SPIRITUALITY: THE CULTURE WITNESSES THE ONE WORSHIPPED
Sociologists in general have asserted that the origin of the faith in the transcendental beings can also be traced back in the dreams and ambitions of every ethnic group for perfection. Each ethnic group superimposed their ideological heights of perfection into a material or immaterial being or an object and began to worship this powerful and perfect symbol of their culture with a hope that this deity would help them to arrive at their goal. They performed rites and rituals to please their deities, they raised their sentiments in various formulae of orations so that their imperfections may be pardoned and that they may receive blessings and fortunes. The concept of incarnation proposes a shift from the contemplation and worship of an immaterial deity of perfection to its material actualization. With this new spirituality which is initiated in Mary of Nazareth the invisible God was made visible, tangible and audible – God was made flesh. The new testament is that the one worshipped is to be made present in this world by the worshipper.
A man was taken up by the movement of his heart for the poor and the needy, the weak and the oppressed. In his research on how to convert his compassion into action he confronted two spiritual cultures: one that provokes to ‘survive’ and the other that proposes to ‘live’. They were appealing in their sphere of arguments but contradictory in their applications. The man who had to make a choice was so confused and deserted that he was overshadowed by a silence and solitude. His inner crisis was doubled by the systematically cultivated memory of his religious tradition that his forefathers wandered in the desert for forty years in their effort to give up the culture of fear, punishment, oppression and exploitation and to arrive at the culture of freedom and prosperity. Since forty years indicate a life span he was at a loss to think that he has to continue with this crisis of choice throughout his life. According to the Gospel of Mark the man Jesus experiences in the desert the presence of satan, wild beasts and angels.
The author of the Book of Genesis presents satan with the symbol of a Serpent. In the Greek mythology Serpent is the symbol of eternal life. In each season the Serpent comes out from its old skin and appears itself to be fresh and young with the new shining skin. Although all the snakes are not poisonous, the moment we see or hear about snakes we are afraid and we run away because they kill. Thus Serpent is the symbol of death but with the mask of life! It approaches the man and destroys his self-confidence telling him “You are not …”, “You have to be …”! The intension of the Serpent is to establish the tyranny of his ego in everyone and therefore he disfigures, disunites and confuses whomever he meets. He compares one with the other to provoke envy and jealousy and binds everyone with inferiority or superiority complexes. With the mask of eternal values he secretly establishes his world of likes and dislikes in the society. Since his listeners lose self-confidence they become enemies to one another and are degenerated into animals who only survive even at the cost of others.
The Serpent darkens human intelligence with false hopes and superstitious beliefs, provokes to test God and thus takes away from him the true concept of God. He presents the culture of dominion and enslavement as the glorious and perfect one and therefore his followers have a double personality of a slave and a master – a slave to the more powerful and an oppressive master to the subservient. ‘Get behind me satan’, were the non-compromising words of Jesus against this eternal provocation of evil who is a block to the true concept of God, man and world that he was contemplating in the years of his preparation.
The angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. […] Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The angel Raphael replied to the greetings of Tobit, ‘Joyous greetings to you!’ He assured Tobit that he would help Tobias, his son, in his journey. All those who help the human beings to do the will of God are called the angels of God. They work on earth as the instruments of God. Their approaches are characterized by respect and gentleness and they do not condition anyone with the worldly patterns of judgments. We read in the Book of Malachi where the prophet foretells about John the Baptist as the messenger of God. Whenever Jesus had a desert experience in his life because of his confrontations with the Pharisees, Scribes, elders and the high priests who did not accept his new vision of God, world and man, he was assisted by the angels to remain in his mission on earth. Forty days and forty nights speak of the prayer experience of Jesus throughout his life. His daily apostolate revealed a spirituality which gently proposes his vision to his friends with a pressure of love and concern. It was like the cohabitation of leaven in the dough, like the presence of light in the darkness. He healed, liberated, enlightened and encouraged every weak person in the society.
In this article we concentrate on the pastoral dimensions of spirituality. We see how a healthy confrontation of the traditional and ongoing dichotomy of spirituality help us to arrive at a useful pastoral attitude.
1.The Confrontation of the Institutionalized and Personal Spiritualities
No single widely agreed definition of spirituality is possible because according to Pope Benedict XVI there are as many ways to God as many are there people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. We have Christ’s word: I am the way. In that respect, there is ultimately one way, and everyone who is on the way to God is therefore in some sense also on the way of Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all ways are identical in terms of consciousness and will, but, on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man. The words of Pope are very much self explanatory for the reality of the diversity in Christian worship. In another occasion Ratzinger asserted that, “every human reason is conditioned by a historical standpoint so that reason pure and simple does not exist”.
