Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 19, 2007
'Give us the humble Christ' – Rolheiser
Oblate says Christian culture still alive, but triumphalism is dead
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Fr. Ron Rolheiser says Christianity is still alive even in secular cultures like Holland
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Is our society post-Christian? "We are not so much post-Christian as we are post-ecclesial," Father Ronald Rolheiser said at the Anthony Jordan Lecture Series March 9-10.
In today's secular culture, the Church needs to respond by preaching, not the triumphant Christ, but the Christ who is humble and self-giving, Rolheiser told a huge crowd at Newman Theological College.
To make his point the Oblate priest looked at the most secularized culture in the world: Holland.
"People look at Holland and say it's a cesspool of relativity because everything is legal in Holland: euthanasia, divorce, drugs, prostitution, you name it. As long as you don't hurt anybody, they will let you do it."
Rosaries at Shoppers
Despite such signs of post-Christianity, Holland embraces Christian values more than the United States, where people go to church in droves and where you can buy a rosary at a drugstore.
"No country in the whole world takes better care of its poor than Holland. That's a massive moral achievement and if you have been reading the Gospels lately, Jesus said we are going to be judged by whether we fed the hungry or gave drink to the thirsty. It's Jesus speaking."
Nearly 1,100 people packed the chapel of Newman College March 9-10 to hear Rolheiser speak on the signs of the times during the lecture series.
A prolific author and lecturer, Rolheiser is currently president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
"The status of women in Holland is higher than in any other culture," the priest noted. "Tolerance, openness - those are massive moral virtues which sometimes we don't have."
Conversely, the United States - the least secularized country among the G-8 nations - which has three times the church-going rate of Holland and whose president, George Bush, is a sincere Christian and pro-life supporter, "doesn't take care of its poor" as Jesus mandates, Rolheiser lamented.
Who is more Christian?
So who is more Christian, Holland or the U.S.? People tend to answer those questions simplistically, said the Oblate. "I'm not saying that what Holland is doing is (completely) right. See, they pay a price for their liberality on the one hand. But they also get benefits from their liberality on the other hand.
"Some parts are deeply and profoundly and enviably Christian. We can only envy the way Holland takes care of its poor, how they treat women, and its tolerance and openness to other people."
Which country has it right or wrong was not for Rolheiser to say. "We can't make simplistic judgments but the point I want to make is we are not post-Christian because the deep structure of Western secularity is still profoundly Christian."
Canada, like Holland and Western Europe, is still a Christian culture, stressed Rolheiser. "This is still a good place to live. A lot of my nieces and nephews don't go to church but they are still wonderful people and they have Christian virtues that I envy."
Analysts like Reginald Bibby point out that we are not so much post-Christian but we are becoming post-ecclesial. "So it's the Church that's in trouble," commented Rolheiser.
"In Canada over 90 per cent of the people believe in God and well over 85 per cent claim some religious affiliation. But when you get to church attendance you are dropping down into the 20s. So what's in trouble are the churches."
As Bibby is fond of saying, people aren't even leaving their churches; they just aren't going to their churches.
Why? "Because today by-and-large people are treating their churches in exactly the same way they are treating their families. They want their churches around, they don't want their churches to disappear and they are going to claim their affiliation but they are not going to come home a lot."
Families and churches
When do they want their families around? "For rites of passage, critical moments, major celebrations, baptisms, weddings, funerals, graduations."
"And when do they want their churches around? For baptisms, weddings, funerals and graduations. And the rest of the time I have a life to live, leave me alone."
In Canada even after the sexual abuse crisis we can't say people are angry at the churches. "Sociologists will tell you that less than five per cent of the people who don't go to church on Sunday are angry at the churches," noted Rolheiser. "The other 95 per cent are sleeping, skiing, skating and going to lessons; the same with their families."
Too much individuality
Excessive emphasis on individuality is leading to the death of public life, the priest noted.
"Community is breaking down." Even young Catholic couples question why they have to take marriage preparation courses.
"They say, 'Why do we have to take this course? Why is my family and the church and you, whoever, trying to butt into my life? This is my life, my marriage; it's my problem if it doesn't work. It's not your business.'"
That's our culture. "What's slowly breaking down is public life," lamented Rolheiser. "People are coming to their pastors nowadays to say, 'I can't worship in this parish. How do you worship with 500 people? I don't feel intimate with them.' They are not looking for public life."
We are the children of René Descartes, the French philosopher behind modernism, and the Church is paying the price. "You can say we are post ecclesial; we are post-Church but we are not post-Christ and that makes a difference."
Under these circumstances "we need to begin to preach more the kenotic (humble and self-giving) Christ and not just the triumphant Christ," recommended Rolheiser.
"One of the reasons there is so much anti-Christianity in some circles is precisely because we have trumpeted and we have been triumphant in the wrong way some times. We've made God into a power figure and God is always thoroughly underwhelming. God never overwhelms us, never, ever."
Triumphant events like World Youth Day with the pope are great because they attract up to two million people, noted Rolheiser. "But what about the 50 million kids that don't show up? Who is reaching out to them?"
As the Oblate put it, in today's world there isn't just one type of youth. "There is one kind of youth that wants to see the pope; another kind of youth that doesn't want to see the pope. And that's true for everything."
Still in Christ's body
While there is a need to preach the Christ of triumph, the Christ of Easter Sunday and "the Christ that precisely gives us the courage and the optimism and the hope to go out and proclaim the Gospel to all nations," there is also a need to preach the humble, self-giving Christ, Rolheiser said.
"There are millions and millions of parents whose kids aren't going to church who need to know about the kenotic Christ, who need to know that their kids are still Christian, that their kids are still being held inside the body of Christ."