As a young man, Benjamin Roodhouse’s goal in life was to join the U.S. Navy, serve his country as a Navy pilot “and possibly die gloriously in battle.”
The events of 9/11 solidified his resolve.
“I was accepted to officer candidates’ school and was expected to report right after graduation from college,” said Mr. Roodhouse, the Jefferson City diocese’s newly appointed director of canonical services.
Confronted with a clear choice between following God’s plan or his own, he opted for trust, embarking on a labyrinthine itinerary that eventually led him here.
“That was a big moment for me,” he recalled. “But I’ve learned in the couple decades since then that the subtler stuff — when I say ‘yes’ to God every day, when I get up and pray and give myself over to God today, the daily conversion that He calls me to — those are the things that really, truly brought me to this place.”
Equipped with a juris doctorate in civil law, a licentiate in Church law, two years of formation in a religious community and nine years’ experience helping run a family business, Mr. Roodhouse will offer canonical advice and assistance to Bishop W. Shawn McKnight and his collaborators in the diocese.
“I think the bishop has a strong desire to help this diocese become outstanding in every way,” said Mr. Roodhouse. “And I think that means having enough specialized staff to be of particular assistance to the pastors and parishes.”
The 1983 Code of Canon Law prescribes in 1,752 paragraphs — known as canons — much of how the Church governs itself while carrying out its essential work of preaching, teaching and sanctifying throughout the world.
In it is codified the responsibilities of every office in the Church, along with specific directives for how those responsibilities are to be carried out.
It spells out how the sacraments are to be administered and how the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful is to be safeguarded.
It sets out the processes for settling disputes within the Church and meting out discipline whenever necessary.
For Mr. Roodhouse, it’s a thing of beauty.
“I do love the law,” he said.
Societies are just when their laws order the people toward a good and proper end, he explained.
“The Church is a society,” he said. “Our end is heaven, eternity with the Lord.
“So all of our laws, even the ones that seem harsh or difficult, they ultimately fit together to order our society, the Church, toward our ultimate eternity with God,” he stated.
He pointed out that Church law and the civil law of most Western nations are rooted in the tradition of Roman law.
“What the Romans were so passionate about was the idea that there is a natural thing called justice that good law ought to correspond to,” said Mr. Roodhouse.
Roman jurists believed that justice could be defined objectively and determined through proper use of reason.
“The idea of natural law — that we, using our reason, even aside from our faith, can arrive at principles that should govern our lives — is very powerful,” he stated.
He said canon law is “a beautiful synthesis with natural law.”
“What’s beautiful about it is that we don’t have to set aside our reason, our skills and abilities that are human and natural,” he said.
Believers have another source of objective truth.
“We’re not just bound to our use of reason, because we also have the Deposit of Faith and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “It all works together. And it’s working together for our end, our purpose, our eternal destination. That’s why I love it so much.”
A quest for clarity
His family moved to a small town near Portland, Oregon, when he was 12.
He was a promising football player. The best team in the area was at Jesuit High School in Portland.
The school’s solid academics appealed to his parents.
They planned to attend an open house when Benjamin was in eighth grade. The visit would include Mass. Benjamin asked his mother to take him to Mass the Sunday before so he would know how to participate.
“So we went to Mass,” he said. “It didn’t make a big impression on me, but it did make an impression on Mom.”
His entire family gradually returned to the practice of the faith.
Over time, Benjamin started getting involved in campus ministry at school.
“God really used whatever natural talents I had and my interests to get me involved,” he recalled.
He learned to love being Catholic.
From there, he went on to Hillsdale College in Michigan to study history.
Hillsdale has a strong tradition of vigorous debate, especially over faith and religion.
“It was perfect for an 18- to 21-year-old who loves to debate and dialogue and thinks he knows everything,” said Mr. Roodhouse.
If high school was where he learned to love being Catholic, college was where he learned to know his faith.
He studied the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and came to relish defending his faith.
“That’s when I learned to recognize the beauty of the teachings and the power of submitting to the teachings of the Church,” he said.
9/11 happened while he was a junior at Hillsdale.
He signed up for Navy officer’s training, but he just couldn’t shake the growing desire to discern Priesthood and religious life.
He wound up spending his first two years after college exploring religious life.
Over time, it became clear to him — “because God makes things clear when you let Him” — that God was not calling him to be a priest.
He moved on to the Ave Maria University School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
From there, he went on to practice commercial real estate and helped run his family’s real estate development company in Nevada and in Texas.
“It was a great job,” he said. “But it really wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Restless, he jumped at the opportunity to move to Washington, D.C., for a job with a leadership and life-coaching company.
“It turned out that God wanted me to be in D.C., but not for the reasons I wanted,” he said.
The new job didn’t go as well as planned but was providential nonetheless.
One day, Mr. Roodhouse was in a common area talking to a Catholic coworker about an event that had taken place at church the previous evening.
An employee of another company headquartered in the same building overheard them and joined in the conversation.
That’s how Mr. Roodhouse and his wife met each other.
The Holy Spirit was working in other ways, too.
“It took a while,” Mr. Roodhouse noted, “but as I tried to discern and make myself more available to the Lord, He opened — or actually reopened — the door to canon law.”
Already living in D.C., he contacted The Catholic University of America, the only place in the United States that offers a licentiate in canon law.
He started looking for a diocese to sponsor him through his studies.
One day, he got a call from an area code he did not recognize.
It was Bishop McKnight.
“He was very gracious,” Mr. Roodhouse recalled. “We talked a great deal, and we concluded I would be a good fit for what he wants in the Jefferson City diocese.”
Mr. Roodhouse and his wife moved to Jefferson City in August.
As of Sept. 1, Mr. Roodhouse works full-time in the Chancery, advising the bishop, his cabinet and the heads of various diocesan ministries on matters of canon law, and helping with cases in the diocesan Matrimonial Tribunal.
He’s looking forward to collaborating with the people of this diocese on bringing about the vision for a more welcoming, active, outward-looking Church.
He asked for prayers for God to help him be a saint.
“If I can’t be a saint doing this job, then I don’t want to do this job,” he said. “Being a saint makes anyone good at whatever they’re doing that’s in keeping with God’s will.”
He believes people can help God answer that prayer by doing their best to become saints, too.
“Whatever you’re doing, give your life more completely over to God,” he suggested. “Give to God whatever you’re holding back from Him.”