Sunday, October 4, 2015

Spirituality: Spiritual Direction

A twenty-four-year-old man approaches a priest and says that he is troubled by a vague uneasiness about the course of his life. Successful in a satisfying job, he enjoys a vibrant social life, has a number of close friends, and is in love with a young woman who reciprocates his love. During his college years he gave us religious practice; but not he finds attendance at the liturgy and participation in a particular liturgical community very rewarding. He is, however, uneasy. Is it possible that he has a vocation to the priesthood? What can the priest do for him?

A married woman of forty attends a talk on prayer and then approaches the pastor who gave it. The woman has two children, ages eight and ten. Her husband works for the telephone company. She finds herself more and more irritable with her husband and children. She feels hemmed in and resentful. She and her husband have joined a couples’ group at their church. “But God feels so far away,” she says. What can the pastor say to her?

A married businessman of fifty approaches this minister after church and asks to talk. He is successful, has a good marriage and family, and is a devout Christian. Lately, he says, he has been troubled by the “worldliness” of his life style and by the ethical implications of some of his business dealings. After some discussion it becomes clear that he is concerned about the will of God for himself and about the quality of his relationship with God. How can the minister help him?

A thirty-five-year-old divorcee stops by her neighbor’s house. She says she’d like to talk. She has noticed that there neighbor regularly goes to church and that a number of people seem to trust her a lot. This has given her the courage to confide in her. The divorced woman reveals that she has a crippling disease that will gradually incapacitate her. She feels that God is punishing her for her sins, and yet she thinks God is unfair and unjust. “I’m angry at him,” she says, “and that makes me feel even more guilty,” How can her neighbor help her?

These are only a few examples of the people who approach other Christians for help. Those they approach will respond in a variety of ways.

One could ask for more information and try to help the person understand the causes of his or her malaise. Understanding is usually helpful. One could merely listen sympathetically and offer what little encouragement one can to another human being in pain. Sympathetic listening is very helpful to someone who is troubled. One could help a person see what the consequences of his state in life are and how those consequences might dictate a course of action. One could help another understand that God is not a harsh task-master, but a loving Father, and this theological clarification might be enlightening. One could refer the person to someone else with more knowledge or skill. All of these ways of proceeding could be helpful to the people who have just been described, and all of them could be called pastoral care. They could not, however be called spiritual direction. Instead, spiritual direction is concerned with helping a person directly with his or her relationship with God. It may well be that in each of the human problems mentioned earlier, the most fundamental  issue is that relationship and its underlying questions: Who is God for me, and who am I for God?”

Spiritual direction is directly concerned with a person’s actual experiences of his or her relationship with God.

Christian spiritual direction is help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grown in intimacy with this God, and to live our the consequences of the relationship. The focus on this type of spiritual direction is on experience, not ideas, and specifically on religious experiences. This experience is viewed, not as an isolated event, but as an expression of the ongoing personal relationship God has established with each one of us.


From the Practice of Spiritual Direction, by William Barry, S.J., and William Connolly, S.J.