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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Thursday, July 24, 2008
Carl Anderson
Supreme Knight
Carl Anderson:
Thank you all for joining us this evening as we discuss Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life, by Father Robert Spitzer.

Brooklyn, NY
Father Spitzer's emphasis on bringing the active and contemplative sides of people's life into greater balance is interesting. How do you see his recommendations playing out for Knights, especially Knights active in the charitable works of the Order?. Is there a contemplative side missing or lacing?
Carl Anderson:
One of the products of living in secular culture is that it is very successful in squeezing the spiritual out of our lives. Father Spitzer's book is a very practical guide for keeping that from happening. It's not so much that the spiritual is missing from the KofC, but that we can always do more. It is interesting what a close parallel there is between Father Spitzer's recommendations and the initiatives and traditions of the Knights of Columbus. Devotion to the Eucharist, corporate communion, Eucharistic adoration - which is by its nature contemplative, the rosary, charity and devotion to Mary are just a few of the parallels.

Annandale, VA
I know the Knights does a survey of fraternal activity, but does it do one of spiritual activity? How many holy hours coordinated? How many Marian hours, etc.?
Carl Anderson:
Not per se, but we do have such a catalogue for our Marian pilgrim virgin program. And our current one, involving Our Lady of Charity, will conclude this September. It should also be noted that the fraternal survey measures charitable activity, which is - in its own active way - spiritual.

Gene V.
Ely, MN
What do we know of Father McGivney's spiritual life? How can we make that better known to members?
Carl Anderson:
Three quick things can be done: you can join the guild, visit the Fr. McGivney website and read Parish Priest. In addition devotion to Mary, the Eucharist and the Rosary were important aspects of Fr. McGivney's spirituality and remain central in the Knights of Columbus. We also know that as a young man, Father McGivney wished to join the Society of Jesus, and therefore, we can assume some knowledge on his part of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit mission in contemplation. In addition, Father McGivney is an excellent example of someone who was "pure of heart" and whose motivation was based on the needs of those he served.

Albany, NY, USA
The idea of a ‘checklist for spiritual growth’ is appalling: 1. it encourages mediocrity by implying that all one need do is complete criteria (very manualist); 2. measuring growth is inimical to actual spiritual growth for it leads one to despair or pride, rather than humility; 3. spiritual growth is not quantifiable; 4. to consider spirituality in terms of progress encourages a fundamentally sick and misguided introspection that does not lead to self-knowledge but instead to a mad egoism.
Carl Anderson:
The history of the Catholic faith is filled with images of ascending to God in an incremental fashion. One need only look at St. Benedict's (or St. Bernard's) ladder of monks, St. John of the Cross's Ascent of Mt. Carmel, or St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle to see that this approach is very much a part of the Catholic tradition. We should be careful not to see "progress" in the spiritual life in the secular context of progress, and we should think that Father Spitzer's book is a beginning, practical steps, not an ending. As Father Spitzer notes, trying to grow in the spiritual life all at once is very dangerous and one is prone to fall down as a result of that.

Phoenix, AZ
It seems that the advice in this book - especially on the Beatitudes, would really change the way people behave at work, in their families, in their relationships with others. What do you think of Fr. Spitzer's comments on the poor in spirit and the meek? Could those living two beatitudes help build a Civilization of Love?
Carl Anderson:
Well, I think it is clear from Father Spitzer's book that he would agree that living those two Beatitudes would be an excellent beginning. Our April issue of Columbia was dedicated to Pope Benedict's trip, and in it I had an article discussing Pope Benedict as the Pope of the Beatitudes, as a way of viewing his mission of pastoral renewal in his visit to the United States. And Father Spitzer's book makes clear why this is so important from the spiritual point of view. Father Spitzer's discussion of the Beatitudes as proper motivation for our behavior is something that definitely is helpful for us to consider in building up a "civilization of love."

Maria C
My husband is a Knight and he says that you are stressing more about spirituality for the men in the Order. This is a great thing to hear. Could you explain a bit more?
Carl Anderson:
Father McGivney's central mission in founding the Knights was to protect and strengthen Christian family life. Today, in large measure, the threats to family life are spiritual rather than material. And therefore to continue with Father McGivney's mission requires us to help build a more solid spiritual base by which our members and their families can grow in their faith and provide a more authentic Christian witness. Then as now, the Knights are interested in strengthening the faith of members and their families both through their contemplative prayer lives and through their charitable outreach. The urgency of proceeding in this way, was reaffirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est.

