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Catholic Spirituality

The Big Tent

Steve Graves

Catholicism is the original big tent. No matter your personal preferences, you'll find a style of prayer and worship that is comfortable for you.

If you're an extrovert, you might try out a Charismatic prayer meeting. Or you might find that serving the poor with the St. Vincent de Paul Society gives you the right blend of living the Gospel while making new friends.

If you're introverted, you may find appealing the quiet, reflective meetings of Christian Life Communities, an association of small communities inspired and counseled by the Jesuits.

If you are attracted to the charisms of religious orders, you might consider joining one even if you are married. Many orders, including the Franciscans, Dominicans and Benedictines, have secular branches.

It can be rewarding to investigate spiritualities that are complementary to your personality. For example, extroverts might find silent retreats and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatious particularly powerful. Perhaps this is because extroverts by nature aren't as likely to take the time for quiet introspection as are their shyer counterparts.

If you're too busy with work or school to take part in group meetings, why not consider the Apostleship of Prayer? Members take two or three minutes each morning to consecrate their days to Christ. Many people have found this deceptively simple program an effective way of building and maintaining a strong spiritual life while working in the secular world.

Traditional Catholics may find support and strength in Opus Dei, a unique organ known as a Prelate. More liberal Catholics will be more comfortable with Pax Christie or one of the many Catholic activist groups involved in social justice.

No matter your personal traits or your political taste, there is a Catholic Organization waiting for your help - and that can help you in your journey.

Ask your Pastor about the pogroms and groups active in your Parish. If you don't find an organization that meets your needs, then start one.

Keep in mind that activism and group activities can't replace private prayer and study of the gospel. The method of our prayer is much less important than our sincerity.

I'm reminded of a recent incident in which a woman was sharing her frustrations. While getting ready for work, she discovered that she had misplaced her keys. She exclaimed, "Dammit, God, why are you messing with me? You know I have to get to work. Quit messing around and help me find my keys." She considered her outburst and said, "I guess I better watch my mouth, huh God! You could strike me down just like that."

While I can't endorse tempting God, part of me envies her easy relationship with her Lord. Her God is a familiar companion, always at her side.

The conversation she recounted is that intimate banter possible only between best friends. Not only is she comfortable with herself, she is comfortable enough with God to be herself with him.

It was after some mediation that I realized that she did not always have this relationship with God. Friendships take time and are built through sharing our hopes and disappointments, our dreams and nightmares. We must first become acquainted before we can become intimate. Our initial prayers, like all first conversations between strangers, may be awkward and tentative, perhaps even of a shallow nature in the beginning.

Friendship requires trust but true trust in a relationship comes only through shared experiences. Trust can't come secondhand or through reputation or from a book. We must learn for ourselves firsthand if our friend is dependable and we for him.

Saying that I trust God is one thing. Saying that God always comes through for me is more impressive because the statement requires personal experience. Coming through for God consistently is rarer still.

Friendships can't be one way. We must share our selves and listen in return. We mustn't be selfish if we want to stay on good terms with God. We have to give in return.

We treat the children of friends with respect, generosity and concern. We give deference to the friends of our friends. This means we must treat all of God's children respectfully if we want to stay friends with God.

Friendship requires constancy and loyalty. We can't dump our friends just because we get involved in careers, marriages or other pursuits. We need to make time for friendships if they are to flourish.

True friends are ready to forgive. We sometimes neglect our friends for trivial reasons. We might avoid them because we're ashamed of something we've done.

The first one or two conversations with fallen away friends can be tough and embarrassing but reconciliation is its own reward. So if you've lost contact with your old friend, or perhaps you would like to meet a new friend, give him a shout. It's toll free.

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