A HISTORY OF
THE WESTERN TRADITIONS OF CATHOLIC PRAYER
I. Schools of spirituality are different ways of approaching God through Christ. They have similar elements, but combine them in different ways.
A. The different
traditions are all authentically Catholic, but focus on different methods
and emphasize different aspects of the faith. Most of the traditions
are associated with specific religious orders (e.g., Benedictine, Franciscan,
Dominican, Jesuit), but the desert fathers and St. Francis de Sales
developed their spiritualities before there was an order to live them.
B. Despite their different approaches, there are many common elements to the traditions.
1. Keeping the
moral law is always crucial to any spiritual progress, for the moral
law is God's light and guidance that we may advance toward Him.
See, e.g., Matt. 7:24-27.
2. All of the traditions
recognize that humility, in such ways as openness to God's will, appreciation
of the goodness of others, and the recognition of a need for improvement,
is the baseline, and that charity in prayer must be put into action.
3. There is a
complementarity of knowledge and mystery. We are called to advance
in the spiritual life through understanding, but also recognize that
thee is a mystery beyond our understanding.
of the traditions have a complementarity of order and freedom.
There are both principles that discipline the human spirit, but also
a liberation to soar in the spirit. As Jesus says, "You will
have the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:22.
5. All of these
traditions, being Catholic, are based upon the Bible and Church teachings.
6. All of these
traditions deal with the question of human suffering, and all of theme
recognize that sacrifice is needed for progress.
7. Above all,
the Catholic spiritual traditions are all Christocentric, and recognize
the fact that God's grace and salvation won by Christ is primary,
a calling that we participate in.
II. Desert spirituality emphasizes a strong recognition of the reality of human nature and the need for grace, a reality that one comes to in quiet prayer, away from the distractions and pleasures of the world.
A. Monasticism was
developed in the desert, both at first to escape persecution, but then
also to get away the corruptions and distractions in society.
People started coming to the desert monks for advice, and would come
to call them abbas, or fathers.
B. Building on St.
Paul's analogy, the monks would sometimes be called "athletes of
God" because of their self discipline and training, this time for
the goal of strengthening the spirit. See 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim.
2:5, 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1-2.
C. St. Anthony of
the desert (251-356) was considered to be the founder of western monasticism.
There were monks before him, but St. Athanasius' Life of Anthony
caused monasticism to take off. St. Anthony's own writings and
writings about him very much emphasized seeing this life as a battle
against evil, and salvation as akin to winning a war.
D. Evagrius Ponticus,
St. John Cassian (d. 435), and St. John Climacus (St. John of the Stair)
wrote the most famous desert works. St. Augustine (354-430), who
would emphasize the centrality of God's grace and conversion from
sin, was also a monk for a time. St. Basil the Great (329-379)
wrote the first great rule for monks in the east.
for example, the need for water would remind the fathers of our need
There was a radical notion of dependence on God; one lived day by day.
3. There was
also a strong notion of disciplining desires and the senses to be their
master rather than their servants. This discipline does not mean
that desires and the senses are evil, but rather, because of sin, one
needs constant training to keep them under control.
F. Evagrius Pontius wrote Pratikos and Chapters on Prayer, focusing on controlling thoughts. He traced sin and slavery to desire to eight basic evil thoughts (the basis for our idea of the capital vices.) All of these sins involve living in a fictional world.
1. There are
thoughts of: (1) gluttony in believing one needs more of food, drink,
possessions, knowledge etc., than one does; (2) fornication in reducing
another to an object and believing that pleasure will be the key to
happiness; (3) avarice in desiring more and more of the false security
money and power promise; (4) sadness in clinging onto an unreal happiness,
based upon the past, the future or an unattained good; (5) anger in
focusing on a real or imagined injury that blinds one to charity; (6)
acadia in refusing the joy of the spirit in favor of some more visible,
but less real, joy; (7) vainglory in imagining oneself doing great things
and being applauded; and (8) pride in ignoring the need for grace
and the help of others.
