MELBOURNE, Fla. (CNS) — Franciscan Father Richard Rohr told a Florida audience that he is about to end 43 years of giving retreats all over the world “and I haven’t found a single perfect person.”
“We all come to God by falling, by doing it wrong,” he said. “The ego doesn’t like that.”
The San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park partnered with St. Stephen Parish in nearby Winter Springs to welcome the priest Jan. 24-27 on the last leg of his final tour.
For two evenings and a retreat weekend for 150 men that sold out before it was ever marketed, Father Rohr inspired more than 1,000 participants — many of whom attended both evenings, sold more than 1,000 of his books and CDs and signed every book presented for autograph.
A prolific author, speaker and founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action in Albuquerque, N.M., he is celebrating his 70th birthday in March with the launch of the Rohr Institute’s Living School for Action and Contemplation.
“Great suffering lets us see reality is not the way it seems,” Father Richard Rohr said. “Struggling moves you to a higher level of spirituality and whatever happens to you is pure grace.”
“Psychologist Carl Jung said that the two major tasks in life are building your ego structure in the first half and getting beyond the building to the purpose of life in the second,” Father Rohr said. “It is transformation that gets you from the first to the second half — the transformation of failure. The normal paths of transformation are great love and great suffering — there is something more than you love yourself.”
He cited families with a handicapped child, couples after divorce, a homosexual coming out, rejection, the marginalized, and the excluded as examples of suffering.
“Great suffering lets us see reality is not the way it seems,” Father Rohr continued. “Struggling moves you to a higher level of spirituality and whatever happens to you is pure grace.”
Laughter erupted throughout the evening presentations as participants followed Father Rohr’s example and advice to “laugh at yourself.”
“Dualistic thinking is exclusionary,” he said. “It produces divisions and the ego loves to take sides. It gives a false satisfaction.”
As if to add weight to his own authority, he told the crowd: “I checked this out personally with Dr. (Mehmet) Oz,” a physician with a popular nationally syndicated talk show. “He said the mind is a binary system,” the priest said. “It functions with comparison — short/tall, win/lose, if it’s not this, it’s that. It’s not true, but it’s helpful in a world of constant binary choices. A lot of people stay there.”
Father Rohr explained that the major documents of Christianity demand that we move beyond the binary — calling the work of the Second Vatican Council “brilliant documents of high-level inspiration.” And he cited the Trinity as the perfect example — “the principle of three undoes two, moves to dynamism and relationship.”
“In a normal day, you can get through with dualistic thinking,” Father Rohr continued, “but then comes love, death, suffering, a notion of God, a notion of infinity, sex and you need a different processor. Love overcomes the dualistic mind. You cannot love in any sustained way with a dualistic mind. The ego begins with no — the soul begins with yes.”
It was this that most touched Donna Walters from Annunciation Parish in Altamonte Springs, a senior in the Orlando Diocese’s Commissioned Lay Ecclesial Ministry Program at San Pedro Center.
“We all do it,” Walters said. “We’re so full of our ego, we rush to judge. We have to be aware of it and then we can reflect and change. Are we open enough, empty enough to hear the still small voice? God transforms us through love.”
Jerry McDaniel, a St. Stephen parishioner ensured the needs of the men on the two-day retreat were accommodated.
“What moved me the most was how the men easily went into silence as if it’s something they’ve wanted for a long time and how quickly they embraced the opportunity to converse with other men about being male, being a man,” McDaniel said. “They bonded with Father Rohr and were drawn to him. They didn’t talk about football or their golf score. They talked about spirituality.”
The highlight for McDaniel was the healing service. Each man was sent off with a strip of red tape to place pieces on different parts of their bodies where there has been pain or humiliation. They returned to put the pieces of tape from their bodies onto a crucifix.
“It looked like blood,” McDaniel said. “Father said, ‘You’ve given it all to Jesus. You don’t have the right to take it back. Move on from here.’ He has profoundly changed the way I think about things.”
“Start with a yes,” Father Rohr concluded. “Silence is the only thing deep enough. Great love, great suffering and prayer is the technique for seeing your inner self — immense enlightenment. The goal of love, suffering, prayer is a unitive consciousness — union with everyone and everything.”