All spirituality types

By Roger O'Brien

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PATH OF INTELLECT (Thomistic prayer): About 12 percent of the population follows this path, using the syllogistic method of Saint Thomas Aquinas known as scholastic prayer.

The main emphasis is on the orderly progression of thought from cause to effect. People of this prayer type prefer neat, orderly forms of the spiritual life, as opposed to the free-spirit, impulsive attitude of the Franciscan approach. Their spirituality is centered on the earnest pursuit of all the transcendental values: truth, goodness, beauty, unity, love, life, and spirit. Like Saint Teresa of Avila, they are willing to exert superhuman effort to achieve their goal.

Because of their disdain for second best, they seek total truth and authenticity in their lives and work hard to reach the whole truth about themselves, about God, and about sanctity. This intense pursuit of truth colors their whole spiritual life.

Books of prayer frequently call the Thomistic method of prayer "discursive meditation." In this type of prayer, one takes a virtue, fault, or theological truth and studies it from every possible angle. Change of behavior is an essential part of this prayer—it doesn't stay at the intellectual level. There is generally a bias against this type of prayer today because it was so much in vogue before Vatican II.


PATH OF DEVOTION (Augustinian prayer): The majority of saints are of this spiritual temperament as well as 12 percent of the population (half of those who go on retreats or belong to small faith groups).

This method uses creative imagination to transpose the world of scripture to our situation today—as if the scripture passage is a personal letter from God addressed to each one of us (like Saint Augustine picking up Romans 13 and reading a message pointed directly at him). The essential element of this spirituality, going back to New Testament times (Jesus, Saint Paul, and the early church leaders), is experiencing a personal relationship with God. Because they read between the lines and catch what is inexpressible and spiritual, those who follow the path of devotion best understand symbols and their use in liturgy.

This path concentrates on meditations that loosen the feelings and expand the ability to relate to and love others. The stress is on the love of self, others, and God. Those on this path can follow the four steps of Lectio Divina: listen to what God says in scripture; reflect prayerfully and apply it to today; respond to God's Word with personal feelings; remain quiet and stay open to new insights.


PATH OF SERVICE (Franciscan prayer): About 38 percent of the population is this spiritual type-—but far fewer of this type come to church regularly.

Like Saint Francis of Assisi, those who follow this path must be free, unconfined, and able to do whatever their inner spirit moves them to do. They don't like to be tied down by rules. One thinks of Saint Peter impetuously jumping into the water to join Jesus as a typical action of this type.

Franciscan spirituality leads to acts of loving service which can be a most effective form of prayer. The gospel stories about Jesus have a special appeal, particularly the Incarnation of God in the life of Jesus, which is the center around which Franciscan life and spirituality revolve. Franciscan prayer is flexible and free-flowing making full use of the five senses; it is spirit-filled prayer.

Those on this path can make a meditation on the beauty of a waterfall, flower, meadow, mountain, or ocean—all of God's creation. There is more stress in prayer on the events of Jesus' life rather than his teaching. Like Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, prayer is done with total concentration as if it is the most important thing to be doing at this moment. Thérèse did all tasks knowing that each was a part of the total harmony of the universe.


PATH OF ASCETICISM (Ignatian prayer): More than half of churchgoers practice this type of prayer. It involves imagining oneself as part of a scene in order to draw some practical fruit from it for today. This spirituality goes back to the Israelite way of praying in 1000 B.C. in which one remembers and immerses oneself in an event and thus relives and participates in the event in a symbolic way.

That is how Ignatius of Loyola meditated on the Nativity scene: ''I will make myself a poor, little, unworthy servant, and as though present, look upon them, contemplate them, and serve them in their needs with all possible homage and reverence. Then I will reflect on myself that I may reap some fruit.''

Satin Ignatius' preoccupation with order was evident in his Spiritual Exercises, which aimed at overcoming "disorderly affections, so that [people] may make a decision that is in keeping with God’s will," says Thomas Clarke in Playing in the Gospel, According to Clarke, "Most souls who are willing to endure the discipline of the 30 days of intense prayer activity of the Spiritual Exercises are rewarded with an unforgettable spiritual experience that frequently changes the whole direction of their lives."

© VISION Vocation Guide, a publication of the National Religious Vocation Conference. Reprinted online with permission from the author.
2010 © TrueQuest Communications

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