Welcome to this episode of Peace Be With You.
In previous episodes I noted that spiritual directors use mediation and pastoral counseling to prepare parties to engage the core discipline of spiritual direction.
After a party removes the most obvious barriers — they are ready to strengthen their relationship with God. We know this divine relationship is the most basic relationship a man possesses. It is the original relationship that exists before all others. It is the model for all human relationships that follow.
But, you might ask, what if a party does not have a relationship with God?
This is true for many people. The relationship may be non-existent or at best faint. Even if they consider themselves to be religious, perhaps they preach external concepts with little knowledge of the underlying spiritual reality.
Thus, spiritual directors can expect to encounter disbelief when they talk about a relationship. Even people who consider themselves among the faithful may balk at the idea of a relationship with a living God.
While many people have not even considered that such a relationship is possible, their inherent skepticism may not have come to light — that is, not until they engage in spiritual direction. Only now, in spiritual direction, do they discover the faith is more immediate than they had ever imagined. Previously, they accepted certain beliefs at face value — while the underlying spiritual reality remained shrouded in mystery.
Typically, people see God being very far off — perhaps in an abstract world that they cannot touch. They have faith in some future state that they cannot quite imagine.
Spiritual directors seek to remedy such blind faith. They seek to facilitate direct knowledge of God. They help people know that God is real and very present. They guide people beyond hypotheticals to a lived relationship.
We might call spiritual direction a form of applied theology. It has less to do with philosophical arguments than with firsthand knowledge. Applied theology focuses on practical aspects of living. It focuses on the person’s spiritual formation.
Spiritual directors employ different methods. They may turn to scripture and nurture an understanding of the Word. With different techniques they make scripture speak to the person’s life.
They may help people explore theology that explains the nature of God AND the nature of man’s relationship with God. They guide reflections that bring these concepts to life. They make theology immediate and relevant. In the hands of a good spiritual director, theology is no longer merely an academic subject. Rather, it helps us manage reality.
A person’s spiritual formation may also be enhanced by a study of the lives of Saints. These narratives invite them to compare their path with the path a Saint walked.
Most of all spiritual directors focus on prayer — especially contemplative prayer that draws us close to God. This direction requires empathy and intuition and usually a high level of personal spiritual formation.
Often, mystical insights are needed to light up stretches of the path that are shrouded in the fog of mystery. Thus spiritual directors must be familiar with the mystical arts. Often they turn to the writings of the great mystics to seek answers for our deeper questions.
Ultimately, a spiritual director aims to bring a person into mystical union with Christ. However, people are intimidated by the mention of mystical union. It was not on their radar before they arrived for spiritual direction.
As far as they were concerned, mystical union with Christ was a poetic reference — not something one would actually strive to accomplish. They had not considered supernatural union was an attainable state.
Nonetheless, most people who seek spiritual direction have at least an emerging sense that Christ awaits them — with his real presence. Though this sense may be only a faint intuition, spiritual direction will bring it to the surface.
Then there are also Catholics who have been touched — often profoundly — by the Real Presence during Eucharistic celebration. They have begun to hunger for a deeper knowledge of sacred reality. One could say that after being touched by the Lord, they seek his embrace.
It soon becomes clear that spiritual directors work in rarefied altitudes. They walk with people into spiritual territory rarely visited. These stretches of the spiritual journey tend to be sparsely populated — as most people are wholly focused on worldly concerns.
When pilgrims experience confusion or fear or when disbelief sabotages their journey — spiritual directors provide comfort and wisdom. Like trained mountaineers they come to the rescue. But they do not minister in these lofty regions alone. The Holy Spirit infuses their hearts. They are led by the invisible hand of the Advocate.
As perhaps their most important task, spiritual directors teach those they lead to open up a connection to the Holy Spirit. This instruction in receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the primary value of the ministry.
The art of spiritual direction has many aspects. We have touched on only a few. Future episodes of Peace Be With You will flesh out this amazing vocation.
In your reflection consider what role spiritual direction might play in your life. Is it something you desire or need? Do you consider you might have the aptitude to become a spiritual director?
This episode concludes the general introduction of the podcast Peace Be With You. We will now focus on specific topics in greater detail.
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Until next time may God bless you and bring you peace.