Rolheiser’s ‘Sacred Fire’ a reflective read on how to deepen our adult faith life

By Sister Mary Core, OSB

Though not a “hot-off-the-press” book, “Sacred Fire” by Ronald Rolheiser is well worth reading. It is a follow-up to his “The Holy Longing,” and the predecessor to a yet-to-be-written book on Radical Discipleship.

Stick with it through part one of the book (chapters 1 and 2) in which Rolheiser sets the stage for the rest of the book. Chapters 3-8 are the payoff for this read.

Chapter 1 compares human growth and maturation to the fermentation of a fine wine, which takes time and patience. Discipleship, according to Rolheiser, has three stages which parallel our human growth: Birth to adulthood (Essential Discipleship), our adult years (Mature Discipleship), and our senior/dying years (Radical Discipleship).

Rolheiser reviews Essential Discipleship, which was the focus of his book “The Holy Longing.”  With luck we get safely through this stage of growth and come to some degree of maturity in all its phases. This brings us to part 2 (chapters 3-8) which is the heart and center of the book.


It is here we are invited to look at our adult lives (mature discipleship) and reflect on three things: 1) How well we are doing in following Christ, 2) The price of mature discipleship, and 3) What aids and guides we have to assist us on the journey.

Rolheiser shares many Gospel stories that call us to mature discipleship, where we remain faithful when we would rather run away; are generous and compassionate when we feel more like being self-serving and self-centered; let our light shine on the good and the bad when we would rather discriminate; and practice humility when our inner self is crying out for revenge, acknowledgment or understanding.

The point is, we are called to move from goodness to greatness. Consider the Gospel story of the rich young man, or how Mary ponders her Visitation and other events. For this, Rolheiser notes, we need prayer.

That is, our prayer needs more than pious words and happy, kind thoughts. We need hard-working prayer that keeps us rooted and grounded and in relationship with God. It can be public (liturgical, official prayer of the church) or it can be private (one-to-one conversation with God), but prayer always draws us to deeper intimacy with God. Prayer, like any conversation, is about taking and making the time to build greater understanding and stronger relationship.

Mature discipleship, according to Rolheiser, invites us to bless others by acknowledging the greatness and goodness in the other.  The greatest blessings we give are those which are most difficult for us to give, those which are at our expense, or which elevate the other above ourselves. This calls for humility and a healthy ego. Yet it is through giving blessings that we, ourselves, become blessing and are blessed. By giving and receiving blessing, we grow in gratitude.

And gratitude, Rolheiser tells us, defines our sanctity, maturity and generativity. Being mature disciples calls us to love and forgive, not just those closest to us, but our enemies as well. Mature disciples transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and cursing into blessing, gratitude, honesty and forgiveness.

We will always be inadequate, always falling short, Rolheiser says, but if we remain grateful, faithful, true and “at our post in commitment, love and duty . . . . God will do the rest.”


“Sacred Fire” starts slowly but becomes a gem. I underlined lots and filled the margins with comments and questions. I was able to identify with much of it and did a good deal of pondering on ways that I need to become a more mature Christian disciple.

If you are looking for a reflective read on how to make your adult faith life deeper, richer, and more truly Christian, pick it up.

Sister Mary Core, OSB

SISTER MARY CORE, OSB, is liturgy director of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island and a member of The Catholic Post’s six-member book review team.

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