2. The solution
involves knowing one=s thoughts and gaining control of them
to focus on God and service of neighbor. The goal is not focusing
on nothing, as Buddhist practices would, but rather in seeing all things
in the light of Christ. Thus, deep prayer is needed for moral
3. One needs
the grace of God to begin and to continue this progress, for we need
prayer and vision to overcome sin, but sin prevents us from attaining
this prayer and vision. Thus, there must be an openness to Christ,
who alone frees us from this prison to sin; but there must also be a
willingness to cooperate with the grace of Christ.
III. Augustinian spirituality focuses on conversion and overcoming the barriers that sin puts in our way of achieving what really is the deepest desire of the human heart, love, sanctity and union with God.
1. He was born
of a Christian mother Monica and a pagan father Patricius in Tagaste,
a small town of northern Africa. He was raised with a good education
and a general knowledge of the faith, but not baptism, nor clear instruction
in devotion. An extraordinarily intelligent youth, he sought to
advance in the world though rhetoric and learning. He rejected
Christianity as too simple for him and at first adopted Manicheeism,
an otherworldly religion that considered the spirit to be all good and
this material world evil.
B. As priest and then bishop, he was central to the great theological debates of the day.
1, Opposing the
Donatists, he defended the importance and effectiveness of the sacraments
even if the minister was unworthy. Opposing the Pelagians, he
emphasized the importance of grace and the sacraments and coined the
term "original sin." His explanation of the Trinity and work
On Christian Doctrine were immediately classics, and have been central
to this day. And his work The City of God set forth a Christian
theology of history.
C. St. Augustine and the spirituality he inspired strongly focuses on liberating the call to holiness and true love from the sins that hold us back in a false self.
1. He emphasized
that the deepest longing of the human heart is for unity with God, for
that love that will make us who we truly are. However, because
of sin, both original and personal, this longing is buried under a mountain
of other desires that distract us to lesser goods.
1. St. Augustine
himself spoke later in life, when he returned to Carthage, about his
"second conversion." He was experiencing all over again, temptations
that he thought were long gone; and he wondered why God allowed these
temptations. He realized that he was becoming lax in prayer, to
self-confident and looking down on others. And so God allowed
these temptations again to remind him of the continual need for conversion
2. In our continuing
conversion, we do experience a greater joy than the world could ever
know. But it is a joy that requires effort. We are so used
to the limited and easily accessible beauty of this world that we tend
to be satisfied with it. God makes us work for a deeper beauty,
found in Scriptures, in prayer, in union with the saints. We must
work for this deeper beauty because it is only in making sacrifices
that we truly learn to love. We must not be distracted by even
good things, such as intelligence or rhetoric, if they lead us away
3. Thus, the Church,
the sacraments, and the help of others, are always needed and will always
join us together in this City of God on this earth as we journey to
His city in heaven.
IV. Benedictine spirituality focuses on growing through order and stability and the resulting divine peace.
A. St. Benedict, who lived from about 480 to about 540, and his twin sister St. Scolastica who died a few years before him, incorporated the great Roman traditions into the Benedictine traditions and especially into his great work, which came to be known as The Rule of St. Benedict.
1. They were
born into a noble family in Norcia, Italy amidst collapse of Roman Empire.
St. Benedict was academically gifted, but wanted to be a hermit and
work on his spiritual perfection away from the world. However,
other people who wished for perfection found him, and he again became
popular as a monk and spiritual guide. After an unsuccessful attempt
to lead a group of monks, St. Benedict wrote his Rule and launched the
Benedictine order. His sister St. Scholastica, whom St. Benedict
said was much holier than he was, likewise led the women's side of
the Benedictine order.
2. From the time of
Charlemagne in the eighth century until the eleventh century, the Benedictines
were the main Western order. Other orders, such as Trappists,
Cistercians, and Carthusians were formed from the Benedictine tradition.
