A Forbidden Reflection

Unveiling the book: The Great Themes of Scripture - New Testament by Richard Rohr & Martos 

By Jean S. Charles

When the Lord called my name, I dropped everything and I offered myself to the parish of St. Elizabeth [in Lyndonville, VT] to serve unconditionally and faithfully, rain or shine. I started the Diocesan Lay Ministry Training Program in 2004, which will end in June 2006.

I also waited two years to get into the program.  In January 2005, the course on the New Testament came with an assigned text by Richard Rohr and Joe Martos: “The Great Themes of Scripture - New Testament.”

 I opened the book and right in the foreword, I found Eastern heresies and western esoterism. I was disappointed because these were precisely the kinds of harmful beliefs that I was running from…running from rain I fell into a pool!

I sent some emails to my classmates in the New Testament course but was asked, from the teacher herself, to stop.   I did, but continued my research on Rohr  (I don’t do well in solitary confinement) and it was a relief when the class ended.  I am determined, though, to share my findings.

The Great Themes of Scripture - New Testament

Starting in the foreword, Richard Rohr refers to God as “Himself/Herself” and raises the red flag to watch out for heresies. In fact, referring to what he will be writing, he says clearly: “Most of it is heresy, some of it is absurd, and all of it is true.”

At the last part of chapter one (page 13), the authors write: “In the infancy narratives there is much more theology than biography, much more myth than history.”

A paragraph later the authors began to discredit the genealogy of Jesus as it appears in the Scriptures: “Upon close inspection” they write, “…it is a contrived and symbolic tracing of Jesus’ ancestry. Historically there must have been many more generations from Abraham to Jesus than the ones mentioned.”  I waited in vain for proof of these remarks.

The authors next discredit the magi story, the Flight to Egypt and even the massacres by Herod of the infants in Bethlehem, reducing the Word of God to mythology.

Dissing the Church

Betraying strong misunderstandings about the Church, on page 24 they write: “Many Catholics have gone through 12 years of religious education and have never surrendered to Jesus as their personal Lord. They may never have heard the Lordship of Jesus Christ proclaimed except in a stream of words among so many other strings of words at Sunday Mass; they may have no idea that it ought to mean something to them personally….” “…There are many non-Catholics, on the other hand, who understand clearly the Lordship of Christ….”

On page 31, last paragraph, we read: “All too often in our history, however, we have behaved as though the Church were not the means but the end itself. We have preached the Church instead of preaching the kingdom and the Lordship of Christ.”

Page 32 says” “We ought to have the same attitude toward the Church and Catholicism. If we are truly disciples of Jesus, we should not proclaim the Church or exalt Catholicism. That misses the whole point of what Jesus was about. Worse than that, instead of furthering the kingdom, it subverts the kingdom. For it hides the good news of God’s reign behind religious works and institutional walls which , to many people, look like so much bad news. It breaks the First Commandment and makes an idol of the Church.”

Avery Cardinal Dulles, please come to my assistance. Tell this man about Ecclesiology.

Page 37, last paragraph, says: “ We don’t have to go to Rome or even to church to find [redemption].”

Here’s a lengthy quote.  On page 44-45, Rohr and Martos write: “If only the Church had shared Jesus’ bias toward the bottom the past 2000 years! If only we had seriously believed him, how much sooner we would have seen the coming of the kingdom! If only we had truly listened to the gospels, how differently Western history would have unfolded! Instead we have made easy friends with power, prestige and possession –even in the name of God and the Church. We use the name of Christ and have fine theological terms for what we do, but often what we do is no different from what everyone else does. We run our dioceses and parishes the same way that governments and businesses are run. We ask what fund-raisers will save our schools, what strategies will rescue our religion programs, what speakers will draw the largest crowds to fill our empty auditoriums. Although we pray to God for help, we act as though good planning and hard work, theological reason, efficiency and organization will save the Church. Many Catholics have never known the kingdom which is the heart and soul of the Church. They have never been part of a network of believers which is built on kingdom values. They have only belonged, attended, or contributed but never really lived in a new way. Their life is not really an alternative to living in the world.”

