Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Is The Goal Of Catholic Spirituality?

This is a photo taken at the Shrine at Chimayo, New Mexico.  An interior shot would have been nice to have, but I was pretty sure hell awaited me if I violated their no photo policy.

Catholica Australia has a great thread going about the spiritual goal of Catholicism.  I have my own thoughts about what that might be, but I'm more interested in what readers of this blog think.  In my own journey, one of the things that has made Jesus unique amongst spiritual teachers is both his emphasis on love, and how that manifests in healing.  I suspect that's why I was thrown head long into Native American Spirituality, because that spirituality also places healing very high up the list of spiritual manifestation.  I wrote earlier this year about the placebo effect.  It seems that the placebo effect is a more random application of what is a direct intention in some spiritual practices.  That actually makes some sense, given that Western science,  the philosophical paradigm we mostly operate from,  is essentially based on the probability curve.  In other words, a spiritual/quantum type of healing happens, but rather than being expressed as the fruit of a spiritual system, it's manifested as a function of randomness.  One would hope that eventually those of us who call ourselves Christian will understand healing is much more effective from a position of love, rather than randomness.  But healing is only one aspect of spirituality.  Compassion and love are the real issues.

In any event, here is the link to the Catholica thread.  Please feel free to comment on this same question on this blog.


  1. The "problem" of Catholic Spirituality: In Catholicism it's as if there are multiple "tracks" - first of all one for vowed religious (monks and nuns) and another for the laity. This goes back centuries. So historically it's as if a person needed to be celibate and live an ascetic life in community (or be a hermit) or a priest in order to truly follow Christ (contrary to so much early church writing and history).

    For the non-celibate, the laity, separate spiritual disciplines arose: the rosary (instead of the 150 psalms, stations of the cross, and benediction (a kind of worship of the sacred elements, far afield from the Eucharist as the Body of Christ = the People!) etc. - as a "substitute" for the "real" spirituality available to the celibate nuns and brothers and priests. (Yes, it's true modern Catholics view this differently, but that is, in the view of this writer, a source of the current FISSURE we're seeing, since the laity no longer accept their appointed second class status and have begun to think and act as the priestly people they've learned they ARE!)

    Within this main division, among celibate "religious" every religious order has its own unique spirituality - dozens and dozens and dozens of them! Name your order and go to a website. There you will learn the goals and methods of these multitudinous and unique spiritual traditions. (They often term it a "charism" - but truly it means their own view of the goals of Catholic spirituality.)

    In addition, of course, you now have the conservative vowed religious maintaining that their goals and methods are the "one true" Catholic way to God. It's a mess! And it contributes to the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church by dispersing spirituality into a confusing array - which often goes far afield from the desert hermits, early Fathers of the Church, and "carriers" of the patristic tradition (such as John Cassian - revered by St. Benedict, who encouraged the reading of his works in all Benedictine monasteries).

    What is the goal of Catholic spirituality? Get this right and you could arrive at a true renewal of Catholicism, at a union of East and West. And pull in many protestants in the process!

  2. Well, I may have to go on a tangent and then see if it ever curves back to your intended query.

    My outsider view is really as much about the appeal of mystical and aesthetic theology as academic/analytical theology, even though for some the latter is what they think of when they think "Roman Catholic".

    The parts that have resonated with me include the iconography and the myriad of associated devotional practices which have allowed for local variation and expression within a unified whole. That is, unity AND diversity. The regional Marian images, the local shrines and customs, etc, held together within a universal structure.

    I find that this corresponds to the universal nature of Mahayana Buddhism and its myriad of Bodhisattvas (and their different representations). The impetus in this wave of Buddhism is to awaken people to the divine within themselves, to recognize the luminous nature of all of existence, and to transform suffering and anxiety into peace and joy. One variety even talks about "bits of rubble turned to gold".

