Brookline Carmel Bulletin
January 1, 1961
“Lord, we do not know where Thou art going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14,5). These words of Thomas the Apostle, spoken at the Last Supper, spotlight an important need in the life of every Catholic: Spiritual Guidance. We are born children of wrath, hell-bent. A considerable change is required of us before we can be united to God; the characteristics of fallen human nature must yield and give place to divine ‘mores’. This is no simple task. “As the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my thoughts exalted above your thoughts, and my ways above your ways.” (Isaiah 55, 9). Spiritual Direction makes the transition possible.
Spiritual Direction pertains to the Church. Taking the hint from the reply of Jesus to Thomas, she can say to men of every generation: “I know the Way; I have the Truth and the Life.” In general, all her ministers are spiritual directors; they make known to men the truths they must embrace, the means they must follow in order to achieve their eternal salvation. In this sense, therefore, all Catholics receive spiritual direction. But it is one thing to teach someone the necessary and sufficient means to reach Heaven (and needle him into practicing them), and quite another to teach someone how to attain the highest degree of union with God that is compatible with our conditions of life here on earth. So when we speak of Spiritual Direction, we envision that personal and personalized type of guidance, which is geared to the concrete circumstances in which a man is living. It takes into consideration his state in life, his environment, his spiritual history, his innate and acquired tendencies, his temperament, his strong points and his weak points. Its purpose is to enable him to achieve a state of continual and perfect conformity to the will of God, enabling him, when occasion demands, to practice heroic virtue. But for all this, it remains the ordinary way God reveals His Will to His children, as is the general type of direction spoken of above. It is an inscrutable decree of God that no man can come to Him except through the instrumentality of other men.
Spiritual Direction does not assume the same form in every phase of the spiritual journey. For those who have been recently converted from a state of habitual, serious sin it consists in spiritual formation. Here, the Director is principally a teacher. He instructs the directee on how to introduce due order and submission to God’s Will into his life. Above all, he outlines a ‘rule of life’, a balanced blend of the necessary ascetical practices with the faithful discharge of the obligations of his state. In their ‘interviews’, the person directed learns the fundamentals of the spiritual life: how to practice mortification, prayer, the rudimentary virtues, and the fruitful use of the Sacraments and other channels of grace. His formation is complete when he has acquired a profound sense of his responsibility before God, a thorough grasp of his obligations, and fulfills them without external constraint.
Once this stage has been reached, Spiritual Direction enters a new phase. Now the Holy Spirit is able to make His influence more easily felt. He, the interior director, draws souls along the path He has marked out for them by giving them good thoughts and desires. After all, the Spiritual Director is not the master of the destiny of those he guides. His chief concern now is to help the directee interpret the impulses of the Holy Spirit. Usually they have to do with the choice of a vocation in life, or if it has been already chosen, how to perfect oneself in it. Some further instruction is still in order: adjustments in the life of prayer, the relaxation of corporal mortification in order to emphasize the more interior kinds and a deeper understanding of the virtues. In this phase, interviews are not so frequent, nor do they consume much time.
Eventually a time comes when the need for Spiritual Direction all but ceases. When the directee is perfectly docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit he doesn’t even need to have them interpreted. Rather, he needs more the approbation of the Director whenever he makes a decision touching some important aspect of his spiritual life. In this phase, meetings with the director are quite rare.
It should be pointed out that, very often, well-educated, intelligent Catholics receive their Spiritual Direction informally, not even being aware of it. From their deeper study of the Faith and the reading of outstanding Spiritual Authors they are able to formulate their own rule of life and interpret the Will of God as manifested in their thoughts and desires with great success. Thus they need not seek special interviews with a director, but could content themselves with submitting to their confessors whatever decisions, proposals, and resolutions they make concerning their spiritual life. To be sure of God’s blessing, we must submit our wills to the “Will of God. This is done by seeking the approbation and confirmation of His representatives, the ministers of the Church.
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