C. Benedictine spirituality very much emphasizes orderly, patient progression in prayer and work. There is a focus on setting a time for all things and keeping a schedule. One is neither neglectful nor impatient in work and prayer, but simply puts forth one's best efforts and accepts the results.
- In a Benedictine
monastery, life is very regulated, with a time for everything, such
as prayer, work, sleep and even recreation and one's own projects.
There is a great freedom from worrying about what to do. One may
be doing the same things each day, week and even year, but one does
them more and more carefully.
D. Central in Benedictine
spirituality is lectio divina, a slow, prayerful way of reading Scripture.
1. This type
of prayer varies in detail among people who use it, but it involves
common elements. First, one reads a Biblical or other spiritual
passage once as usual. Then one prays over it, trying to gain
insights and applications. One then reads the passage again slowly
in context of that prayer and then prays over it again, concentrating
attention even further. One may read it a third or fourth time,
always deepening thought and prayer.
2. One progresses
through a book of the Bible or other spiritual work carefully in this
fashion. There is no rush; the desire is for deep wisdom.
E. Benedictine spirituality
emphasizes order by the careful use of time. There is, consistent
with the schedule and the faith, a certain liberty of thought about
such things as what to pray about or what work to book to pray over.
But there is an emphasis on finishing what one starts with consistent
F. Benedictine spirituality
focuses heavily on praying, working and learning carefully and attentively.
This tradition avoids multi-tasking, instead concentrating on the work
or prayer (or lawful pleasure) of the moment. The Benedictines
sing much of their prayer, and emphasize the Mass and the Divine Office,
the common prayer of the whole church.
G. In one sense,
Benedictine life is very hierarchical, insofar as there is a great deal
of willingness to accept governing rules and authority. But it
is recognized that this hierarchy is for order and the conquest of selfish
pride, not for the sake of emphasizing power. St. Benedict emphasized
that a higher rank does not make one holier and that the Holy Spirit
can speak through anyone.
V. Franciscan spirituality strongly emphasizes a desire for freedom through simplicity of life, detachment from worldly goods, and a radical dedication to God's calling in any fashion.
A. St. Francis (1181-1225) was born to a wealthy family of merchants, but sensed a calling to leave that human wealth in favor of his greater vocation, to serve God through a radical witness of noble simplicity.
1. He was at
first a generous, but often vain, young man and a soldier who desired
to be a knight. He was not particularly successful in battles,
but was still honored for his chivalry.
2. After a couple of military adventures, he received God's call in Assisi, "Rebuild my church" and saw a vision of Lady Poverty, whom he found to be supernaturally beautiful.
3. Attracted to this call, and believing that it was to be fulfilled in his home town, he left everything to rebuild a church in Assisi called San Damiagno. He endured public ridicule for a time, but soon his joyfulness of life attracted others to him. Eventually, his followers wanted some organization in the form of a religious order. And so he quickly wrote a rule and went to Rome to gain approval for the new order, which he had not thought he was going to found. His good friend St. Clare of Assisi, also of a wealthy family, defied their desire for her to "marry up" and founded the women's side of the order. She was, through great penance and austerity of life, able to show forth the power of God to the world.
4. The Franciscans
were a new type of order. They were mendicants, who begged for
their sustenance, rather than having stable properties like the Benedictines.
There was an emphasis on fraternal union and a notion of each being
brothers and sisters, in an early sort of democracy.
B. The order soon
flourished and the Franciscans formed numerous smaller groups.
St. Bonaventure was elected Master General 1257 and organized the order
into more of what we see today.
C. Franciscan spirituality emphasizes humility, poverty, and seeing God everywhere. There is a notion of rising above dependence upon earthly things (e.g., possessions, positions, prestige, pleasure) to soar to the heavens.
- Through powerful
penances, depriving oneself of earthly things, one liberates the spirit
and senses a radical openness to God.
D. This radical openness to God allows one to see and sense His presence in nature, in those in need and above all in the Eucharist, and to feel His power working inside of one's soul.
