The Fordham Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education drew more than 600 attendees to its annual spring convocation on Saturday, Jan. 27, to hear best-selling writer Richard Rohr, O.F.M., deliver a three-part presentation on the power of embracing the mysteries and contradictions of life and biblical teachings.
“I’m thrilled with the turnout,” said the Rev. Anthony Ciorra, dean of the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education. “It’s also great to see such a cross-section of ages represented and a wide variety of people and backgrounds. It’s quite gratifying.”
The hundreds who packed the McGinley Center on the Rose Hill campus marked the largest turnout since the all-day event’s inception in 2004. Attendees included alumni, students, faculty and many people involved in Catholic ministry throughout the New York metropolitan area.
Originally designed to bring GRE alumni and students together, the convocation is now open to the public and has grown by more than four fold in three years. The theme for this year’s event was “Jesus as the First Non-Dual Teacher in the West.”
Father Rohr, who is an internationally known inspirational speaker and author of Radical Grace: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr (Saint Anthony Messenger Press, 1995), Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004) and more than 20 other books, said most people are taught to be dualistic thinkers. He described dualistic thinking as a mindset that divides the world into “good guys and bad guys and, if at all possible, to eliminate the bad guys.”
It is a “dual” way of thinking because it cleaves everything into two—black or white, friend or foe, all or nothing.
Although such a thought process has its place in certain spheres of life, Father Rohr said it’s inadequate for understanding the most profound teachings of the Bible.
“The greatest spiritual teachers of history, Jesus par excellence, were teaching things that could not be understood by the dualistic mind,” he told the gathering. “So we’ve given you all the proper metaphysics: If you are Catholics, there are the doctrines and the dogmas, but we haven’t given you the mind with which to understand them.”
The Catholic tradition, he said, is full of contradictions. Among them the fact that Catholicism teaches that God is one omnipotent being and three as part of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, the faith treats Christ as both human and divine, and then there is the issue of the virgin birth.
All three paradoxes place dualistic-thinking Catholics, he said, in the unenviable position of having to accept such contradictions without thinking about them, or to turn their backs on the Church—and far too many have opted for the latter.
“What I believe is that the character, the very heart, of biblical faith is not to reach resolution and not to gain closure, but to live without resolution . . . and to be okay with that,” Father Rohr said. “If that’s not faith, I don’t know what faith is. We have not on the practical, emotional, or intellectual level been taught how to do that. We just believe that faith is believing in some impossible or ridiculous things.”
Instead of such a mindset, Father Rohr champions what he referred to as the contemplative, non-dualistic mind. It is a perspective that doesn’t seek a rational explanation or definitive resolution for every paradox, but instead delves deeper and tries to reach a fuller understanding of the contradictions.
For Father Rohr, it is out of the pursuit of profundity and understanding from which wisdom emerges. He alluded to an analysis of the synoptic gospels that found that Jesus is asked 128 questions either directly or indirectly. But Jesus, as the first non-dual teacher in Western tradition, was not one to provide simple, either-or answers. He only answers three of them.
“It’s amazing,” Father Rohr said, “that we took the wisdom-oriented style of teaching that Jesus used, which is to pull people into the horns of a dilemma, to pull them into something that they cannot resolve with the dualistic mind, and we turned Catholicism and Christianity largely into giving people answers.”
By Victor M. Inzunza