Anticipating a Talk by Alvaro de Vicente on Shaping a Boy’s Moral Imagination

Richard Rohr: How to be a man: Passing through the fire of initiation, i.e. Christ.

In Adam’s Return, Rohr writes about masculinity. He argues that most cultures have initiation rites that they make their boys go through before they can be men … He thinks that men are finding life hard these days, and that it’s partly because we don’t initiate them properly into manhood any more. According to Rohr, there are five lessons that male initiation teaches:
1) Life is hard
2) You are not important.
3) Your life is not about you.
4) You are not in control.
5) You are going to die.

Blogger: To each of the above lessons, Rohr rejoins with the words of Christ and St. Paul…

 To: Life is hard, he rejoins: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11, 28).

To: You are not important… “Do you not know that your name is written in heaven” (Lk. 10, 20).

To: Your life is not about you… “I live now not my own life, but the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians  2, 20).

To: You are not in control… “Can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single moment to your span of life?” (Luke 12, 26).

To: You are going to die… “I am certain of this, neither death nor life, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, not any height nor depth, nor any created thing can ever come between us and the love of God” (Romans 8, 38-39).

* * * * * * * * * * *

Blogger: Notice that the fundamental question, when information technology is so powerful, is formulated in terms of the query: what is the human person? What does it mean to be person and human? What is it that technology cannot do, and can never do? Technology can never deliver one “I am” to another “I am.” Rohr has found experientially, that “the large-than-life people… have all died before they died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown which surely felt like dying, led them into a large life. That’s it! They broke through in what felt like breaking down. Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.”[1] Now, it is here that Rohr can be misinterpreted. He writes: “For many Western people, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the preeminent example of this pattern, and he is often recognized, even by many non-Christians, as the most influential person of the last two thousand years. But the pattern is archetypal and hardwired in history, literature, and poetry. Jesus is a perfect examplar of initiation in its full cycle. But there have been many others who have let ‘the single grain of wheat die… Abraham, Buddha, Mary, Rumi, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and the blood of all martyrs are the very fuel and fire of history.”

I want to say the following about the above: Jesus Christ is the radically unique instantiation of the God-man. He is 100% God, and 100% Man. There is no other. Born in history, He precedes all history because His Persona is the Creating God. St. Paul writes in Colossians 1 , 15-19: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”  This is a formally radical ontological statement that must be taken as such. Barron translates into modern idiom: “Jesus is not only the one in whom things were created but also the one in whom they presently exist and through whom they inhere in one another. And if we are inclined to view the future as a dimension of creation untouched by Christ, we are set straight: ‘Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’(v. 20). Individuals, societies, cultures, animals, plants, planets and the stars – all will be drawn into an eschatological harmony through him. Mind you, Jesus is not merely the symbol of an intelligibility, coherence, and reconciliation  that can exist apart from him; rather, he is the active and indispensable means by which these realities come to be. This Jesus, in short, is the all-embracing, all-including, all reconciling Lord of whatever is to be found in the dimensions of time and space.”

                And so it is important to clarify that Jesus Christ does not fit a pattern. He is the Creator of all patterns. However, it should also be made clear that each human person has been created in the image and likeness of Christ and baptized into Him to repeat Him. And if there are anticipations and redundancies of Him, they are not on the same ontological level as competition to and with Him because as they are entities, He is the One Who gives them their very “to be,” and their likeness is due to having been created in this image and likeness. He is the Prototype and the Pattern. Christ, therefore is to be found experientially within us as we obey believing, and believe obeying. And so the realism and salvation of the human person is not to be found in “Religion,” but experientially in Christ. And for that, given finiteness and sin (the turning back on self), every person needs initiation and a death before death.

In his approach to “traditional initiation rites,” Richard Rohr has found that “they interpreted ordinary men from within – crediting maleness with its own innate spirituality – and worked at bringing men to wholeness from the bottom up, and from the inside out.” He says, that he “will try to do the same… in the face of a culture, and a church, that usually tries to interpret men from the top down and from the outside in.” He writes: “Such a technique will never work, in my opinion, and it has not been working for some time. Our religious institutions are not giving very many men access to credible encounters with the Holy or even with their own wholeness… We are sons of Esau, having sold our birthright for fast-food religion… It does not deeply transform the self or the world.”[2] Rohr offers the insight into his mind: “My continuing momentum in this work has been a rather constant sadness and disappointment over the lack of an inner life in so many men I meet, even among ministers, religious, and devoted laymen, and high-level and successful leaders from whom we would expect more. It is not their fault.”[3] Rohr is very much with pope Francis here: “First, I believe that truth is more likely to be found at the bottom and the edges of things than at the top or the center. That is, the pedagogy of the oppressed and the continued testimony of the saints and mystics – and from the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous. Basically, he is with the last four popes + Francis about working on the inside and going to the peripheries. He then, formulated a remark that I, the blogger, wrote to him about, and which he attributed to Einstein. I asked its provenance but he did not know: He wrote: “As Einstein put it, I believe that ‘no problem can be solved from the same level consciousness that create it.’” But in his footnote, and his email to me, no known source.

   Personally, the whole problem is here, and Joseph Ratzinger made reference to the same thing when he put the conceptual conundrum of the “new” physics concerning particle and wave in his offering of the theological epistemology of  substance and relation, and continues to plague us with the internal discord re: chapter 8 of “Amoris Laetitia.” It personally takes me back to Charles Taylor’s presentation Kant’s pure aprior and Herder’s “romanticism.” Consider Ratzinger’s remark that “in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer, depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature-in-itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject. This, too, mutatis mutandos, is true of the question of God. There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is not such thing as pure objectivity.[4] And so the God question is the human question: what is man? And the man question is: Who is God? Both  questions must be answered from within an initiation into giftedness.

[1] R. Rohr, “Adam’s Return,” Crossroad (2004) 2.

[2] x.

[3] Ibid, xii

[4] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 125.