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Speaker reviews spirituality

By REBECCA O'NEIL | Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Professor Emerita Mary Jo Weaver of Indiana University offered an in depth account of Catholic spirituality throughout the ages on Tuesday.

Members of the Saint Mary’s community gathered in Stapleton Lounge for her lecture on the “Evolutionary Adventure of Catholic Spirituality,” the last in a series of the 2013 Endowed Spring Lectures sponsored by the college’s Center for Spirituality.

The former professor – and daughter of a Saint Mary’s alumna of 1937 – received her doctorate degree in theology in 1973 from Notre Dame. Since then, she has written several pieces on the politics of Christianity and women’s roles in the Catholic Church.

“Sixty years ago I would have never been invited to give a talk like this,” Weaver said.

There was a time when Catholicism confined humans’ spiritual freedom to heaven and hell, she said.

“You had to choose between the transitory, earthly pleasures and the immortality offered in the afterlife,” Weaver said. “Spiritual life was fearful and cautious.”

This sort of ethos is known as “trial spirituality,” she said. Catholic clergy members took vows meant to withdraw them from everyday life. Weaver said she believes the vocations the Church offered were “meant to attract a few brave souls.”

The excessive time spent in solitude was an attempt to achieve perfection and embody Jesus to the greatest extent possible, she said. The second Vatican Council adjusted the religion’s attitude in 1964.

“It opened up new possibilities to the dogmatic constitution of the Church and held a universal call to holiness,” Weaver said.

Along with initiating interreligious dialogue and mandating liturgical change, she said “it defined revelation as dynamic, alive and personal.”

This change nourished pluralist thinkers like Thomas Merton, a monk who combined western monastic traditions to Buddhism.

“Modern and post-modern spirituality offer alternatives to trial spirituality,” Weaver said.

Trial spirituality is the ‘fire-and-brimstone’ mindset of the Catholic religion prior to Vatican II, she said.

Though her perspective may be considered progressive or “New Age,” Weaver said numerous ancient philosophers and artists share and enforce her views.

“This ‘God-as-the-protector’ image is clearly active in the Hebrew Scriptures, while the New Testament focuses on the reality and urgency of manifesting God’s kingdom,” she said.  

The plurality of her belief is centered on unconditional love, Weaver said.

“God will show you the beauty of your own self,” she said.  Weaver said if people can see beauty, they are capable of love.”

“Saints and visionaries continue to stand out,” she said. “They have been taught the solitude of the spirit and are able to grasp the divinity of God.”

This self-knowledge, or the awareness of one’s own spirituality, is brought about by mystical experiences and the spiritual journey actually requires little, Weaver said.  

“It’s a paradox. Contemplative prayer is hard work. All you have to do is nothing,” she said. “Doing nothing is hard.”

It is often difficult to take a moment to reflect during the day. She said she believes people are afraid to spend time alone. If they feel they have nothing to do they will instantly check their email.

“We must remain silently present to the presence within us,” Weaver said. “We are capable of embracing unseen depths.”

This is possible through curiosity of other religions. She said people begin ecumenical dialogue and religions need to stop competing with each other.

“We are universally called to holiness. We must begin by thinking of god in dynamic terms; moving, changing. … The Holy Spirit is the energy of that movement. We must believe in the sureness that god has faith in the human existence”