This title must look like a most unusual question for a lot of people who consider spirituality to be an abstract topic and therefore, cannot look like anything. Well, it can. By our own actions, we reflect to the world what spirituality looks like -or doesn’t. Can you imagine the best athlete in the world to look sickly? To look very thin to the point where you feel that you should call an ambulance for him? Unthinkable! How about a weight lifter who records a bench pressing record of 500 or more pounds, in turn weighing hardly anything himself and looking skeletal? You would have to wonder if what allows him to lift so much weight was God’s gift of strong bones! However, I cannot imagine either example happening in reality at all. Athletes tend to walk their talk and look like someone to match their accomplishments. It’s more in line to see athletes looking healthy because being healthy is a good part of what it means to be athletic. An accomplished weight lifter noted for lifting heavy weights will have very large muscles indeed, enlarged as a result of meeting the ongoing demands made on them.
Spiritual living is something like that in that you can tell a spiritual person by how he or she lives. Ironically, spiritual literature from the Bible to our own time will often reflect the spiritual path in athletic terms. Saint Paul will say things like, “I’ve fought the good fight. I’ve run the race.” Saints and other spiritual writers since then will find it equally easy to use the metaphor of athletic activity themselves to describe real spiritual living.
So, if an athlete will look healthy simply because of ongoing athletic activity, what would a spiritual person look like? This very question is an important one to really take the time to consider. The purpose of my letter is precisely to invite you to think along the lines of this question. Why? Well, what we visualize or not and how well we do it or not, can very easily be what determines the success or failure of our ability to achieve our life’s goals. The clearer our visualization of our goals, the better will be our ability to achieve them. If we cannot visualize any one of them at all, wouldn’t it be legitimate to ask ourselves whether or not we really know what we want?
There is still another element to this question, and this is the one of having goals in mind to the point where we can visualize them, but these goals do not reflect true life-giving values. Consider the following story. A motivational speaker once asked his audience to close their eyes and visualize an 80 year old man. While his audience did so, keeping their eyes closed, he had his 80 year old male friend who had been lifting weights for a good part of his life, come out on stage. This man looked like Charles Atlas or Jack LaLaine. People opened their eyes and gasped. This man looked healthier than most of his “younger audience.” But his audience had different images of a person that age. They could not imagine someone that age being so athletic looking. Perhaps a number of them imagined someone 80 years old to look “appropriately” weak in some way, thereby “acting his age.” Now, if such people keep such images, than that is what they will be aiming their own lives toward. And that is exactly why the motivational speaker did this. He wanted to destroy the possible weak images of his audience and to have them replaced with more dynamic, self empowering ones.
Spirituality is like that. It is important to have strong, healthy images of the spiritual life which in turn gives us something awesome to aim at which for me is something equally Biblically sounding and true to the Catholic tradition. I have to be able to say to myself that my religion is life giving, and by practicing it I will live an awesome life. I should be able to visualize pretty decently a Catholic hero/heroine and say to myself, “How this person behaved in life is how I want to be myself, and how I would like my children to be.” If I doubt that statement, then I will be naturally hampered from directing my life along Catholic lines of thought. If I have no image at all of what a person “looks like” who successfully practices Catholic Spirituality, then I would have to admit that I have no solid goal at all as far as Catholic Spirituality is concerned. But now If I can visualize someone, for example, who is both loving and caring, being there for others, a True Servant of the Lord who is mindfully nourished by the Sacraments, then that is what I will become. So, what’s your image?
Blessings! Fr. Walt