William James says that for an ordinary religious believer, his spirituality has been made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition, determined to fixed forms by imitation, and retained by habit. This flow of spiritual culture to the new generations will go on smoothly when they are not challenged by a foreign one or until the traditional spirituality is beneficial to all the members of a given society. It is basic to a human community that it respects a proper balance between the love of the self, family, and friends, and the love for the society promoting the common good of all especially that of its weakest members. But, if their religious tradition and culture have failed to satisfy the various human needs of every member or if they encounter with another system of living and believing which seem to have a contextual appeal, then, there emerges a thesis anti-thesis encounter in search of a new mode of living and believing.
According to Anand Amaladass, popular devotions originate from a living dialectic between the social situation of the common people and their religious forms of faith and institutions which have a strong mutual influence. The rise of bhakti movements in Indian religious tradition is a good example in this context. The aboriginal people of the Indus valley civilization who were called Dravidians were outside the socio-political and religious system of Vedic Religion. They were considered as ‘untouchables’ and ‘outcasts’ and lived doing the so called menial works in the society. Later the Dravidians were concentrated in the south India and their religiosity was ‘popular’ in character. In the course of time, the religion of the Aryans, blending with the cult of the pre-Aryan population spread all over India, developed into what is known as Hinduism today. It is from the non-Aryan people, particularly the Dravidians of South India, Hinduism received the concepts of incarnations and the personal God. The doctrine of transmigration is thought to have been introduced by the inhabitants of Ganges valley. Being influenced by the popular religiosity of the Dravidians, the Brahmins who settled in south India reinterpreted the Upanishads with anthropological concerns.
Thus, we can observe that the social situation of the common people has given rise to a new religious language and new forms of the expressions of faith. These religious expressions, sometimes, were reactions to the abstract and elite type of religious language of the time and above all, against the attitude that prevailed in that milieu in the name of religion towards common people. The common people who gather in an ambient of popular devotions reflect their longing to participate, directly with a more spontaneous, more emotional or experimental way, in a form of spiritual culture, in order to cope with the depersonalization that they experience in a mechanized and unjustly stratified society.
Spirituality is a living thing that grows through time and through the life cycle of human experiences. Therefore the idea of a static spirituality or a single spirituality in no way corresponds to the reality. It is intrinsically developmental and goes beyond the structural forms and traditions. It can be observed that the contemporary spirituality is less located in authoritative structures and institutions instead it is located within the internal control and consciousness of individuals. Instead of surrendering oneself to the transcendent source of significance and authority at the expense of the possibilities of the individual subjects, there is a new style of spiritual awareness in which one accepts one’s state of being, enrich one’s experience and actualize in maximum ways possible the quality of one’s life. The focus is on how individuals should participate in shaping their own lives, their own spirituality.
2. Priestly and Prophetic Spiritualities
In his Theological Investigations Karl Rahner speaks about the concept of priest and prophet in general. According to him the priestly activity is the visible, cultic expression of the inner religious attitude of man. The priest represents the efforts of man to communicate with God, who is invisible, through various rites, rituals and orations. The office of prophet is the locus of a self-revelation made by God about a new relationship between God and man which is established by God himself. While the priest is the making visible of man’s word to God, the prophet is the making visible of God’s word to man. Priesthood is in itself an expression of the attitude determinable from below which man by his nature has to adopt towards God. Prophetic office is an expression of man’s willingness to listen to any message which might possibly proceed from God to man at a particular point of his history. The priest is the representative of the institutional spirituality and the prophet is that of the ongoing renewal and of corrective of spirituality.
In the Book of Isaiah the prophet remarks about the problems of growth of the people of Israel in spite of having received a privileged moral and spiritual formation. In fact, the Book of Isaiah starts with the powerful words against the then existing religious practices. In the name of God Isaiah said: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” He says that the religious rites and rituals have become a torment and a ridicule to God because they promote an idolatrous egocentric spirituality. He categorically states that the worship of God is ratified only by the service to the most weaker sections of humanity.
