Thursday, July 22, 2010

Renewal Begins With "R"

I didn't plan it. There was no rhyme or reason for it. It was just coincidence.

But I found it amusing when I noticed in my stack of books on the coffee table that each author's name began with the letter "R."

First was Karl Rahner, the late German Jesuit whose dogmatic theology had a profound influence on the deliberations at Vatican II. Prior to the Council he had been under suspicion by Vatican authorities and forbidden to publish anything until first it was censored by Rome.

Serving as a theologian-resource for the German bishops, Rahner was asked to review various documents and provide input for their deliberations, especially on the Church, on Scripture and Tradition, and on the Church in the Modern World. He was named peritus (an expert) at the Council.

Next on my stack was a book by Rahner's friend and associate Joseph Ratzinger, a theologian likewise consulted by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council. He and Rahner were critical of the initial document on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, and the German bishops asked them to compose an alternative text.

Church historian John O'Malley suggests that Ratzinger was "perhaps the most important of the younger theologians (he was 35) at the council." As advisor and peritus to Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne, Ratzinger insisted that the Council's documents should reflect "the vital language of Scripture and the Church Fathers." Today he is Pope Benedict XVI.

The third "R" was Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who became Pope John XXIII, the initiator of the Second Vatican Council. I was reading Journal Of A Soul, the posthumously published diary which he kept from age 14 up to six months before his death.

I especially enjoy his final entry in which he reflects on his decision to call an ecumenical council. He wrote, "I was the first to be surprised at my proposal, which was entirely my own idea...we are now on the slopes of the sacred mountain. May the Lord give us strength to bring everything to a successful conclusion."

Timothy Radcliff was my fourth "R." He's the London-born Dominican friar whose preaching and writing have provided insight and encouragement for developing our spiritual lives.

His What Is The Point Of Being a Christian? explores the treasures of our Faith, and applies them to how we struggle to live in the spirit and love of Jesus. He laments the loss of debate in the Church, and suggests that "we must learn humility, to be docile before the wisdom and language of others' experience."

"R" number five is Ronald Rolheiser, a priest of the order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He has written several books on spirituality, and both teaches and practices spiritual direction.

In The Holy Longing Rolheiser outlines the nonnegotiables of the Christian's spiritual life (worship, social action, and the centrality of Jesus' incarnation), and insists that a true spirituality cannot be divorced from one's every day life.

My final "R" is the Franciscan priest and speaker/writer of things spiritual --Richard Rohr. His ministry combines contemplation and action. He founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico to help people in social service ministries to maintain a healthy balance between prayer and activism.

Rohr's many books explore our Christian commitment and describe a plan for growth. I like Things Hidden - Scripture As Spirituality best of all. He has a way of looking at things from an unusual perspective, leading his readers to re-evaluate and re-commit.

I'm sure it's just coincidence that the books on my coffee table were all written by authors whose last names begin with "R." But I wonder if, in the light of that litany of authors, it's coincidence that renewal begins with an "R" too.

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