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By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 12, 2006

Evelyn Waugh once complained that his generation, in its youth, was fed an illusory image of romantic love by the fashionable novelists of the time. Themselves homosexual (Waugh was thinking of Ronald Firbank, E.M. Forster, Marcel Proust, among others) they used heterosexual couples to portray essentially homosexual courtship, with the upshot that neither male nor female was drawn with accuracy.

I was reminded of Waugh's remark in reading Fr. Ronald Rolheiser's looney recent column on spirituality, "Breathing Emotionally." Ostensibly it's addressed to anyone -- i.e., any reader of the Catholic papers in which it's published. Yet here we have a presumptively homosexual priest quoting a confessedly homosexual priest (Henri Nouwen) on the subject of the spiritual life, as if both were dealing with the universal human condition. Read the stuff below, and ask yourself whether it rings true to the life of any of the first dozen Catholics you met in the church parking lot this morning:

One of the things that [Nouwen] was able to give voice to was his constant struggle to be affirmed, to be made to feel special, to be touched, to be singled out for admiration, to feel tangible proofs of love. Over and over again, in his diaries, he shares his yearning for this. The wording varies, but the pleading is always along these lines:

"Today the small rejections of my life are too much for me -- a sarcastic smile, a flippant remark, a brisk denial, a bitter silence, a failure to be noticed, a coldness from a colleague, an indifference from someone I love, a nagging tiredness, the lack of a soulmate, a loneliness that I can't explain. I feel empty, alone, afraid, restless, unsure of myself, and I look around for invitations, letters, phone calls, gifts, for someone to catch my eye in sympathy, for some warm gesture that can heal my emptiness.

"And right now I don't particularly want God, faith, church or even a big and gracious heart. I want simply to be held, embraced, loved by someone special, made to feel unique, kissed by a soulmate. I'm empty, a half-person. I need someone to make me whole."

My Uncle Louie's prime grief is that his old Ford pick-up wouldn't go into reverse with the 4-wheel engaged, but even on the level of contemplative prayer I can't think Nouwen and Rolheiser have a lot to offer him. A priest who longs "to be kissed by a soulmate" doesn't figure in his notion of growing closer to God. In the same vein, Rolheiser's faux-baroque agonies and ecstasies are, I think, the prosaic twinges of homosexual frustration projected onto a backdrop of spiritual drama. Predictably, what he calls maturity most of us would see as its opposite, namely, adolescent luxuriating in self-pity:

But to come to this [viz., emotional and spiritual maturity], we have to learn a new way of breathing emotionally. The excruciating pain we feel sometimes when precisely we want nothing more in the world than a physical and emotional touch that we can't have is, in essence, a weaning, the pain of the child who has to cry herself to sleep because her mother will no longer nurse her, but is forcing her instead to learn a new way of taking in sustenance.

And how's your rheumatism today, Mrs. Kolarczyk?

Rolheiser wouldn't be Rolheiser if he passed up the chance to do a little gender-bending. Here's his conclusion:

Our prayers don't seem to be heard because God, like a good mother, knows that giving a certain emotional breast back to the child only delays the inevitable. Maturity lies in learning how to breathe emotionally in a new way.

The mystics called this "a dark night of the soul." And we are in one of these dark nights every time we feel the kind of aloneness that drives us to our knees pleading in mercy for the kind of tangible touch that, for a moment at least, would let us feel whole again.

No, the mystics did not call this a "dark night of the soul." There's a difference between Elton John and John of the Cross, however confused they may become in Rolheiser's overheated imagination. It's past time that someone pulled the plug on the problem, which has crossed the boundary from nonsense into madness. Even apart from the shonky theology, when a celibate priest makes seven references to his need to be touched in the 850 words at his disposal, you know something is definitely out of whack. If your son wrote a letter like that home from college, you'd head off to pick him up the next day with the U-Haul attached to the minivan. There are many names for Rolheiser's emotive maunderings, but Catholic spiritual wisdom isn't one of them.

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  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 14, 2006 1:00 PM ET USA

    Andy K, please read ladybird's comment, posted shortly after yours.

  • Posted by: ladybird - Nov. 14, 2006 11:16 AM ET USA

    tomecom and medicus: I am not an intellectual (I hope!) and only a reformed liberal (not a confirmed conservative) but these narcissistic people give me agitta and make me nauseated! If they had their "feelings" fixed on their flocks and their needs instead of on themselves, they would have no time to contemplate any "emptiness" in their lives. They would be too busy looking after others' needs and filling their souls! That is the cure! Get busy! Stop whining!