The people of God are entrusted to the pastoral care of the priests and elders who, because of the lack of commitment and proper orientation, became irresponsible and arrogant. They preached about a god of favors and punishments. They said if god was pleased with the sacrifices of animals and various types of offerings then the devotee would receive the desired favor and if God is displeased, then the devotee would suffer a punishment. The faithful who grew under the spiritual guidance of these priests were conditioned by this god of favors and punishments. The vigor of their religiosity was promoted by fear and compulsion. The prophets who started their teaching ministry with this old religious consciousness, later, experienced a crisis within them because of their gradual growth and they understood the limitations of the old spiritual culture. When they began to share their new religious consciousness highlighting the transformative goals of the existing rites and rituals, the protectors of the old religious tradition turned against them. As a consequence the prophet was isolated, demoralized and sometimes killed. Prophet Ezekiel uttered strong words against these irresponsible shepherds: “Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; …”
In the Gospels we see certain episodes where Jesus was constantly tormented by the Pharisees and Scribes who wanted to systematically maintain and nurture ‘an evil and adulterous generation who asks for a sign from heaven’, who is blind and deaf to their innate possibilities. They forgot the message of the prophets who said that God is love, he is a father, he is the bridegroom and they presented God as a law giver, judge, rigorous and severe one. To understand why Jesus pronounced a satiric parable of the ‘unfaithful steward’ and what did he want to communicate to the people of his time, we need to reread the chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke. He said the parables of lost sheep, lost coin and of prodigal son to the Pharisees and the Scribes who were murmuring against Jesus. These listeners were the representatives of a false religion of hypocrisy and cunningness which they used for social, political and economic gains. For them religion was an ornament of worldly nobility and they ignored that it is a preparatory tool for a healthy living together in this world. We read in the Gospel of Mathew the strong words of Jesus against them. Jesus said to the people that they should take care of themselves against their hypocritical religious practices: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.
The New Testament writers, preaching on the life and teachings of Jesus proposes human sacrifice to please God! We read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “… it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’ … He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” In the primitive religion the human sacrifice was performed out of fear and compulsion to please a god of favors and punishments. The sacrifice of the self in the New Testament is performed out of love and freedom by a person who contemplates the merciful God whom Jesus called ‘papa’. While the human sacrifice of the old religious tradition is brutal termination of a life, that of the New Testament is a living of a person like Jesus in humility, patience and mercy. While the previous disfigures the humanity and begets fear and anxiety, the second transfigures the humanity and generates peace and hope. Although the life continues in the self sacrifice of the New Testament, there is also a discontinuity of the life of selfishness and pride and therefore it is a sacrifice.
Jesus was just the opposite in his presentation of God to his listeners. He presented God as someone who serves the humanity and the disciples have to serve one another to become the true sons and daughters of this God. God is not someone who punishes the sinners and the unjust but the one who accepts the consequences of their sins on their behalf. Jesus presented his true humanity with the symbol of a lamb against the degenerated humanity who are like wolves. For Jesus spirituality was his daily life of self-donation to his fellow beings and the rites, rituals and orations were the spiritual exercises that prepared him for this apostolic living.
3. Apostolic Spirituality
Saint Augustine, in one of his homilies, says that the Church is entrusted with and she preaches about two facets of human life: one is a life in faith and the other is a life in the vision. The life of faith is lived during our pilgrimage on earth and the life of vision is lived in eternity with God; one is lived in fatigue and the other is lived in rest; one is lived on the way and the other is lived at home; one is lived in activities and the other is lived in contemplation. Saint Augustine speaks about our life in the world and eternal life. In the Gospel of John we hear Jesus saying, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”. Jesus lived in this world doing good to everyone and now he speaks about the conclusion of his life on earth. But he says it is not a conclusion but a beginning of his existence in this world in a new way. The disciples will become sad of his physical absence for a while but Saint Paul says that Jesus will continue to live in and through them if they ‘lead a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ They have to witness his new life until all become mature human being “to the measure of the full stature of Christ”.
Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, instructs us on the specific features of the apostolic spirituality. He says that a Christian can be in the spirituality of Jesus only when he/she is docile to the Holy Spirit. It means that we constantly contemplate the person of Jesus Christ and abide in him. Jesus categorically said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” What Jesus says here is that the disciples, to produce the fruits of his Spirit, should have Jesus as the only point of reference. Only then they will have the courage to take up the decision of the true humanity with Jesus that is, to donate one’s life for the others in love. The cross is the sign of auto-donation.
