The Major Imperatives Within Mature Discipleship

“At a certain age our lives simplify and we need have only three phrases left in our spiritual vocabulary: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” –Morris West


Gratitude is the ultimate virtue, undergirding everything else, even love. It is synonymous with holiness.

Gratitude not only defines sanctity, it also defines maturity. We are mature to the degree that we are grateful. But what brings us there? What makes for a deeper human maturity? I would like to suggest ten major demands that reside inside both human and Christian maturity:

  1. Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy: Few things in life, including our own hearts and motives, are black or white, either-or, simply good or simply bad. Maturity invites us to see, understand, and accept this complexity with empathy so that, like Jesus, we cry tears of understanding over our own troubled cities and our own complex hearts.
  2. Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind: Any pain or tension that we do not transform we will retransmit. In the face of jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred we must be like water purifiers, holding the poisons and toxins inside of us and giving back just the pure water, rather than being like electrical cords that simply pass on the energy that flows through them.
  3. Let suffering soften rather than harden our souls: Suffering and humiliation find us all, in full measure, but how we respond to them, with forgiveness or bitterness, will determine the level of our maturity and the color of our person. This is perhaps our ultimate moral test: Will my humiliations soften or harden my soul?
  4. Forgive: In the end there is only one condition for entering heaven (and living inside human community), namely, forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest struggle we have in the second-half of our lives is to forgive: forgive those who have hurt us, forgive ourselves for our own shortcomings, and forgive God for seemingly hanging us out unfairly to dry in this world. The greatest moral imperative of all is not to die with a bitter, unforgiving heart.
  5. Live in gratitude: To be a saint is to be fueled by gratitude, nothing more and nothing less. Let no one deceive you with the notion that a passion for truth, for church, or even for God can trump or bracket the non-negotiable imperative to be gracious always. Holiness is gratitude. Outside of gratitude we find ourselves doing many of the right things for the wrong reasons.
  6. Bless more and curse less: We are mature when we define ourselves by what we are for rather than by what we are against and especially when, like Jesus, we are looking out at others and seeing them as blessed (“Blessed are you!”) rather than as cursed (“Who do you think you are!”). The capacity to praise more than to criticize defines maturity.
  7. Live in an ever-greater transparency and honesty: We are as sick as our sickest secret, but we are also as healthy as we are honest. We need, as Martin Luther once put it, “to sin bravely and honestly”. Maturity does not mean that we are perfect or faultless, but that we are honest.
  8. Pray both affectively and liturgically: The fuel we need to resource ourselves for gratitude and forgiveness does not lie in the strength of our own willpower, but in grace and community. We access that through prayer. We are mature to the degree that we open our own helplessness and invite in God’s strength and to the degree that we pray with others that the whole world will do the same thing.
  9. Become ever-wider in your embrace: We grow in maturity to the degree that we define family (Who is my brother or sister?) in way that is ever-more ecumenical, interfaith, post-ideological, and non-discriminatory. We are mature only when we are compassionate as God is compassionate, namely, when our sun too shines on those we like and those we do not. There comes a time when it is time to turn in our cherished moral placards for a basin and a towel.
  10. Stand where you stand and let God protect you: In the end, we are all vulnerable, contingent, and helpless both to protect our loved ones and ourselves. We cannot guarantee life, safety, salvation, or forgiveness for ourselves or for those we love. Maturity depends upon accepting this with trust rather than anxiety. We can only do our best, whatever our place in life, wherever we stand, whatever our limits, whatever our shortcoming, and trust that this is enough, that if we die at our post, honest, doing our duty, God will do the rest.

God is a prodigiously-loving, fully-understanding, completely-empathic parent. We are mature and free of false anxiety to the degree that we grasp that and trust that truth.


Used with permission of the author, Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Father Ron 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. He can be contacted through his website and on Facebook.

25 Comments

  1. L Williams on December 11, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    A great article, however, I totally disagree that we have to forgive God! He is God and He can do whatever He
    wishes and whenever He desires to do it.

  2. Diane Hoppe Hugo on November 23, 2018 at 11:28 am

    What a beautiful message for just “such a time as this.” I too will try to “learn and inwardly digest” slowly and prayerfully. Thank you.

  3. Jeffery James on November 22, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you Ruth for always inviting us to deeper waters, and sharing these words of wisdom from Ron Rolheiser. May we all grow in human and Christian maturity.

  4. Heather O’Donnell on November 22, 2018 at 7:10 am

    Thank you for this mature, enlightened and thorough guide! It touched my soul in many ways. The final recommendation, to just let God protect us and trust him completely is so profound. We only have what allows us to have….being able to just trust Him with whatever that is in our lives is so key to true gratitude. Blessings to you!

  5. Michael Fox on November 21, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you, Ruth, for sharing this wise perspective. I will always remember sitting at this man’s feet at TC: his wisdom and warmth and humor. Even the distinctive way he speaks. I love this article and love that it reflects so much of what he teaches and writes around “giving our death away.” It too is a reminder of just how grateful I am to you, Ruth, for your influence in my life and labor and love.

    • Ruth Barton on November 23, 2018 at 7:50 pm

      I remember, too. Having Ron with us for an alumni retreat remains one of the highlights of my spiritual life!