    I think Christianity has a similar message from a different starting point, in which we must recognize and pass through through darkness, shame and guilt to see that these were just self-imposed or socially projected limits and then pass into love and wisdom.

    Additionally, I think two students of Bede Griffiths, Br. Wayne Teasdale and Br. John Martin Sahajananda have collected and expressed wonderful visions for both (Roman) Catholic and general Christian spirituality in their writings, but I will let their work speak for themselves.

  3. Colleen,

    To quote Tony from the Australian blog captures the essence of what I understand to be spiritualiy. To center ones mind in contemplation and then to follow with well considered actions is a lot of what I believe is Christ-like.

    "I think the goal is to learn to be open to life, to truth, to hope, and to love in the CONCRETE EVERYDAY experience.

    I think Jesus (1) shows the way in terms of setting standards, and (2) challenges anyone game to follow him.

    I think nothing so paralyses spirituality as religion in its institutional form."


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  5. Anonymous,

    I see no evidence that the deprivation of celibacy is useful for most people. Deprivation in most cases leads nowhere in the long run. Fasting from food or sex makes sense in the short run, but for a lifetime it only leads to characterological deviation in more cases then not. As Sipe shows the idea of true celibacy is hypocritical because very few at least men can follow it. I think "getting it right" would allow for many different expressions that include living an open hopeful life full of love and charity toward others. There certainly may be many ways to do it, but celibacy does not guarantee hope, love or normalcy of mind.

    Dave, shame is socially projected limits that is used to control by the use of fear. To grow and develop though suffering and anxiety certainly does allow for self growth into a more peaceful life of physical and emotional grace. True guilt for doing something that a person knows to be wrong is on the other hand a good emotional result and can lead to emotional growth.

    "The "one true" Catholic way to God." is an illusion propagated by men who should know better as is the idea of infallibility. It comes from a leadership fearful of loosing power. It leads nowhere when one seeks more understanding of who she or he is in the mind of a great God. The idea of “the one True Church” causes an arrogant leadership to attempt to control people through the use of condemnation and excommunication when the leadership finds a viewpoint too challenging to their own belief and leadership. When one has the gumption to live as a seeker, one is a threat to an authoritarian leadership. This tyrannical leadership then describes seekers as heretics, relativists, secularists and modernists. All of which are projected as serious sins that deserve excommunication or the cutting off from the religion. It is however the seeker that tries to develop a relationship to God or at least the idea of a power greater than his or her self. dennis

  6. Anon, you have hit on one of the problems in Catholicism fer sure, there are 'dozens and dozens' of them, and almost all of them are guilt driven and fear based. Richard Rohr and a very few others are on to something different.

    If it's about love, as I believe and Jesus taught, then I fail to see how fear and guilt figure into the spiritual equation. I certainly see how they figure into the religion equation.

    Dave, you bring up a point that I think too often gets overlooked, and that's the fact our Marian shrines are devoted to healing. They stand as something of a counter sign to the ordained priesthood. It's as if Mary has said, "don't look to the priesthood and the Church for healing--you won't find it. Come to me--outdoors and outside the Church. Very Native American."

    Speaking of which, last night I participated in a healing ceremony for a woman with metastasized cancer. I've known her for quite some time and think the world of her. There were close to twenty of us there and the spiritual systems were all over the map. Syncretism at it's finest. It was led by an Assiniboine medicine man who I've also known for quite some time. He always has me sit right next to him when he's doing any healing. Anyway he finishes calling in the four directional powers and looks down on his ceremonial blanket and there's a small cross laying next to his pipe. He's a bit disconcerted, but finally gives it to me and says something to the effect "This must be for you, because it can't be for me." To which I replied "Lots of Spirits here tonight huh Harry?"

    As Harry would say "It was a sign in a good way." It was a good ceremony and good for me to reconnect with a lot of different people. It was in the final analysis about our love for the person we were there to help heal. It was spirituality the way it was meant to work. No real dogma, no TRUE faith except love and compassion and hope for a woman we all love.

