Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi


January 29, 2001

Circumstance and history ask each generation to carry a certain pain and to redeem it through suffering. We are no exception. Our generation in the Western world is being asked to carry the pain of ecclesial disprivilege.

Today in the Western world we live in a culture that is, at a point, anti-ecclesial, especially towards Roman Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism. In the name of open-mindedness, the moral high-ground, liberal sophistication and political-correctness, one can manifest a fairly open bias and intolerance today against certain Church groups.

What's to be our reaction? Self-pity? Anger? Legal challenges through various anti-defamation groups? Luxuriate in being victims? Give back in kind? What's the adult Christian response?

Understanding. To an anti-ecclesial culture we owe an understanding that is wholly human, historical, and biblical. What's implied in this?

First, that we see what is happening within a proper human framework.

What's happening is not an archetypal struggle between good and evil, but a family misunderstanding. There is no enemy here, only our own brothers and sisters whom history and circumstance have, on this issue, put at odds with us.

What's important is that we don't look to take offence, don't take things personally and look always at the larger perspective. The liberalism that has spawned this anti-ecclesial attitude is itself a product of Judeo-Christian principle and is itself at the base of the structures that protect our religious freedoms.

In light of the bigger picture, a few liberal pockets of anti-ecclesial bias are nothing serious, mosquito bites. We are not in any serious way being deprived of our rights. Western culture is not the enemy.

Next, we need to accept our time in history. A season of privilege is invariably followed by a season of disprivilege. Given that for generations nothing we said could be challenged, it shouldn't be surprising that there will be a generation or two when everything we say will be challenged.

For too long the churches were given privilege. Now we pay the price. We see this particularly in anti-clericalism, in the projection of so much of the problem of pedophilia onto the churches and the clergy, and in our culture's intellectual bias against evangelical Protestantism.

In many ways this is a needed pruning of our arrogance and false use of authority. We are being healthily humbled. It's something to learn from, especially when we see so many ecclesial pockets itching for privilege, moral superiority and the false use of authority.

Finally, and most important, we must bring some biblical perspectives to bear on this.

Two things might be helpful: First, Scripture takes for granted that each generation of Christians, as part of its normal living out of the Gospel, will have a special suffering, some persecution for the sake of Christ, which it is asked to carry with understanding, patience and even joy.

The early Apostles, upon returning to their communities after being physically beaten up by those who opposed them, were filled with gratitude in the realization that they, persons of such minor importance and virtue, were privileged enough to suffer significant redemptive pain.

Moreover, they understood their pain and its seeming unfairness as redemptive, as bearing fruit for the world through their proper suffering of it. They understood something that for the most part we don't understand today, namely, what it means to carry pain redemptively and what it means to practise understanding.

Christian understanding is not bias in reverse. Nor is it stoicism that simply makes do or a condescending, elitist attitude that radiates a moral superiority. Christian understanding is transformative. It changes things by absorbing negative energy and not giving it back in kind.

Transformative suffering works like a water filter. It takes the impurities out by absorbing and transforming them. Transformative understanding takes in bias, bitterness, curses, and offence and gives back understanding, graciousness, blessing and forgiveness.

We see this in Jesus. He never played the victim and he utterly refused to create victims. He never gave back in kind, but took in the hurt of those around him, absorbed it and transformed it.

For him, no other human being was an enemy, there were no sides, them against us, only fellow human beings, who, like himself, were also victims, wounded, sincere, searching, loving when they could, tragically distanced from so much of what they would want to embrace, and yet carrying on as best they could in the light that had been given them.

This is the kind of understanding we owe our culture.