- St. Francis very
much promoted creche scenes, especially living creche scenes, to give
us a strong sense that Jesus is with us here on earth, in the humblest
E. There is a strong notion of sensing the nobility of God in those in need and glory in ministering to the least. The triumph of bringing the love of God to places where it seems so absence is seen as a striking victory, more so than any of an earthly triumph.
- There is a desire
to be as open to evangelization as the Apostles were of old, and as
contemptuous of the standards of the world as they were.
F. Joyfulness is
central to Franciscan thought. One does no seek joy for its own
sake, but rather seeks the adventure of a radical openness to serving
God. But this radical, and in fact mystical, openness to God allows
one to take joy at all goodness. This joy is no longer dependant
upon getting things in the way one wants them, for earthly desires are
controlled and the focus is on Jesus. Joyfulness of spirit becomes
the reward and sign of the actions of grace in one's life.
G. The Franciscan
spirit thus tries to promote a paradoxically humble revolution.
There is a great humility of spirit in disciplining one's desires,
for power, pleasure, prestige, and the like. All glory is directed
to God and away from self; if any human is to receive glory, it is the
least in the world. This great humility acts as a revolt against
the world's worship of false gods.
VI. Dominican emphasizes growth through connecting together study, prayer, teaching, service and a sense of the mystery of God.
A. Saint Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) was a canon of a cathedral in Osma, Spain at about the same time as St. Francis' life. In 1204, while traveling with his bishop Diego to help arrange a royal wedding, he was passing through southern France, where Albigensians (a sort of Gnostic sect) held sway. By prayer, argumentation, patience and an exemplary life, they were able to reconvert most of the heretics. From this experience, St. Dominic realized his mission to form a preaching order, which was confirmed by Pope Innocent III and, when he died, Pope Honorius III in 1216.
- They would
live very simple lives as a mendicant order; that is, they would keep
very little property and ask for alms. There was a strong focus
on learning and prayer, but a learning and prayer that would make them
more able to teach and serve.
- In the thirteenth
century, the great universities were expanding and knowledge of philosophy
and science was growing rapidly. The Dominicans tried to sanctify
this growing knowledge by combining it with faith and prayer, so that
both the secular and theological realms could benefit each other.
- St. Thomas
Aquinas (1225-74) would systematize theology in his masterpiece the
Summa Theologica, which, along with his other writings, have been
central to Catholic theology every since. He and St. Augustine
are usually considered the two greatest Catholic theologians since Scriptural
B. Dominican spirituality is thus very much based very much on contemplation and action, the two complementing each other. There is a very strong sense that nature and grace, faith and reason support each other.
- Dominicans understand
that we can begin with the experience of the world and rise to God.
When we see His goodness in creatures, we form concepts to understand
Him better, and gradually rise even above those concepts towards greater
and greater understanding of God.
- But there is also
a strong notion that we can get nowhere unless we put things into practice,
especially in teaching. As St. Catherine of Siena, a third order
Dominican of the fourteenth century said "There is no virtue nor any
faith, which is not manifested by means of one's neighbor."
- In the thirteenth
century, a form of writing and argumentation called Scholasticism was
very popular; it involved describing the views opposed to one's own
conclusion and trying to adapt as much as possible of it to one's
own through careful distinctions and subtle reasoning. The Dominicans,
and especially St. Thomas, mastered this approach.
D. The Dominican
approach does not rely heavily on authority for own sake, except that
of Scripture and the Church. There is an attempt to find truth
wherever it may lie, but always to remain true to the faith.
E. The approach to the moral life is one of practicing each of the virtues, the Beatitudes, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as perfections of human nature. See Matthew 5:2-9; Isaiah 11.
- As one always seeks
to develop skills in any field (e.g., scholarly, professional, artistic,
athletic) one should continually attempt to develop the skill of being
at holiness, a goal that is attainable for anyone. See 1 Tim.
