Review of Our One Great Act of Fidelity by Ronald Rolheiser
I first encountered the writing of Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, quite by accident. In 2008 I was visiting my cousin in England; we spent a day in Liverpool where her daughter was at university. After a visit to the Roman Catholic cathedral church there—surely a classic example of uninspiring modern church architecture—we browsed the bookstore. I spied a copy of Rolheiser’s best-selling book, The Holy Longing, bought it, and spent the plane ride home absorbed in reading it...
Ronald Rolheiser, Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist (New York: Image, 2011).
I first encountered the writing of Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, quite by accident. In 2008 I was visiting my cousin in England; we spent a day in Liverpool where her daughter was at university. After a visit to the Roman Catholic cathedral church there—surely a classic example of uninspiring modern church architecture—we browsed the bookstore. I spied a copy of Rolheiser’s best-selling book, The Holy Longing, bought it, and spent the plane ride home absorbed in reading it.
That encounter has blossomed into an avid continual reading of Rolheiser’s works. Rolheiser, a Canadian by birth, is a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. His books are popular throughout the English-speaking world and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.
What has impressed me in his writings is a “gracious orthodoxy.” Rolheiser is a priest of firm Roman Catholic commitments, without the “circle-the-wagons” attitude one often finds among proponents of orthodoxy. For him, orthodox doctrine is not a dividing wall we erect to separate ourselves from those who are different from us; it is the means to begin dialogue with others, liberal and conservative, traditionalists or revisionists, Christian or not.
Rolheiser’s latest book is Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist, a delightful, thoughtful series of meditations on the Eucharist: its nature and centrality in the life of faith and the Church. This is not a book about the history of the Eucharist or the various theological disputes about it that have occurred in the history of the Church. Rather, it is a series of personal reflections on the Eucharist, easily understandable to lay and clergy alike, from a person for whom daily reception of the Eucharist is the anchor of his faith.
Rolheiser calls the Eucharist our “one great act of fidelity,” because, in spite of all the other ways Christians through the ages have failed to be faithful to Jesus, in one thing they have: they have continually followed Jesus’ instructions to “Do This....” in remembrance of Him. Rolheiser writes of himself:
The older I get, the more I see, too, how blind I am to my own hypocrisies and how weak and rationalizing is my human nature. I don’t always know when I am rationalizing or biased or following Christ properly. And even when I do, I don’t always have the strength or will to do what I know is right. And so, I lean heavily on the invitation Jesus left us on the night before He died: to break bread and drink wine in His memory and to trust that this, if all else is uncertain, is what I should be doing while I wait for Him to return. ... We can be faithful in this one deep way: we can go to the Eucharist regularly. (pp. 121-122)
The book consists of five distinct parts. Part I is three meditations on the Eucharist and the Incarnation, which lays the foundation for everything else. Part II is twelve mediations on the many dimensions of the Eucharist. For example: “The Eucharist as God’s Physical Embrace,” “The Eucharist as Invitation to Justice,” “The Eucharist as the Ultimate Invitation to Mature Discipleship,” “The Eucharist as Sacrifice.” Part Three is a wonderful treatment of the spirituality of the Eucharist, rooted in the four-fold action of Jesus in instituting the Lord’s Supper (taking, giving thanks, breaking, sharing). In Part Four Rolheiser explains how the Church’s observance of the Eucharist has been its one constant act of faithfulness. He concludes his book with three sermons on the Eucharist by St. Augustine, whose theology figures strongly and often in Rolheiser’s writings.
This book is excellent as a meditative reading for lay and clergy alike, as a book for a study group, or the basis for a Lenten sermon series.
Dan Biles is the Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.