  • Posted by: - Nov. 14, 2006 10:42 AM ET USA

    "For most of the 28 years of his priesthood, he taught philosophy at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada" I live in Edmonton and I can inform you that for those 28 years Edmonton has had many 1 ordination. Things have improved over the last 6 years though. I doubt that many people even read Rolheiser's spiritual musch.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 14, 2006 10:31 AM ET USA

    I believe Rolheiser's point is that we all experience emotions that are not helpful in the spiritual life, and that in order to become mature Christians we must learn to deal with those emotions in a way different than our sinful inclinations might lead us to. What some here call "navel gazing" is, I think, an effort to describe the sorts of feelings some people have, which he then discusses (albeit poorly) how to overcome. It's a poorly written article, but it isn't as bad as some here think.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 14, 2006 7:34 AM ET USA

    Read Fr. Rolheiser's original column after praying for the most charitable attitude that you can muster. (Nota bene that I am well aware of the nefarious ways that the "homosexual agenda" is being pursued, to the detriment of many of the faithful.) Then consider that Diogenes isn't always right, though I admit that he may be here. We are well advised to pay attention to the motes in our own eyes. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  • Posted by: Andy K - Nov. 13, 2006 10:00 PM ET USA

    Dear Gil, To conclude what Christ said, "...and love thy neighbor as thyself." How can I love my neighbor if I do not love myself?

  • Posted by: shrink - Nov. 13, 2006 10:00 PM ET USA

    What tomecom & Rolheiser fail to see is that the love of affirmation moves far beyond being a sign of immaturity, it is the prelude to serious sin. The temptation that spurred Cain to murder his brother was Cain's longing for affirmation (Genesis 4: 5-7). This longing is the tap root of narcissism, a common affliction of celebrities and homosexuals. Longing for affirmation is diametrically opposed to the spiritual life; rather the spiritual life begins with contrition of sins and gratitude.

  • Posted by: Meg Q - Nov. 13, 2006 8:48 PM ET USA

    Sweet Jesus, what must Fr. Rolheiser be like in the confessional? "I don't think your problem is so much with (x sin), it's that you haven't learned to breathe emotionally." "Hey, gee, thanks, Father." "No problem, my child. Now, go forth, and breathe emotionally evermore." Very, um, inspiring.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 8:36 PM ET USA

    "And right now, I don't particularly want God, faith, church" sums up his problem. Doesn't this remind you of the spoiled, overweight child who holds his breath for sweets but won't eat his vegetables? What he doesn't want is precisely what he desperately needs. See the "inner child" at work here? That "inner child" could use a spanking.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 6:05 PM ET USA

    This is the kind of thing one comes across on reality TV. Do these people have no concept of dignity?

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 13, 2006 5:48 PM ET USA

    medicusmentis and tomecom, the reason it is important to point out this maundering pap because too many people mistake navel gazing for Catholic worship. It is a good part of why men are not attracted to the Church in general and the clergy in particular. Name me half a dozen saints---male or female, for that matter---who might have written the quoted Nouwen paragraphs. Christ said the first commandment was to love the Lord thy God and the second thy neighbor. Not thy precious self.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 5:47 PM ET USA

    I wish you all would read Di's post. Look up EMOTIVIST. Then read CS Lewis and Alasdair MacIntyre on the subject. Rolheiser's EMOTIVE maunderings are the issue. Would you want this priest as a confessor? Spiritual Director?

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 4:30 PM ET USA

    ladybird - I think a careful reading of Rolheiser's column will show that you and he are on the same page! Hence my frustration with this criticism. He is more sentimental, you more intellectual, he uses the language of liberals, you of conservatives, but fundamentally you agree! Read his article carefully. He explicitly states love is a choice not a feeling. He also says that the yearning for intimacy he discusses is due to concupiscience, albeit in different language.

  • Posted by: ladybird - Nov. 13, 2006 3:52 PM ET USA

    tomecom, I didn't say the author was homosexual but that the immature self-absorbed inward contemplation reflected in the whining was a common theme of homosexuality. I agree that the reflections on maturity are relevant. Too bad they still focus on "feelings" of love. Mature love is a choice not a feeling. It doesn't depend on how good loving another makes us feel, or how good their love of us makes us feel; it doesn't pine and yearn for physical intimacy and affirmation! It seeks the good.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 2:52 PM ET USA

    ladybird - How do you know Fr. Rolheiser is homosexual? Nobody has shown me that. And while I find his article to have numerous problems, it also says some good things. Did you read the paragraph where he describes maturity? I would have used more forceful language, but it sounds good to me: Maturity, emotional and spiritual, demands that ultimately we choose love, choose service, choose prayer and choose God, not on the basis of a feeling but on the basis of value, truth and goodness....

