Spiritual Directors International

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Sacred Fire

Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity
by Ronald Rolheiser
Colorado Springs, CO: Image Books, 2014
368 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, is a Roman Catholic priest and president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, USA. He writes a weekly newspaper column, is a speaker in many countries, and is the author of several books. If you are familiar with him and his work, you will want to read Sacred Fire. If you have not read his book The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality, you might want to read that first, both because it is an excellent book and because it lays the foundation for Sacred Fire. Rolheiser describes The Holy Longing as a Spirituality 101 course, a book to help us achieve an essential leadership.

Sacred Fire lays out where we go from there: “Jesus doesn’t call the ready; he calls the willing” (61). Writing from a distinctly Christian perspective, he describes the process of life and spiritual maturity as a series of struggles. In general, the spiritual journey has three broad phases:

  • Essential Discipleship is the struggle to get our lives together.
  • Mature Discipleship is the struggle to give our lives away.
  • Radical Discipleship is the struggle to give our deaths away.

Sacred Fire describes each of these categories of struggle and focuses on the struggles of mature discipleship: “The human soul is like a fine wine that needs to ferment on various barrels as it ages and mellows” (3).

Drawing examples from scripture, classical Christian writings, and other faith backgrounds, Rolheiser illustrates the challenges of mature discipleship as living more for others than for ourselves. He gives clear, insightful descriptions of what characterizes mature discipleship as well as the temptations it typically faces. Chapters four and five, in particular, draw together Gospel invitations to mature discipleship. My own personal favorite describes Jesus's invitation to the rich young man and is illustrated with two images that drew me into the invitation. One image was of a “support group for priests,” while the second was a story of the desert mothers and fathers, titled “What does it mean to ‘become all flame?’” (137).

Sacred Fire is filled with wisdom and insight about mature discipleship. Drawing from roots in Christian spirituality, it is a valuable potential resource for spiritual directors from a wide variety of faith traditions. Rolheiser writes honestly and with care, giving his readers tangible places to grasp mystical truths.

As a spiritual director, specifically, I plan to depend on Sacred Fire when I accompany people who have become frustrated with a checklist approach of their childhood backgrounds and are seeking fulfillment in their adult lives. It provides an understandable pathway of hope into deeper, more mature spirituality.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California.

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