Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Mature Spiritual Life

What direction should a spiritual life take?  An article in Bible & Life magazine, by a priest-professor of spirituality, begins by  telling us that he used the short Apostle's Creed at Mass but changed recently to the longer Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

It's important, he says, for a Christian not to have a personal imagining of God according to ones likes or dislikes; doing so, a correct  faith life will not follow.  History has shown us that those who have followed their personal preferences have gone far afield. Consequently, one needs to have the correct understanding of Jesus if one is going to have a healthy spirituality.  For a Catholic, the two sources of our faith life are the Scriptures and Tradition, the truths of the gospel that were kept alive orally and finally written down in the Scriptures. From the beginning there was always  a tension between our spirituality and the Scriptures.

The disciples used the Old Testament as their text in sermons. The Church Fathers spent a great deal of time commenting on the Scriptures. This was the way they understood the revealed message and the identity of Jesus. It was not an intellectual and speculative study of the Scriptures. It was the foundation of their spirituality, as it was of the Desert Fathers, who spent much time  reading the Scriptures to map out their spiritual journey.

The religious of the middle ages worked with Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) to develop their spirituality: reading the Scriptures, meditating, praying and contemplating on what was read, which gave a structure to the 'Divine Reading'. But unfortunately, at the same time, universities were appearing, and with the beginning of systematic theology there was a separation of spirituality from Scripture.  There were a few religious groups who had difficulty accepting this new trend, but the majority went along with this speculative and intellectual approach to the spiritual life, which gave a  false understanding to the spiritual life, according to the writer.

At the beginning of modern times, there has been a return to volition and feelings as a foundation for the spiritual life as presented in the Scriptures. The attempt was to get closer to the words of Scripture, in meditating on the  humanity of Jesus and his public life. During the middle of the modern era, however, there was a return to the intellectual  pursuit of knowledge, which again influenced the Church. This was the period of enlightenment, positivism (scientific knowledge) and historicism (a theory that events are determined or influenced by conditions and inherent processes beyond the control of humans). Many feared that if they did not participate in this intellectual pursuit they would be left behind and, consequently, meditating on the Scriptures was not considered important.  Biblical criticism became the highest form of study of the Scriptures in the eyes of many.

In conclusion, the writer stressed that our spiritual life has to begin with the Scriptures. Only through the Scriptures will we get  to know Jesus. When the study of Scripture becomes an exercise in intellectual curiosity, then we are bound to block the real message of Scripture from affecting the full flowering of our spiritual life. We have to meet Jesus in the Scriptures. When reading the words of Scripture and are genuinely moved by the love of Jesus, we will be filled with his grace and feel a oneness with him. Christian prayer without this basic understanding of Scripture, not only lacks Christian meaning but can lead us in a wrong direction.

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