Later, they write: “But traditional religion runs dry, so Mary comes to Jesus saying, ‘They have no wine’”… here in this story humanity is turning to Jesus, complaining that religion is empty, it no longer gives meaning to life, it no longer give joy to existence.  We want to taste something better than the daily drudgery which the world and cheap religion offer us. The inability of ritualistic religion to satisfy us is symbolized by the empty water jars used for Jewish purification rituals. But if, like the waiters, we do what Jesus asks, he gives us something to replace what the old religious practices were meant to convey.  Much of John’s gospel is directed against cheap religiosity. Well-run churches and sermons that are easy to listen to may appeal to us at first, but they do not really satisfy our deep spiritual hunger. They are empty, and what they seem to hold for us will turn out to be as tasteless as standing water.” (Page 52-53)

 One last quote:  “When we’re involved with mere religion, we’re often satisfied because we think we are fulfilling the law. But actually, the law of Christ can never be fulfilled. Jesus gave his followers only one commandment, to love as he loved.”  As far as I know, Jesus did not abrogate the other Ten Commandments, did He?

New Age Practices

On the Center for Action and Contemplation web site (www.radicalgrace.org), one finds the name and symbol of Christ in the Catholic Church (the P with the X) is used by Richard Rohr to sell the Enneagram.  (In another version, a naked female body replaces the Chi Rho symbol).   The Enneagram, a nine-pointed star, was originally used for divination. It is not a Christian symbol. Rohr is mixing Jungian psychology with spirituality and the Gospel. A magical symbol cannot become holy by the sole virtue of Christo-centric application. Throughout the whole Scripture, God the Father is very resentful of such mixtures. King Manasseh in the Old Testament consulted “spirits” to his peril. 

What attracts people to these practices?   You might be lured since Rohr offers you power and elder titles (makes you feel good, hey?) and initiation ceremonies (such fun). He builds up your ego (makes you feel good). Follow him after many seminars. He may wind up your guru and you will be alienated from the Church and believe you have something better than the Gospel, that Catholics are all wrong and don’t understand Jesus, and don’t even appreciate the Eucharist.  Rohr, on the other hand, has the “truth.” There are many groups out there with such beliefs and, just like Rohr, they use tapes, seminars and books to sell their fallacies. Some disguise themselves as Catholics. I am serious. They all use mind expansion techniques and eastern meditation. They do not praise God; they praise themselves.

Christianity is about redemption from sin, about salvation of the human race, a chance to recover from Adam’s fall and to have eternal life by the mercy of God. It is not about feeling “mature” and important. Feeling good and important is the way of the serpent’s lie in Genesis 3 “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad”.

There are those who seek the disappearance of the Church. The Church is not the physical parish, they say – it’s you.  However, Jesus started His Church when he told Simon “You are Peter…” and after two thousand years, it makes no sense to abandon the entire infrastructure and still think we have a Church.

God approves the house of worship, the sanctuary where the Eucharist is kept, the whole building and real estate around it. We are a billion people. We cannot meet in backyards and living rooms alone; we must keep holy grounds where we go to pray and meet God in silence or in praise. (Hey – even Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation sports a Zen sitting room!)

Back to the Book

Next, please return to the book on page 166 and read about Richard Rohr’s ordination day: “I was feeling sort of numb, and even when the bishop laid his hands on me to ordain me, it seemed I was barely aware of what was going on.”  It turns out, he explains, that the Church where Rohr was ordained was built on a spirit ‘vortex;’ a ‘touch down’ spot where, in the year 1900, the Pentecostal movement started. The “spirits” descended on a prayer group there.   One has to wonder if Rohr’s current hostility against the Church hasn’t some supernatural roots in this history he provides.   

New Oxford Review will also be carrying a critique of Fr. Rohr’s work, prepared by Fr. Bryce Silbey.

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