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What is the essence of Catholic spirituality? – Part I of II

August 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Catholic Spirituality, Fr. Bartunek

Q: Dear Father John, I still struggle with keeping things in perspective. Would you therefore kindly explain what is the essence of authentic Catholic spirituality, i.e., irrespective of whatever tradition one follows (Ignatian, Carmelite, Opus Dei, etc.), and also what are the essential elements of the spirituality. Also what is the relationship between Catholic morality and Catholic spirituality.

A: This question is harder to answer than you might think! But we’ll give it a shot.

What Do We Mean by Spirituality?

First, we will briefly define “spirituality.” Basically, this term signifies an itinerary for growth in our friendship with Christ. This itinerary has as its final destination what we call holiness, an individual’s firm, deep, integral, and dynamic communion with God. We call this itinerary “spirituality” because we achieve communion with God through the purifying our spiritual faculties (intelligence and will) and aligning them with the wisdom and will of God.

Our intelligence, our capacity to perceive and understand truth in a self-conscious manner, was severely darkened by original sin, and darkened even more by our personal sin and the sinful tendencies of the world around us. Growth in the spiritual life gradually increases the influence of God’s revelation and wisdom (a “light for our path and a lamp for our feet” as Psalm 119 puts it) in correcting, healing, and strengthening our minds. In this way we come to see and understand ourselves, God, and the world around us truthfully, i.e., as God does.

Our will, the capacity of self-determination which allows us to make self-aware choices, was also severely weakened by original sin, personal sin, and the evil tendencies of the world around us. Growth in the spiritual life gradually heals and strengthens our will, so that we emerge out of self-centered and self-indulgent habits into virtuous living. Virtues are those good habits of the will that enable us to choose what is truly good and right in any circumstance, even at great immediate cost to ourselves.

In our next post we will dig a little deeper into the nuts and bolts of the practical elements of a spirituality.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently resides in his Order’s General Directorate in Rome, where he is continuing his writing apostolate. His blog contains questions and answers on the spiritual life at His online retreats are available at

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  • Anonymous

    (How about a daily calendar of the quotable Fr. Bartunek?)
    “Virtues are those good habits of the will that enable us to choose what is truly good and right in any circumstance, even at great immediate cost to ourselves.”—EVEN AT GREAT IMMEDIATE COST—Succint and poignant, as usual! Thanks! ;o)

  • Luisat5

    Are memory, imagination included in the spiritual faculties?

    • Anonymous

      Yes.  According to Tanquerey in “The Spiritual Life.”  They are discussed in the section, “Mortification of Interior Senses”….I quote briefly:

      “The two interior senses to be mortified are the imagination and he memory, which act in accord, memory-activities being accompanied by sense-images.

      780.  Principle.  – These are two valuable faculties, which not only furnish the mind with the necessary material whereon to work, but enable it to explain the truth with the aid of images and facts in such a manner as to make it easier to grasp, and render it more vital and more interesting.

  • Elizabeth Pringle

    What a wonderful answer!  It clarifies so much in a very easily understood message.  A great question and a great teaching to pass on.  Thank you!

  • Brent goodman

    Very clearly put. There is so much talk of ‘sprituality’ that the word has lost any concreate meaning for many people these days and much confusion as  a result. I am thinking of john o’ donohue and his ‘anam cara’ spirituality and how this can lead astray……and does.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Brent,

      Can you translate “anam cara” please?  I’ve tried a couple translators but there are too many possibilities to know what is meant here.  I know someone who references O’Donohue a lot in his lectures……and have often wondered about the ‘orthodoxy’ of what is being said.

      Thank you!

      • LanguageOfLove

        Anam cara is Irish. 
        Anam = soul
        Cara = friend
        The word “anamchara” means spiritual advisor or confessor.  This is most likely related to the “anam cara” from O’Donohue’s personal lexicon, but I don’t know O’Donohue or exactly what he means by it when he uses the term.

        • Anonymous

          That would explain why I didn’t find a good translation from ‘latin’!!  :)  Thank You!

  • MilGan4

    How wonderfully clear and comprehensive! Can you give me link, please, to the Second part of this essay, Father John? Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Friend: The second post will appear next Monday

  • Mary@42

    Dear Lord, I hope this will become clearer to me in the next Post.

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