Lent I: Richard Rohr on Learning How to Love

St Francis sketch sm

Lent I
Richard Rohr on Learning How to Love

During Lent, on Sundays I’d like to share some things I’ve been learning from Richard Rohr.

Rohr is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in “Franciscan alternative orthodoxy,” which emphasizes both practices of contemplation and acts of radical compassion, particularly for those who are on the margins of society.

Each day, in my inbox I receive daily meditations by Rohr that I’ve been keeping and through which I occasionally meander. I will be quoting from these and making comments for our Sunday times together.

Today, on this first Sunday of Lent and the day in our culture when we think of love, here are some thoughts from a meditation I received earlier this week on “Learning How to Love,” in which Richard Rohr considers his Franciscan heritage of loving actions that grow out of contemplation.

St Francis sketch cropFrancis’ emphasis on action, practice, and lifestyle was revolutionary for its time, just as it is now. It is the foundation of Franciscan alternative orthodoxy. For Francis and Clare, Jesus became someone to actually imitate and not just to collectively worship. Believe it or not, this has hardly ever been the norm or practice of most Christians. We preferred morning worship services and arguing about how to conduct them or prohibiting each other from attending “heretical” church services. God must just cry.

The Franciscan School found a way to be both very traditional and very revolutionary at the same time by emphasizing practice over theory, or orthopraxy over orthodoxy. In general, the Franciscan tradition taught that love and action are more important than intellect or speculative truth. Love is the highest category for the Franciscan School (the goal), and we believe that authentic love is not possible without true inner freedom (contemplative practice helps with this), nor will love be real or tested unless we somehow live close to the disadvantaged (the method), who frankly teach us that we know very little about love.

…Early on, Francis found himself so attracted to contemplation, to living out in the caves and in nature, that he was not sure if he should dedicate his life to prayer or to action. So he asked Sister Clare and Brother Sylvester to spend some time in prayer about it and then come back and tell him what they thought he should do. After a few weeks, they both came back. Francis knelt down and put his arms out, prepared to do whatever they told him. They both, in perfect agreement, without having talked to one another, said Francis should not be solely a contemplative; nor should he only be active in ministry. Francis was to go back and forth between the two (much as Jesus did). Francis jumped up with great excitement and immediately went on the road with this new permission and freedom.

…Before Francis, the “secular” priests worked with the people in the parishes and were considered “active.” Those who belonged to religious orders went off to monasteries and prayed. Francis found a way to do both. Thus Franciscans were called friars instead of monks. Francis took prayer on the road; in fact, prayer is what enabled him to sustain his life of love and service to others over the long haul, without becoming cynical or angry. Francis didn’t want a stable form of monastic life; he wanted us to mix with the world and to find God amidst its pain, confusion, and disorder.

This seems very “Jesus-shaped” to me.

Furthermore, it seems an appropriate emphasis for the season.

In his 2015 message for Lent, Pope Francis spoke of the Lenten discipline of fasting. Without denying that practices like this may help renew us inwardly, Francis suggested that we fast most of all from a spirit of indifference toward our neighbors, a selfish attitude that has taken on “global proportions” in our day: “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Hearing and responding to God in Lent will involve not only seeking purity of heart, but also active engagement in practices of showing mercy and living as peacemakers, cultivating and extending the love of God to those around us.

Contemplation and action. Action and contemplation.

A life filled with love. A life expressing love.

21 thoughts on “Lent I: Richard Rohr on Learning How to Love

  1. Thanks Mike & Robert for posting for our Lenten journey. As our suffering is taken up in His it has meaning & we are being made whole. As Jesus in exhaustion & frustration cursed the fig tree, Lent helps us cast the mountain of unbelief away so that all things, action & contemplation become a prayer of faith for our restoration.


  2. Robert, your first sentence, indeed much of what you write, could have been words uttered by our Lord himself. May you find comfort in knowing that you do not suffer alone but Jesus shares in your pain and suffering and that somehow, someway he will make all things new.


  3. This place has come a long way to end up with Richard Rohr, the best kept open secret in the Church of Jesus Messiah. It isn’t like he has invented something new, it’s more like he has taken the best, the essence, the highest of spiritual traditions going back thru the millennia and wrapped them up in a 21st century package that honors our Lord Jesus and explains what folks were not so ready to hear and understand two thousand years ago. Or twenty years ago.

    Meanwhile we continue to argue and debate and fight and wrangle and accuse and attack and demean and condemn amongst ourselves in the name of our Risen Lord, who prayed that we might become One with God our Father in the Light and Spirit which was left with us back in the beginning of this Age that would appear to be coming to an end. Go figure.

    Richard does not present us with anything that would be strange to Jesus, or the apostles or the desert fathers and mothers, or the Greek fathers, or Francis Assisi, or Julian Norwich, or Therese Lisieux, or Thomas Merton. Nor does he hesitate to recognize truth outside the Christian tradition wherever found. What he does do is to explain things in terms more comfortable with those living in the 21st century and tired of old religious language and thinking.

    At the center of Richard’s understanding is what has come to be called centering prayer, a part of the tradition of contemplative practice, and not to be confused with meditation, tho they are quite similar in appearance. It has little to do with the rational and logical and linear and dualistic thought of the so called modern enlightenment tradition, which is probably why it is so often rejected at first sight.

    The last two thousand years of the Church Age got us here. Hats off. Millions of words have been spent and the result is still ongoing division, even as the Pope and the Patriarch exchange pleasantries. The tradition which Richard presents in contemporary garb bypasses that division and produces unity. As Richard has said elsewhere, unity is not the same as uniformity.