John Paul II insists that the intimate communion with Christ is the essential characteristic of the apostolic spirituality. When we contemplate the pastoral ministry of Jesus we observe various levels of sharing his religious profundity. He communicated with the crowd in parables, signs and miracles. The crowd is without a proper orientation in life because they are taken up by the outward show of the realities. They are not prepared to grow into the meaning and significance of the realities. He patiently waits for their growth sharing with them his life as a bread of mercy. In a second phase Jesus wants to give orientation to some listeners who approached him asking doubts. He explains to these disciples in secret the meaning of the parables and miracles. He chose from the disciples twelve apostles and to them he communicated directly without any parables or miracles. He taught them that the religiosity that he proposes is not this worldly one. If anyone wants to grow into him, he/she has to die to the world, make a decision for self-donation and walk with him. The three disciples – Peter, James and John – who survived in their spiritual journey with Jesus had a spiritual experience of the human transfiguration into godliness. It is here that one arrives at the intimate communion with Jesus which prepares him to be a true apostle of Jesus.
Apostolic spirituality is also marked by the charity of Christ who came ‘to gather into one the dispersed children of God’. Here the Pope does not say that all will be gathered into one enclosure rather all the enclosures that make the faithful blind, deaf and dumb will be opened to a world where all see, hear and speak. A spirituality can be called apostolic when it urges the persons from within to sacrifice their lives for the others being captivated by the love of Jesus Christ for the humanity. Finally, Pope John Paul II says that holiness is the fundamental presupposition and an irreplaceable condition for the apostolic spirituality. It does not mean that a human being becomes an angel. What Pope intends to say is that apostolic spirituality is a journey towards holiness. One who is engaged in apostolic service must be a contemplative in action.
4. A Spirituality that Fosters the Reenactment of the Incarnation
Albert Schweitzer, one of the world’s most famous organists, a philosopher, a theologian and a medical doctor, describes the story of why he decided to be a missionary of God’s mercy – not only in words but also in concrete actions. He read the parable of the ‘rich man and Lazarus’ and he later wrote that the parable provoked him to think that the Europeans were the rich and the Africans were ‘Lazarus’. The rich had medical knowledge, which he took for granted, while Lazarus suffered from illness and pain but has no doctors to help him. He planned to spread the Gospel by the example of his Christian labor of healing, instead of preaching and believed that this service should be acceptable within any branch of Christian teaching. In 1947 the ‘Time’ magazine dubbed him ‘the greatest man in the world’ and Winston Churchill called ‘a genius of humanity’. In 1952, his ‘philosophy of reverence for life’ was recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize. The hope for humanity, Schweitzer believed, lies not in laws or institutions, but in love – a profound love that must be deeply rooted in thought. In recognizing that we are offspring of one God, he argued, we can rediscover the threads that bind together all life. ‘Out of this’, he wrote, ‘develops reverence for the mystery of life. It brings us close to all beings, to the poorest and smallest as well as all the others’. After seven years of medical study, he and his wife Helene, who trained as a nurse in order to assist him, traveled 4,000 miles to Gabon in west-central Africa, where he founded a hospital for local people in Lambaréné. There Schweitzer lived and worked for most of the next 50 years.
Sociologists in general have asserted that the origin of the faith in the transcendental beings can also be traced back in the dreams and ambitions of every ethnic group for perfection. Each ethnic group superimposed their ideological heights of perfection into a material or immaterial being or object and began to worship this powerful and perfect symbol of their culture with a hope that this deity would help them to arrive at their goal. They performed rites and rituals to please their deities, they raised their sentiments in various formulae of orations so that their imperfections may be pardoned and that they may receive blessings and fortunes. But the experience of the majority of the believers was that these deities were favoring only some people who are rich and powerful. They were forced to believe that they are always in the suffering end because of their sins and the deity is angry with them. They need to do sacrifices of penance to calm god’s anger throughout their lives. The prayer of the poor was: “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence … to make thy name known to thy adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at thy presence!” As it is mentioned above it is from the lowest strata of the Indian society that the concepts of incarnations and personal God emerged in the history of Hinduism.
