Some years ago as I was wandering through our local outdoor nursery, I came upon a lawn fountain filled with lovely koi swimming serenely. As I leaned over to take a closer look, I became aware of my reflection in the water and remembered a Proverb: “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back by another” (27:19).
I recalled the myth of Narcissus, a young man who had gone to the stream to drink, only to fall in love with his own reflection in the water. Every time he tried to drink, the image would be broken, as would be his heart at having lost the focus of his love. So Narcissus would not drink. Eventually he died of thirst and self-love.
As I drove home, I considered the contrast between the Proverb and the story of Narcissus and realized that our faith, our Catholic spirituality, never loses sight of the “other.” Unlike the young man who died of self-love, we are called to be in authentic relationships with others and with God. These relationships allow one heart to be reflected in the heart of the other “as water reflects a face back to a face.”
When I shared my story with a good friend, she said to me, “I look at a pond of koi and I see fish. You look and you see God.”
This is spiritual literacy – our ability to see, as Gerard Manley Hopkins exclaimed, that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” It is an ability we all have, but one that unfolds as we immerse ourselves in prayer as a loving relationship with God, in silence, in reading and study, and in nature. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, who, Hopkins writes, “over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
The depth and breadth of our spiritual literacy are reflected in our realization that we share in the grandeur of God – and that realization brings with it a great responsibility to develop our interior lives as we bring Christ into the world. This requires that we turn to Scripture, to the saints, to the great literature of the Church, and to our Catholic tradition for illumination, for direction and knowledge.
Just as the tech-savvy person is known as computer literate because he or she is fluent in that field, we grow in our spiritual literacy when we commit ourselves to becoming fluent in the field of our faith, realizing that knowledge alone is insufficient for true spiritual growth.
Knowledge is only the beginning of our quest to be informed, formed, and transformed to the heart of Christ. Along the way we meet other pilgrims searching for God, and our spiritual literacy grows with respect and appreciation of other faith traditions. With a Christian tradition that spans some 2000 years and has its roots in the 4000-year-old Jewish faith, where’s a person to start on a spiritual literacy journey?
The parish is a great place to begin – first with Mass and the Sacraments, then Bible study, faith sharing groups, community service groups, Rosary societies, adult faith formation opportunities, even the parish choir. Don’t overcommit, though. You need time to investigate other experiences, such as retreats and days of prayer, which allow you to get out of your head and into your heart.
Balance these experiences with a bit of reading. Have you ever investigated your diocesan Web site? Do you know the diocesan history or the stories of your bishops? What about their coats of arms? Do you know the meanings of the symbols they have chosen? You might be amazed at what you learn. Getting to know your wider faith family at home is a wonderful jumping-off point for further discovery.
Additional reading can include chapters of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. This is one of my favorite books, perfect for learning the knowledge of our faith but rich in opportunity for formation as well. It reads more like a story than a catechism, yet it is based completely on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Consider reading one of the many beautiful encyclicals of our popes. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, on care for the environment, speaks to the heart and the mind about our responsibility to God’s creation.
Perhaps the best resource for greater spiritual literacy is other seekers. They know what has worked for them and are most always happy to share the wealth!
And, of course, RCL Benziger has some easily accessible resources as well:
Mary Regina Morrell, director of Wellspring Communications, is a syndicated Catholic columnist, editor, and author who has served the Church for more than 25 years. She is a former associate director of religious education for the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ, and managing editor of The Monitor, Diocese of Trenton. Find her at email@example.com, Twitter @mreginam6, and through her blogs, God Talk and Tea and My Mother’s Bread.