Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Distinction: The Spiritual Life and Spiritualities

The spiritual life is the interior life of grace.

Spirituality in its general, sociological-psychological sense is a response to the transcendent, whatever that is defined to be. This response typically takes the form of a general system of belief and praxis that endows the spiritual person with a sense of comfort and allows the person to transcend the self.

Spirituality in Catholic theology builds on this general sense and simply refers to any concrete manifestation of the interior life of grace in the life of a person or group. Based on these circumstances and context, grace will focus and intensify certain qualities more than others; the accumulated output is a specific spirituality. Hence we have, for example, lay spirituality, priestly spirituality, Dominican/Franciscan/Ignatian/Benedictine/etc. spirituality. In a certain sense, every person has their own spirituality, but in another sense, it is possible to follow a specific spirituality. Hence many people, both lay and cleric, follow St. Therese's "Little Way," which actually is a form of Carmelite spirituality as taught by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.

But a confusion often arises at this point. Some people dismiss other spiritualities as simply incompatible with one's own spirituality. So they might say, "Oh, that's just St. John of the Cross's spirituality, but not my way of approaching God." But we have to remember that every spirituality manifests a principle of the spiritual life that is universally applicable, whether it be mortification, poverty, magnanimity, humility, praise, etc. There then arises a certain way in which, rather than discovering that one is suited to a particular spirituality due to temperament and circumstances, one tries to "force" living a spirituality to the deliberate neglect of others because one finds aspects of those other spiritualities distasteful. The disagreement that arises from this can go from one extreme of the trouble Franciscans have had from the beginning, for example, to the other extreme of disdaining (usually out of an unconscious laziness and fear) an aspect or practice of the spiritual life that should be embraced, such as devotion to the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Mother.

To add to the mix, in the 20th century, there has emerged a theology of the spiritual life, in which the principles by which grace interacts with nature have been further clarified scientifically. Many lay or uninitiated people have mistaken this theology to be a particular spirituality rather than the very foundation on which any spirituality is firstly possible. They then may say, "Well the so-called three ages of the spiritual life are not for me," not realizing what they're even saying. Or they may say, "I don't like to focus on things like suffering, poverty, humility, and detachment from all things," not realizing that these are foundational to spiritual growth itself across all spiritualities.

The difference between the spiritual life and spirituality is analogous to the difference between being and doing. Doing flows out of the nature of a particular being. Since the nature that grace perfects is always different, but the grace is the same, its concrete manifestation will be different always, but its internal mechanism always the same. It is the internal mechanism and principles that spiritual theology elucidates scientifically and stipulates possible concrete manifestations as "spiritualities."


{Being} Nature w/o grace: psychological spiritual life in an analogous sense.
{Doing} The living of this psychological spiritual life, influenced by circumstances, temperament, etc.: a "psychological" spirituality, in an analogous sense.

{Being} Nature w/ grace: spiritual life in its true sense.
{Doing} Circumstances, temperament, etc., influencing the living of the spiritual life: spirituality in its true sense

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