Saturday, June 22, 2013

Catholic Understanding of Spirituality

In and out of church circles, we hear a lot about spirituality. Religion and the development of  psychology have turned our attention to the inner workings of our psyche and the spiritual. A seminary professor, a priest with a doctorate in spirituality, sees this recent interest in spirituality and the psyche with serious reservations. (We commonly hear today: "I'm spiritual but not religious.") Writing in the Catholic Times, he suggests that in today's world it's difficult to have a  correct understanding of spirituality and its psychological implications without straying beyond the Catholic tradition.

A 2004 Gallup survey of Protestants, Buddhists and Catholics, on the reason for believing, revealed that almost 80 percent of Catholics were searching  for peace of mind; 23 percent of Protestants considered salvation and eternal life the reason for their religious belief, while only 6 percent of Catholics had this as their response. The priest sees this as a problem for Catholics, indicating an incorrect understanding of spirituality, which Catholicism has traditionally meant to convey. He does say that seeking peace does not necessarily mean one cannot practice a correct spirituality.

However, Jesus did say: "Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift  to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace" (John 14:27). Jesus had another way of seeing peace from an earthly viewpoint: "Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you the contrary is true; I have come for division" (Luke 12:50). Because Catholicism has stressed that we are not on this earth to look for blessings, only 8 percent  said that receiving earthly blessings was not their understanding of religion. We can understand why some answered in the way they did, the professor said, feeling that living the Christian life would bring peace of mind.

Visiting a Catholic book store, we are likely to see many more books on the general topic of spirituality than on scripture, liturgy, theology, and the catechism. He feels that reading these books on spirituality, without a strong religious foundation, will only provide, at most, a psychological boost, an emotional lift.  Jesus tells us: "In a word, you  must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). We are called to be holy. This is the beginning of a Christian's spirituality, the professor said, and its end.

At times, we have to fight courageously against ourselves from falling into temptation and make efforts to practice the virtues in our daily lives. We need a correct understanding of God and Jesus, with the goal of being with Jesus after death. Even though each has his own way of practicing their spirituality, there is a common element, a direction that is true for all. That is why Catholicism has, for over 2000 years, looked at spirituality objectively and made judgements in a scientific way on methods to attain a healthy spirituality.

Charles Andre Bernard, an authority on spirituality, defined it this way:  "Spirituality is based on revelation, the study of the spiritual experience of Christians, its gradual development, and the desire to understand its structure and laws. It is one of the departments in theology."

The professor points out that without the correct understanding of the foundational teaching of Catholicism, we are not going to have the correct spirituality of a Catholic. Spirituality for a Catholic, he emphasizes, is not a vague do-it-yourself effort. He ends the article by noting the need for a disciplined search, within the teachings of the Church, to bring more clarity to the term 'spirituality'.

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