Saturday, September 22, 2012

Metaphorical Interpretation VS. Common Sense. And the Winner Is?

I'm reading the Valley Catholic diocesan newspaper again because it is showing up in my mail box, through a new initiative that delivers it to every registered Catholic home. I stopped subscribing to the paper a while back, because it always provokes me to want to write some sort of response to the doctrinal errors that stand out for me in its articles, and I have other more useful things to do with my time.

But I made the mistake of reading through the September 18 issue, since it was here, and so I got myself provoked again, this time by an article by Oblate author and regular "Spirituality" columnist Fr. Ron Rolheiser called "Ultimate Answer to Violence." The way he writes is, to me, just another reminder of the gap between common sense and the vaporous obfuscations[1] of non-traditional writers about Church teachings.

For example, Fr. Rolheiser puts quotes around the work "demons." Does that mean that he doesn't think demons exist? And he explains what "in essence" Jesus meant by fasting, using only sixty-two words, not referring at any point to abstaining from food. And the worst thing he does is to substitute the term "Ultimate Power" for "Father" when referring to the first Person of the Trinity. Details follow below.

Fr. Rolheiser starts with a good goal, in that he is trying to explain the paradox of how nonviolence can triumph over violence. Fr. Rolheiser writes that the answer to "How do gentleness and meekness inherit the earth? ... may strain logic somewhat, but Jesus hints at an answer to that question in his response to his disciples when they ask why they do not have the power to cast out certain demons, when Jesus can cast then out."

I don't think that Jesus "hints," and writing that Jesus hints at anything implies a kind of smugly inappropriate familiarity with the Second Person Who is the Creator of the Universe. But let's go on.

Before I quote what Fr. Rolheiser posits as Jesus's metaphorical answer, let's look at the literal words of the Gospel, Matthew 17: 14-20:

14 And when he was come to the multitude, there came to him a man falling down on his knees before him, saying: Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic, and suffereth much: for he falleth often into the fire, and often into the water.

15 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

16 Then Jesus answered, and said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me.

17 And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour.

18 Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out?

19 Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. *For amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you shall say to this mountain Remove from hence to yonder place, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you.

20 But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.

Here is Fr. Rolheiser's thought on verses 19 and 20:

"Jesus' answer is metaphorical, but deep. He replies, in essence, that "demons" are cast out, not through a superior cultic power, but through a superior moral power, namely, by the power that is created inside someone when he or she sufficiently nurtures a deep private integrity, graciousness, love, innocence, gentleness, and hold these in fidelity in the face of all temptation, including violence.

Nurturing these things inside oneself connects a person to the ultimate source of all Being, the Ultimate Power, the power that Jesus called his "Father."

There we have the sixty-two words that Fr. Rolheiser uses to define fasting.

I would suggest that we generally should take Jesus' words literally, unless they are obviously not to be taken literally. In contrast, Rolheiser seems to know that Jesus' answer is metaphorical, although he does allow that it is "deep." Rolheiser's point seems to be that "demons" whatever he thinks they are, are cast out not by literal prayer and abstaining from food as in traditional fasting but by "nurturing ... integrity, graciousness, love" and so forth.

And if you achieve that nurturing (no deprivation of one's senses is necessary, it seems), you will be connected to the "Ultimate Power." When Rolheiser writes that Jesus called that Ultimate Power "Father," is he hinting that "Father" was just a limited sexist term that Jesus used, but that we are too smart to use? I fear that might be so.

Does this kind of terminology belong in a Catholic newspaper? I think not. Catholics don't believe in an abstract impersonal Higher Power, or Force. We believe in One God in Three Persons, and God the Father is one of the Persons. We don't believe in God the Ultimate Power.

Ultimate answer to violence ... in Spirituality by Father Ron Holheiser, The Valley Catholic, September 18, 2012. p. 14.
[1] Hope the big word didn't put you off. The definition of "to obfuscate" fits the situation exactly, but it take a lot more words: "To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand."

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