- Dominicans thus describes
sins are contrary to the virtues. The moral law is thus designed,
not primarily as a restriction, although on earth it must operate as
such. Rather the goal of the moral life is to become most perfectly
human. See Matthew 5:48.
F. There is also
in Dominican spirituality a strong sense of unifying all aspects of
life: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. One should
ask how our actions, friendships, tastes, environment, and so forth
affect our prayer, and how prayer affects them.
G. There is also
a great interrelationship between prayer and study. Dominicans
commonly pray between classes and studies. Some Dominicans do
writing in the chapel. Prayer is meant to be intelligent, and
theological research is not simply an academic exercise, but should
draw us closer to God.
H. But Dominican
spirituality also recognizes very strongly that there is a mystery of
God beyond our understanding that we must simply kneel before.
St. Thomas Aquinas, near the end of his life, saw a vision of heaven
and said, "I have seen things, and things have been revealed to me,
that make everything I have written look like straw." Some fourteenth
century theologians, including the Rhineland mystics (Miester Echhardt,
Johannes Tauler, and Blessed Henry Suso) would emphasize the idea of
going above concepts, simply being with God and finding God in all work.
I. St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a devout young woman and the youngest daughter of a wealthy family during a century that was experiencing disasters, such as the Hundred Years' War, the papacy away from Rome, and the Black Death. Opposing her family's desire for a noble marriage, she became a third order Dominican, i.e., one that would join in the spirituality of the Dominicans but live in the world.
1. She emphasized very much a constant desire of prayer, describing that connection with God as being as the inner circle of a wheel; all other desires are meant to be distributed proportionally around it.
2. She very strongly
emphasized knowing oneself in the light of Jesus, focusing on His presence
and asking what He thinks of one's life.
3. She also said that the progress
of prayer is not in feeling, but in charity.
I. Both St. Catherine
and St. Thomas very much emphasized the need to avoid sin and excessive
attachments to have the mind free to sense things from the standpoint
VII. The Carmelite tradition emphasizes growth in the spiritual life through struggle, through darkness, and through charity even and especially in the seemingly smallest matters.
A. The three most
influential saints of this tradition are St. Theresa of Avila (1515-1582),
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), and St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897).
B. St. Theresa of
Avila led a reform of the Carmelite order in the sixteenth century after
experiences great reform in her own life.
1. She entered
religious life at age 20 and, as a Carmelite nun, was very sociable
and popular, but not particularly prayerful. She was allowed a
relaxation of the rule to see guests because she was well liked and
enhanced convent=s reputation and fundraising ability.
But at age of 39, she realized the mediocrity of her life and really
started living her calling more deeply. The result was that she
received more criticism because she stove for perfection but had not
attained it. She eventually formed new convent that was more strict
in its observance. There was great opposition, but her efforts,
along with those of St. John of the Cross, led to a renewal of the Carmelite
life, first in Spain and then throughout the world.
2. Her main works are: The Interior Castle, which uses an extended allegory of the spiritual life to advancing through a castle; The Story of Her Life, the autobiography in which she, among other things, uses an extended analogy of the spiritual life as allowing grace to work like water to a field; and The Way of Perfection, with its great commentary on the Our Father.
she received great spiritual consolations, including visions of Jesus
and of angels, she warns against placing primary value on such consolations.
In chapter 18 of The Way of Perfection, she says, "Perfection
and its reward do not consist in spiritual delights, but in great love
and deeds done with love and truth." Spiritual consolations are the
first promise of what will be the final reward in heaven. She
maintains that there should always be an openness to a sense of God's
presence, but that sense is a special gift that cannot be demanded.
- She says
that one should not insist on quick results. God works when, and
perhaps especially when, one does not see how it is being done.
She compares a soul at prayer to a noble in the court of a king.
The king may address the noble directly only at times, but his performance
of duties is always noticed.