    I see people in pain and distress and anguish. Centering prayer does not magically make those things go away. It allows you to enter an oasis where these tribulations of the soul lose their ability to run your life. Monks have carried the tradition of unity for the rest of us, but they have tended to deal with the tribulations of the soul as if they were in a life and death battle to be won by strength of will and determination. Centering prayer more looks on difficult situations and thoughts, what the old time monks thought of as demons, as something to be gently released as often as necessary in order to stay centered in the heart rather than the head.

    This is much easier to do than wielding sword and shield. It works. It isn’t something that is suddenly accomplished 100%, you just get better at it the more you practice. It is a way out of the house of mirrors. The key is probably realizing that you are not your ego, something that strikes most people as ridiculous. I don’t agree with everything that Richard Rohr has to say, and that is irrelevant because he is presenting 21st century truth better than anyone else I know alive and available. What amazes me most is that Richard’s daily meditations or teachings are available to everyone free of charge and most people will not give him the time of day.


  4. Jesus is right there with you & your wife Robert. It is in our non-excellence, even our hellish experiences of that he is found. Otherwise, the Cross means only the death of another good man.

    hugs to you-


  5. Lord God, I’m tired and afraid. Life is spinning out of control, and I have no idea how to right it. I was not ready for the gift of life you gave me when I was born, or when I first became aware of myself and the world around me; even less am I ready now, after more than five decades of this life. I can’t see or imagine a way forward to the end that isn’t filled with loss and poverty and incapacity, loneliness and isolation. No place is home. Strengthen me, God, to face what I must face; preserve my fragile faith, help me not to be overcome with hopelessness; protect my wife and comfort her in places that I fail at both. Hold us both in your love, even when we are unable to feel it; forgive us our sins, and bring us into your kingdom, on the other side of all our fears and losses; save us from death and shame and nothingness. Hear me, hear us, O Lord, in Jesus’ name.


  6. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, your pastor’s words were on the mark
    . . . like the change that happened to St. Francis when he was enabled to overcome his revulsion of lepers by the grace of God:

    “One day he was riding his horse near Assisi, when he met a leper. And, even though he usually shuddered at lepers, he made himself dismount, and gave him a coin, kissing his hand as he did so. After he accepted a kiss of peace from him, Francis remounted and continued on his way. He then began to consider himself less and less, until, by God’s grace, he came to complete victory over himself.
    After a few days, he moved to a hospice of lepers, taking with him a large sum of money. Calling them all together, as he kissed the hand of each, he gave them alms. When he left there, what before had been bitter, that is, to see and touch lepers, was turned into sweetness. For, as he said, the sight of lepers was so bitter to him, that he refused not only to look at them, but even to approach their dwellings. If he happened to come near their houses or to see them, even though he was moved by piety to give them alms through an intermediary, he always turned away his face and held his nose. With the help of God’s grace, he became such a servant and friend of the lepers, that, as he testified in his Testament, he stayed among them and served them with humility.”

    from God, overflows the love changes everything . . . that, with God’s help, we can set ourselves and our fears aside and care for those ‘on the margins’ . . . that is our Christianity in action, that is our following of Christ’s example in our journey through the desert that is this world

    a favorite Lenten film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZEKSHBJtdc


  7. I was reflecting the Beatitudes in this sentence. The last 4 Beatitudes bless those who are involved in practices that the world little values. One of them is seeking “purity of heart.” The other two bless “the merciful” and “peacemakers.” The final one blesses those the world not only undervalues but also actively persecutes.

    I don’t mean to list these in a way that implies personal piety should be valued over activity. You are probably right that we tend to look at it that way too much. And especially in a season like Lent.


  8. “””Hearing and responding to God in Lent will involve not only seeking purity of heart, but also active engagement in practices of showing mercy and living as peacemakers, cultivating and extending the love of God to those around us”””

    The “but also” is so easily read as the beginning of an addendum. Isn’t it really the other way around? “active engagement in practices of showing mercy and living as peacemakers” carries one much further along in the “seeking purity of heart” than, at first, being concerned with Purity. Purity can become a deary tedious goal; Love is nothing like that. We always seem to list it this way – myself included – making that-other-stuff read like an addendum. I know it is not intentional; but does it represent a defect in the modern western mind? We just keep falling back into that mode of thinking, and constantly wrestling ourselves out of it.


  9. This!

    We must always be diligent in discussion of such things not to turn prayer into magick. A healing is not **because of** prayer. Magick invites cynicism.


  10. I’ve seen people get sick despite prayers and people die despite prayers. I’ve also seen people in the midst of those things thank me and others praying for them, saying they’ve felt all the prayers.

    It is SO easy to get cynical. And I’ve had God sit down beside me and say, “Keep praying, my child. It’s good for others AND you.”


  11. –> “…Christians are also among those on the need and on the margins, in need of spirituality, as well as material assistance, to help in coping with their often, or always, difficult situations and lives.”

    Sometimes I think Christians understand this need – their OWN need for help, especially spiritual – better than non-Christians. This is why I think fellowship with and amongst believers is so critical to the Christian walk.


  12. “…prayer is what enabled him to sustain his life of love and service to others over the long haul, without becoming cynical or angry.”

    I have seen enough of the healing and humbling effects of devoted prayer to know that I don’t do it enough.


  13. …practices of contemplation and acts of radical compassion, particularly for those who are on the margins of society.

    That’s good. A spirituality that focuses on helping those in need and on the margins is good. But just as important is a spirituality of those in need and on the margins. Christians are not just those on the outside, looking in at those in need, and looking for ways to help them; Christians are also among those on the need and on the margins, in need of spirituality, as well as material assistance, to help in coping with their often, or always, difficult situations and lives.


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