The Spirituality of the Catholic Church

By Lenora Grimaud

Before we can understand what Catholic Spirituality really is we need to understand the definition of the term, “spirituality.” Spirituality is a new term that came into being in the Twentieth Century. Prior to this, the term, mystical was used in place of spiritual; the contemplative life referred to the spiritual life; and spirituality was expressed by the terms, Religion or Religious, which included much more than the secular understanding of Religion. According to Michael Downey, in his book, Understanding Christian Spirituality, Religion has three dimensions: the Institutional; the Intellectual; and the Mystical, or Spiritual.

  • Institutional Dimension: what we believe in and how we practice what we believe: our texts, doctrines, scriptures, tradition, structures, rituals, liturgies; our Creed.

  • Intellectual Dimension: how we understand what we believe: the development of our capacity for critical reflection, our teachings and dogmas; our Theology.

  • Spiritual Dimension: our experience of the contemplative or mystical life; our spirituality. Spirituality refers to the whole of Christian life in response to the Holy Spirit—Life in the Spirit.

After Vatican II, which called for a renewal of the spiritual dimension of the Church, there was a strong focus on the Holy Spirit and life in the Spirit. Prior to Vatican II, the Church had become so identified with the Institutional and Intellectual dimensions of Religion, that the spiritual life was almost non-existent for most Christians. People went to Church and prayed, but they just seemed to be going through the motions. Religion had become a routine—a duty we were expected to fulfill. Something was missing—the experience of the Holy Spirit. The Church prayed for a “New Pentecost,” to renew the whole Church. And, a “New Pentecost” there was! It was referred to as “The Charismatic Renewal.” At the same time, a spiritual revolution was taking place in the secular world. The quest for God was on everyone’s agenda. A “new age” of spiritual enlightenment was on the horizon. Everyone seemed to be interested in the spiritual life. “Spirituality” is a somewhat generic term for anything that has to do with the spiritual life or the supernatural. This new interest in spirituality “was cause for both, hope and alarm.” This is because “spirituality” is a term “used in speaking about various forms of prayer, spiritual exercises, and devotions, as well as practices associated with the occult and paganism.” It is a term used to describe “authentic Religion as well as false cults;” divine love, as well as idolatry; the sacred as well as the profane; “the teaching of Jesus as well as false teaching and heresy.” “Both, religious and non-religious, spiritualities, may or may not be, authentic.” It all depends on where they lead—who they lead to—God or self. Today, there are vast numbers of diverse kinds of spiritualities—ranging from the authentic to the demonic. For this reason, it is important to distinguish between the spirituality of the Catholic Church and other spiritualities. Unfortunately, for many people, the term “Religion” is synonymous with rules, regulations, laws, structure, and hierarchy. This is a grave mistake, because the Institutional and Intellectual dimensions of Religion are much more than that. Nevertheless, this has led to a separation of Spirituality from Religion, which is really a form of schizophrenia. We cannot separate spirituality from Religion. We need all three dimensions of Religion to be the Church that Jesus established. (Downey)

Spirituality reflects what is in our hearts, like a mirror. Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). If our hearts are filled with idols, our spirituality will manifest those idols—idolatry. If we have received the kingdom of God into our hearts, we will reflect the kingdom of God through our spirituality. We need the Institutional and Intellectual dimensions of Religion, as well as the Spiritual and experiential dimension, in order to receive the kingdom of God, and to grow in it.

EXAMPLE: Annunciation of Mary: She hears the “word of God,” spoken by the Angel, Gabriel, with attention and awe. She ponders it in her heart and inquires into the meaning: “How shall this be done?” She responds in faith—giving her “yes” to God. She experiences the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and conceives Jesus. She goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, in order to serve her. In the sharing of their “good news,” Mary prophesies, with great joy, the “Magnificat.” (Luke Ch. 1).

The spirituality of the Catholic Church is a “Trinitarian Spirituality,” spelled out in our Creed. Spirituality is our lived out experience of what we believe and understand about our faith; it is our experience of the Holy Spirit—the whole of Christian life in response to the Holy Spirit. As Catholics, as believe that God is a relationship of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are called to enter into this relationship through Jesus, and to allow God to transform us through this relationship.

The Charismatic Renewal brought about a renewal of the Mystical dimension—the experience of our Baptism of the Holy Spirit—to the whole Church. It is the Spiritual Life—the soul—of the Church. It is very important for us to understand that the Charismatic Renewal is for the whole Church—the Institutional, Intellectual, and Mystical dimensions of the Church. This was the substance of the reflections of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, on the Charismatic Renewal, presented to a gathering of priests. Fr. Raniero’s concern was the danger that: “the Charismatic Renewal, which came into being for the renewal of the whole Church, should end up by becoming identified purely and simply with one segment of the Church, the more conservative one.” He went on to say:

“The Charismatic Renewal is a gift for the whole Church, not for just a
particular part of it, and so it must remain. Indeed, in its early days,like every “prophetic” movement, it was seen as a great sign of newness and openness, a forward thrust on various fronts, the ecumenical outreach included. As such, it was welcomed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, and it has no need to change its appearance to make itself acceptable. Cardinal Suenens, who was for years its principal sponsor and ecclesiastical spokesman, was, during and after the Council, one of the most authoritative promoters of the need for “aggiornamento”: giving contemporary impact to thepractices and beliefs of the Church.”

