The Universal Christ: How A Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe.
By Richard Rohr. New York: Convergent Books, 2019. 272 p. (kindle).
Richard Rohr, a globally recognized ecumenical teacher, bears witness to the universal awakening in Christian mysticism. A Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province, he is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, NM. His teaching is grounded in the Franciscan “alternative orthodoxy” of St. Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, and practices of contemplation and self-emptying expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to write a review of Fr. Rohr’s inspiring and welcomed work on the universal or cosmic Christ. In his introduction “Before We Begin” he quotes Caryll Houselander’s “underground journey in London experience that poignantly demonstrates what he will be calling the Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it.” Paul and Pauline writers, esp. in Colossians, Ephesians and Hebrews, as well as the Preface of John’s gospel, speak of the cosmic Christ, which was so well studied and loved by Origen, Irenaeus and many of the Eastern Fathers in the early history of Christianity. Western theologians, scientists and contemplatives, such as Teilhard de Chardin, have been drawn to this trajectory in more modern times.
Rohr’s object is to attract the reader to contemplation so that action may follow especially for the poor, the suffering and those marginalized by social injustice and indifference. Rather than focus on the pain of the crucified Christ, Rohr would focus on the Risen and universal Christ. He would see the Risen Lord as Lord of Heaven as well as Messiah of mankind. He quotes G.K. Chesterton: “Your religion is not the church you belong to, but the cosmos you live inside of.” Augustinian pessimism and focus on original sin need to be balanced by Thomistic optimism and realism. In a divided world, unity and ecumenical sensitivity and interreligious dialogue have a place fifty years after Vatican II.
In Part II of his work, Rohr devotes himself to the Eucharist in This is My Body. It is both the center and goal of liturgy but also the necessary food for our spiritual journey and the heart of our love for Christ. The Offertory of the Mass is a recognition that bread and wine, even before the consecration need to be recognized as creatures of God which will become the body and blood that we adore and revere in a contemplation that permits us to spend time listening to Jesus so that we may recognize him as the Christ, risen and glorious at the right hand of the Father. Transformation is the essence of what God is doing in our souls and in our lives. Fr. Rohr finds in the Franciscan tradition of St. Bonaventure “A Name for Everything” and that name is love.
Ernest Falardeau, SSS
New York, NY