Walter Thomas
Burbank, CA
It seems that in all of the activity of our daily lives, finding time for one of the pillars, let alone five is a challenge. How do you recommend that busy people find the time?
Carl Anderson:
If faith is like a mustard seed, so is the spiritual life, small beginnings can bear great fruit. No one is too busy for Father Spitzer's second pillar, spontaneous prayer, which helps us to develop a spiritual sensibility as we work through the practical issues of daily life. Developing this pillar, will in itself, begin to find time for the other pillars. Even Father Spitzer's recommendations to take a few minutes to read traditional prayers or the psalms, or the Magnificat or the Angelus do not take much time at all.

College Park, Md.
Fr. Spitzer's suggestions about cultivating a partnership with the Holy Spirit seem strange to me. I never learned to pray to the Holy Spirit in my Catholic formation. Any suggestions on how to overcome that deficiency and develop that relationship?
Carl Anderson:
Perhaps there has not been as much attention to the Holy Spirit in Catholic formation as there should be. However, Father Spitzer gives us a good place to start. He makes clear that our relationship with the Holy Spirit is as much about listening as about speaking. Most Catholics would agree that discernment is an important part of their spiritual life, what St. Ignatius and Father Spitzer draw out is that this is the realm of the Holy Spirit.

This book is very interesting in its overlap with the experience of Mother Teresa's spiritual "dark night." We are told here never to make a decision in a time of spiritual desolation, but what is one to do if that is their "dark night" lasts for a long time?
Carl Anderson:
Mother Teresa is an exceptional case, to be sure. And it should be clear that Mother Teresa's experience should be a testimony of hope for everyone going through such difficulty. It is also important to remember that Mother Teresa had good spiritual direction throughout her period of spiritual desolation, which helped her in her decisions and in her dealing with that difficult period.

Springfield, MA
I'm glad Father Spitzer talks about the importance of the sacramental life - Eucharist and Penance. With a busy schedule, getting to Sunday Mass and monthly confession feels like an accomplishment. Spontaneous prayer suggestions are good too -- keeping the presence of God. But contemplation? That's a reach for me right now.
Carl Anderson:
I think that people have too burdensome an idea of contemplation much of the time. As Father Spitzer makes clear, contemplation can begin slowly. A two day retreat once a year is probably not impossible for most people, nor would be taking a few minutes each day to consider a small piece of scripture or one of the psalms. Taking a prayer or verse of scripture each morning and keeping it in mind throughout the busyness of the day is perhaps a less difficult way to begin.

I was struck by the idea of enlisting God for help in forgiving and asking for forgiveness. How important a role do you think forgiveness should play in our spiritual growth.
Carl Anderson:
Forgiveness is central. The Our Father, the life of St. Maximillian Kolbe, who, as I mention in A Civilization of Love, prayed the Our Father as he starved to death in Auschwitz, or as Father Spitzer points out, the father of prodigal son, are all excellent examples of the need to keep forgiveness central in our lives. Without forgiveness we often find that we do ourselves far more harm than those who we should forgive. The other side of this of course, is asking for forgiveness ourselves, as we do each time we go to confession. In light of Father Spitzer's book, giving and asking forgiveness seems like a good way for us to keep where we stand in our relationship with God in focus.

New Rochelle, NY
Fr. Spitzer writes that "purity of heart" is the foundation of all the other beatitudes. How do we know when our motivations are really pure, and when we are putting our own perspective on things?
Carl Anderson:
Well as TS Elliot said in Murder in the Cathedral, the greatest treason is to do the right thing for the wrong reason. This is why self examination of conscience and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit are so important. Father Spitzer gives us several examples of how to discern our motivations, and I think these are very helpful.

Mike Conerly
When I read about the spiritual life, I can't help thinking it's a bit beyond the sights of most men who work and have families. This book talks about contemplation, which is really more for monks, I think. Is there a message for the average Knight?
Carl Anderson:
I think this book does a good job of making the contemplative accessible for all of us. As Father Spitzer writes: "St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, espoused the ideal of becoming 'contemplatives in action.' He was convinced that contemplation (the deep awareness and appropriation of the unconditional love of God) should affect our action, and that our actions need to be brought back to contemplation. I believe that there are five essential means through which this ideal can be attainted, particularly for busy people: 1) the Holy Eucharist, 2) Spontaneous Prayer, 3) the Beatitudes, 4) partnership with the Holy Spirit, and 5) the contemplative life itself."

Carl Anderson:
Thank you very much for joining me today. Please join us next month as we discuss Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II.

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