EAGER TO LOVE by Richard Rohr. Franciscan Media, ©2014. 294 pages. Hardcover, $21.99 (U.S.). Reviewed by Edwin Buettner
This most recent book by the well-known American Franciscan is both a retrospective and a refinement of the major themes that have been the focus of his teaching over the past four decades. They include: justice, simplicity, God and nature, and viewing the world from a non-dualistic perspective. In the 25 pages of references and endnotes, Rohr traces the deep theological and spiritual roots of his work. In essence, he takes pains to remind the reader that he remains firmly grounded in what he calls “the Great Tradition.”
Rohr’s genius lies in his capacity to present what is sometimes initially perceived as radical interpretations of Catholicism, only to reveal them as expressions of the deeper meanings of dogma and practice. In other words, Rohr has the gift of understanding and explaining the essence of church teachings. By way of example, consider his reflections on the nature of sin, in which he synthesizes traditional theological thinking with outcomes of current scientific studies in order to reveal the fundamental imperfection in created reality. In this context, sin is a manifestation of the “negative feedback loops” that support growth and development — a kind of “necessary fault.” From this point of view, what may be seen as a stale and outmoded concept becomes a teaching that not only enlightens, but also gives direction to life.
Because this book is written during the time of Francis’ papacy, it provides an ideal vehicle for demonstrating the relevance of Francis of Assisi to the 21st century. “Not only did he (Pope Francis) take the name of Francis, but he seems eager to proclaim . . . the wisdom of the Gospel . . . (and) has moved the papacy from the palace to the streets.” Rohr believes the election of this pontiff is a gift of the Holy Spirit, given at a time when the church and the world are hungry for the Gospel witness as proclaimed by St. Francis. Though Rohr is a Franciscan, he does not act as a cheerleader for the exclusivity of his order; rather, he emphasizes that a true living out of the ideals of his founder necessarily will remove artificial barriers among people. He writes, “There is a universal accessibility, invitation, and inclusivity in authentic Franciscan spirituality.”
There is no better summary of this work than the title itself. Rohr believes that love exists at the nexus of human choice and Divine Grace. A decision to love opens one to the flow of Grace, which is by definition, unearned. Love is not solely a philosophical notion nor is it only an outcome of human emotion, rather, “Love is a very real energy, a spiritual life force that is much more powerful than ideas or mere thoughts.” It should come as no great surprise that love is central to the author’s reflections on death: “When you die, you are precisely the capacity you have developed to give and receive love . . . (and) . . . you will easily and quickly go to the home of love.”