Dear Father John, I still struggle with keeping things in perspective. Would you therefore kindly explain what is the essence of authentic Catholic spirituality, i.e., irrespective of whatever tradition one follows (Ignatian, Carmelite, Opus Dei, etc.), and also what are the essential elements of the spirituality. Also what is the relationship between Catholic morality and Catholic spirituality.
This question is harder to answer than you might think! But we’ll give it a shot.
What Do We Mean by Spirituality?
First, we will briefly define “spirituality.” Basically, this term signifies an itinerary for growth in our friendship with Christ. This itinerary has as its final destination what we call holiness, an individual’s firm, deep, integral, and dynamic communion with God. We call this itinerary “spirituality” because we achieve communion with God through the purifying our spiritual faculties (intelligence and will) and aligning them with the wisdom and will of God.
Our intelligence, our capacity to perceive and understand truth in a self-conscious manner, was severely darkened by original sin, and darkened even more by our personal sin and the sinful tendencies of the world around us. Growth in the spiritual life gradually increases the influence of God’s revelation and wisdom (a “light for our path and a lamp for our feet” as Psalm 119 puts it) in correcting, healing, and strengthening our minds. In this way we come to see and understand ourselves, God, and the world around us truthfully, i.e., as God does.
Our will, the capacity of self-determination which allows us to make self-aware choices, was also severely weakened by original sin, personal sin, and the evil tendencies of the world around us. Growth in the spiritual life gradually heals and strengthens our will, so that we emerge out of self-centered and self-indulgent habits into virtuous living. Virtues are those good habits of the will that enable us to choose what is truly good and right in any circumstance, even at great immediate cost to ourselves.
In our next post we will dig a little deeper into the nuts and bolts of the practical elements of a spirituality.
Art for this post on the essence of Catholic spirituality: Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, artist unknown, 6th century, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.