Many Parts, One Body: Different Catholic Spiritualities

August 18, 2013 under Syllabus 2013-2014


The saints have left us the legacy of their spiritual journeys to God. We will look at St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. John of the Cross and the spiritual practices they left for their orders and the universal Church.


The history of the Church is rich in people who have shared their experience of how they came close to God. The saints provide us roadmaps to God. As with any roadmap, there are many different ways to arrive at the same place. One path is not superior to another as long as their destination is the same: eternal union with God in heaven as part of the Communion of Saints. While every person’s path to God is unique, there is also no reason to “reinvent the wheel” completely. God has given us the saints as guides, and we can benefit from their experience as we have benefited from the experience of our parents and as our children have benefited from our experience.

St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). St. Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans. St. John of the Cross helped found the Discalced (“shoeless”) Carmelites. All three were reformers in their day. St. Ignatius was an important part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation; St. Francis answered Jesus’ call to him to “rebuild my Church”; St. John helped to reform the Carmelite order to return it to a greater simplicity. Starting from their own personal encounters with God, these men were sent by the Holy Spirit to touch others and help bring them closer to God. The spiritual approaches these saints developed can speak to us across the centuries and be as applicable to us in this day and age as it was to them in theirs.

Bible Readings

1. 1 Corinthians 12:12-20

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

2. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, God’s building.

Catechism Readings

1. Paragraph 2684

In the communion of saints, many and varied spiritualities 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. A distinct spirituality can also arise at the point of convergence of liturgical and theological currents, bearing witness to the integration of the faith into a particular human environment and its history. 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.

2. Paragraph 2663

In the living tradition of prayer, each Church proposes to its faithful, according to its historical, social, and cultural context, a language for prayer: words, melodies, gestures, iconography. The Magisterium of the Church has the task of discerning the fidelity of these ways of praying to the tradition of apostolic faith; it is for pastors and catechists to explain their meaning, always in relation to Jesus Christ.

Small Group Questions

1. Do you have experience with Jesuit, Franciscan, or Carmelite spirituality? If not, is there another Catholic spirituality (for example, Marianist, Benedictine, Dominican, Trappist, etc.) with which you have experience? What has that experience been? What about that spirituality speaks to you? Is there anything about that spirituality that does not work for you?

2. Although these spiritualities have their roots in religious orders, these spiritualities are not only applicable to priests, brothers, or sisters in those orders. In fact, Franciscan and Carmelite orders have “third order” or secular/lay groups, and Jesuit practices such as the examen are used by many lay people. How can one of these spiritualities be applied in your daily life in the secular world?

3. Is there anything in the life of St. Ignatius, St. Francis, or St. John that speaks to you? St. Ignatius started out as a worldly, vain, and ambitious aristocrat/soldier who was wounded in battle and during his convalescence began to turn toward God; it took him quite a while to discern the path God had set for him and a great deal of growth in his relationship with God. He saw God working in every aspect of his daily life. St. Francis gave up his family’s wealthy lifestyle to live simply upon the providence of God, living as an example of God’s love for other people and all of creation. St. John helped reform the Carmelite order to make it simpler, facing much opposition and persecution. He also emphasized the importance of contemplation and direct encounters with God. All three of these saints placed Jesus at the center of their lives.

Recommended Resources

1. St. Ignatius and Jesuit Spirituality:

2. What is Ignatian Prayer? (video):

3. St. Francis and Franciscan Spirituality:

4. Franciscan Spirituality (video):

5. St. John of the Cross and Carmelite Spirituality:

6. Carmelite Spirituality: lectio divina:

7. St. John of the Cross (video):


1. This week would be a good time to learn a little more about Jesuit, Franciscan, or Carmelite spirituality (or another spirituality you are interested in). Or you might want to learn more about the life of St. Ignatius, St. Francis, or St. John.

2. Sometime this week pray to St. Ignatius, St. Francis, or St. John (or another saint whose spirituality appeals to you) for his intercession as you seek to deepen your relationship with God.

3. Engage in some specific practice particular to one of these spiritualities. For example, you could use the Jesuit examen. You could sit outside and meditate on the Franciscan way of seeing creation as pointing toward God and being in relationship with us as created by God (as in the Canticle of the Sun). You could read Scripture using lectio divina as Carmelites (and others) do, moving towards contemplation.

4. St. Ignatius, St. Francis, and St. John all put Christ at the center of their lives. This week take a concrete action to put Christ more at the center of your life. Some possibilities are: pray 10 minutes each day (or a little more if already praying daily), take 10 minutes in Eucharistic adoration, read a chapter of one of the Gospels, pray the Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” repeatedly in contemplation, or meditate on a crucifix.


Pete Caccavari

Included Resources

1. Pope Francis’ homily on the Feast of St. Ignatius (July 31, 2013)

The emblem of us Jesuits is a monogram, the acronym of “Jesus, the Saviour of Mankind” (IHS). Every one of you can tell me: we know that very well! But this crest continually reminds us of a reality that we must never forget: the centrality of Christ for each one of us and for the whole Company, the Company that Saint Ignatius wanted to name “of Jesus” to indicate the point of reference. Moreover, even at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises he places our Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator and Saviour (Spiritual Exercises, 6) in front of us. And this leads all of us Jesuits, and the whole Company, to be “decentred,” to have “Christ more and more” before us, the “Deus semper maior” [“God always greater”], the “intimior intimo meo” [God is “more intimate than I am to myself”], that leads us continually outside ourselves, that brings us to a certain kenosis, a “going beyond our own loves, desires, and interests” (Spiritual Exercises, 189). Isn’t it obvious, the question for us? For all of us? “Is Christ the centre of my life? Do I really put Christ at the centre of my life?” Because there is always the temptation to want to put ourselves in the centre. And when a Jesuit puts himself and not Christ in the centre, he goes astray. In the first Reading, Moses forcefully calls upon the people to love the Lord, to walk in His ways, “because He is your life” (cf. Deut. 30, 16-20). Christ is our life! The centrality of Christ corresponds also to the centrality of the Church: they are two flames that cannot be separated: I cannot follow Christ except in and with the Church. And even in this case we Jesuits and the whole Company, are not at the centre, we are, so to speak, “displaced”, we are at the service of Christ and of the Church, the Bride of Christ our Lord, who is our Holy Mother Hierarchical Church (cf. Spiritual Exercises, 353). To be men routed and grounded in the Church: that is what Jesus desires of us. There cannot be parallel or isolated paths for us. Yes, paths of searching, creative paths, yes, this is important: to go to the peripheries, so many peripheries. This takes creativity, but always in community, in the Church, with this membership that give us the courage to go forward. To serve Christ is to love this concrete Church, and to serve her with generosity and with the spirit of obedience.

2. Prayer of St. Francis: Canticle of the Sun

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing. To You alone, Most High, do they belong, and no man is worthy to mention Your name. Praised be You, my Lord, with all your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who brings the day and through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor; and bears a likeness of You, Most High One. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather through which You give sustenance to Your creatures. Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste. Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong. Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs. Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for love of You and bear infirmity and tribulation. Blessed are those who endure in peace for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned. Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will, for the second death shall do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

3. St. John of the Cross: The Sayings of Light and Love, 27

Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.

comments: Comments tags: ,