Saturday, 16 May 2015

Communal and Individual Spirituality: Towards Divine Intimacy

Key terms

Human Vocation is to abide in loving union with God, and this by effect involves a selfless fraternity with one’s neighbors.

Interiority the quality of being inward or interior; which is to say, being an individual who knows oneself and who is living a meaningful life, a life that engages with one’s personal call. To be interior is to be in union with God. “Interiority speaks of the inner or interior life of man; involving the realm of the psyche yet going beyond into the infinite universe of his soul.” (The Tree and the Flower, Academia: 2013, 5.).

 Original Solitude is the state of 'aloneness' which the first human persons experienced, which led them to seek unity as male and female, and with such 'aloneness' remaining despite this union, it led them in turn to perceive their need for God and desire for union with Him.

The Church, the Bride of Christ and Mother of the Faithful in Baptism, St. Hildegard, Scivias II.3.

 The Communal Character of the Human Vocation

  As relational beings we are called to work with others, pray with others, and journey with others in our pilgrimage of faith. In fact it is impossible to love God and be in a relationship with Him, without loving and being in relationship with our neighbours, because after all, God is Communion, He is Relationship, a relationship between Father, Son and Spirit (see. Trinity). Furthermore, God in the Person of the Son became man through the Virgin Mary; and this is the same to say that God the Son became our neighbour. By extension this means that to love God requires us necessarily to love our neighbour, since in God the Son neighbour and God are one. The following excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) expound upon the social and relational aspect of the human person, the benefit he can draw from society -in the micro and macro sense, and the duty he has as a relational creature:

The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation. (CCC 1879).

A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and prepares for the future. By means of society, each man is established as an "heir" and receives certain "talents" that enrich his identity and whose fruits he must develop. He rightly owes loyalty to the communities of which he is part and respect to those in authority who have charge of the common good. (CCC 1880).


The Individual Character of the Human Vocation

Although we all share the universal vocation of love; we are called as unique individuals, “each by name” (Is 40:26; Jn 10:3). Thus although we are living cells making up the Body of Christ the Church, and are therefore bonded with one another to share in a relationship with God; we are called as individuals to enter into eternal union with God, a union which is unique, personal, secret and original. Yet it must be noted that often people seek the latter –a personal relationship with God- without ecclesial communion –the community of the Church; with the view often asserted: ‘I need God not the Church’ or ‘I love God but hate religion’. Such a position undermines the social and relational aspect to the nature of the human person. For though we are made to be in union with God, we are created as brothers and sisters in Christ of the one Father; and what else is the Church but the House in which we are called to live in as brothers and sisters in union with God. Such a communal and uniquely personal relationship with God is only made possible if one abides under the roof of the Church built by Christ Himself (Mt 16:18). Any person avoiding the Church, yet striving after a personal relationship with God, builds their relationship on the sand of their own ‘private institution’; and truly such a ‘house’ will fall when storms come; besides, a house built on sand can only be built so high until it topples over. This is unlike those who build their personal relationship on the Rock of the Church, for no wind can blow them into erroneous beliefs and thus cause their ‘house’ to fall; and there is no limit to the height such a ‘house’ can extend (i.e. the height of union with God one can reach in their personal relationship with Him). Of course there are those who though remaining in one sense 'in' the Church or 'on' the Rock of the Church, don't come to even build a house of personal intimacy with God -such persons are all 'head' and no 'heart' for their faith is mere ideology as opposed to a lived personal reality.

John Paul II in A Theology of the Body elaborates on the concept of man’s ‘original solitude’, a term denoting the ‘aloneness’ of man who realised he was alone in the garden (Gen 2:18). This ‘aloneness’ opened him up to the realization that he needed God and that he had a unique and distinct relationship with God. Furthermore, ‘original solitude’ is an experience of both males and females, who despite their union together, possess a deep longing as individuals for ‘something’ or rather ‘someone’ more; and this someone is God. In the vein of this understanding ‘original solitude’ is the positive channeling of man’s aloneness toward His Creator in a spirituality of intimacy; but when man’s aloneness is not channeled toward His Maker in a life void of spiritual intimacy, it is then that he experiences the oppression of loneliness. John Paul writes: “Man is ‘alone’: this is to say that through his own humanity, through what he is, he is at the same time set into a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself.[1]

Indeed one only has to recall to mind the numerous examples of saints who though sharing in a charism and spirituality of a particular community, differed greatly as individuals in their unique expression and understanding of their common charism and spirituality. For although both Carmelites of the Reform, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were both distinct in their expression of the Carmelite charism, and unique in their personal spirituality. So too with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena, both Dominicans. So too with St. Bernard and St. Francis of Assisi, both Franciscans; and the list goes on. Indeed a common error we can fall into is to expect others –even in our own families or communities- to pray and operate in exactly the same manner we do, when instead we ought to realise that the Lord has ordained one path for us to tread, and another unique path for each of our neighbours; paths which may at times intersect with one another; yet regardless all sincere paths -in Christ the only Way- lead to the same destination –God Himself.[2]

