There are as many ways to pray as there are people who do pray, but there is something special meant by terms like "Benedictine Spirituality," "Carmelite Spirituality" or "Ignatian Spirituality." During this month of July, we celebrate feasts linked to these three devotional paths. Let us examine a bit about each of these feasts and the paths to prayer that each of them teaches.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that prayer is "the raising of the mind and heart to God, or the petition of good things from Him in accord with His will." The Eucharist is the highest form of prayer for the Catholic, and in it are contained the fivefold essentials of prayer: blessing, adoration, petition or intercession, thanksgiving and praise. But the Catholic Church is infinitely rich in devotional practices which help direct our prayer, and our very lives. God has blessed our Church with so many saints, who with their inspirational lives can lead others to a greater practice of a life of prayer. Often one will feel a particular affinity for a saint, or their unique practice of spirituality, which makes praying ceaselessly more comprehensible and practical.
On July 11, we celebrate the feast of the Father of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict. During the sixth century, Benedict drew up his Rule of Life, on which rests "Benedictine Spirituality." The Benedictine is focused upon prayer, work, simplicity, and hospitality. Benedict wrote the rule with a very human sympathy, and much common sense, avoiding the excesses that sometimes mark pious life. Structuring the day with manual labor amidst the compelling liturgical prayer of the Church, and the Lectio Divina ("divine reading"), a slow and prayerful reading of the Bible, the Benedictine is oriented to contemplative prayer throughout the day.
The Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is recognized on July 16. The first Carmelites were holy hermits who made their home on Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land, and anticipated the coming of the Messiah and His Virgin Mother. Devotion to the Blessed Mother grew from the vision St.Elias beheld of a cloud in which he foresaw the coming of the Immaculate Mother. The "Carmelite Spirituality" is a mystical way of private contemplative devotion, and the Carmelite Order has given us numberless inspirational saints. The Brown Scapular, a part of the habit of the Carmelite, is said to have been bestowed upon St. Simon Stock. Our Lady promised to help the wearer to remain devoted to her, who will guide and protect those who show their devotion and trust along with wearing the scapular. She is Our Lady of Grace, through whom all graces flow.
July 31 is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). He was known for complete obedience to the Pope and for writing The Spiritual Exercises which include a method of "simple contemplation," where one meditates on a biblical scene while placing themselves in the very scene, imagining the experience while fully involved. "Ignatian Spirituality," an intellectual practice, seeks to integrate meditation and contemplation with action, Discernment is a crucial component leading to fruitful decision making. The Spiritual Exercises are undertaken over approximately one month, preferably under the counsel of a spiritual director, who can help the retreatant to understand the discernment process.
These are but a few of the many ways to practice Catholic devotion in a directed way. In prayer, guided by the Holy Spirit, one can determine which school of "spirituality" is best suited to one's life and temperament. Scripture tells us that "we do not know how to pray as we ought," (Rom 8:26) but by invoking the Holy Spirit, we will be led. Come, Holy Spirit, come…
July 9, 2014