I paged through my pre-Vatican II Latin missal. I was seeking a reference for something I remembered about the old liturgical calendar. While thus engaged, my eyes stumbled over this, from the Proper of the Saints:
St. Peter of Verona was a famous preacher of the Dominican Order, opposing heretics from childhood. He never committed mortal sin. He wished to die for his faith, and his prayer was heard A.D. 1252.
I almost threw up a little in the back of my mouth. Such are the cardboard figures, or at least the monochrome hagiographies, so often given to us for our edification.
I have awkward relationships with the saints. It makes sense. I have heard the saints are our friends. And I usually have awkward relationships with my friends.
I’m co-leading a series at my church about spiritual practices from Protestant and Catholic traditions. When I saw that journaling as a spiritual practice was coming up, I told the pastor, “Don’t worry, I’ve totally got this.” (Or maybe it was, “Um, can I send you some notes?”)
I’ve never thought of spiritual journaling as a distinctly Catholic endeavor, but apparently a lot of Catholics do it, if the amount of Google hits I returned are any indication.
Although I do consider writing in my journal to be a spiritual practice, I don’t write about religion outright all that much. In that regard, this is more my spiritual journal than the spiral-bound notebook beside my bed is. But I absolutely love to read the spiritual journals of others. Thomas Merton, Kathleen Norris, and St. Augustine immediately came to mind. Even Paul’s letters might be considered a spiritual journal of sorts — I’m sure he worked a lot of things out for himself in the process of working them out for the Philippians or the Colossians. I also came across Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love, which I put on my to-read list, especially when I found out he wrote it as a way to reconcile his struggle with depression and his Catholic faith. (I once chose a church because the priest gave a homily about that very subject, which I’ve wrestled with myself.)
I love to read journals in general — there must be quite a voyeur in me — but especially those of a spiritual nature. Catholic? Even better. I think it’s because so much of Catholicism feels like a religion of “knowing the right answer.” We all walk that line between what we know we’re supposed to believe, and what we really do believe — and then between what we do believe and what we’re willing to admit we believe. By its nature, journaling is about the questions — the process would be lifeless if you already knew the answers. It’s affirming to see Catholics like St. Augustine and Thomas Merton in the midst of the struggle to make meaning of it, just as I do. And I find so much more comfort there than in the Catechism, perhaps simply because there’s room for uncertainty.
Are there other spiritual memoirists or diarists I should add to my list?
For a long time, the Catholic Church’s teaching on conscience has both enlightened and troubled me. I’m heartened by article 1782 that states I have “the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions,” and that I have this right especially in “religious matters.” This teaching is one of the reasons that I’ve stayed with Catholicism for so long. My conscience is loud–especially when it disagrees with authority.
Yet, it seems as though it’s too easy for authority to always have the last word. When I speak up in conscience to say something the Church doesn’t like, it can tell me that my conscience has been malformed if I reject the Church’s teachings (1792) or that my conscience is malformed due to a “habit of committing sin” (1791). Because I consistently disagree with many Church teachings on certain issues, it’s all too easy for someone to invalidate my conscience by citing my “habit” of “sins”(i.e.: dissenting opinions) of this nature.