Local News Archive
Print Issue: December 6, 1990
Priests Reflect On Images Of Self, God In Assembly
By Paula Day
In order to deepen his spiritual life, a priest must be able to say, "All I can be is a little man, a poor man."
With these words, Father Richard Rohr, OFM, challenged priests of the Atlanta Province to empty themselves of self so they could, in the worlds of Thomas Merton, be "vacant for God."
In a November 27-28 Second Annual Assembly of Priests, Father Rohr addressed the psychological underpinnings of masculine spirituality and the need for detachment and integration in one's journey. He is a frequent director of priest retreats, an author, and director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.
"If you need to be loved, to be liked, in no way can you preach the Gospel," the Franciscan told his brother priests, "because you will seek domination and illusion rather than truth."
The first day's session concentrated on examining one's self-illusions through understanding the issue of power and recognizing the value of a good, healthy and necessary use of power.
"If we don't integrate power, we will misuse and abuse it," Father Rohr pointed out.
On the second day of the sessions the Franciscan asked his listeners to examine their operative images of God, noting that a sign of spiritual growth is moving from an image of God as one who serves and maintains, to the One who is completely another, unnameable, He Who Is.
The man growing in spirituality, Father Rohr said, must come to understand and finally to integrate four types of power, which he identified as the archetypal king, warrior, magician and lover.
The good king uses power as a mentor, as a father, is sure of his territory. He is not threatened by the adulthood of others, the Franciscan said. On the other hand, the false king exerts authoritarian power, attempting to be the center of the world.
While the kind proclaims the boundaries, the warrior defends them. The warrior is trained in the theology of sacrifice and is not concerned with power but is focused on the goal. Without a good king, the warrior is dangerous, and today there are warriors without wise kings, the Franciscan priest believes. These warriors become "loose canons," zealously dedicated to false goals. He used Oliver North as an example. Ghandi was "a wonderful warrior," he added, one who saw beyond his small domain.
The magician archetype does not fare well in the Western world, according to Father Rohr, for in his truest form, the magician is the prophet who "tells it as it is," the one who "explodes the illusion of evil." He speaks in paradoxes of "both/and" rather than absolutes of "either/or" and forces the logical mind to experience the chaotic. The magician puts darkness and light together and integrates opposites "within us." He takes sin and asks how can grace be made out of it. As the prophet he is hated because he won't allow one to move into denial.
Father Rohr said the prophet Nathan, who confronted King David with his sins of murder and adultery and facilitated his repentance and healing, is an example of the magician/prophet. The Sermon on the Mount, where the poor, those who suffer, those who weep, are the blessed, and where the wheat and weeds are allowed to grow together, is Jesus' depiction of the magician's vision, he observed.
False magicians appear as those who use their power to manipulate and who preach fire and brimstone. Father Rohr suggested that recently unmasked televangelists are examples of modern false magicians.
Closing the first day's session, the Franciscan spoke of the lover archetype who delights in and appreciates the good, the true, the beautiful, for its own sake. The attitude of the lover is "Now is enough, this is it." The power of this archetype is that it calls one to give of himself without asking "What's in it for me?" The non-lover, on the other hand, is always bored and always needs more stimulation. Addiction is the perversion of the power of this archetype, he said.
The second day Father Rohr asked the priests to examine their images of God.
"Do we want a God who serves us, who maintains us at our present level of growth?" he challenged them. The need is to let go of "the little God, the lunchbox Jesus" and to seek a new face, a new name for God. He pointed to such Scriptural images of God as the suffering servant and the mother who could not forget the infant of her womb.
"We don't know God unless we can cry," the Franciscan noted, suggesting that tears are a way of expressing an experience of the inexpressible God. He quoted the Beatitude, "Blessed are those who weep," and asked, "Do men give one another permission to cry?"
"The main liability of the priesthood is it doesn't produce humble people," he said. Weeping can be an expression of an experience of God, of an experience one cannot verbalize. He told the priests they would not be there, they would not be priests today if they had not had an experience of God at some time in their lives.
But first one must be rid of the false egos of role, title position, function, in order to be "vacant for God," the Franciscan pointed out. Contemplative prayer, the "long, loving look at the real," is a way through to the to the letting go of false selves. Contemplative prayer "is not figuring out a problem, not self-consciousness, but consciousness beyond shadow or disguise," he explained. "It is God in me loving God, the Spirit in me recognizing the Spirit."
Father Rohr has been giving priests' retreats for more than a decade. In a brief interview after the conference, he said he has seen tremendous growth in spirituality among priests in the past 10 years, due, he believes, to the suffering many have experienced. He thinks this growth will continue because priests see the need for a deep spiritual life.
"Those who maintain a healthy self-knowledge, embrace a radical form of prayer and have some kind of contact with the oppressed will keep their spirituality real," he observed.
Approximately 150 priests from the Atlanta archdiocese and the dioceses of Savannah and Charleston, SC, Charlotte and Raleigh, NC, attended the sessions which were held at the Lanier Plaza Conference Center in Atlanta.
Commenting on the first-day session, Father John Adamski, pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta said it was "very helpful, giving me a psychological and spiritual framework for things I've been experiencing myself -- helping me identify these experiences."
"I found it challenging me to continue my own spiritual growth in a more serious light," commented Father Richard Kieran, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Atlanta. "My effectiveness in my own ministry in years to come will depend on this growth."