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Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.

He is a community-builder, lecturer and writer. His books are popular throughout the English-speaking world and his weekly column is carried by more than seventy newspapers worldwide.

Beyond Criticism and Anger - The Invitation to a Deeper Empathy

Beyond anger, beyond indignation, and beyond justified criticism of all that's dishonest and unjust, lies an invitation to a deeper empathy. This invitation doesn't ask us to be stop being prophetic in the face of what's wrong, but it asks us to be prophetic in a deeper way. A prophet, as Daniel Berrigan so often said, makes a vow of love not of alienation.

But that's not easy to do. In the face of injustice, dishonesty, and willful blindness, all of our natural instincts militate against empathy. We should feel anger and indignation in the face of what's wrong. It's understandable too that we might also feel some hateful, judgmental, thoughts towards those whom we deem responsible. But that's a beginning but it's not where we're meant to stay. We're called to move towards something deeper, namely, an empathy which previously we did not access.

At the truly bitter moments of our lives, when we're feeling overwhelmed by feelings of misunderstanding, slight, injustice, and rightful indignation and we're staring across at those whom we deem responsible, anger and hatred will naturally arise within us. It's okay to dwell with them for a time, but after a time we need to move on.

The challenge then is to ask ourselves:

  • How do I love now, given all this hatred?
  • What does love call me to now in this bitter situation?
  • Where can I now find a common thread that can keep me in family with those at whom I'm angry?
  • How do I reach through, reach through the space that now leaves me separated by my own justified feelings of anger?

And, perhaps most important of all: “From where can I now find the strength to not give into hatred and self-serving indignation?

While not denying what's wrong, nor denying the need to be prophetic in the face of all that's wrong, empathy still calls us to a post-anger, a post-indignation, and a post-hatred. Jesus modeled that for us and today it's singularly the most needed thing in our society, our churches, and our families.