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Strands of spirituality in the Catholic church

Margaret-Mary Flynn  |  09 November 2018

woman sitting on a fountainFrom the first centuries of Christianity, people have been drawn to seek God in personal quests for meaning and truth.

Today there are many strands of Christian spirituality. Some have been developed within religious orders in response to the lives and wisdom of great saints, and some have grown as lay movements.

In this feature, Australian Catholics explores some of the more well-known pathways that people take to connect with God.



Benedictine spirituality can provide a tangible experience of the presence of God in a time that has forgotten the transcendent.

It stresses the necessity for making space for prayer in a time when every minute of the day is filled with anything but silence and contemplation. It emphasises the importance of community and order in a time of rampant individualism and confusion. It values hospitality in an age hostile to those who are strangers or different.

Saint Benedict wrote his Rule to help monastic communities and the individuals within them live in peace, humility and simplicity. The Rule spells out the daily life of the monastery, seeking a balance of work and prayer, hospitality, compassion and care. Although it was written in the 6th century, its wisdom is timeless, and its wise understanding of human strength and frailty still true.

‘Be careful to be gentle, lest in removing the rust, you break the whole instrument.’
(St Benedict of Nursia, writing on too-diligent reform, of self or others.)



Franciscans emphasise the goodness of God, and Creation as the outpouring of God’s love into the universe.

Creation reveals to us God’s love for us and God’s beauty; creation is ‘the mirror of God’. Thus, God is revealed both through the books of Sacred Scripture, and Creation. St Francis of Assisi saw God embedded in the world as the source of each and every thing. He saw the world in universal kinship, with the moon, the water, and the birds as his sisters and the sun and the wolf as his brothers. In thinking positively about God’s creation, as opposed to focusing on its Fall, we see the world from a different consciousness.

Franciscan Spirituality places joy and peace at the centre of life, affirming God’s presence in everything that is.

‘If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.’
(St Francis of Assisi)



The four pillars of Dominican spirituality are prayer, study, apostolate and community. All are inter-related. The mission of their founder, St Dominic, was to teach and preach the truth of God, as revealed through Scripture and Creation.

The great gift of prayer to the Church from St Dominic is the Rosary, which he received in a vision from Our Lady.

Study develops an attitude of discovery and a discipline of inquiry, and from it, the apostolate of teaching and preaching, as wisdom gained is shared.

As one cannot love others without first loving God, so to one cannot love and serve God without loving, praying with and serving others in community life.

‘Be whom God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.’
(St Catherine of Siena)



Ignatian spirituality is about finding God in all things.

Relationships, events, my feelings, what happens to me, are all vehicles for God to lead me towards a richer life. This type of spirituality is for everyone – regardless of status, gender, age or faith. We are all human beings and all created with gifts to give the world. Its founder, Saint Ignatius, passionately sought to choose God’s will, and developed the simple but powerful prayer, the Daily Examen as a tool of discernment and loving action.

His book, The Spiritual Exercises, is a school for prayer, fostering interior freedom and deepening life in God.

‘Lord, what do I want, what can I want, apart from You?’
(St Ignatius of Loyola)



Together with prayer and contemplation, Carmelite spirituality emphasises the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling.

Both St Teresa and St John of the Cross teach us that God, the Blessed Trinity, dwells within the human person. Hence, one need not go out of self in search for God but enter progressively ever deeper within oneself to be with God who dwells at the very centre of our being. St Teresa speaks of this journey within as an itinerary through a castle with seven mansions. St John of the Cross says, ‘Do not go in pursuit of Him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and wearied thereby, and you shall not find Him, or enjoy Him more securely, or sooner, or more intimately than by seeking Him within you.’

Interiority and recollection, then, are at the very heart of Carmelite spirituality.

‘Kindness is my only guiding star. In its light, I sail a straight route. I have my motto written on my sail: “To live in Love.”’
(St Therese of Lisieux, Carmelite)



St Francis de Sales teaches, ‘Let us be who we are, and be that well, so as to honour the Master Worker, whose handiwork we are.’

God’s will is frequently communicated through the events, circumstances, and relationships in which you find yourself. God seldom requires you to perform great or extraordinary feats, but He always challenges you to perform everyday actions with extraordinary attention and enthusiasm. The ‘little virtues’ of patience, humility, gentleness, simplicity, honesty, and hospitality are powerful means for growing holy.

All prayer and meditation must lead to action. The motivation with which you perform some action may be far more important and powerful than the action itself. Keep a kindly sense of humour.

‘Be patient with everyone, but first of all with yourself.’
(St Francis de Sales)



  • Vincentian Spirituality A Spirituality of Service
  • Christian Life Communities A Spirituality of Everyday Life
  • Teams of Our Lady A Spirituality for Married Couples
  • Foccolare Movement Spirituality of Fellowship and Solidarity in Christ
  • Opus Dei Spirituality of Ordinary Life and the Universal Call to Holiness
  • Divine Mercy Devotions and Prayers inspired by the visions of St Faustina
  • Catholic Charismatic Movement Spirituality of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.


Topic tags: ourrelationshipwithgod, saints, womensspirituality, mensspirituality

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