Book review: Rolheiser on 'the radical, shocking, raw physical character of the Eucharist'

by Rich Heffern

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By Ronald Rolheiser
Published by Doubleday, $18

In his new book Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist, popular Catholic writer Fr. Ron Rolheiser lays out a spirituality of Eucharist. It’s a series of personal reflections from his life as a priest and a dedicated Christian.

He begins by telling the story of the little girl who woke up at night frightened and disoriented, convinced there were monsters under her bed. She ran to her parents’ bedroom. Her mother took her back to her own room, turned on the light, showed her there was nothing there, then said: “You don’t need to be afraid. God is with you here in your room.” The girl replied: “I know that God is here with me, but I need someone here who has some skin!”

Rolheiser says we are all like that girl, creatures of the senses. We need a God who has some skin. The central tenet of Christianity is that, in Christ, God took on concrete flesh. Indeed the very word Christ means divine reality inside of human flesh. And God is still taking on concrete flesh in the body of Christ that is the Christian community. “The Eucharist is the place where God continues to take concrete physical flesh just as he once did in the womb of Mary. In the Eucharist, the word continues to become flesh.”

Jesus left us both the Word and this one ritual. Historically Roman Catholics and Protestants have differed as to which to give priority, with Eucharist winning out in Catholic circles. Rolheiser writes about “the radical, shocking, raw physical character of the Eucharist.” The Eucharist, he writes, “isn’t abstract, a theological instruction, a creed, a moral precept, or even just an intimate word. It’s bodily, an embrace, a kiss, something shockingly physical, the real presence in a deeper way than even the old metaphysics imagined.”

As in all his books, Fr. Rolheiser grounds his reflections with stories – from his own career, from the world’s treasure of spirituality, from the ramshackle, messy, in-your-face business of living a life.

He confesses that he goes to Eucharist daily for many reasons, but that one stands out: “This is the one place where I can be faithful, where I can essentially measure up. I can’t always control how I feel or how I think and I can’t always measure up morally and spiritually, but inside of my perpetual inadequacy and occasional doubts and confusion, I can be faithful in this one deep way. I can go to the Eucharist regularly.”

Indeed, the Eucharist is the one great act of fidelity.

At the end of the book he includes three famous sermons on the Eucharist from Christian history, from St. Augustine.

Fr. Rolheiser’s books -- The Holy Longing, The Restless Heart, Forgotten Among the Lilies, the Shattered Lantern, and others – are essential reading for any Catholic spiritual seeker. This one takes its place among the others. It’s a unique reflection on the central sacrament of the church.

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