Arts and Culture

What Is Your Spirituality?

Second in a Series

By Fr. Robert Lauder

Early on in his marvelous book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life (HarperOne), Father James Martin explains what he means by spirituality. He writes:
“In brief, a spirituality is a way of living in relationship with God. Within the Christian tradition, all spiritualities, no matter what their origins, have the same focus – the desire for union with God, an emphasis on love and charity, and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God.”
I think it is important that each Christian try to identify his or her spirituality. At least we should reflect on why certain devotions are part of our spirituality and why others are not. I think it could also be profitable to ask ourselves why we relate to God the way we do. Is our spirituality due to our family, to the schools we attended, to the parish at which we worship, to the priests whose homilies we hear, to the friends with whom we associate?
I first began to try to identify my spirituality when I was a student in theology in the major seminary. At that time some very gifted students had established a liturgy club which held meetings every week. At each meeting a seminarian gave a talk on some aspect of the liturgy and distributed a mimeo containing the main points of the talk.
At one meeting one of the seminarians gave a talk on what he called a “liturgical spirituality.” I felt as though my eyes were opened to see aspects of spirituality that I had never seen previously. Though the presentation was made 55 years ago, I am still influenced by the ideas expressed in it. In what was probably the excessively introspective atmosphere in the seminary formation program and the excessive stress on our unworthiness and sinfulness, the paper seemed like a breath of fresh air.
Today, I probably do not have a Jesuit spirituality or at least not the spirituality that was presented by Jesuit retreat masters in my formation as a seminarian but from reading Father Martin’s book, I know I want to incorporate into my life some wonderful insights that he reports are rooted in the teaching of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits. A discovery I made while reading the book is that what Jesuits taught me 60 years ago at Xavier H.S., Manhattan, formed my consciousness and conscience more than I had realized.
Reporting that he discovered a new God when he entered the Jesuits, Father Martin writes:
“Not until I entered the Jesuits and began hearing about a different kind of God – a God who was with you in your suffering, a God who took a personal interest in your life, even if you didn’t feel that all your problems were solved – did life start to make more sense. That’s not to say I ever found an entirely satisfying answer for the mystery of suffering – or for why my friend’s life ended at 21. But it helped me understand the importance of being in relationship with God, even during difficult times.
“When I was a novice, one of my spiritual directors quoted the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray, who contrasted ‘real religion’ and ‘illusory religion.’ The maxim of ‘illusory religion’ is as follows: ‘Fear not; trust in God and He will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.’ ‘Real religion,’ said Macmurray, has a different maxim: ‘Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.’”
I was very pleased to see the reference to Macmurray. Years ago, I persuaded two of my friends to write their doctoral dissertations on Macmurray, so enamored was I with the Scottish personalist. His distinction between the two types of religion is important. We are called to believe and trust in God unconditionally. We are called to believe and trust in God when everything in our lives is going beautifully, and we are called to believe and trust in God when our lives seem to be filled with crosses.
“Illusory religion” can be very tempting. It is easy for us to place conditions on our belief in God. We try to make a deal with God: “I will believe in You if You do what I want and arrange that my life goes the way I want my life to go. My belief and trust hinges on that condition.”
“Illusory religion” does not focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus and God’s unconditional love for us but rather projects a god who is subservient to our will.