Not long ago, I did an exercise in which four words were listed horizontally and I had to rank them as they applied to me by giving a “4” to the one most descriptive of myself down to “1” for the least descriptive of me. For example, the first list of words was: independent, compassionate, spontaneous and factual.
There were numerous groupings of words. Once I was finished, I tallied the totals in each vertical row. Then, I learned what type of “spirituality” out of four possibilities best described me.
For me, it was Path of Devotion, which is likened to the prayer style and spirituality of St. Augustine. The three others were:
- Path of Intellect (in the spirit of St. Thomas Aquinas)
- Path of Service (in the spirit of St. Francis of Assissi)
- Path of Asceticism (in the spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola)
Here’s a deeper description of my Path of Devotion spirituality that was provided:
The majority of saints are of this spiritual temperament as well as 12 percent of the population (half of those who go on retreats or belong to small faith groups).
This method uses creative imagination to transpose the world of Scripture to our situation today — as if the Scripture passage is a personal letter from God addressed to each one of us (like Saint Augustine picking up Romans 13 and reading a message pointed directly at him). The essential element of this spirituality, going back to New Testament times (Jesus, Saint Paul, the early church fathers), is experiencing a personal relationship with God. Because they read between the lines and catch what is inexpressible and spiritual, those who follow the path of devotion best understand symbols and their use in the liturgy.
This path concentrates on meditations that loosen the feelings and expand the ability to relate to and love others. The stress is on the love of self, others and God. Those on this path can follow the four steps of the Lectio Divina: listen to what God says in Scripture, reflect prayerfully and apply it to today, respond to God’s word with personal feelings, then finally remain quiet and stay open to new insights.
That helped me understand why I have felt so drawn to the Carmelites order.
One of the things that caught my eye in that explanation of “Path of Devotion” spirituality was about reading a Scripture passage and feeling like the words are spoken specifically for me, to me. That rings true so often. I read a Psalm and feel like the words are mine. I read the prayers of a prophet and feel like they are my prayers. I read the instructions of Peter or Paul in their letters of the New Testament and feel like they are directed right at me.
And when Jesus talks …
For instance, consider the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel. It relates the story of when seven of the disciples were fishing, including Peter, and they saw a man on the shore who asked how their fishing trip was going. They hadn’t had much success. The man suggested they cast their net to the right side of the boat, which then gathered so many fish they struggled to haul the net back into the boat.
That’s when Peter realized the man on the shore was the Risen Jesus. Before long, the entire group – Jesus included – was eating a breakfast of fish and bread. And the following conversation proceeded:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
[Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Biblical scholars, both professional and amateur, like to point out that after Peter had denied Jesus three times the night Jesus was arrested, the Lord then challenged him to profess his love three times. Kind of a quid pro quo — “something for something” in Latin. An “I love you” to erase each denial.
Perhaps later in his life, Peter looked back on that moment and recognized it as the time he received absolution for his denials, the time Jesus forgave him and forgot about everything. Good for Peter. I hear all of that when I read this passage. I hear his love and his pain and his frustration – and the powerful mission Jesus lay on his shoulders, to feed and tend his sheep. The call to feed, tend and lead Christ’s Church.
I hear something else, though. Keep in mind that many, many times in my life, I have denied Jesus. I have been tempted to do something wrong and sinful, heard my heart tell me not to go there and instead follow Christ – and intentionally turned my back on Jesus and chosen to sin. Other times, I have heard the call to serve, to love his people (his sheep) or to spend time with Jesus in prayer, Scripture reading or meditation – and I chose something else.
So when I read that passage from John’s Gospel, I hear: Mike, do you love me more than these? Mike, do you love me? Do you love me?
I have heard Jesus ask me those words in prayer and meditation more often than I can say. There are times when it hurts to hear the questions. Of course he knows I love him. He knows everything. I’ve said it to him. I’ve tried to show him so many times, in so many ways.
Of course he knows … doesn’t he? Why does he ask? Is it because, well, there are times when I have spoken words that could make him think otherwise and behaved in ways that do not confess love at all.
In those moments, when memories of my denials become so clear, that’s when every “Mike, do you love me?” pierces my very heart and soul.
When he poses the question to me, I can’t simply say, “Of course, Jesus. Of course I love you.” Maybe I can deceive myself on how deep my love goes, but there’s no way to deceive Jesus. It’s not about a sentimental kind of love or mere fraternal love. It’s about a love that transcends friendship or family or what one is supposed to feel about your fellow man or woman.
It’s about the kind of love that is supposed to make a person surrender everything to do whatever Jesus wants or needs. And it hurts that my “yes” might not be as resounding and intense as I wish.
On the “path of devotion,” when Jesus talks, I listen. And learn.
[Editor’s Note: The online “Find Your Spirituality Type” exercise referenced in this column can be accessed here.]