3. Her favorite
image was that of water as representing the effects of prayer and grace
in our lives. (Sin, by contrast, is sometimes symbolized by poison
in the water.) In the most extensive analogy, she compares the workings
of prayer like four ways of watering a garden: (1) carrying water from
a well with a bucket; (2) using wheels and an aqueduct to convey water
from nearby source of water to the garden; (3) having the garden near
a stream so that it is watered continually; (4) or having a consistent
rainfall. In all cases, God's action (represented by the water) is
primary to making the soul fruitful, but the abundance varies as He
become more naturally a part of one's life.
4. In The
Interior Castle, she also compares the advancement of a soul to
proceeding on to greater mansions within the castle of God. Souls
not even trying are like those outside in the darkness. At first,
souls are in poorer circumstances, but still in the presence of God,
while still struggling against the vermin and filth of sin. Gradually,
they advance to come closer and closer to the king. It should
be noted that advancement, especially to the higher levels, is not simply
a matter of leaving one mansion behind and moving on. One must
gradually often go back to more basic matters to improve them.
C. St. John of the Cross, a Spanish priest of the sixteenth century, was a friend of St. Theresa and with her led the Carmelite reform. He suffered greatly in his life and emphasized the need for suffering as we advance to overcome sin and allow God to work in our lives.
1. He was ordained
at the age of 25 and offered a position as a university professor.
But he felt called to a contemplative life. Along with St. Theresa
of Avila, he tried to promote a more strict observance of the Carmelite
rule. For a while, he enjoyed the support of the papal nuncio
(ambassador) of Spain. But when the nuncio died, some of his opponents
within the order condemned him for alleged insubordination and imprisoned
him for two years. In 1580 he escaped and received the support
of Pope Gregory XIII as he became abbot of one of the more prominent
monasteries. But he continued to face opposition for the remaining
11 years of his life.
2. His most famous
works are The Dark Night of the Soul, The Living Flame of
Love, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and The Spiritual Canticle
of the Soul.
3. Like St. Theresa,
he very much describes the primacy of keeping moral laws and of accepting
sufferings as central to advancement in the spiritual life. He
begins The Dark Night of the Soul by warning about how the seven
capital vices can infect prayer and how to purify oneself of them.
4. But he emphasizes more than St. Theresa the intense moments in spiritual advancement as one struggles to go higher levels of prayer. He especially describes what he calls the active and passive dark nights of the senses and of the spirit, the latter two being fairly rare even among the devout.
idea in all cases is to recognize that struggling through sufferings
is necessary and to allow God to develop deeper levels of prayer, even
if those deeper levels are not at first attractive.
D. St. Therese of Lisieux was a virtually unknown Carmelite nun in her life, but her autobiography became a classic after her death.
1. She was born
in Bordeaux, but when her mother died young, the family moved to Lisieux.
The family was very strongly Catholic and St. Therese received much
support from her five older sisters. After considering various
vocations, she became very determined to enter religious life, as two
of her sisters had already done (and the other three would soon do),
so that she could pray for all vocations. In 1888, at the age
of 15, she received special permission to enter the nearby Carmelite
convent where her sister, Agnes, was also a sister. Agnes soon
became prioress, and, recognizing Therese's deep prayer life, which
attracted little notice, she asked Therese to write a spiritual autobiography.
As she wrote this autobiography, St. Therese became very ill and died
at the age of 24. At the time of her death, she was known in the
convent as a very joyful, but not particularly important person.
However, soon after her death, the autobiography, The Story of Her
Soul, would become a central text in popular devotion.
2. She described what she called her Little Way, the attempt to combine love with every action, even and especially the least ones. For she deeply understood that any action done with a love for God and neighbor brings God's love to earth and, therefore, has an infinite value. Because all true callings are meant to be carried out in the context of the love of God, acting with this love taps into them all.
- The idea
is that all things are guided by the love of God, and the crucial thing
is to make that love a continual part of one's life. And doing
so is in many ways easier when one has less important tasks, for then
one does not have as many worries and can focus more on acting with
- Pope Benedict
XVI recently emphasized this point in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate,
where he says that one should practice charity should be "the overriding
principle" in all aspects of life, without exception.
