Catholicism and Spirituality at Odds Throughout History

Catholicism and Spirituality at Odds Throughout History

It is easily said and demonstrated through historical text that spirituality and religion are mutually exclusive and that a single Catholic spirituality does not exist.
By Mark Hoerrner

Though a Catholic Spirituality may have some resonance inside the Catholic community, and if you ask the common Catholic if he or she is spiritual, the answer is undeniably yes. There seems to be a disconnect in the faith as to what "spiritual" means in the wake of a church designed around centuries of staunch rituals and conservative traditions.

For example, the early monastic orders believed in the three stages of spiritual development: purification, study and union with a higher power. These were the beliefs of ascetics, devoted to studying the faith of Jesus Christ. Then came the Augustinians who promoted a single internal relationship with God, though occasionally noted the need to understand and aid one's neighbor. The writings of John Cassian point to an almost Arthurian ideal for piety in order to achieve true spirituality, especially in prayer, while the Benedictine orders promoted that God was everywhere and in everything and that a constant active relationship, most importantly through the monastic liturgy, was required in order to achieve spiritual purity.

So where would a Catholic go to understand spirituality in the proper sense? It's possible that no single method in Catholicism is the "one true way," but rather indicative that many paths within the faith are available to those who start with the understanding that sacraments are the outward expression of spirituality. It has been said, primarily by St. Loyola, that our sacrament in our relationship with God is Jesus Christ. Alternatively, the church is our sacrament for Christ with the sacraments being an outward expression of our spirituality.

The Catholic religion itself is not spirituality, but a method for achieving or carrying our spirituality. While the traditions and ceremony are the experiences through which we find our context of God, they are not the only ways in which we may make a personal contact with Him. In truth, the Catholic Church is but a guideline for learning and speaking about religious beliefs. It's no different than any other doctrinal school of thought in the Christian faith, and in that it becomes a set of contexts for spiritual growth, though those contexts may differ dramatically from protestant denominations.

Spirituality, at least in the Catholic sense, should be a singular reverence for Christ, but should not be devoid of the structure put forth by the church. In some cases, this causes the faithful to flee the rigidity of such a structure, only to return later with a greater appreciation of the structure, once a true spiritual connection has been made. Most Catholics will have found this spirituality at one point or another, whether it's evident in the creation of things or in the beauty of scripture. Some will say it's a baptism by fire, but if fire is involved, it's the burning away of the doubt and derision, and the rebirth of the soul into a new realm of spiritual belief, which can then be coupled with works.
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