and the noise no longer only mounts to you from behind along the beach towards Santa Cruz, but from your right also, round by Chinatown and Pinos lighthouse, and from down before you to the mouth of the Carmello river. The whole woodland is begirt with thundering surges."

--Robert Louis Stevenson, from “The Old Capitol”

I'm in Capitola, a bit up the coast, but still.


Check out my post in this week's ALETEIA: "The Prayer that Saved My Life."

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Every time I go to a new place, I make it mine by walking. I never feel properly settled until I've acquainted myself with the kind of houses people live in, the volume of birdsong, the smell of the air, the quality of light, the colors of the flowers.

Here on the Central Coast, the ice plant are in bloom--resurrection yellow, Easter egg pink--and everywhere sway lavish stands of purple Pride-of-Madeira.

"And if our whole lives have to be made subject to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if we desire to make all his words as far as possible our guide in the circumstances of our life, this will only be possible if we make creating silence an integral part of our life."
--Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl

 "This is where we must find the secret of that kind of will that is found among all the saints: to treat God as God, to diminish God in no way. To know at once that he surpasses all that we can say about him and that he will always therefore be for us a 'hidden' God."
--Father Bernard Bro, O.P.

"God is like a person who clears his throat while hiding and so gives himself away."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Friday, April 4, 2014


Welp, I can say I made it to Monterey. AND I made my way on foot to the Robert Louis Stevenson House. It wasn't open but there's a lovely, shaded, spacious garden out back with many nooks on which to sit on a bench and read about the South Seas or the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or come to think of it, a child's garden of verses...

The people at my talk at the Cathedral welcomed me so warmly and were so accommodating and kind it will take me at least three days of complete solitude to process. I'm deeply grateful to them.

Lots of activity lately. I want to use this week to sink into Lent.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I promised Image Books I'd give a shout-out for Ron Rolheiser's new book--Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity.

Here's the lowdown:

“How do I live beyond my own heartaches, headaches, and obsessions so as to help make other peoples’ lives more meaningful?”

In Sacred Fire (Image, March 11, 2014), beloved author Ronald Rolheiser answers that question and more as he continues his search for an accessible and penetrating Christian spirituality in this highly anticipated sequel to the contemporary classic, The Holy Longing.

With his trademark faculty and thoughtfulness, Rolheiser moves beyond the foundational aspects of The Holy Longing, by offering readers a deeper vision for Christian maturity as he seeks to answer the question: “How can we live less self-centered, more mature lives?”

In Sacred Fire, Rolheiser draws from the writings of St. John of the Cross and other Christian mystics as he identifies three distinct levels of Christian discipleship— essential, mature, and radical. He then looks at these three categories of discipleship as they correspond to the three great struggles in our lives.

Three Stages of Discipleship:
· Essential Discipleship – The struggle to get our lives together
How do we struggle to become essential (if not yet fully mature) disciples of Christ?

· Mature Discipleship – The struggle to give our lives away
How do I give my life away more deeply, more generously, and more meaningfully?

· Radical Discipleship – The struggle to give our deaths away
How can I now live so that my death will be an optimal blessing for my family, my church, and the world?
In Sacred Fire, Rolheiser reframes the three categories of discipleship within a contemporary context and language that is practical for Christians in today’s world. Ultimately, he demonstrates how identifying and embracing the three stages of the spiritual life will lead to new heights of spiritual awareness.

About the Author
Ronald Rohlheiser O.M.I., is a specialist in the fields of spirituality and systematic theology. His regular column in the Catholic Herald is featured in newspapers in five different countries. He is the author of the prizewinning The Restless Heart as well as Forgotten Amongst the Lilies. His book The Holy Longing has more than a quarter of a million copies in print.

Praise for Sacred Fire:
"Ronald Rolheiser is one of the great Christian spiritual writers of our time, as well as one of my own personal favorites. I have read, and recommended, his beautiful book The Holy Longing more times than I can remember. His sequel, Sacred Fire, is a superb book--one to give to a seeker looking to find God, to a friend struggling with a relationship with God, to a devout believer looking to deepen his or her faith--or best of all, to yourself, as a way of coming to know the God who desires ever more to know you."
—James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

"When Ron Rolheiser writes, it is clear, compelling, and challenging, plus it is about issues that matter to the soul. Well, here he does it again--and does it well!"
—Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Here's an excerpt:

"Forgive— those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you.

As we age, we can begin to trim down our spiritual vocabulary, and eventually we can get it down to three words: Forgive, forgive, forgive! To die with a forgiving heart is the ultimate moral and religious imperative. We should not delude ourselves on this. All the dogmatic and moral purity in the world does little for us if our hearts are bitter and incapable of forgiveness.

We see this in the Gospels, for instance, in the sad figure of the older brother of the prodigal son. He stands before his father protesting that he has never wandered, never been unfaithful, and that he has stayed home and done the family’s work. But, and this is the issue, he stands outside the father’s house, unable to enter into joy, celebration, the banquet, the dance. He has done everything right, but a bitter heart prevents him from entering the father’s house just as much as the lustful wanderings of his younger brother took him out of that same house. Religious and moral fidelity, when not rooted inside of gratitude and forgiveness, are far from enough. They can leave us just as much outside the father’s house as sin and infidelity. As Jesus teaches forcefully in the Lord’s Prayer, a nonnegotiable condition for going to heaven is forgiveness.

But the struggle to forgive others is not easy and may never be trivialized or preached lightly. In the end, it is our greatest psychological, moral, and religious struggle. It is not easy to forgive. Most everything inside of us protests. When we have been wronged, when we have
suffered an injustice, when someone or something has treated us unfairly, a thousand physical and psychological mechanisms inside of us begin to clam up, shut down, freeze over, self- protect, and scream in protest, anger, and rage. Forgiveness is not something we can simply will and make happen. The heart, as Pascal once said, has its reasons. It also has its rhythms, its paranoia, its bitter spots, and its need to seal itself off from whatever has wounded it.

Moreover, all of us have been wounded. No one comes to adulthood with his or her heart fully intact. In ways small or traumatic, we have all been treated unjustly, violated, hurt, ignored, not properly honored, and unfairly cast aside. We all carry wounds, and, with those wounds, we all carry anger, bitterness, and some nonforgiveness.

But as we know, forgiveness is not easy, and, indeed, sometimes it seems impossible. The famous line from the poet Alexander Pope is now a standard axiom in the English language: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Given the truth of this, and given our own bitter experience, how can we move toward forgiveness? There are no easy answers here, and perhaps true forgiveness can only be divine in origin, the operation of a special grace inside us."

Excerpted from Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser. Copyright © 2014 by Ronald Rolheiser. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt maybe reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the Author
Ronald Rohlheiser O.M.I., is a specialist in the fields of spirituality and systematic theology. His regular column in the Catholic Herald is featured in newspapers in five different countries. He is the author of the prizewinning The Restless Heart as well as Forgotten Amongst the Lilies. His book The Holy Longing has more than a quarter of a million copies in print."

One of them's on my bookshelf.

I first met Fr. Rolheiser on a road trip several years ago when I passed through San Antonio. It was a Sunday night, as I remember, and he'd just arrived home from one of his many, constant journeys. And he took the time to meet and buy dinner for an almost complete stranger. Now THAT'S discipleship.