VIII. The Ignatian tradition was inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who wrote The Spiritual Exercises and other works based upon his own conversion.
A. St. Ignatius was
from a family of warriors and explorers and trained for military services.
His spirituality would draw from his military experience.
1. Ignatius was
injured after a heroic performance fighting at Pamplona in 1521 for
the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. While recovering at a
religious hospital, he read The Life of Christ and The Lives
of the Saints and experienced a profound conversion that led him
to desire to be a knight of Christ. He realized that the saints
showed all of the courage, dedication, loyalty, and generosity of knights.
The difference is that they served, not an earthly king, but instead
the King of Glory.
2. After a time
of discernment, he began studies for the priesthood in 1524. After
13 years of studies at Barcelona, Alcala and Paris, he was ordained
in 1537. Meanwhile, he had gathered a group of brothers
who eventually went to the reformist Pope Paul III and asked for his
approval for them to become a religious order. After working for
the poor of Rome for a time, this order, the Society of Jesus (or Jesuits),
eventually went out to catechize and convert Europeans in the ways of
the faith. Soon the order would become central to the Church's
missionary activities in the Far East and the New World.
B. Ignatian spirituality is based very heavily upon a very powerful notion of serving Jesus as the great King and Lord of heaven and earth. There is a strong emphasis on discerning the will of God and being courageous and dedicated in carrying out His will.
- The centerpiece
of St. Ignatius work is the Spiritual Exercises, which were written
as a guide for a 30-day retreat, although the work is common used for
shorter retreats as well.
C. St. Ignatius very
much focuses on developing a felt knowledge of Jesus" and on using
the imagination, feelings, reason, and all aspects of the human person
to develop this knowledge. In meditating on Scripture and especially
on the gospels, he advises deeply imagining oneself in the scenes described
in the Bible, including focusing on very specific details (e.g., the
individual people present, the time of day, the tension in the air.)
D. St. Ignatius also discusses
at length the "discernment of spirits," i.e., the ability to discern
whether an inspiration is good or ill. One of his principle rules
is that a good inspiration will be challenging but will leave one with
a lasting sense of peace in God's presence, while an ill inspiration
will be immediately pleasing, but leave one with a sense of unease.
E. Ignatian spirituality
involves the ability to sense consolations and desolations and grow
through them. Consolations are strong senses of God's presence,
which include both joy at His triumph and sorrow at sins. Developing
consolations by focused prayer and detachment from desires are very
helpful in discernment, as are consolations with no apparent cause.
Desolations are sense of anxiety and turmoil that are not based upon
difficulties in the world. They can be a result of laxity in prayer,
or can be a trial sent by God to strengthen the person. In both
cases, one's response should be continued prayer (or revived prayer
in the former case) and not making changes in plans during these times.
F. Blessed Mother
Theresa of Calcutta formed the Missionaries of Charity largely along
the lines of Ignatian spirituality.
IX. Salesian spirituality emphasizes growth in the spiritual life through integrated one=s whole day, and all of one's duties and activities with one's prayer. There is a notion of living holiness in the world.
A. This form of spirituality was developed by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), especially in the context of his help with St. Jane de Chantal (1573-1641) in forming the Sisters of the Visitation.
1. St. Francis
de Sales was the eldest of 13 children of a noble family in Savoy, France.
He was a brilliant student and went to study law at University of Padua.
But, under the influence of his Jesuit spiritual director, he was gradually
drawn more to theology and living a consecrated life. He gradually
overcame the opposition of his family, who did not want him to give
up his worldly prospects, and was ordained a priest at the age of 26.
2. At about that
time, Duke Charles Emmanuel of Savoy recaptured Chablais, one of its
states that had been controlled by Protestants who forbade Catholicism;
to restart the Church there, he asked for some priests, one of whom
was Francis de Sales.
