One of the priority pastoral challenges for the Church’s work is Christian Spirituality, which must be promoted in each of its members: bishops, priests, religious men and women, and laity. The following article deals specifically with Christian spirituality.
I like to define spirituality as opposed to ethos. Ethos is a Greek word that has been widely used in recent decades in the studies of Moral Philosophy and Moral Theology, and refers to the moral character of a person or of a people or of a community. Moral character is learned, you are not born with it. Thus, the ethos brings together the moral values and the moral countervalues of a person or of a people or of a community.
There are people and peoples who have a low ethos, their moral profile –according to the phrase of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (+1955), is low, which does not mean that it completely lacks moral values; but these are few. Examples: the ethos of a prison, or of a certain neighborhood or Church (that of Corinth in the time of Saint Paul or the Church to which Santiago addresses his letter).
The spirituality of a person or a people excludes moral countervalues; just look at spiritual and moral values, or what is the same, the best of the human spirit. There are people and peoples with a high level of spirituality. Examples: Saint Teresa of Jesus, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Paul VI, the community of men of the “San Carlos” Seminary in the twenties of the 19th century, our patriarchate, as José María Chacón y Calvo called it (+1969) , or the Cuban peasantry during the first seventy years of the twentieth century. There are, on the contrary, people of little spirituality; These are the practical materialists, who have an insensitivity to the spiritual. There are non-believers of great spiritual wealth. Example: Imre Nagy, communist; Prime Minister of Hungary, deposed, tried and executed by the Soviet occupation troops and their related government in 1956.
III.- Spirituality is not pietism or spiritualism
Spirituality is often confused with pietism, which is the only exaggerated taste for prayer and religious cult practices in this or that person, with little or no commitment to family and social reality, thinking that the fruits of this depend exclusively of God’s action in them. It is also mistakenly thought that the spiritual person is one who lives unaware of the problems of life, “because he only deals with the spiritual” (in this case, understand God, or literature, or philosophy, etc.), and therefore this reason has peace and problems are not sought … This tendency can be called spiritualism; however, it is not proper to the true spiritual person.
IV.- What is Christian spirituality?
Spirituality is not the exclusive patrimony of Christianity. Gandhi and Tagore were not Christians. Neither was Confucius; and there is no doubt that they were spiritual men. Judging by his writings and his life, our Martí was a spiritual man. There are various spiritualities. They all have in common that they give primacy to the values of the spirit over the material, being over having. I live convinced that Christianity possesses the best of all spiritualities. It has shown it in history, despite the sins of Christians, but as I said, these are not part of spirituality, but of the historical ethos of Christians. Sins are not the result of spirituality. A spirituality that, due to its content, its principles and practices, produces sin is not authentic, because it is not human, since sin is against man.
Here are the objections that I put to some religions that promote revenge, hatred of the adversary, fanaticism and holy war. The sins of the historical achievements of Christianity – I repeat – are not the result of their spirituality, but, quite the contrary, the result of not living the spiritual values of the Christian Faith, such as the unjustified Crusades.
V.- Spirituality and Man
Evangelization must necessarily produce a Christian spiritual man, who gives primacy to spiritual values from his Christian Faith. To measure a religion or an ideology, one must ask: what kind of man does he produce? Along these lines, what kind of man do certain so-called “Christian” sects produce? Fanatics? But fanaticism and true Christianity don’t get along. The same occurs with religious “Christians” who live their faith full of fears of life. True Christian spirituality frees you from fear.
VI.- What is the essence of Christian spirituality?
Father Jesús Espeja, O.P. in his book La Espiritualidad Cristiana, published in Cuba in 2004, he tells us: “The characteristic of Christian spirituality lies in the incarnation: the human and the divine united, ‘without confusion’ but ‘without separation'”. Consequently, Christian spirituality is incarnate, if not, it is not Christian, because it is born of Jesus, the incarnate God. This is a fact to meditate more than once, and from which we will never get all its juice. Theologians will say: it is a historical spirituality. I add: with a projection to holiness. The post-synodal exhortation of John Paul II Christisfideles Laici, affirms that priests and laity (all are faithful to the Church) have a vocation: holiness. The priests carry it out in the construction of the ecclesial community. The laity in the world, and, secondly, in the construction of the ecclesial community. Here is in an essential way the difference that within Christian spirituality there is between the spirituality of the Ordained Episcopal and Presbyteral Ministry and the lay spirituality. A sacrament, that of Holy Orders, essentially marks differentiation.
