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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Psychology vs. Spirituality

“Can human folly harbour a more arrogant or ungrateful thought than the notion that whereas God makes man beautiful in body, man makes himself pure in heart?” 
 Saint Augustine of Hippo

Some of you know that I taught in a seminary for a while. One of the things I noticed, as I was an academic adviser as well as a teacher, was the over-emphasis on psychology in opposition to spirituality. Psychological reports were part of all the seminarians' portfolios, and there was one required semester course on prayer. Each student had a spiritual director and for many years, a very liberal nun was allowed to choose priests for some of the sems. Spiritual direction did not necessarily include steps to self-denial, but could be merely times when students just talked. No great saints were recommended, such as St. Bernard or books by the great spiritual writers, such as Marmion or Garrigou-Lagrange. As in some of the monasteries, spirituality had been replaced by modern interpretations of sin, guilt and self-actualization. The Church suffers from a lack, an ignorance and even disdain of the past masters of prayer. One does not find God in psychology. It is a useful tool, which must be held in a lower place than prayer, reflection, meditation, contemplation.

The new approaches to sin and guilt minimize a truism only discovered in prayer and the Teaching of the Church; that is that God is so Pure, so Just, so Good that the smallest sin is a huge offence. This cannot be taught from a psychological point of view, but only from a life of prayer and grace. What is missing in discussions on one's relationship with God is God. When the emphasis is always on the person and not God, there can be no relationship which is real.

Psychology may lead to healing and a better knowledge of self, but so can prayer. A relationship with God demands death to self-will and selfishness. Psychology too often keeps the person focused on himself.

This is the beauty of the way of perfection and the stages, as well as the wisdom and genius of the Rule of St. Benedict. One must develop in a human way, absolutely, in order to develop spiritually  The two must go together. But, if spirituality is not taught in this context, a person may never seek God, only the self.

If the two are taught together, this is excellent, but I know only one person in the entire world who is capable of this depth of spirituality and psychoanalysis. The persons who do this must be holy and therefore, orthodox Catholics. 

“The world may disagree with the Church, but the world knows very definitely with what it is disagreeing. In the future as in the past, the Church will be intolerant about the sanctity of marriage, for what God has joined together no man shall put asunder; she will be intolerant about her creed, and be ready to die for it, for she fears not those who kill the body, but rather those who have the power to cast body and soul into hell.” 
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen