My dear sisters in the League,
As we begin a new season of growth in our faith, I think it is good to reflect on what spiritual development is or could be in our lives. It is also helpful to remind ourselves that the process and character of spiritual development varies from person to person and that it is not a “one size fits all” proposition.
One place to start is with the understanding that true spiritual development is not about becoming more spiritual in a measurable sense. Rather, it is about realizing or becoming more and more aware of one’s natural, innate spirituality. We all can point to times in our lives when this has been a slow and gradual process, at other times there have been significant leaps of realization, both of which are part of the ongoing ‘developing’ process. Unlike the development of a photograph, individuals don’t reach a finished state of spiritual development in this life, but participate in the ongoing process of spiritual realization.
According to Dominican Father Fred Lucci, director of the All Saints Catholic Newman Center at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, “If God’s creation is anything, it is diverse, and God intentionally desires every diversity. That diversity is most evident in the uniqueness of every human person and various temperaments. While union with God, the end goal of spiritual development, is a desire of every human heart, different persons with different temperaments will naturally find different paths through different prayer forms and spiritual expressions to that union. Throughout history, God has inspired the creation of various religious orders and congregations, each with its own charism to address a particular need in the Church. In responding to their charisms, each developed a spirituality that reflects and supports their charism.” Father Lucci submits that, “Any layperson desiring a deeper relationship with God would be wise to pursue the various spiritualities of the orders and congregations for one that might be helpful to her own temperament.”
It seems reasonable then, that a person doesn’t so much choose a spiritual path, but rather discovers a path that fits the best with personality, temperament and overall outlook on life.
So…what might be your unique path and what traditions within the church might be helpful to you on your journey of spiritual development?
• Do you enjoy Scripture reading, formal prayers of the Church and have the gift of hospitality? Benedictine spirituality may be for you. Founded by St. Benedict of Nursia in the sixth century, the Benedictines are the oldest of the spiritual communities. His “rule,” or book of guidance, has been adapted and adopted by many other communities over the centuries. The Benedictine answer to spirituality is the Scriptures, the scriptural way of viewing the person and the world.
• Do you love to study and have a passion for explaining the faith through writing and speaking? Then consider the Dominican way. Scholars like St. Thomas Aquinas have shaped Catholic theology for centuries. Dominican spirituality derives from the reality that anything that is true points to God the Creator, and therefore all learning, knowledge and understanding ultimately teaches us about God. The more we know of God, the more we can love God. Consequently, Dominican spirituality begins with study, always with the question in mind: ‘What more does this teach me about who I am and who God is in my life?’
• Does the simple life attract you? Do you want to see all of life as gift and all creatures as united in Christ? Then look to St. Francis and the Franciscan Way. Franciscan spirituality is “very simple and very personal and very devotional,” explains Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., “Devotional in that it is related to personal individual prayer to Christ and Our Lady and their presence in our life.” Like its founder, the beloved Francis of Assisi, Franciscan spirituality stresses personal devotion to Christ, particularly to Christ in his incarnation, his passion and death and his presence in the Holy Eucharist.
• Do you long to know the will of God in all things? Is a straightforward, nononsense approach that finds God in the everyday things of life appealing? You may find Ignatian spirituality appealing. Founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Society of Jesus, also referred to as the Jesuits, follow a spirituality focused on finding God in all things. According to Jesuit Father James Martin, “It is centered on the idea that the experiences of God are not reserved for one Sunday during Sunday Mass, but God can be found at every moment of our life and every moment we can experience God. All things that are part of our lives help us experience God.” The Jesuit Way is “contemplative in action,” he explains. “It’s for the person who lives an active life, but maintains a contemplative life. If you are a young mother, Ignatian spirituality says that God can be found in your relationship with your children, your husband, your friends, preparing the sandwiches in the morning, in the office, in the struggles raising children, in the love you experience in raising your children in addition to the formal times you go to Church.
• Are you convinced that holiness is found in boardrooms and lunchrooms as well as chapels and churches? Consider the way of Opus Dei. “We are all called to holiness,” says John Cloverdale, law professor at Seton Hall University. “The supposition is that priests need a spirituality but we have the idea that laypeople are just called to muddle through. Actually, we are all called to holiness through different paths.” Coverdale explains that three points characterize Opus Dei. First, a stress on integrating the secular into one’s spiritual life, rather than seeing everyday life as a problem to be overcome, it is part and parcel of where we are to sanctify ourselves. Second, an emphasis on work, understood broadly, as the whole range of activities, seen as a path to sanctity. God wants us to do it well and offer it to him. The first step is to do it and do it well. Third, a very strong stress on the reality of being sons and daughters of God that gives an optimistic and positive tone to love. God really does love us and is concerned about each of us.
It is my prayer for all of you that, whichever path you choose or whichever path chooses you, your journey of spiritual development helps you discover meaning and purpose in your life in addition to strengthening your relationship with God and with others.
May you know that God blesses you and all you do for God and Canada!
Spiritual Development Standing Committee Chair