Scott Hahn writes for Roman Catholic spirituality. He grew up a mainline Protestant and served as a Presbyterian pastor before becoming Catholic in 1986. He has a hard job, because Catholic spirituality is so varied.
The silence of Trappist monks is Catholic spirituality. The noisy praise of charismatics is Catholic spirituality. The warm devotion to the Virgin Mary, the intellectual life of Dominicans and Jesuits, and service of the poor of Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa, all are Catholic spirituality.
Hahn settles for broadly talking about Catholic spirituality as family life under the Fatherhood of God. The words about the Trinity speak of God in terms of family, Father and Son. Even Protestants call priests father and nuns sister. The Pope is the Holy Father. The head nun is Mother Superior. Mary is the mother of us all.
Because this book, published by an Evangelical publishing house, will have an evangelical Protestant audience, Hahn spends a good deal of ink showing that family is a Biblical way of seeing the church and spirituality. Then he also quotes the Catechism.
He sees the Catholic Church as both hierarchy and home. Popes, bishops, and priests have a fatherly role in guiding the faithful. They lead a church that the Catechism calls the universal family of God. This universality includes those of us who are not Roman Catholic. We are “separated brethren”, but we are part of the family.
In the light of the church as family, he explains devotion to Mary. Also he explains marriage, family, and the unpopular Catholic stands on sexual ethics in this light.
He explains the role of suffering and death in Catholic spirituality. God has made suffering central to the mission of his own Son, so suffering has a role for God’s other children as well. Thus Catholics do not just endure suffering, they offer it up.
He doesn’t talk about the things that immediately strike me about Catholic spirituality: the crucifix, the rosary, votive candles, the scent of incense, and the prayer to Mary to remember us “now and in the hour of our death.” But he puts all that in the context of community or family. Catholic spirituality is not individual, but communal.
Bradley Nassif, in his response to Hahn from the Eastern Orthodox perspective, mostly affirms Catholic spirituality and laments the division between Catholic and Orthodox. But he does put into words something that I have also noticed about Roman Catholic devotion the Mary.
The Orthodox also venerate Mary, but he says:
“Marian devotion is noticeably different in Orthodox and Catholic piety. On the devotional level, there seems in Catholicism to be an excessive and sentimental veneration of Mary in and of herself, which causes an observer to think of Mary apart from her Son (contrary to official Catholic dogma).” (Four Views on Christian Spirituality (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Kindle Locations 1756-1758). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
Joseph Driskill responds for progressive Protestantism. He is critical of the Roman Catholic emphasis on hierarchy and the authority of the institutional church. He thinks this stifles the role of the laity and discourages critical thinking. He does appreciate that Catholics have kept alive several spiritual attitudes that the Protestant reformers de-emphasized, such as the idea that nature and even mundane daily life are sacramental. Today many Protestants receive some aspects of Catholic spirituality as gifts.
Frankly, I found Evan Howard’s evangelical Protestant response to Hahn a little annoying. Howard seems to complain that Hahn did not write a different essay than the one he wrote. In mentioning writers and themes that Hahn didn’t touch on, Howard gives the impression that he knows more about Catholic spirituality than Hahn.
He does make a distinction between popular spirituality and official Catholic teaching. Hahn and modern Catholic teachers distance themselves from some of the spiritual practices of the late middle ages. (Howard mentions devotion to the Sacred Heart, masses for the dead, and devotions to saints.) But Howard recognizes that popular Evangelical practices like personal scripture reading and the singing of Civil-War-era hymns also have culture-bound roots.
To conclude, I must mention that the most spiritual person I know is a Roman Catholic relative of mine. Her spirituality is a quiet, but deep, lay spirituality. It is truly catholic, or as we mainline Protestants would say, inclusive. She has always spoken to me about “our” faith. I am a separated brethren, but I am still part of the family.