  • Posted by: ladybird - Nov. 13, 2006 2:04 PM ET USA

    medicusmentis and tomecom: these whinings are important because they reflect a self-centered self-absorbtion that is unsuited to ministering to others! Such as these cannot contemplate their Creator, or His will, or His Way, while so obsessed with self and so cannot serve Him or His sheep. Narcissistic self-gratification is a mark of homosexual desire whereas hetersexual love is often self-sacrificing and self-denying for the good of the other. Homosexual "love" seeks self-affirmation.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 1:41 PM ET USA

    Compare these rantings to St Therese of Lisieux.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 1:08 PM ET USA

    Of course, priests suffer from loneliness and a lack of physical affection, as do most people at one time or another in life. This fellow's maunderings,however, are narcissistic, wretchedly self-pitying and, frankly, unmanly. He clearly hasn't suffered much in his life, except from over-emotionalism. I suggest we put a helmet on his head, a pack on his back, a weapon in his hands and send him to Iraq for a year of foot-patrolling. It'll give the poor fellow a certain perspective.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 10:30 AM ET USA

    My first reaction to this was overwhelming sadness . . . Sadness for a Church which deigns to seek out men such as this to lead our souls. If these two "girlie priests" silly meanderings are not sufficient reason rid our faith of their likes, then it'll be a long, long way to Tipperary

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 10:05 AM ET USA

    Diogenes, I think that sometimes you blow the articles you comment upon way out of proportion and impose motiviations and ideas on the authors well beyond what they intended. Does his column have problems? Sure. But I think you've made a mountain out of a rolling hill. Relax. Why do these things upset you so much anyway? Your reaction to them is very strong.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 13, 2006 7:52 AM ET USA

    If you re-read Rolheiser's entire column thinking of a young priest struggling with temptation felt for an attractive woman, I don't think that you would be as likely to have the same objections. I didn't know that the late Fr. Nouwen struggled with same-sex attraction, though I wondered about it when reading some of his writings. Such context, previously unknown to me, causes me some dismay, but doesn't necessarily lead me to agree with your strong negative reaction.

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Nov. 13, 2006 7:51 AM ET USA

    I liked the sentence, “It's past time that someone pulled the plug on the problem, which has crossed the boundary from nonsense into madness,” and agree that its time to stop calling this drivel “Catholic.” It is not "dark night of the soul,” it is the black “smoke of Satan” that blocks out the Light of Christ in the Church and has so engulfed and blinded it, especially in the US, that it can no longer find its way.

  • Posted by: Italiana - Nov. 13, 2006 12:40 AM ET USA

    "Where there was once gold, there is now dross." These are priests ordained to guide normal sane simple people through life? I might be simple, but I'm not stupid.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 12, 2006 10:41 PM ET USA

    damn, now where did I put that 'no whining' sign?

  • Posted by: - Nov. 12, 2006 9:38 PM ET USA

    "For most of the 28 years of his priesthood, he taught philosophy at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada" Good thing he wasn't involved in preparing new seminarians. And I'm sure the vigilant rectors kept him in line.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Nov. 12, 2006 6:34 PM ET USA

    "One of the things that [Nouwen] was able to give voice to was his constant struggle to be affirmed, to be made to feel special, to be touched, to be singled out for admiration, to feel tangible proofs of love." kinda like the US Bps applauding themselves after passing the Dallas Charter.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 12, 2006 5:46 PM ET USA

    I don't see what his problem is. He definitely sounds touched to me.

  • Posted by: JARay - Nov. 12, 2006 5:02 PM ET USA

    I have just read that Elton John has called for all organised religion to be banned because it provokes hatred of homosexuals. He says that he still loves Jesus, as do several homosexuals he knows, but that is all as far as he is concerned. It rather looks as if Fr. Rolheiser has been chatting to Elton John.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 12, 2006 4:11 PM ET USA

    Brilliant, Diogenes. I suspect much of this whigeful screed that dares to consider itself spirituality in today's marketplace of religious ideation is other than the secretive longings of the unrequited gay libido or alternatively the histrionic love-hate of the decompensating borderline personality - a more common problem among women than men and likewise more often encountered in "womenpriest" think.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 12, 2006 3:19 PM ET USA

    I have taken the liberty of sending this to the editor of Catholic San Francisco, our archdiocesan paper, which prints Rolheiser's column regularly. (I almost said faithfully but that would be the wrong word.) I used to write letters to the editor about him but they never printed them and obviously regard him as the cat's meow so I quit wasting my time. In fairness, they do also carry George Weiel's column.

  • Posted by: shrink - Nov. 12, 2006 1:59 PM ET USA

    My sympathies go out to Uncle Louie.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 12, 2006 1:37 PM ET USA

    "If your son wrote a letter like that home from college, you'd head off to pick him up the next day with the U-Haul attached to the minivan." CWNews Subscription: 30$ a year. Uncle Di's comments: priceless!