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Catholic Spiritual Practices

Catholic Spiritual Practices: A Treasury of Old and New Edited by Colleen M. Griffith and Thomas H. Groome

The great advantage of a collection of essays like these is that they reveal the both the meaning and practice of the spiritual practices in a concise manner.  The disadvantage of this book and books like these is you only get a little taste of the subjects considered which only gives you an appetite to discover more works on the various subjects.  Initially, what I really enjoyed about his book is that it illuminated some Catholic practices that I thought obscure from my Protestant understanding, or, I didn’t really know how the practice connected to the concrete expressions of everyday faith.

Commenting on the modern disconnect between the terms ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ Colleen Griffith writes, “A spirituality that is disconnected from religious tradition is bereft of both community and history; it has no recourse to the benefits of a larger body of discourse and practice, and it lacks accountability” (3).  Having no foundation, no root from which to draw upon leads one to privatize spirituality and not bear out the benefits of a worshipping community longing for the same purpose of life.  Griffith goes on to helpfully say that the why of engaging in spiritual practices is concerned with promoting of way of life, a faith that does not leave us unchanged but leads to transformation.  This kind of take on the spiritual practices is most beneficial to the layperson because it begins to address the practice of these spiritual disciplines in connection with everyday life, not leaving these practices to the domain of the church or priestly office.  In effect, what is needed is not so much a manual on spiritual practices but some encouraging wisdom for the stay at home mom to the C.E.O and some reasons why these practices are in existence.

The rest of the chapters focus on three aspects of the practices: namely, practices of prayer, practices of care and practices of spiritual growth. In the section on intercessory prayer, the authors write, “When we try to pray for others, we are clear we are changed ourselves.  We open up, we soften, we put into perspective hurts they have dealt us.  We enter their lives now from their point of view instead of exclusively our own..” (30).   Instead of a blunt reaction of condemnation or a callous comment about someone else, praying on behalf of others lightens our grip of always having the right.  Instead, we often begin to live with more empathy and come to the needs of others before we are asked.  The chapter on practicing forgiveness by Marjorie Thompson was quite possibly the best chapter in the book.  She writes, “To forgive is to make a conscious choice to release the person who has wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be” (78).  She goes onto say that forgetting a wretched thing done against us might not be possible but forgetting in the sense of not allowing that event to haunt our thoughts and imaginations is possible.  In one sense, this call to forgive is the essence of the character of God and his love.  Finally, in the chapter on fasting Joan Chittister reminds us that fasting counters our consumer mentality with what it means to be wholly dependent on God (141). 

While some of these chapters will specifically apply to practicing Catholics (praying with images, praying with the saints, etc.), I found most of the chapters as a good start to understanding spiritual disciplines in a Catholic context.  Even more, I found many of the disciplines to be of great value whatever church you belong.  The only unusual thing about the book was that it seemed to be geared towards giving an understanding of the practices from just Catholics.  However, right off the bat I noted that N.T. Wright and Marjorie Thompson were included (Wright is Anglican, Thompson is Presbyterian).  Whatever the reason, their contributions were very good also.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.


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