October 2, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Spiritual and religious

John F. Fink(Thirty-fourth in a series)

You have probably seen, or perhaps heard, someone comment that he or she “is spiritual but not religious.” It seems to be an excuse for seeking spiritual experiences while avoiding any type of organized religion.

Americans seem always to be seeking the spiritual, searching for spiritual values in our secular society. But many of these people absolutely reject religion like a plague. They see spirituality as freedom but religion as confining.

However, spirituality without religion is incomplete. One can be both spiritual and religious. A good Catholic uses the gifts that religion provides to make him or her more spiritual.

Too much of what passes for spirituality today smacks of a self-improvement system. It is geared toward making one feel better, either physically or mentally. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Religion reaches out to others—or at least it should. It teaches love of God and love of neighbor because of our love for God. It is possible to have spiritual experiences that have no relationship with God, but they are incomplete.

St. Thomas Aquinas said that religion is that part of the virtue of justice in which we human beings publicly and privately give God the worship due to him. When we do that, we combine spirituality with religion. We become both spiritual and religious.

Then we should carry it a bit further and accept Jesus Christ’s call to unite with others in communion with his mystical body, the Church. Through the graces we receive in baptism and the other sacraments, we are connected deeply to Christ and to all others.

Within Catholicism, we are offered all kinds of help to develop our spirituality. Catholicism has a vast body of writings about spirituality, beginning with St. Paul and including Sts. Augustine, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, Ignatius of Loyola, Thérèse of Lisieux and numerous others. In more recent times, we have books by Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Basil Pennington and numerous others.

The Church offers a variety of spiritualities, including Ignatian, Salesian, Franciscan, Carmelite and Benedictine. Religious orders offer oblate programs—members who are not solemnly professed, but who try to live the charisms of the orders within their particular state in life.

Various forms of meditation and contemplative prayer have always been and continue to be staples of Christian prayer.

Within the Catholic Church, there is some form of spirituality to satisfy anyone. There are charismatic groups for those who find that type of prayer appealing. The rosary is prayed in most parishes for more traditional Catholics. Small Christian communities, faith-sharing groups and Bible study groups are common.

Our churches are available for people to experience their spirituality before the Blessed Sacrament, either in those parishes where perpetual adoration is practiced or simply before the tabernacle.

The point is the Catholic Church provides the opportunity for everyone to be both spiritual and religious. One does not have to choose one or the other. †

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