VII.- Sources of Christian Spirituality
The sources of Christian Spirituality, both for ordained ministers and for laity, are born from Jesus of Nazareth and from the specific essence that he gave to the religion that he founded; they are born, above all – this is his point of origin, which we must never forget – from the incarnation of the Word. Here we find the first specificity of him, which made possible the ways in which the Son of God lived his incarnation, announced the Kingdom and was related to the Father; But let’s not forget it, since the incarnation, that is why it is not a spirituality of flight, of disengagement, of pietism. It is spirituality of the cross. The mystique of Christianity is of the cross; otherwise it is not Christianity. It will be another religion, anything, but it will not be Christianity. However, the way I see it, most Christians do not understand it or do not fully understand it.
Father Espeja in the aforementioned book of his writes a subtitle that I really liked: “Obedience in the darkness of history.” Loving obedience to the Father, I think that’s a good existential definition of the cross. Not reluctant obedience to God, but loving obedience, which is to say: despite all that I have suffered and suffer, I love you, despite everything, I am faithful to you because you are my Father.
Incarnation spirituality is spirituality of commitment to this world to save it. The Son of God to save this world did not choose any other way than that of the incarnation: he became man. The author of the letter to the Hebrews said that “He also was subjected to the same tests as we are; only he never sinned ”(Heb 4:15). This means that the first thing he did was take a human body, given by a woman, the Virgin, and he was born like any human being, assuming all the rigor of this life (not welcomed by his own, death threats and problems of the everyday life). God, his Father, did not come to free him with a magic wand from all these vicissitudes. The Gospels say nothing of the kind. Hidden life in Nazareth and the life of a preacher, quite agitated by the way, bear witness to the reality of the incarnate and committed life of Jesus. In the end, God did not free him from passion and death. More human and with more problems it could not be. However, the spirituality of Jesus sprang from the incarnation.
VIII.- Elements that make up Christian Spirituality
The referential elements that make up this Christian spirituality of incarnation are lived from obedience to the Father, but how did Jesus live – from what point of reference – that obedience?
From the new image of God that he revealed: that of the Father, which is not that of the master whose will he arbitrarily orders and which it is necessary to fulfill blindly.
This image of Father produces a relationship with God marked by sonship. Therefore he was not a slave, nor an instrument, nor a servant of God; he was son. It is filial obedience.
Filial obedience is accomplished by following Jesus, not by photocopied imitation of him. Following is about living the values and attitudes of Jesus. As a follow-up spirituality, we can preserve, thanks to that, our personal identity, our uniqueness. In the spirituality of following there is the cross, as I have already indicated.
Obedience is carried out as life in the Holy Spirit and this frees him from all rigor, from all kinds of stoicism: a soft yoke, a light burden. This filial obedience is possible to live by virtue of grace, otherwise it would be the fulfillment of a dead written law (2 Cor 3, 6).
This spirituality encompasses all aspects of human life. It is not biased. It is total. On the other hand, it is not superficial. It is interior. Hence, superficial people, who only understand faith in Christ in some aspects and not in others, find it difficult to be authentic Christians.
IX.- Lay Christian spirituality
The Second Vatican Council established lay spirituality in number 31 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Lumen Gentium Church. The laity are in the world. The person, family and society are the objects that the laity have to transform to make them more human, which is the same as realizing the Kingdom of God. This transformation must be done from a reference that is the Word of God, the sacraments of the Church and prayer. These are the three pillars that sustain the spirituality of Christians, which, I repeat, has as its object the transformation of the person, the family and society.
In the person are, among others, the values of sincerity, truth, honesty, health and sexuality. The family reveals itself to us as the one that first forms people and transmits faith in an atmosphere of love. It is there that, in the first place, gratuitousness must be known, the essential value of relationships with others. On the other hand, personal and family values have to be lived on a larger scale in the social environment. Justice, which is born from political charity and enables the common good, is configured in the family together with freedom as the foundations of social life.
It is a mistake to want to separate the personal from the social, or the familiar from the social, in Christian spirituality, since the three areas are essential and not optional. When the lay Christian understands this reason and tries to put it into practice, then we can speak of lay identity.
Furthermore, according to his charisms and possibilities, the lay Christian must, secondly, find his commitment in the construction of the ecclesial community.
The lay Christian builds his personal, interpersonal, family and social reality (this is the incarnation), which is the same as building the Kingdom of God in this world. From where? From his filial obedience to the Father God, helped with the grace of the Holy Spirit and based on the Word of God, the sacraments and prayer. All of this is lay Christian spirituality.
It is not the same to build the person, interpersonal relationships, family and society from the reference to God’s loving obedience as without this reference. The reference is what Christianly specifies the construction of these realities of the world. A non-believer or a believer of another religion will construct these worldly realities from another reference. Christian laity build them from their specific reference.
Christian spirituality is not synonymous with pietism or spiritualism. Nor is it to live in a glass tower isolated from the rest of the world or to be blank-eyed staring at the sky. Christian spirituality has an essential part which is its commitment to transform the person, the family and society for the better.