by Jean Khoury
The following points are key elements in the teaching of “Spiritual Direction”:
– What is Spiritual Life? Spiritual Life is the Life of God in us, and us in Him, being rooted in Christ and the Trinity in Baptism. In Baptism Spiritual Life is like a small Divine Seed planted in us and is invited, throughout our life on earth, to reach its fullness: Union with Christ and Fullness of Love. (Therefore, our death will coincide with us reaching the fullness.)
– What is Spiritual Direction? Spiritual Direction is a Prophetical Gift given by Jesus to His Church. This mission in the Church consists in the help offered from a person (the Director, the Person who accompanies), in the Grace of God, to facilitate, discern and support Spiritual Life to its full growth. The Spiritual Director offers that through his guidance (words, advice) and prayer. Its first task is to ensure the synergy (working together) between the directee and the Action of the Holy Spirit; in other terms it seeks steady growth. Its main pilar is to foster the personal responsibility from the Directee in his/her spiritual life.
– Who is the Spiritual Director? St John of the Cross underlines that the main Master, the Main Director is the Holy Spirit. Therefore humbly, the Spiritual Director seeks to discover the Action of the Holy Spirit in the directee.
– Who can become a Spiritual Director? Spiritual Direction is not only for priests. Lay people and women can give it. A deep personal spiritual life is a must. It goes without saying that Priests are strongly invited to offer it; their Priesthood brings to it more experience, knowledge and discernment. Still, it is a very specific field. Usually wise Monks offer it; because of their deep spiritual life they are the first on the list to be able to offer it. It falls more in the Prophetical Function (munus) of the Church. Formation in Spiritual Theology and in Spiritual Direction are needed.
– Qualities of the Director: Science (mainly formation in Spiritual Theology), Experience (having a strong deep spiritual life, as well as being directed) and Discernment (received through the fact of being directed).
– Many helps/disciplines are closely related to Spiritual Direction but are to be distinguished from it : Confession, General advice, Counselling, Psychoanalysis, Psychiatric help,… Professionally, Spiritual Direction cannot claim to offer these services (unless in the case of mild psychological difficulties. General advice will rely on the human maturity of the Spiritual Director). One should direct the seeker to the Professional person. It goes without saying that if the Spiritual Director is qualified in any of the above disciplines, this will help tremendously, providing one keeps a healthy discernment.
– In order to start Spiritual Direction, a two-way agreement is implicitly at least needed: between both the Directee and the Priest. Prayer is needed on the part of both and then, each decides if he/she agrees or not. So some trial period is allowed.
– Spiritual Direction is given to a person who at least has already a Spiritual Life, has had a Second Conversion, or is about to. It is meant to help the person find his/her new bearings. So, the Personal Relationship with Jesus is taken for granted and awaits like a Seed to grow. The main Gardener is the Holy Spirit. Both the Directee and the Director are called to listen to Him.
– Spiritual Direction is not Formation in Spiritual Life (it is not meant to become private tuition in SL). Usually a good Formation in S L should come first in order to empower the person, and generate Spiritual Practice (prayer, etc). Therefore, if absent, it should be strongly encouraged. Otherwise there are no solid foundations for growth. A minimum of knowledge in Spiritual Theology should be possessed in order to manage one’s own Spiritual Life.
– Length: First Session is a little bit longer, because one has to know the spiritual story of the person. One can help as well focus on the exact type of needed information. Could go on for two hours. Thereafter normal sessions last: one to one-and-half-hours.
– Frequency: it depends. Urgent need could trigger closely repeated sessions; then one reaches an average number between two weeks to a month. It depends on the needs and the style of life. If it occurs at an early stage of Spiritual Life, SD can help if it is done often.
– What does the director do during the session: He is called to sense the Grace of God at work: When it started? What it has achieved till now? Where is the person Spiritually at that very moment? Is the person experiencing steady growth? Is the person using the right and strongest means? Does the person have a well-ordered new file (daily schedule)? The Director has to sense the need, the gaps, the weaknesses and offer remedy – progressively. Checking the improvement of daily life because of the Spiritual Life linked to it.
– It goes without saying that amongst the most powerful means we have to grow (apart from Mass and Confession) are: Lectio Divina and the Prayer of the Heart. A relationship with Mary as well is to be checked/suggested (readings + Rosary) because of the fundamental role she plays.
– A common difficulty especially amongst youngsters: wanting to know the vocation (state of life) instead of focusing on letting the Relationship with Jesus Grow.
– Spiritual Direction and Transference: the Director’s style shouldn’t create dependency. It is important that he generates responsibility in the Directee, and develops in him/her the capacity to take decisions. The Directee should feel free to leave if he/she chooses to.
– It is important for the Director to know the different stages of Spiritual Life and how to discern between them. He is supposed to guide the person on this journey.
– It is important for the Director to know the different types of discernment linked to each stage.
– Attitude of the Director: on top of the three main qualities: clarity, humility, kindness, empathy, total capacity to listen and come out of himself and of his own ways of thinking, prudence. Truth should be the guide in the help he offers. Charity will lead the way as to when to say the truth and how to say it. Praying for the Directee is important (Mass and Divine Office). The more spiritual experience and knowledge are wide and deep the more one is capable of guiding persons. It is important to have the humility to stop when the Director sees that he is not helping the person, or that the person belongs to a different family of spirits which he is unable to grasp. Humility, humility, humility.
– The first stage of growth: from conversion / second conversion to union of will is of absolute importance and requires “determined determination”, work of the virtues, with a high level of dedication and / altruism / perfection; this, with the practice of Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart will ensure a steady growth. This last point is of central importance. Issues that need consideration to ensure this entail time-management: how to manage this stage in order to ensure steady growth; how to implement Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart; managing one’s own time.
– Triggers of the grace of God: Knowledge on how the Grace of God works, and to know it for each stage. Knowing in general and in particular (each type of prayer) what are the triggers of the Grace of God, and knowing how to ensure that they are implemented. Knowing as well the important factors of growth, discerning between the “methods”. Maintaining a certain flexibility, because of differences between persons, etc…
– The differences between people are bigger than the facial differences.
– Why is it called “ars artium”?
Catechism: 2690 The Holy Spirit gives to certain of the faithful the gifts of wisdom, faith and discernment for the sake of this common good which is prayer (spiritual direction). Men and women so endowed are true servants of the living tradition of prayer.
According to St. John of the Cross, the person wishing to advance toward perfection should “take care into whose hands he entrusts himself, for as the master is, so will the disciple be, and as the father is so will be the son.” And further: “In addition to being learned and discreet a director should be experienced… If the spiritual director has no experience of the spiritual life, he will be incapable of leading into it the souls whom God is calling to it, and he will not even understand them.” (St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, stanza 3,30, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, eds K. Kavanaugh OCD and O. Rodriguez OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 621.)