White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

On A Catholic Spirituality: Compassionate Presence in Action


Peace be with you and yours!

A person may be religious and spiritual, religious or spiritual, religious, spiritual, somewhat religious and spiritual or somewhat spiritual and religious. The religiously minded individual might have spirituality included with the religion, if one were to posit a spirituality. On the other hand, a spiritually minded person might perhaps find religion as a major obstacle one would have to overcome in order to admit a true spirituality. The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict orient themselves spiritually within the Catholic-Benedictine perspective. Hence, the Mission of the Benedictine Network is Compassion.

Spirituality finds its roots in ascetics. In pre-Christian times, this term referred to the training of athletes and their practices. In Patristic usage ascetics came to mean: study. the practice of piety, spiritual exercise or training. Early on ascetics lived their lives in the midst of the society of the Church and often with their families. Later on, ascetics organized themselves away from the word and laid the foundations for what was to become monasticism in the eastern and western Church. Today, the White Robed Monks of St. Benedict return with the experience of the intervening years of Benedictine tradition and spiritual life (c.f. The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Part I Historical Orientation, ed. Timothy Fry O.S.B. ISBN 0-8146-1211-3) to the early practice now living within the world with their families, learning how to serve the Lord while engaging as well in a monastic practice, Zen meditation.

Religion and Spiritual Generally Considered

In general, the term religion connotes a dogma, doctrine, ritual (as differentiated from liturgy), a sacred scripture and a mission to save all unbelievers, and an attitude I'm right and if you do not agree with me, you are wrong. If you do not admit you are wrong, you either must change your attitudes to agree with the stated dogma or you will be expelled or terminated. The dictionary defines religion as a personal set or institutional system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Its motivators, more often than note, are guilt, shame, and blame.

In general , the term spiritual connotes a personal (phenomenological) appreciation-experience of Presence, known perhaps as God who essentially is Love (and Forgiveness), open to all and known to all who but listen. The dictionary defines spiritual as of or relating to, or consisting of spirit.

As is commonly understood, a person usually cannot authentically love and demonstrate compassion if he or she is guilty, ashamed, or felt to be blamed. Only when one is truly free of the strictures of religious beliefs and so forth and senses beliefs to be just what they are (i.e, beliefs), can the person enter into the mind of a child and realize that the Kingdom of God is at hand. (Matthew 18:3). No guilt. No shame. No blame.

Very often the history of religion shows that religion and spirituality are at odds with each other. The institutional church, for example, has seldom been known as a vessel of spirituality and often known only as a bastion of religion. In fact, if things get too spiritual for the institutional church, the institutional church does its best to wipe out that which goes against the status quo (as it defines it). The tangible qualities of control, status, power, and prestige of the institutional religion have little too do with the supposed intangible quality of Spirit.

  In an ideal world, religion and spirituality can be or are opposites sides of the same coin., each side bespeaking the excellence of the whole. In Benedictine history, it is commonly understood (even with its own monastic failings) that Christian spirituality was kept alive in the (institutional) Church in the monastery (Benedictine, Clunic, Cistercian, Carmelite, etc.) more so, if not rather, than in the bishop's house/palace.

A Meaning of Spiritual

As P. Richard McBrien in Catholicism (ISBN 0-06-065405-8): "To be 'spiritual' means to know, and to live according to the knowledge, that there is more to life than meets the eye. To be 'spiritual' means, beyond that, to know, and to live according to the knowledge that God is present to us in grace as the principle of personal, interpersonal, social, and even cosmic transformation. To be 'open to the Spirit' is to accept explicitly who we are and who we are always to become, and to direct our lives accordingly, in response to God's grace within us." (p. 1019)

Christian Spirituality

"....Christian spirituality is 'visionary' in that it involves a new way of seeing reality and of seeing through things to their spiritual core, of thus 'interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual' (1 Corinthians 2:13). In that sense, Christian spiritual vision is inevitable 'sacramental.' Every created reality is imbued, to one degree or another, with the hidden presence of God. Christian spirituality is also 'relational.' Neither Christian life nor human life itself is ever isolated existence. We are, therefore, relational beings: being in relation to God, neighbor, world, and self. To be human is to live in community. To be Christian is also to live in community, i.e., the Church. To be spiritually Christian is to live always in relation with others: with our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ and the human community at large. Christian spirituality demands sensitivity to the presence, the needs, and the gifts of others, as well as to the created goods of the earth. Finally, Christian spirituality is 'transformational.' The spiritual Christian is consciously in touch with the presence of the Spirit as the power which heals, reconciles, renews, gives life, bestows peace, sustains hope, brings joy, and creates unity. Christian spirituality requires that the Spirit be allowed to work so that through the instrumentality of the individual and of the Church the transformation of the world into the Reign of God might continue to occur." (p. 1020).