Fr. Raniero pointed out to them that the Charismatic Renewal was for the “essentials” of the Christian Life. He continued, saying:

“The Charismatic Renewal was born with a powerful drive to return to the essentials of the Christian life: the Holy Spirit, the Lordship of Christ, the Word of God, the Sacraments, the charisms, prayer, evangelization. This is the
secret of its explosive power. This characteristic of the Renewal is clearly shown by the fact that it has no recognized founders, nor any particular “spirituality,” but that it simply accentuates what should be common and “normal” for every baptized person.”

Fr. Raniero urged the priests to get “back to basics,” saying:

“The basic work of the Spirit is his sanctifying activity, by which he transforms human beings, giving them a new heart, not the heart of a slave but the heart of a child of God’s family. Next comes his charismatic activity, by which he distributes a variety of gifts for the good of the community. This is what he did at Pentecost: he transformed the apostles, making new men of them, then he had them speak in tongues and prophesy, and he gave them all the gifts they would need for their mission. In the Charismatic Renewal too, we need to respect this hierarchy: personal sanctification must come first, and only then, in second place, the experience of the charisms.”

In a statement on the Charismatic Renewal prepared for the bishops of the U.S. by the Committee on Pastoral Research and Practices, they said:

"The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church teaches that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the Church not only through the sacraments and ministries, “but allotting his gifts to everyone according as he wills, he distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and duties which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle,“The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit” (1Cor 12:7). These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are especially suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly sought after nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use. Judgment as to their genuineness and proper use belongs to those who hold authority in the Church and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good” (Lumen Gentium, N. 12).

"One of the great manifestations of the Spirit in our times has been the Second Vatican Council. Many believe also that the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is another such manifestation of the Spirit. It does indeed offer many positive signs, clearer in some groups than in others. Where the movement is making solid progress there is a strongly grounded spirit of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. This in turn leads to a renewed interest in prayer, both private and group prayer. Many of those who belong to the movement experience a new sense of spiritual values, a heightened consciousness of the action of the Holy Spirit, the praise of God and a deepening personal commitment to Christ. Many, too, have grown in devotion to the Eucharist and partake more fruitfully in the sacramental life of the Church. Reverence for the Mother of the Lord takes on fresh meaning and many feel a deeper sense of and attachment to the Church."

On May 19, 1975, Pope Paul VI addressed 10,000 participants at the International Conference on the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church in Rome. He addressed them saying:

Nothing is more necessary to this more and more secularized world than the witness of this “spiritual renewal” that we see the Holy Spirit evoking in the most diverse regions and milieux. The manifestations of this renewal are varied: a profound communion of souls, intimate contact with God, in fidelity to commitments undertaken at Baptism, in prayer – frequently in group prayer – in which each person, expressing himself freely, aids, sustains and fosters the prayer of the others and, at the basis of everything, a personal conviction, which does not have its source solely in a teaching received by faith, but also in a certain lived experience. This lived experience shows that without God man can do nothing, that with Him, on the other hand, everything becomes possible: hence, this need to praise God, thank Him, celebrate the marvels that He works everywhere about us and within us. Human existence rediscovers its “relationship with God,” what is called the “vertical dimension,” without which man is irremediably crippled. …reflect on the two names by which you are designated, “Spiritual Renewal.” Where the Spirit is concerned we are immediately alert, immediately happy to welcome the coming of the Holy Spirit. More than that, we invite him, we pray to him, we desire nothing more than that Christians, believing people, should experience an awareness, a worship, a greater joy through the Spirit of God among us. Have we forgotten the Holy Spirit? Certainly not! We want him, we honor him, and we love him, and we invoke him. And you, with your devotion and fervor, you wish to live in the Spirit. This, should be where your second name comes in – a renewal. It ought to rejuvenate the world, give it back a spirituality, a soul, and religious thought, it ought to reopen its closed lips to prayer and open its mouth to song, to joy, to hymns, and to witnessing. It will be very fortuitous for our times, for our brothers, that there should be a generation, your generation of young people, who shout out to the world the glory and the greatness of the God of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit has always been with the Church, working in diverse ways. The charismatic gifts have always been present with the Church, as well; manifested in the lives of the Saints. Pentecost seems to come in waves; when the tide goes out, the spiritual life of the Church loses its fervor, and its power. Vatican II emphasized that all Christians are called to holiness, not just the Saints; all Christians are called to be Saints, not just priests and religious; all Christians are called to be “charismatic.” The charismatic gifts are for all Christians; Saints, priests and religious, and the laity. During his recent visit to the U.S., Pope Benedict prayed for another “New Pentecost.” The time is now! Let us, in the words of Pope Paul, “shout out to the world the glory and the greatness of the God of Pentecost.”

No comments: