Fr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest, the author of more than 30 books and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, which hosts Living School. He spoke with Therese DesCamp last August.
Therese DesCamp: Why does the CAC put so much emphasis on contemplative practice?
Richard Rohr: True contemplation, over time, changes consciousness. Why? Because it gets the ego out of the way and continues to force you to face your shadow.
TD: You’ve said that facing your shadow shifts your view of the world. What does this shift, this changed consciousness, look like?
RR: I’d sum it all up in this softening of the heart, and joy. People feel so liberated when they get what I believe — how arrogant of me — is the true Gospel instead of religion. When they finally discover the real deal, it’s just very joyful. When you can stop judging and stop fearing, you’ve got a nice life ahead of you. Although you carry a whole new set of burdens: the burdens of those who are suffering outside of your own self.
TD: Why isn’t this shift happening for people in churches?
RR: Christians are so used to hearing words from the pulpit that everyone has a tacit agreement: “Well, we don’t really believe that; no one changes their life to do what Jesus says.” Until you discover the mystical level, it’s not a Christianity worth maintaining.
TD: You’ve said elsewhere that many Christians don’t believe that there is even a God to be experienced and instead focus on deconstructing Christian beliefs. What do you think of that?
RR: A lot of people never get beyond the deconstruction stage. They want to hold on to a disbelief system; but that’s never going to give the world hope or vision.
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TD: What does the CAC and the Living School offer that’s different?
RR: We’re not a deconstruction place; we’re a reconstruction place, and our teaching is reconstructive of Christianity.
TD: What is your longing for the CAC?
RR: That we will have retrieved the Christian contemplative tradition enough that it’s taken seriously and credibly, and isn’t considered a sideshow but in fact the heart of the matter.
TD: You’re in your 70s, and you’ve experienced declining health in recent years. Is there a future for the CAC after Richard Rohr?
RR: The CAC staff are working to give the message the credibility so that it doesn’t depend upon Richard. Things don’t outlast charismatic leaders when they’re too tied to them.
In that sense, it’s very good that God has made me weaker and I can’t do as much, so I can be around and not be around.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. It was first published in Broadview’s March 2020 issue.
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