The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple


Finding God Within

 How often do we seek God in the world without, either when we seek His Presence or when we seek to make other things, experiences or people into our gods? Indeed when Mary and Joseph lost the Child Jesus, they sought for Him everywhere but in vain. When they did find Him however, they found Him in the Temple; and Jesus simply replied to their puzzlement: "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Lk 2:49). Why is then that we seek the yearning of every man’s heart –the Lord Jesus- in things outside of us? As if He could be obtained through outward pious practices, deeds of love, intellectual study or the contemplation of nature? For truly we our Temples of the Spirit, we are the House of the Father; and to us the Lord says: ‘Why did you search for me outside of yourself? Did you not know that I was always within you and that still I am?’[3]

St. Augustine speaks on this very notion of ‘finding God within’ in his Confessions from an excerpt often quoted: “Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there...Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee....Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness...Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant.”[4]

The ‘journey inward’, the immersion into the house of one’s own soul, is not a self-inverted act of selfishness, but rather, ‘a going in’ for the sake of the Other. This Other is God, and within Him all other’s abide –our neighbours (Col 1:16). So indeed this ‘going in’ within oneself is not a withdrawal from God, the world and from others, but it is the means of coming to encounter those in the world face to face, and of coming to encounter God in, with and through the world and the entirety of creation. 

Truly each person is deaf and blind; and it is only through self-knowledge that one comes to be healed of this deafness to the voice of God within. A voice which calls out from the heart of one’s soul in which Christ the Beloved waits for us to come and be with Him, saying: ‘Open to me the door of thy heart, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for in here I wait and long for your embrace, and for the soothing whispers of your ‘I love you’. O make haste, and tell me that you love me!’ (Song 5:2b). Having been healed of this deafness we are called to respond to this enchanting voice of our God. This we do by opening the door of our hearts to the waters of His Love; and by ‘going in’ through this ‘open door’ into the house of our soul where we shall meet and embrace our God within. This inner-encounter can be sustained in a relationship of love through every moment of the day; all we must do is desire to be in union with God, and remind ourselves of His Presence within; doing everything in our daily tasks with the intention of doing it for, with, in and through Him. This inner-encounter leads to our coming to know God, and such intimate knowledge –like that possessed between the best of friends, and the most intimate of lovers- heals us of our blindness. So whilst self-knowledge of our sinfulness and weakness –accompanied by faith and trust in God’s Mercy- heals us of our deafness to God, our coming to know God who lives within us, leads to the healing of our blindness. Job himself recounts this in Scripture when he says: “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee.” (Job 42:5). By being healed of our blindness we begin to see God not only within ourselves, but in turn we begin to see God in others, and in the outside world –in its events, catastrophes and wonders. Situations we once saw as mundane, become festive and awe-inspiring. Disasters we once deemed frightening, without moving beyond a perspective of negativity or indifference, become opportunities to see the solidarity of men created in God's image and likeness, helping each other rebuild one anothers lives.

For “to live this life of interiority is to live in God’s Presence within the inner temple of one’s being (1 Cor 3:16).[5] Edith Stein explains the fulfillment and meaning one draws through every experience when one is living this interior life:

The personal ‘I’ is most truly at home in the innermost being of the soul. When the ‘I’ lives its life in this interiority... [it is] closest to the meaning of every event...[6]

And what is the meaning of every event? God and the call to oneness with Him. So whilst one finds God within, this original finding leads to a finding of God in every circumstance, event and experience of one's life; and in this latter discovery we are accompanied with, guided by, and guiders of, our brothers and sisters, who like us are called to the intimacy of union with God.

[1] John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, Trans. Michael Waldstein, Pauline Books and Media, Boston: 2006, 6:2, p.151.
[2] This being said, there are common and universal requirements that each person is called to fulfill (i.e. universal: the Ten Commandments; the call to pray; sub-universal: participation in the Mass for Catholics, fulfillment of the Precepts); yet the way in which these universal and sub-universal demands are met shall vary between individuals.
[3] It is true, God is omnipresent, He is present in all things, even those things ‘outside of us’. So too is Christ present in all things in His Divinity, and in a spiritual sense His Humanity is too. Yet it must be said, how can one expect to find the Christ without, if they cannot even find the Christ within? Besides, if one neglects the Christ within, one neglects the Christ without.
[4]  Augustine, Confessions, Book X, Chapter 27.
[5] John-Joseph of the Immaculate Womb, The Tree and the Flower, Academia: 2013, 5.
[6] Edith Stein, “The Interiority of the Soul,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 2 (2005): 187, 190, doi: 10.1353/log.2005.0022.

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