No Single Christian or Catholic Spirituality

"...There is not, and never has been, a single Christian spirituality, nor a single Catholic spirituality. The following historical account should make that unmistakably clear." For example (following the monastic thread alone):
  • Early Monastic: Thus the spiritual life is divided into three stages: purification (the 'purgative' way), meditation on the word of God (the 'illuminative' way), and union with God (the 'unitive' way). (p. 1024)
  • Augustine (d. 430): Spiritual discernment does not bring us knowledge of God in Christ so much as 'self-knowledge' in the light of Christ, the interior teacher of wisdom. On the other hand, ... (he) wrote in the 'City of God' that 'no man must be so committed to contemplation as, in his contemplation, to give no thought to his neighbor's needs, now so absorbed in action as to dispense with the contemplation of God. (Book XIX, chapter 9) (Ibid.);
  • John Cassian (d 435): >..is not to seek anything beyond the Kingdom of God, and only purity of heart will open the mystery of the Kingdom to him. Christian life is one of constant prayer wholly inspired by the Gospel.(Ibid.)
  • Benedict (d. c. 550): (The Rule) speaks of the divine presence as 'everywhere and ... in every place,' but most especially in the monastic liturgy of the Divine Office (19:1-2). (Ibid.)
and so on. There is little, if any, discussion about dogma and doctrine, apostolic succession, ritual and the like. The Liturgy and The Community and God's Presence to us, in us, and with us is paramount in spirituality.

A Catholic Spirituality

A Catholic spirituality could reference a spirituality that encompasses a "sacramental vision 'sees' God in all things (St. Ignatius Loyola): other people, communities, movements, events, places, objects, the environment, the world at large, the whole cosmos. The visible, tangible, the finite, the historical — all these are actual or potential carriers of divine presence. Indeed, for Catholicism it is only in and through these material realities that we can encounter the invisible God. The great sacrament of our encounter with God, and of God's encounter with us, is Jesus Christ. The Church, in turn, is the fundamental sacrament of our encounter with Christ, and of Christ with us. And the sacraments, in turn, are the signs and instruments by which the ecclesial encounter with Christ is expressed, celebrated, and made effective for the glory of God and the salvation of all." (pp 9-10)

Purpose of Religion in Spirituality

Given Benedictine Spirituality, the essence of the Catholic Religion (and most religions) serves as only one of many contexts within which an individual may come to know oneself in God. A religion is only the context from within which a person might grow — in or out from — his or her experience of God, his or her own spiritual re-awakening in matters of the spirit. For others their religion of origin brings them to know God in spite of that religion, which they have now left behind. Others are equally as thankful because they left the religion in anger and hate only to find God in their life experiences and return to the context of the religion to further unfold their appreciation of God (leaving the dogma and doctrine aside as being essentially irrelevant to the Spirit of things).

A Zen Catholic Spirituality

To close from Zen Catholicism by Dom Aelred Graham OSB (ISBN 0-8245-1425-4):

Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His humanity, was involved like the rest of us in the time sequence; but according to His divinity He was one with the timeless God. 'Before Abraham was, I am' (John 8:58). We ourselves can, through faith, make contact with the timeless God even in this life. Not that we can stand fully outside the time series, but given God's grace and our co-operation, we can live in a continuous present. This, it will have been noted, is what Zen Buddhism is aiming at. This, with greater possibilities of success, is the goal of Catholic spirituality. The days, the seasons, each one of them, become 'good' — not in any lighthearted, irresponsible sense; not because our problems and sufferings suddenly vanish — but by the fact that we are rooted in Reality, fixed at the Center, seeing into our own nature and so perceiving its intimate relationship with God. We become more, rather than less, sensitive to 'the still, sad music of humanity'; but we listen to it for its own sake, so to speak, and not as ego-regarding individuals troubled by an essentially personal distress. Thus the wide sympathy so generated coexists with the peace that passes understanding, which, provided he be unentangled by desire and craving, lies in the heart of every (human being).

  "Catholics, it seems, need more often to be reminded that the Church's concept of the spiritual life, as it affects each individual, has the evident psychological depth and power which are commonly associated with the Hindu-Buddhist-Zen tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that human thought is, to some extent, a timeless activity, as it 'abstracts from the here and now.' (ST I, 107.4) He takes the position also that 'nothing exists of time except now.' (ST, I, 46, 3, 3) ....

  "The Catholic masters of the spiritual life never tire of repeating the simple theme. 'Do what you are doing now, suffer what you are suffering now,' writes J. P. de Caussade. 'To do all this with holiness, nothing need be changed but your hearts. Sanctity consists in willing what happens to us by God's order.'

 "The willing here referred to must not be confused with an attitude of grim determination. Rather, it is a quiet yielding to the evident signs of what God wants from us, a calm acquiescence in the inevitable. Not forcefulness, but a certain emptiness of both mind and will that is what is called for. The 'doors of perception,' in Blake's phrase, need to be cleansed, so that we can face reality as it is. We should cherish the thoughts that, paradoxically, dwell on nothing at all; not so as to preserve a mental vacuity, which has no merit, but to have the mind fully receptive now on the spot where we are. I cannot see that anyone can claim fellowship in this matter with Jesus or His righteous Mother, His angels or His saint, writes the author of 'The Cloud of Unknowing' unless he is doing everything in his power, with the help of grace, to attend to each moment of time. 'So pay attention to this marvelous work of grace within your soul. It is always a sudden impulse and comes without warning, springing up to God like some spark from the fire. An incredible number of such impulses arise in one brief hour in the soul who has a will to this work! 'These deeper, at once more exacting and more heartening, aspects of Catholicism are here being stressed because they are, I think, somewhat neglected in our day. If there is to be no salvation outside the Church, in whatever sense the same Holy Mother Church now interprets that difficult saying, it is also true, as has been observed, that there is no salvation outside the soul.'" (pp. 151-153)

  Peace and Joy.

  White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

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