    Since this was essentially a Native ceremony, and it was defined by Harry's spiritual rules, we won't know for four days as to whether there was physical healing, but there sure was a lot emotional and spiritual healing.

    There was one other thing that made this night very wonderful. The woman who took on the responsibility for the obligatory feast, was herself healed of metastasized stage four breast cancer in a very similar ceremony four years ago. There was a great deal of gratitude last night as well--and laughter and joy.

    If there is a future for Catholicism, it's got to start with using the happy joyful thankful colors in our emotional box of crayons, and not the fear filled guilt ridden dysfunctional crayons.

  7. Colleen, I hope your friend gets physically better now that there may well have been much emotional healing.

    One further comment. It is important that people understand the difference between the ideas behind the use of the words shame and guilt.

    Shame is what the Church often attempts to project on to its members as guilt. That is the Church says something is wrong and the individual does not believe it to be wrong. When one becomes overwhelmed by the standards of others when they do not have anything to do with ones own standards, this is not really guilt but shame. An authoritarian body such as the RCC is expert in projecting this false guilt into others and if anything it leads to a false spirituality. It is anti spiritual.

    On the other hand when a person feels guilty for actually doing something wrong, then this my be the beginnings of a healthy spirituality.

    What people usually mean when they say that the RCC promotes guilt is that the Church itself projects it own standards and shames the individual. This is both manipulative and "sinful." dennis

  8. What is the goal of Catholic spirituality?

    That's a huge question, but taking my cue from a book that had a significant impact on me,(and my own meanderings) I would have to say, making The Kingdom come. The mystical idea of The Kingdom as expressed as the reign of God/dess. What does that mean? It means what the world would look like if everyone had their fair share, both of resources and self respect/ human dignity. And it's not just a beautiful dream, but a concrete lived reality.

    It's also "Universal" in the largest sense of the word, wild wooly and fun, and has absolutely nothing to do with officialdom, stultifying rules, regulations, "canon law" or "canon lawyers".

  9. "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (St. Paul)

    "Love one another as I have loved you." (Jesus in John's Gospel)

    "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart... and you will find rest for your souls. (Jesus in Matthew)

    It's about love. It's about transformation. It's about God seeking us (not just us seeking God). And God's ultimate seeking of us in Jesus (and His Spirit sent to indwell us and guide us). This Love Search on God's part is what perhaps differentiates Christian spirituality from that of other traditions. We on our end are invited to participate but we must never forget that God is the Giver.

  10. The goal?

    I am inspired by the work of Jean Vanier and the L'Arche movement.

    How can we best understand Matthew 25:35-45?

    35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
    36naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
    37Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
    38When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
    39When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
    40i And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
    41* j Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
    42k For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
    43a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
    44* Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
    45He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’


  11. "He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

    p2p there is also what I consider to be an unspoken addition: "and when your fear becoming one of these least ones, you failed to see Me from the beginning."

  12. Colleen, in your response to Dave about Mary - I also have always wondered why Mary did not appear to a priest in a Cathedral. She has always appeared to the least and in the great outdoors!! Indeed - a message in itself for all.


  13. Colleen, I think the goal of Catholic spirituality is, joining ourselves to the communion of divine love of the Trinity, we contribute to the ultimate and complete communion of the human family. The point of Christ's incarnation and the paschal mystery was to reveal God's love for his children and to empower the same children to offer love to each other---with that ultimate and complete communion of the human family in mind. That's the mission. So the spiritual strategy is love---giving of self for the building up of other/others. The tactics for engagement in such a strategy have a wide range from rosaries to lectio divina to novenas to stations of the cross to Mass to sacrament of penance to meditation to devotions to the saints and so on and so forth---this part really depends on what attracts an individual and what she/he finds supports her/his efforts to love. As for the nun/priest/bishop part, they have to love too---being in charge or claiming that status is just not enough. Love is the way and the mission.

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