In past articles and reflections, I have often referred to the Catholic Church and its members as the Mystical Body of Christ and what that means practically in the various aspects of our religious and spiritual lives. I will begin with a brief reminder of the Church’s definition of the Body of Christ and will then discuss how we can build and strengthen that body through our individual, private, spiritual practices.
The Mystical Body of Christ consists of many members. These members include us, here on earth, along with the souls in Purgatory and those in Heaven. Together, all of us are united under the Head of the body – Jesus Christ. With your own body, every member has its own unique function – your eyes see, your nose smells, and your ears hear, etc. However, despite the diverse functions, each member is united in the body as a whole, so that as each member functions, it affects your entire body. For example, when your eyes see something, your entire person sees it. We, as members of the Body of Christ, also have unique functions within the body, but we are all still united as a complete body by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Church defines this body as having two distinct characteristics – diversity and unity – and these two characteristics work together rather than negate each other. “The body’s unity does not do away with the diversity of its members,” (CCC #791). So, keep in mind that everything you do as an individual, whether in sin or in virtue, affects the entire Body of Christ.
Now, the Church also defines what she calls, “The Call to Holiness,” in Chapter V of the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium (1964), which is a universal call to each and every one of the members of the body. I highly recommend you read the short chapter for yourself as it is quite beautiful. Essentially, it says that each one of us has unique gifts, charisms, and talents given to us by God. The primary function of these is to give glory to God and the secondary function is to obtain our own sanctification and salvation. Furthermore, because we are a united body, our growth in holiness is not only for our own sake, but for the sake of every member. So, by your individual acts of love, virtue, and Christian witness, you help the entire body to grow in holiness. Lumen Gentium also acknowledges each individual’s state in life as a contributing factor to how one grows in holiness – recall, we are united, but also diverse. Some members of the body are parents, while some are priests. There are those who are wealthy, and there are those who have very little. Some people are called to be teachers, while others are called to be contemplative recluses. Whatever your own unique life circumstances happen to be, you are called to use those circumstances to grow in holiness, both for yourself and the Body of Christ, regardless of any other person’s state in life.
The call to holiness is achieved, in a variety of ways, by our activities and how we conduct ourselves in the world, but my purpose here is to specifically discuss spiritual practices and devotions as a means of building up the body. First, we must make the distinction between public prayer and private prayer. Public prayer consists of all of the prescribed liturgical prayers of the Church and cannot be altered by us. Public liturgical worship and liturgical prayers (even when said in private) protect the unity of the body. However, because of our diversity, we have access to private devotions that help us to grow closer to Christ in holiness. Because we are unique individuals, with unique gifts, and unique states in life, we express our faith and prayer life in our own unique way. In other words, there is no, “one way” and there are as many personal spiritualties as there are souls to express them.
So, what do we mean by spiritualties? The Catechism has this to say:
In the communion of saints, many and varied spiritualties have been developed throughout the history of the churches. The personal charism of some witnesses to God’s love for men has been handed on, like “the spirit” of Elijah to Elisha and John the Baptist so that their followers may have a share in this spirit…The different schools of Christian spirituality share in the living tradition of prayer and are essential guides for the faithful. In their rich diversity they are refractions of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit. (CCC #2684)
This passage is referring to the various named orders within the Church, such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Salesians, etc. Each of these spiritualties has its own particular charism or way of life — service, poverty, contemplative prayer, teaching etc. Similarly, many great saints have exhibited very holy individual spiritualties, like St. Therese’s “little way” or St. Teresa of Avila’s manner of contemplative prayer. Even if you, personally, are not ordained, or a member of a religious order, or a great saint (yet!), you can still access these spiritualties according to how you are personally called. Perhaps you are called to a life of simplicity, like St. Francis. Alternatively, you might draw closer to God intellectually, like St. Thomas Aquinas. Then again, you could be called to care for the sick like St. Elizabeth of Hungary. In our diversity, while we express our personal spirituality in different ways, we are all ordered to the call of holiness. I recommend reading a very short book called, Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales, because it is particularly accessible to lay people of various states of life and it’s a good place to start if this is a new concept to you.
Private expressions of spirituality also include the countless devotions available to us in and through the Church. Think of all the various chaplets, most notably the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. If spiritual warfare is of interest to you, there is the Chaplet to St. Michael the Archangel. We have consecrations available to us, such as the Consecration to Jesus through Mary or the Consecration to Merciful Love. There are devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We can have a devotion to St. Monica if we have wayward children, asking for her intercession. One of my personal favorites is Bl. Bartolo Longo’s 15 Saturdays of the Most Holy Rosary. Not only are each of these various devotions accessible to you right now, but one or another might call to you at different stages as you move through life and your circumstances change. For example, you may have been largely ignorant of the angelic world around you for most of your life, but then suddenly had an experience that caught your attention, therefore pulling you into angelic devotions. Maybe you’ve experienced a deep wound that has caused you to find comfort in the Divine Mercy in a more profound way than before. This is spiritual growth! Again, there isn’t one way, but remember that all are ordered to growth in holiness, both for you and for the entire body.
This week, the challenge for you is to learn about and incorporate a new private spirituality or devotion. Read about a saint that you are unfamiliar with or a charism or virtue that needs some strengthening. The key is to not attempt something that is completely contrary to your God-given nature or you will likely fail. You want to stretch yourself, while also staying true to the unique person God made you. Take your new addition into Eucharistic Adoration and ask Jesus to open your heart to all of the graces it will provide you. When we each do this, we grow in our own personal holiness, while also leading other members of the Body of Christ to their own holiness, thus, giving glory to God and sanctifying ourselves and one another.
You can access a library of hundreds of audio chaplets on my Catholic Chaplets YouTube channel. Find something new!
To receive articles and reflections like these directly to your inbox, please subscribe.