Finding Your Spiritual Family

Let me begin by introducing "Paths to Renewal: The Spirituality of Six Religious Founders", by Zachary Grant, OFM Cap.,(Alba House, Publisher - 1997). I attended retreats he gave for lay Franciscans at a period in which the book was in its final stages and therefore acquired a genuine interest in his perspective. Rev. Grant reflected upon, researched and studied this topic for many years. He polled many representatives of the various religious orders and congregations to get their input. This is the source that I am relying upon to bring out issues that I alone am simply not qualified to explain.

In my previous post I remarked that…'as a useful know which spiritual family you fall into will propel your spiritual life'. I have found that to be true in my own experience; so much so that I hope to explain it in a way that will convince you to pursue the matter.

Though Fr. Grant pursues his calling as a Franciscan, he nevertheless takes great pains to treat the matter in an unbiased fashion. He makes it quite clear that it would be 'arrogant' to claim that any spiritual tradition is better or superior to another, for ultimately we are responding to God who has raised up these spiritual families.

What is characteristic of a spiritual family or tradition is that it embodies 'a spirituality'; which is another name for a 'way', a 'path', even a 'program or system', which guides us towards our calling: Living the Gospel in union with Christ. Let's let the author speak for himself:

"In the Church we have six very different spirituality traditions. All are intrinsically woven into the fabric of the Church's holiness and her devotional practices. Everyone who is sincere about living the Gospel in true disciple-union with Jesus chooses one or the other without always knowing which one is being followed, i.e., without being able to give it a name. Any nuance or emphasis which is added by an individual, including subsequent founders of religious orders or congregations will reflect a difference of experience or a unique and sometimes limited purpose. A "new" spirituality may be known by a different name because it has a very specific priority, but it will be radically Augustinian or Benedictine, Dominican or Franciscan, Ignatian or Teresian. [Emphasis added - pg 34]

So these are the Great Six as he asserts. Why these six and none other, he discusses at length: however it is well beyond the scope of this reflection. When Fr. Grant speaks about 'those who are sincere about living the Gospel…with Jesus', he is not speaking only of religious. The laity have been greatly influenced by these distinctive spiritual traditions. Each spiritual family has contributed to growth in holiness and sanctity among large numbers of individuals in the secular state. Indeed without a strong lay following, they would not be among the Great Six.

[Please note that my purpose here is merely to show the existence of the Great Six traditions. If I were to attempt to explain each of them my ignorance would quickly betray me. Besides, my hope is that you will explore them yourself.]

Did Fr. Grant omit Marian spirituality? No; not at all. Mary is intimately infused in all of the so called 'spiritual traditions'. She is, so to speak, 'where her Son is' and inseparable from him. None of the Great Six traditions could be deemed as such, if not for their embodiment of love for Mary. While many of us experience an authentic personal closeness and devotion to Mary; in the context of this discussion, we can't rightly call this a separate spirituality any more than we can call the 'way of Jesus' a separate spirituality.

So what is it that compels a sincere follower of the Gospel to choose a 'path'; even if unknowingly? It's about answering God's call to draw closer in union with him:

"The motivation which helps us to overcome our fallen nature's propensity toward evil may be as ungallant as the fear of hell. The measure of a response to goodness may come from a sense of obligation toward our Creator, but when it is guided by generous love of Jesus, we call it holiness. When our generosity is total, we call it sanctity. The program or system we follow to maintain a steady progress in holiness toward the goal of sanctity is called a spirituality. And that is what we are speaking about here." [Emphasis added - pg 34]

This is significant because Fr. Grant is informing us not only that these 'families or traditions' exist; but even more, they are 'pathways' for us in our growth of the spiritual life. This is what I was thinking when I made the claim from my earlier post…'to know which spiritual family you fall into will propel your spiritual life'…this is the 'color or glaze of your plate'.

If our spiritual life amounts to more than 'fear of hell'; if our heart responds to more than an 'obligation' which we owe to God; if indeed we are motivated by 'generous love of Jesus': then in fact we are on one of these 'paths'. Isn't this a keen insight and opportunity? Shouldn't we discern 'where we are' and enjoy whatever graces are awaiting us? The first step might be to obtain 'Paths to Renewal'. If you have a collection (small or large) which you refer to as a 'Catholic Library'; then this title belongs in it.

We are nearing the end of what is for me, a very long reflection. Two more points please. Each of the spiritual families has a unique perspective and set of tasks in their relation with Our Lord and his Church. We call these 'charisms' and gifts. One can discern particular language and symbols that have meanings attached to their founders from early days. [The title of this blog is PERFECT JOY which has a distinct meaning to Franciscans and may be completely obscure to others].

This helps to explain why we find some published material more appealing than others. I try to discern which 'spiritual family' is being represented when reading anything written. Sometimes this is as easy as looking for the religious affiliation or initials after an authors name. This uniqueness affects almost everything shared among the traditions. This understanding helps to make me more receptive, (even tolerant), and able to be filled with the intended spiritual message.

This also helps to avoid misunderstandings and unintended frictions. (If Jesus is your 'Lord and Master'… are you offended if another calls him merely 'Brother'?) No where is this more important than in small Church groups or Bible Studies [and dare I add - blog posts].

Finally, I want to emphasize that it is fruitless and arrogant to promote one of these spiritual paths as holier, the best or greater than the others. Even worse is to excessively criticize or accuse any of unfaithfulness. All the spiritual families are constantly in need of renewal and reform: whether it's institutionally or for the benefit of individual members. We must keep foremost in our minds that it is God himself who has called forth these families. As for ourselves, we simply 'discover' the path that God has set us upon. Thus what 'seems best' is really only best for us. Having each of us follow our various paths serves the purpose of accomplishing his Will.


Little Scribe said...

Thank you very much for writing on this subject. As a convert to the Catholic faith and a Secular Franciscan, I am not very familiar with all of the Great Six. As a Franciscan, I think it is good to know about all the spiritual paths. The more informed we are about the other spiritual families, the better we may be able to help others who come to us to discern their call.

Jenny said...

This is one of the coolest blogs I've stumbled upon, thanks for sharing a truly unique perspective on vocation and spirituality...