Sparking the Catholic Imagination 1

Deborah Stollery

“Thinking Whole” Foundations

As 2021 dawns, we at ConSpirita Consulting Network find ourselves, like many of you we expect, grateful for the passage of 2020 with all its challenges, joys and woes, and yet uncertain about what 2021 might hold for us as individuals, as a business and as a Church.  In order to discern the signs of the times, to get into the flow of the Holy Spirit and so to walk these days in hope and resilience, we are focusing our next set of blogs on imagination.  Why?  Because we believe imagination is one of the Holy Spirit’s fertile grounds, and we desperately feel the need for the Spirit.  So join us as we seek to spark the Catholic imagination through these blogs.

Those of you who know me know I love to learn and I love to look at things from the intellectual, spiritual and practical points of view.  So when considering this blog series, imagination and then Catholic imagination, I determined I should do an internet “read-around” for certainly thinkers far more adept than I have attended to this.  I was not disappointed in the read-around!  The next four blogs will center on John Henry Newman’s[i] four principles that play a part in re-centering the Catholic imagination.

Here’s an overview of his 4 principles that play a part in re-centering the Catholic imagination:

  1. Learning to see whole.
  2. Learning Christ.
  3. Learning holy living.
  4. Learning to praise.

So we begin this series with principle 1:  Learning to see whole.  By this Newman meant developing a quality of mind, a discriminating intelligence that is able to perceive relationships and connections.  It’s the intellectual work of striving for a comprehensive view, a work that fights against single perspectives or reductionist approaches like rationalism or sentimental romanticism.  It seeks to investigate what is happening in the head and heart, within the physical and spiritual realms, through the aesthetic, moral and religious lenses.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called this approach an integral humanism in Caritas in Veritate. The results that emerge as this principle is developed?  Reverence and gratitude.

As I ponder this first principle and my quest to unlock what the Holy Spirit might be trying to say in this age, I find myself inspired and affirmed.  I am inspired to search all these different sources, to know that in them is found the Creator and the good that God created.  In them is found truth and light.  In them is found doorways to the sacred, and therefore to the most fully human as well.  I am also affirmed in some of my leadership and coaching approaches that call for Catholic leaders, clergy and lay, to resist simple, quick and tidy responses to the challenges of discipleship and leadership.

  • To learn to see the whole means that leaders will resist fast decisions, unless it’s a life or death emergency. They will ask those around them to give insight into what is happening intellectually, spiritually, and practically.  They will use these categories of integral humanism to think, pray and discover what God has revealed, is revealing and imagines for this day and time.
  • To learn to see the whole is to resist thinking education, experience, authority or title provides all that is necessary to lead. Only God sees the whole perfectly.  We see in a mirror dimly[ii] right now.  In seeking to see the whole, we ask God to help us use these elements to see more clearly.  This keeps ecclesial leaders both humble and curious.
  • To learn to see the whole is to approach any challenge with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is to be found within it, and that the Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and is to be adored and glorified.”[iii] That means there is available wisdom, knowledge, understanding and right judgment if the time is taken to honor the whole by remaining humble and curious.

Imagine with me for a minute what it could be like if we all embark on the journey of learning to see whole.  We’d slow down our decision-making.  We’d be more deliberate about listening, watching, researching, and feeling.  We’d have an increasing respect for the voices not around our immediate tables, searching for them and listening to them wholeheartedly.  We’d search the tradition and discern the signs of the times.  We’d pray through it all.  And we’d let go of “the way it’s always been/we’ve always done it” in favor of space for the Spirit to give new life.

Let’s imagine for a minute what we might come to learn, understand and so have right judgment around if we sought, right this minute, to “see whole” around the effect Covid19 has had on our parishioners.  That’s what our next blog will be about…our first steps in seeing whole around the effects of the pandemic on our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Until then…begin to practice seeing whole as a way to spark your Catholic imagination!


[i]  For those of you unfamiliar with Newman, he was a 19th century English theologian who led the Oxford Movement in the Church of England and later became a Catholic priest and then a cardinal.  He was canonized by Pope Francis on 13 October 2019.  Considered one of the most important Catholic thinkers, writers and spiritual guides of the 19th century, his largest body of work is a collection of sermons and letters.  His motto when named a cardinal was “Cor ad cor loquitor” which means “heart speaks to heart.”  For more see: https://osvnews.com/2019/02/22/why-is-cardinal-newman-still-relevant-today/
[ii] 1 Corinthians 13:12
[iii]  Nicene Creed

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