Bored to be Catholics?


I have read this expression in the comment section to news about a center operated by Catholic Sisters offering various exotic and esoteric “spiritual” practices. It seems well expressing what is going on in retreat houses and other Catholic institutes, hospitals included. Practices from outside of Catholic tradition spread like mushrooms after the rain, as the more conventional ways of helping spiritually seems not to be enough attractive, sufficient or effective. Why? Is it really boring to be Catholic? Is it really not satisfying for example for these religious to offer retreats, spiritual guidance, counseling or for Catholic Chaplains to administer the sacraments, offer compassion, listening and prayer? It might be that it is even too exacting of a job in itself and it is more interesting to do or to engage in complementary or alternative medicine, new age and similar. It is easier to do Reiki then to listen to another tragic story, to offer orientation, hope, and prayer constantly and with unperturbed faith to desperate people.


One thing comes in my mind, the Logotherapeutic principle that one can find meaning in doing what only he or she can do in that given moment, in something in which no one else could substitute him or her there and then. If one is a Catholic spiritual guide or Chaplain he or she is called to offer a unique help, the grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit that no other practitioner, homeopath, massage therapist, Reiki master and so on can give. There are many outside and independently from the Catholic Church offering such services, whoever wants can have access to them. The Catholic counselor or Chaplain needs to find the meaning of his activity in what is the essential definition of his or her specific ministry, only so can they find this work also personally fully rewarding in its authentic form.


The sense of fulfillment and meaning lies not in the exciting new means that one applies but in that personal factor that makes the individual practitioner irreplaceable. It might be that simple listening is something one might think everyone else could do, that giving the communion or the anointment of the sick is a routine work, but what makes it really meaningful is the way the concrete individual does it. On this personal engagement that we need to work and refine constantly the way in which we use the – seemingly “boring” Catholic - means of our ministry to do a really exciting and rewarding job. Frankl speaking of the meaning of work writes so: “The indispensability and irreplaceability, the singularity and uniqueness issue from the person, depend on who is doing the work and on the manner in which he is doing it, not on the job itself”[1]. 


I am not against to include some elements of other religions in our personal life and in our spiritual work, something like meditation, Zen which is not in conflict with the philosophical basis of our faith. In contrast I don’t think it right to include indiscriminate practices or even chose such as main practice in our healing ministry. One cannot practice “Complementary Healing Modalities” as the main service if one is engaged in a Catholic ministry, for example a spiritual director in a retreat house or a Chaplain who works as a representative of the Church in the hospitals. If this person happens to be a massage therapist in the same time, let him or her practice the massages outside of the spiritual ministry not as part of it.


Something similar is the case with Christotherapy that tries to integrate psychological methods with spiritual direction. One needs to be on very good theological foundations and with good psychological training to choose which methods of which schools and in which extent to integrate.


These questions bring to the identity of the specific service, the identity of the Catholic Chaplain, of the spiritual director, guide, counselor, Christotherapist, and so on. Probably these professionals need to reflect and to pray on to define better their own identity and the meaning of their ministry in the mission of the Catholic Church. In this definition the sense of words needs to be clear, as for example “spiritual” needs to refer unambiguously to the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ since we are in the ambit of the Catholic Church.


I know this is a constant task for practitioners and the path seems narrow and often hard to find toward   being authentically Catholic and healing presence in the world. It requires constant discernment, study and evaluation of new phenomenon – maybe asked from us from people whom we try to help – resistance to go after what is attractive at first but comes with new age ideology and or philosophies that are in contrast with the faith of the Church. It can be exacting work, but then we could know that whatever we embrace from other cultures is really – mutually - enriching and respectful toward their original meaning.

[1] Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, (New York: Knopf, 1965) p. 96.