FR RONALD ROLHEISER
Ascouple of years ago, while serving on a board eeking to hire a full-time social justice director, we were discerning the pros and cons of hiring a man we had just interviewed. He had a fierce passion for justice but sadly that passion, lacked balance, making him one-sided and unable to really hear or see anything that did not fit his vision. One of my
colleagues, pushed strongly for hiring him: "He has the passion for it that's what's important!"
At the time I agreed, ardent passion seemed enough. I no longer agree. Prophecy is more, considerably more, than fiery passion. Anyone can be angry. Anyone can be onesided. Prophecy requires the capacity to listen, to respect, to have critical balance, to walk in unresolved tension, and to empathise with those who do not agree with us. Unfortunately, that is not the current vision.
Today we pride ourselves on being onesided, on being so on fire about something that we refuse all balance. This is equally true for both the left and the right. Everyone, it seems, is a warrior for truth and few remember that one man's freedom fighter is another man's fanatic. The line between prophecy and fundamentalism is thinly drawn.
Hence, if we move in conservative circles, we tend to identify prophecy with a one-sided passion for pro-life causes, family values, sexual purity, and dogmatic orthodoxy. If we move in liberal circles, prophecy then becomes an equally one-sided passion for social justice, feminism, freedom of expression, and individual tights. Good as all of these are in themselves, they may never be taken onesidedly, but are all part of a larger truth. Curiously, both circles have some glaring ideological inconsistencies. One would think that the left would be defending communal tights and the right would be the champion of individual rights, but passion, all on its own, makes for strange anomalies.
Thus, when passion is everything and balance is nothing you get that curious situation wherein the religious right thinks that you have to be extremist and fundamentalist and the religious left agrees!
What is needed today is prophecy that is more than just one-sided passion. We need prophets who can balance and carry the tensions of the time. We need people who can be equally passionate about both individual rights and the laws that protect those rights; about both the value of institutions that foster community and about individual expression and charism; about both private morality and social justice. We need people who can speak for sexual responsibility even as they respect the rights of gays and lesbians.
Ernst Kasemann once said that the problem in the world is that the liberals aren't pious and the pious aren't liberal. That is both true and tragic. We tend to be one or the other and yet there are prophetic qualities in both. Just imagine a world within which the pious would be socially committed and social activists would properly value private prayer and private morality. Imagine some one who could be critical of Church authority and ecclesial institution even as he or she could deeply love and respect the tradition that grounds him or her. Imagine someone, both liberal and pious the same time, who can, in Jesus' words, pull out of the sack the old as well as the new.
Impossible to do? Wishy-washy and noncommitted? No. This is prophecy. To be prophetic religiously is precisely to have this balance, this complexity, this capacity to carry unresolved tension, this ability to be both liberal and pious.
You see this in people like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Jim Wallis, Richard Rohr, Jean Vanier, and Mary-Jo Leddy, just to mention a few. What you see in these people is passion, but not one-sided passion. In them, you see someone who can walk and chew gum at the same time a prophetic quality no longer valued, it seems.
We have enough onesided passion, ideology, and anger in the world and in the Church. We need some prophets of balance.