The concept of incarnation proposes a shift from the contemplation and worship of an immaterial deity of perfection to its material actualization. The angel Gabriel proposed Mary of Nazareth this new testament of spirituality that she has to give flesh to the object of her constant contemplation – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. She surrendered herself to the space of God trusting in the assurance of the angel that ‘nothing is impossible for God’. With this new spirituality which is initiated in Mary of Nazareth the invisible God was made visible, tangible and audible – God was made flesh. The new testament is that the one worshipped is to be made present in this world by the worshipper. The person of Jesus Christ is the center of the worship of Catholic Church whom she wants to witness and proclaim by word and deed. Therefore the pastors are called to respond to the “particular expressions of the search for God and for faith”, which often air the sigh and cry of the people ‘who labor and are heavy laden’, by presenting to them the life of Jesus. Jesus is the way of human life designed by God, so that all may walk on his way and be saved. Jesus reveals in himself the fullness of human life in perfect freedom which is the outcome of the possession of truth. To all those who gathered unto him challenged by bodily and mental deformities Jesus said: “Learn from me”. Although he was also haunted by the same existential problems of human life, yet he was meek and humble of heart and did a positive, liberative and curative human service.
Here it becomes clear that to live in the spirit of Jesus Christ means to make visible, like Jesus, the invisible God among our fellow beings. All the rites, rituals and various formulae of orations are the preparatory exercises so that a baptized Christian may be mentally and spiritually healthy and become recollected for his daily pastoral responsibilities. It is a hope for all Christians that one day they will be able to say with Jesus their brother and friend: ‘I and Father, we are one’.
We express our anxiety about the spirituality of our pastoral action. Sometimes we are tempted by satan to contemplate our limitations and that of others and proclaim them to all. This negative reflection on humanity wounds, binds, discourages and provokes envy, greed, hatred, etc. The angels propose us to take note of the positive possibilities that are hidden in us and in others so that all are encouraged to become a brother, a sister and a mother of Jesus Christ. A healthy confrontation of the traditional and ongoing dichotomy of spirituality helps us to arrive at a useful pastoral attitude. The new testament that the mystery of incarnation gives us is that the one whom we worship is to be made visible through our lives.
 Luke 1, 26-30.
 Tobit 5, 10.
 “Behold, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3, 1.
 J. Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), – A. Walker (tr.), Salt of the Earth. Christianity and the Catholic Church at the end of the Millennium, 1997, 32.
 Confer T. Rowland, Ratzinger’s Faith. The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, 2008, 34.
 W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience,2002, 11.
 S. J. Pope, “Tradition and Innovation in Natural Law: A Thomistic Interpretation”, 18.
 A. Amaladass, “Theology and Popular devotion”, 1986, 69.
 History of Hinduism, www.allaboutreligion.org/history-of … , visited on 05-05-2010.
 B. Griffiths, “Hinduism”, New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 6, 1130.
 B. Griffiths, “Hinduism”, 1123-1124.
 B. Griffiths, “Hinduism”, 1130.
 B. Griffiths, “Hinduism”, 1124.
 Ramanuja, for example, a Tamil Brahmin of the 11th century A. D., contented that, the supreme Being, the Brahman, had essentially a personal character and a personal relationship to his worshipers. In opposition to Shankara he maintained that the way of knowledge (Jnana marga) was inferior to the way of devotion (Bhakti marga), in B. Griffiths, “Hinduism”, 1128.
 L. Fernandes, “Towards an Understanding of Popular Religiosity. From a Field Study in Karnataka” (2010), 38.
 R. Haight, Spirituality Seeking Theology, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 2014, x.
 W. D. Dinges & I. Delio, “Teilhard de Chardin and the New Spirituality” in I. Delio (Ed.), From Teilhard to Omega. Co-Creating an Unfinished Universe, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 2014, 167-168.
 K. Rahner,Theological Investigations, vol. 3, 242-243.
 Isaiah 1, 11-17.
 Ezekiel 34, 2-5.
 Matthew 16, 1-4.
 Matthew 23, 2-4.
 Hebrews 10, 4-10.
 John 16, 16.
 Ephesians 4, 1-3.
 Ibid. 4, 13.
 Redemptoris Missio # 87.
 Matthew 10, 37-38.
 Redemptoris Missio # 88.
 John 11, 52.
 Redemptoris Missio # 89.
 Ibid # 91.
 Isaiah 64, 1-2.
 Redemptoris Missio, # 4.
 Evangelii Nuntiandi, # 48.
 Spe Salvi, # 6.
 Verbum Domini, # 2.
 Matthew 11, 29.
 J. Vazhakoottathil, “Catholic Popular Devotions in Kerala. A Pastoral Challenge”, in Mission Today 13, 3 (2011), 280.