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Issue Date:  February 27, 2004

By Thomas H. Groome
314 pages, $13.95
Mapping the spirituality of Catholicism


You’ve heard it time and again: “I’m not a particularly religious person. I’m more into spirituality.” The problem with this dichotomy, however, is that it misses the point of religion altogether. At its core, religion is intended to lead people to an authentic and deeper spiritual experience. Religion and spirituality go hand in hand, the former being the communal setting for the latter.

Thomas Groome goes even further. In his latest book, What Makes Us Catholic, he argues that Catholicism does not have spirituality. Rather, it is spirituality. The sad part is that too often Catholic spirituality gets obscured by other aspects of the religion and in the process Catholic spirituality gets lost to seemingly dogmatic pronouncements, most often having to do with gender or sexual morality.

What gets tossed is the Catholic way of imagining reality and responding to the world with a profound sense of awe and responsibility. What gets rejected is a life-giving and life-inspiring approach to life. In his refreshing book, Groome attempts to rediscover Catholic life. He points to the rich metaphysical, cultural and social underpinnings that make up the spiritual Catholic journey.

Professor of theology and religious education at Boston College and the recently appointed director of the university’s Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, Groome believes Catholic spirituality is the essence of the religion. It’s what makes a Catholic Catholic.

And what are some of the components of Catholic spirituality? He writes of Catholic optimism, a lust for life, the central place of gratitude, rich imagination, celebration and at the core, a sacramental view of life.

Not to be lost is a Catholic incarnational view of life, centered in Jesus, that makes all life sacred, demanding respect, even awe. Life, then, is to be lived in a sense of gratitude, awe and respect.

What might come as a shock to some is that Groome has virtually nothing to say about official church pronouncements on the usual sexual and gender-related taboos. They are simply not at the core of Catholic spirituality. What is at the core is God’s unconditional love. What is at the core is unconditional forgiveness. What is at the core are lives that are to be led basking in the glory of God.

To quote Groome, life is about “being lovers forever.”

Groome calls this a sacramental consciousness. It is seeing the sacred in all things, viewing God’s hand in every aspect of creation, “being alert to the more in the midst of the ordinary.” All of this is liberating, as religion is intended to be. To be a Catholic, then, is to live a life of spiritual liberation, a life essentially of the spirit. Groome’s book is an effort to get this spiritual message to a wider audience.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

God gives 'the right to celebrate'

A few weeks back Tom Fox met with Thomas Groome at Boston College and posed a few questions.

Tom Fox: Catholicism and spirituality?
Thomas Groome:
Catholicism is, at its best, spirituality. It’s not that it has spirituality. It is spirituality. Catholic spirituality comes into play as we respond to the great questions of life, like Who am I? What’s it all about? Are we made for each other? What time do we have? Who is my neighbor? What are my politics? What stories will we tell? Catholic spirituality can be an extraordinary life-giving resource in responding to these questions.

Why is Catholicism so optimistic?
Catholic spirituality is grounded in the conviction that life is a gift of God and that we are alive by divine life, by participation in divine life, and that by the grace of God we can make a difference with our lives.

So we celebrate?
Yes, celebration is related to the theology of grace. Catholic celebration is grounded ultimately in the realization that everything doesn’t depend on us. If it all depended entirely on our human efforts, then we couldn’t take a day off. You couldn’t have a Sabbath. And you sure as hell should never party.

It’s all a gift of God. So we can celebrate; we can dance; we can sing; we can have a drink. These are all gifts and are not evil. The notion that we’re not totally in charge, that God is ultimately God, gives us the right to celebrate.

And sex is good, too, right?
We believe in the resurrection of the body and yet the way we’ve been talking about it over the years, it seems we wished that God had never taken a body. For example, the very sacramentality of marriage is in the act of lovemaking. Marriage doesn’t take place at the altar. It happens in the wedding bed.

Catholic spirituality is not just a warm fuzzy either, right?
No, it’s not just between God and myself. It is communal. It is putting faith to work in ordinary day-to-day lives. That which is curtailing or restricting life is not God’s way. The Catholic understanding of church is to provide life to the world.

And the core Catholic message?
At the core of our faith is Jesus of Nazareth whom we believe to be the Christ. He is the human face of God turned toward us, the divine face of humanity. The incarnation in history reveals not only who God is but also who we can become. The message is one of compassion, of outreach and of inclusion, of radical love.

National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004

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