Friday, September 17, 2004

Sketchy Notes for Spiritual Direction

I was reviewing that previous post where I went ga-ga over the prospect of having a new spiritual director. Many people had mentioned the need to find a spiritual director and for various reasons for their failures. I thought in my Friday afternoon haze to string together some thoughts on the nature of Spiritual Direction. However, I would invite Fr. H to put in a companion article to this, given his S.T.L. is in Spiritual Theology.

First, a key distinction needs to be made. Spiritual Direction is not psychological counseling nor is it making a new friend. Spiritual Direction is the process by which one discerns the movement of God in your life. There might be areas which are touched by psychological experience but that is not the thrust of the conversation. It sounds simple but it has two primary thrusts. On the one hand, in spiritual direction, the directee reveals everything about their efforts to follow the Gospel thus far. The emphasis here is upon particular sins and shortcomings. On the other hand, spiritual direction is an exercise in trying to better discern, concretely, what God's will is for you in a more positive mode. This is the sense of "what should I do now, Lord." Some authors refer to this aspect as discernment of spirits and there is nothing wrong with that language.

Okay, how does one find spiritual direction? Here's what I recommend. First, pray that God will arrange for you to find a spiritual director and that you will be compliant with this director. After all, if the director is doing his job correctly, that's God speaking even if he is using the director's words. Second, anyone who wants to find a spiritual director should find a regular confessor. It is a good way to begin to celebrate the sacrament with more regularity and then it also helps you to find someone to whom you are comfortable revealing your soul. After some time with a particular confessor, you might have found your director. Third, don't be afraid to ask questions of this person, especially as it relates to their spiritual life. If they are pursuing holiness in a vigorous way, then they are better able to lead you. Also, personality conflicts are real and can inhibit the process. Don't be afraid to shop around a little. On the flip side, be cautious about selecting someone who is making you feel good but is full of ... well, you know. In the seminary, for what it's worth, after one bad experience, I never, ever selected the most popular director. Just didn't work.... Fourth, following St. Teresa of Avila's advice, if you must choose between a pious director and an intelligent one, always pick the intelligent one. An intelligent one, in her opinion, is more likely to be able to steer you clear of deceptions and other spiritual dangers. Fifth, know when to say when. No spiritual direction relationship lasts forever. Sixth, your spiritual director, in most cases, needs to be a priest. This is not to deingrate the work of religious; it is the close correction of direction to the Sacrament of Penance.

Hope this helps...

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