3. To persuade
people to return to the faith, Francis started printing leaflets that
described the faith. This writing, the holiness of his life and
his ability to explain the faith in preaching and debates won more and
more converts, over 72,000 in four years.
4. In 1602, after
many consultations with the Duke, he became Bishop of Geneva.
As such, he worked very personally on training of seminarians, catechetics,
visitations of all of the parishes, and formations of religious societies.
5. One of his
spiritual directees was St. Jane de Chantal, a widow whose husband had
been killed in a hunting accident. She grew steadily in prayer
and, with St. Francis, started the Visitation sisters in 1610.
Based upon the model of Mary=s visit to Elizabeth, the order focused
on humility, piety and charity. This order was the first attempt
to combine cloistered life with a vocation in the world, in particular
6. St. Francis'
most famous work is the Introduction to the Devout Life, which
he finished in 1609 and based largely upon his spiritual direction of
St. Jane and others. He wrote the more complex Treatise on
the Love of God in 1616.
B. Salesian spirituality emphasizes that all people are called to the devout life, but in different ways.
1. St. Francis argued that devotion makes one's rightful calling better. In a famous analogy, he said that, as a bee draws pollen from a plant, not only without damaging it but making it better, so true devotion includes all aspects of like but not only does not damage legitimate callings but makes them more delightful and more dedicated.
- God may draw
one away from one calling to a better one, but never from a productive
calling to mere vagueness or abstract thought.
- St. Francis cautioned
against any apparent devotion that leads one to neglect duties, saying,
"We are sometimes so occupied with being good angels that we neglect
to be good men and women."
2. In The Introduction to the Devout Life, he reiterates that purification from sin (especially mortal sin) is both a necessary preparation and effect of a truly devout life.
- This progress
against sin is a continual process. He said, among
other things, "We must be prepared to see weeds growing in our garden
and also have the courage to pull them out." and "There is no better
means of progressing the spiritual life than to be continually beginning
afresh, and never to think we have done enough."
3. St. Francis
emphasized taking on penances and austerities, but with prudence.
One should practice self-discipline, but also humility also involves
recognizing our limits. We should pray for crosses in proportion
to the measure we have borne those already given.
4. St. Francis
said one should try to see God=s will in all things and practice "a
divine indifference" to success, as long as one knows one is following
5. He said that
one should distinguish carefully between good and bad influences in
the world. To the degree that one's friends, co-workers, and
other acquaintances have good standards, trying to please them is a
good thing, although of course second to God. But, one should
be careful of society when it promotes decadence, greed, mediocrity,
etc. and avoid any unnecessary things that promote such values. He particularly
focused on being careful about who to have as friends, what entertainment
to enjoy, and what circles to travel in.
C. Anticipating the Vatican
II Council three and a half centuries later, he was very much was willing
to take the advancements of human sciences as good, while insisting
that all things must be submitted to God's grace. He said, "I
am as human as anyone could possibly be."
D. In The Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis describes a way of daily meditation that involves six steps and includes a prayerful environment, intellect, emotions, will, petition, thanksgiving, and inspiration for continual prayer.
1. The first step is preparation. One tries to find a favorable environment (e.g., the
church or a place in
one's home set aside for prayer.) One places oneself in the
presence of God by reading a passage from Scripture or another spiritual
2. The second
step is consideration. One allows the Holy Spirit to guide one
from one aspect of the topic of one's reading to another in an unhurried
3. The third
step he calls affection. One draws on emotions based upon the
considerations, especially with a desire to imitate Jesus.
4. The fourth
step is a resolution. One forms a definite resolution (e.g., getting
to a task one has been putting off, being kind to a neglected co-worker)
to carry during the next day.
5. The fifth
step is thanking God for guidance and asking for the grace to carry
out the resolution.
6. The sixth step is taking from prayer a "spiritual bouquet," i.e., a thought, image or phrase to recall throughout the day.