  6. Allan Warren Crummett on November 21, 2018 at 7:22 pm

    Nice and very nice. Love it. I believe this to be true! Thank-you!

  7. Felecia Smith on November 21, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Oh my God! Yes, this is great and my heart’s desire. I plan to share this with others and use it in my teaching! I love the work that you are doing, Rev. Barton. I quote you often!
    Rev.Felecia Pearson Smith

  8. Anita Roberts on November 21, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Thank you Ruth for sharing such profoundly challenging article. I too feel the urgency to take small daily bites to process each one prayerfully. I read all the comments and wanted to share my struggle with # 2.

    He says, “In the face of jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred we must be like water purifiers, holding the poisons and toxins inside of us and giving back just the pure water, rather than being like electrical cords that simply pass on the energy that flows through them.”

    I periodically change my water filter, it’s always filthy. I guess I imagine the Holy Spirit doing the work of a filter rather than me attempting to do so and “holding the poisons and toxins inside of me..”

    • Stephen on November 21, 2018 at 3:12 pm

      I like this analogy!

    • Ruth Barton on November 21, 2018 at 6:45 pm

      Ahhh, I am so glad you brought this up. The images of a water purifier or a water filter are, indeed, powerful metaphors. How i experience the dynamic Fr. Rolheiser is describing is having the discipline to hold pain, bitterness, whatever in God’s presence rather than acting out, repressing, projecting,, burdening others by vomiting up everything we feel. Then God does the transforming work so that we can be sources of “pure water” in the world rather than transmitting our pain. This is one of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life but it is so redemptive whenever we are able to let God do this work in us–even a little bit!

  9. Tom Boyle on November 21, 2018 at 9:37 am

    If I consciously work at number 1 and 4, and embrace his last two summary sentences, all of the others will follow along. The single question I am asking myself in life situations in all my today’s is “What does love require of me here?” I find that it exposes my dark side and invites the Spirit’s cleansing and enabling presence.

    • Ruth Barton on November 21, 2018 at 6:31 pm

      I’m with you, Tom!

  10. Chika on November 21, 2018 at 9:14 am

    This is so timely and inspiring. Thanks for sharing. And I totally agree with you ma’am Ruth, that “,it’s an invitation to greater freedom in love and for love ” o yes ! If I too can live into this way of being, Holy Spirit helping me. Amen !!

  11. Gweneth Lynn Mulholland on November 21, 2018 at 9:10 am

    Having passed “a certain age,” I can attest that while Gratitude may be “the ultimate virtue,” it is quite possibly the most neglected. Reading the whole essay at once and “getting it” is akin to trying to consume a turkey leg in one bite. I intend to bring 1 Major Demand a day into God’s presence to let Him work in me through it, or–to “sit… with” it as Ruth said she did in a reply. I wonder at the absence of many of the Major Demands qualities in “youth” (compared with my “old” age) who are out fighting worldly distractions. Thank you, Ruth, for reminding us of an important foundation for Christ-like living.

    • Ruth Barton on November 21, 2018 at 10:53 am

      Awww…Lynn, it is so wonderful to receive your seasoned perspective. You are right that all the imperatives taken together are too much; I think the idea of reflecting on one a day (or a week or a month!) is a wonderful plan. Count me in!

  12. Colleen Powell on November 21, 2018 at 8:23 am

    Beautiful! I will carry these words with me this Thanksgiving week and into advent.

    • Ruth Barton on November 21, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      So glad! Me, too.

  13. Nancy Piper on November 21, 2018 at 8:13 am

    Redreshing….thank u! Thank u! Thank u!

  14. Sibyl Towner on November 21, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Great article…. very timely!!!
    I like the new blog title.

    • Ruth Barton on November 21, 2018 at 8:13 am

      Thanks, Sybil! Glad you like it.

  15. Duell Jane on November 21, 2018 at 7:30 am

    I deeply appreciate Father Rolheiser’s words. I am grateful for them. I do wish he emphasized more the “indicatives” of God’s eternal love for and delight in us, instead of the “imperatives” of what we need to do to experience this love. He seems to imply that it’s up to us to earn His favor by doIng the imperatives he outlines, and then we will experience God’s grace and fruits. It’s not about how well we “do our duty” and perform, but how well we simply know and love God and receive His unconditional love for us. Then, we will freely give it to others and be at peace. Thank you, Lord Christ.

    • Ruth Barton on November 21, 2018 at 8:11 am

      Thanks for your honest response to this article! I can see how the language of “imperatives” and “demands” might seem to indicate earning God’s favor AND that is not how I experience this teaching. I have been sitting with this for a long time before offering it to our readers and every time I reflect on Rolheiser’s description of mature faith it feels invitational to me–an invitation to greater freedom IN love and FOR love. My heartfelt response is “Wow! If I could live into this way of being, I would be so much more free!” And that freedom seems more like God’s good and loving intention for me, not a set of demands I have to live up to earn his favor. But that’s just me…:)

      • Duell Jane on November 22, 2018 at 8:51 am

        Thank you for your reply and perspective. Indeed yours and his words are blessings this Thanksgiving morning!



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