December 6, 2019

For many years, I have been actively involved in Catholic Church reform movements, advocating for a church that accepts men and women as equals, that is not run by an authoritarian old-boys club, and that is LGBT supportive. I write and lecture as well about the dangers of rigid fundamentalisms and advocate as well for an historical-critical understanding of Sacred Scripture.

That being said, my current focus is the need for a New Reformation. Not just in the Catholic Church but in all Christian traditions.

And central to the New Reformation is spirituality.

Some people equate spirituality with religion, but the two are different. Religion is the medium not the message. Healthy religion should promote spirituality; but it doesn’t always happen. A lot of contemporary people, like the “nones,” are, in fact, turned off by institutional religion and proclaim that they are “spiritual but not religious.” People hungry and thirsty for spirituality are searching for satisfying and solid nourishment. Too often, in many churches, they are finding the cupboards bare or the food unsavory.

In Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, Jesus cries out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.’’ (John 7:37-38) Jesus’ call is significant. People do thirst for more. Thirst for justice, for truth, and for compassion. They thirst for the Divine.

Spirituality connects people to the Divine. To the depth of Reality. It provides peace and harmony in our lives. Spirituality goes to the very essence of what Christianity is all about. Spirituality is not something added on top of our Christian life.

Spirituality should be our way of life – in LIVED awareness of the Divine Presence, the Sacred, the Ground of Being, Emmanuel, God with us. There are many ways to describe the depth of Reality, just like there are many ways to describe what it means to love someone and to be loved. Some of the old images of God may no longer speak to contemporary people; but God has not abandoned us. And we should not abandon God. We simply need to reflect on better ways of conceptualizing and speaking about our experience of the Divine.

I still remember the comment from Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the UN: “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder the source of which is beyond all reason.”

Our communities of faith – like our schools, study groups, and our parishes — should be centers of excellence where people speak courageously about their awareness of the Divine Presence through personal shared faith stories, through drama, music and art. And through deep reflection. We should invite and welcome the questioners and the seekers. We need to listen to young people at the start of their adult lives and to older people, confronting their life transitions.

Regardless of our place in the human journey, The Gospels remind us that God lives and walks with all men and women: all races, all nationalities. God is not focused on gender or sexual orientation. Matthew 25 is very clear: “’Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Christian spirituality is committed to the search for truth within a healthy multicultural and multi-religious pluralism.

Christian spirituality sees no conflict between faith and reason, between the heart and the intellect, between belief and knowledge.

Christian spirituality, of course, is the message of Advent and the Joy of Christmas!

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14 thoughts on “SPIRITUALITY

  1. Excellent! I remember teaching RCIA at a university. Some of the students weren’t particularly interested in Catholicism but were seeking a place where they were allowed to openly discuss their own spiritual yearnings, feelings, thoughts. So I fully endorse “Our communities of faith – like our schools, study groups, and our parishes — should be centers of excellence where people speak courageously about their awareness of the Divine Presence through personal shared faith stories, through drama, music and art.” May we all be more “courageous” in “sharing our personal faith.”

  2. Thank you so much, Jack!! You’ve put into words what we all need to remember. We all thirst for truth, for justice, and that all peoples be treated with dignity and respect. These are the things that feed our souls and give us peace and happiness. And thanks for encouraging us to share our personal faith stories. When one person shares, others follow suit. And hearing others’ stories, in turn, bolsters our faith.
    Your words bring spirit and life! Halleluia!

  3. The relation between religion and spirituality needs some further thinking through, wouldn’t you say, Jack? In our dualistic way, we have been focusing on spirituality for some time now and disdaining “religion” and “institutionalization.” How does a community come into being, maintain itself, and grow in spirituality without religion? It takes some hard intellectual work and a faith vision to create the support system for the healthy spirituality you describe. I think that the bare cupboards and unsavory food, the religous support system, is the weak side now. I’m hoping it is time for all the baptized to step up and integrate religion and spirituality. Of course, we need the U.S. bishops to be on board in this effort. Onward.

    1. Good to hear from you Paula. I don’t think we have been focusing more on spirituality and disdaining religion. I think in fact spirituality has been greztly ignored…..Healthy belief results in healthy spirituality: the foundation for healthy religion. Any religion is simply an institutionalized form of belief. It is not the message but the medium…. sometimes we focus too much on the medium and ignore the message.

      1. My observations are from the last 15 years of life among progressive Catholics in the US, Jack. Spirituality has been big. It is very heartening to me that in a recent parish discussion I attended, the women present, about 25, could focus entirely on their faith experience. The parish institution means a lot to them as a support for their spirituality, but the relationship of the parish to the diocesan church or the U.S. church or the universal chuch, not so much. It is almost a congregational sensibility. Am I wrong that in the most healthy Catholic situation both aspects of Church–spiritual communion and institutional support–would be integrated? Do any of your readers here have experience on this question?

      2. I guess I am more concerned about support for the local communities of faith. The diocesan and larger institution should assist them not direct them.

  4. Paula, you make a legitimate point, imo: we need to rethink the function of religion vs. spirituality. I appreciated the structure and organization that observing the Catholic religion brought to my life in my younger years and to my daughter’s also. It provided rules and discipline, celebrations and friends (besides beliefs, creeds, or doctrines, most of which were not meaningful to me except to love one another.)

    Perhaps if “religion” were the organizational aspect but spirituality the goal of our faith, that might be a good combination. But how often do we hear the bishops or priests talk about spirituality or spiritual growth, about the need for each person to have a connection with the Divine, something bigger than our individual selves? I agree that the pursuit of spirituality by lay people has become common but in my experience living in the flyer-over zone of the USA, it’s not due to the religious leaders of Catholicism, as you probably agree. We have to look outside the institution. Whereas, as you noted, the parish institution should be/could be a support to the parishioners’ spirituality.

  5. Dank u well, Jack. You make room for my friend Walt Whitman:

    A Noiseless Patient Spider

    A NOISELESS, patient spider,
    I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
    Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
    It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
    Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them. 5

    And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
    Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
    Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
    Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
    Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul. 10

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