Posted by: Maryann McCullough | March 1, 2014

Story for March 2014



Spirit is an inside kind of word. My strong suits have always been of a more external variety; well-tended yards, nicely poufed hair, a pretty wreath on my door year round.

Even as a teacher I stressed the importance of neat, well-organized work. Many a former student had papers returned if work did not clearly delineate the thought process. My rationale was that the imposition of external order would result in a well organized logical mind. The inside would eventually conform to the outside.

Some years ago a new psychology came on the scene with much the same principle. Called self-image psychology, it taught that if you forced yourself to act, for example as if you loved to exercise, those actions would eventually change the reality. The cognitive dissonance between your actions (good) and your former self (not so good) would force a shift in the self perception. Again the idea being that an external habit can produce an internal change.

For many years I lived a life of great religiosity. I lived and practiced my faith with great diligence; always doing more than one had to do. Seven years of my life were spent as a religious. When I left the Dominican order, the choices I made for my life were still based on doing God’s work. Director of religious education, youth minister, CCD  coordinator, Bible study leader. I wore all those hats and wore them well. I would never denigrate the value of the work I did for so many years.

I recall Father Mike McGovern’s comment to me one Sunday. It was recruitment Sunday for catechists and I would be speaking at the time usually reserved for the sermon. Quirks of the rotating schedule for lectors and Eucharistic Ministers had me performing both those duties as well on that particular Sunday. With his lovely brogue and delightful smile, Father McGovern questioned me, “Well, now, do you think I should even bother showing up for the Mass?”

But was the outside shaping the inside as I believed it would? Was I growing in a relationship with God or was I just doing a bunch of good stuff?

I don’t think the outside practice penetrated got through to the inside in this case. I am not aware of a spiritual life. Surely I would sense this if it were there.

Attempts to feed my mind have not really developed a spiritual life either. I have read the Bible cover to cover, the works of great theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas, volumes of scriptural exegesis My undergraduate degree includes a major in theology. My bookcases are replete with books of a religious, theological or spiritual nature. My lack of a spiritual life cannot be blamed on a lack of information. My brain has been well-nourished in matters of faith.

What is this “spiritual life”? While I may not be able to define it, I know it when I see it. And when I do see it, I am envious of what I see.

Unfortunately I put all my stock in an institution, a church made up of intellectually and morally fallible human beings. Now, that awareness, coupled with my church’s insistence that they alone have the corner on truth, causes me to see my investment in Catholicism as poorly focused. For all those years that I worked so hard at being a good Catholic, had I simply nurtured a relationship with my God, fed the life of the spirit, I would likely have developed that interior life that looks so appealing from afar.





  1. Oh how I have related, Maryann. Why is it that I would come across your blog at this particular time?! I also have done the Catholic thing well – at least most of my life. Getting a divorce in 1993 was a major turning point for me, one that my close friends thought I would never do because I was too Catholic.
    I could no longer be judgmental or righteous of others. I had to look inward and begin again. I have spent the next 20 years doing just that – looking inward. Today, I can look people in the eye and say, “I not religious – I am spiritual.” I walked out of the Catholic Church last summer and said, “I don’t belong here anymore. I’m leaving” I have only gone back once and that was for Christmas. I am finding my way slowly, however, I am closer to the real God within us rather that the image of the man in the sky that I carried for way too long. I am finally growing up! Look up Richard Rohr and start reading. I love his daily meditations.

  2. How very sad to read. I would never have “thunk it”. I left the Church many years ago, but I have never left my relationship with God or Jesus. It waxes and wanes, depending upon many variables. One’s spirit is dynamic, an ever changing force that grows with your humility, good deeds, and love of God. You just need to work to be in touch with it. Sometimes when people are depressed, they think they have lost their spirit, but it is still there!

  3. Thanks again Mary Ann, I love reading the stories. As chaplain in a hospital, I ask how is your spirit as I visit with patients. Patients then share more often than not , their spirituality which comes from within. For some the institutional church is one way, but touching the face of God or Jesus comes in and through relationships with others, in nature, contemplating the universe etc is where there is intimacy with God as well. One day at a time and living in the present moment seems to take precedence.

    • Sandy, That is very special work you are doing. My daughter-in-law, Mary Tracy McCullough is a hospital chaplain as well. It is work that puts one’s own life in perspective I would think. When i consider all the things I’ve stressed about since getting out of bed this morning, I am jolted to the reality of their unimportance

  4. Our relationship with Jesus is more important than our relationship with the organized church. If they support each other, all the better.

    • I completely agree Mary. It’s sad that I have been such a late bloomer in that knowledge/

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