SacredFireA 21st-century Reconsideration of St. John of the Cross


By Ronald Rolheiser
Image, $25.00, 368 pages

Ronald Rolheiser’s Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity effectively revisits the timeless work of 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross, reimagining St. John’s “dark night of the soul” in a nonmonastic and contemporary context. Rolheiser redefines St. John’s faith stages as three life cycles: (1) Essential Discipleship (the struggle to get our lives together), (2) Mature Discipleship (the struggle to give our lives away), and (3) Radical Discipleship (the struggle to give our lives away). While he touches on each stage in Sacred Fire, Rolheiser admits that he does not address them equally here. His 1999 book The Holy Longing centers on Essential Discipleship, and a future book will more thoroughly explore Radical Discipleship; the major focus of Sacred Fire is on the second phase of discipleship.

“If we look back on our lives with honesty, we have to admit that of all the invitations that God has sent us, we have probably accepted and acted on only a fraction of them.”

While our adult years can be a settled time of contentment, Rolheiser writes, too often a resentment of the biblical Martha workload looms: “The demands made on us in our adult years bring with them the perennial temptation to become a workaholic.…[T]hough we are generally blind to this, it becomes an escape” (77). Rolheiser, a specialist in systematic theology and regular columnist for the Catholic Herald, produced an influential first stage with The Holy Longing, which currently boasts more than a quarter of a million copies in print. Sacred Fire is a wise, practical book of applicable spirituality that likely will see similar success.

Reviewed by Jennie A. Harrop

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