Catholic Spirituality -v- A Spiritual Awakening

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Question:

In reference to the insert on May 6, 2018. It said, “The reason I specify Catholic spirituality instead of Christian spirituality is, any sort of spirituality that comes from outside the Catholic Church is not approved by the Church”.

I was shocked when I read this! Are you saying that the spiritual awakening that I experienced in the rooms of Alcoholic Anonymous is not approved by the Catholic Church? This spirituality has kept me sober for 37 years but you are saying that doesn't count? That its not acceptable to God? God led me to the rooms of
AA, God saved my life via AA, and I think your statement is ridiculous.

Answer:


I always enjoy entertaining questions and comments from the readers of
What We Believe... Why We Believe It.

To begin, congratulations on 37 years of sobriety! Having worked extensively with alcoholics and (mostly) addicts, I know a sobriety of that length isn’t easy. Keep up the good work!

There are four years’ worth of
What We Believe... Why We Believe It written. Some subscribing parishes are in the third year, others in the first, and the rest in between. The only way I have of identifying which one your parish used is by the number in the lower right hand corner, so I deeply appreciate that you quoted the offending statement. Without knowing the context of the quote, I’ll comment on the what you gave me.

Please don’t confuse Catholic spirituality (what I was talking about) with a spiritual awakening (what happened to you).
Any spiritual awakening is a good thing. For example, you’ve heard the phrase “All roads lead to Rome”? Although that phrase was originally a description of Rome when it was an empire, the Church has adopted that phrase as her own. Why? Because she believes anything (say, adherence to Hinduism) can be used by God as a means to, at some point, lead the adherent to the Church. In your case, AA spirituality led you to the realization that you’re powerless over alcohol, and that led you a step closer to embracing (or re-embracing) the divine truths of Catholicism. So you misunderstand what I was talking about. Let me explain.

Every Catholic in the world has two primary responsibilities, and all other Catholic responsibilities fall under those two. One of those two primary responsibilities is to become a saint, as directed by Christ (Matthew 5:48). We are obligated to become perfect; a saint, in other words. For those Catholics willing to undertake this spiritual journey, there are various “guides,” so to speak. Master guides of Catholic spirituality are saints like Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Little Flower,
et cetera. In other words, these are examples of approved Catholic spirituality for leading us on the road to sanctity. There is a vast difference between this and the AA spiritual awakening you experienced. AA readily acknowledges that the things it teaches doesn’t lead one to perfection in God, but it does promote the notion of devotion to Him (or in their more inclusive term of “higher power”). As good as AA has been for countless people who are powerless over alcohol, it’s only a starting point; not a destination. The destination is sanctity, holiness, perfection. Once the bus (awakening) got you to the Powerless Over Alcohol depot, then it was (is) time to transfer to another bus that takes you to the Spiritual Perfection depot. The only way to do that is to begin the journey with approved Catholic spirituality.

Although he didn’t have AA available to him, Venerable Matt Talbot was a man I’ve no doubt would have embraced AA. What he had available in those days was a precursor to modern day rehabs where one would “take the pledge”. Just as Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith had realized and concluded that alcoholics needed God in their lives, so did Matt Talbot about six months into sobriety. He had been a nominal Catholic in his youth, but committed himself to being a devout Catholic at some point during his first year of sobriety. He lived a life of prayer, fasting, and service, trying to model himself on the sixth century Irish monks. He was guided for most of his life by Dr. Michael Hickey, Professor of Philosophy at Clonliffe College. Under Dr. Hickey's guidance, Talbot's reading became wider. He laboriously read Scripture, the lives of saints, The Confessions of St. Augustine, and writings of St. Francis de Sales and others. When he found a part difficult to understand, he asked a priest to clarify it.

He became a Third Order Franciscan, and was a member of several other associations and sodalities. Talbot was a generous man. Although poor himself, he gave freely to neighbors and fellow workers, to charitable institutions, and the Church. He ate very little. After his mother's death, he lived in a small flat with very little furniture. He slept on a plank bed with a board for a pillow. He rose at 5 a.m. every day so as to attend Mass before work. At work, whenever he had spare time, he found a quiet place to pray. He spent most of every evening on his knees. On Sundays, he attended several Masses. He walked quickly, with his head down, so that he appeared to be hurrying from one Mass to another. By the time Talbot died, he participated in every Mass he could find all day long.

Venerable Matt Talbot exemplified the ultimate Catholic spirituality of the alcoholic.

I hope I’ve alleviated your concerns about what you read in
What We Believe... Why We Believe It. If not, please get back to me.

In Mary’s loving embrace,
Larry “Joe Sixpack” Ford
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