Spiritual Direction

The need for spiritual direction in our world today which is utterly confused has never been greater.  To find a Priest spiritual director is not easy, even the Saints found it difficult.  But to have a good Priest to guide one's soul is a great grace and a gift.  A learned and prayerful Priest can lead a soul closer to God and help to develop and find one's true vocation in life.  There are many people in need of spiritual direction who desire to give their lives to Jesus and they find it difficult to find someone who is willing to help them, but the Lord knows the desire of their hearts and shall not abandon them once they remain faithful to the Sacraments, to prayer and works of mercy.  How many vocations are lost perhaps because of the lack of good spiritual direction ?  Let us pray for more Priests to become open to this task and learn to guide souls on the way of holiness. 

St. Alphonsus Liguori believed confessors could do great good by applying the “bit of diligence” necessary to direct souls that are ready for guidance in the spiritual life. “And what an accounting of it they must render to God,’ he exclaims, “If they are slack about it”; for confessors are bound to achieve the good of their penitents “as much as they can.”  By directing these souls in the way of prayer and then ‘asking them at least in the beginning of the spiritual life, whether they made their prayer or not,” confessors could prevent many “relapses into grave sin” and “put many on the road to perfection.”

St. Alphonsus also has this to say: ‘As soon as a good confessor sees a soul shrinking from mortal sin and desiring to advance in divine love, he ought to... guide it to the making of mental prayer, that is, meditation on the eternal truths and the goodness of God;” (13) and the Saint then proposes a follow up. Moreover, one will at times find it desirable to persuade penitents who come burdened with mortal sin, even habitual, to receive his guidance in the ways of mental prayer; (14) and this easily leads the conscientious priest to full responsibilities of direction.

Some penitents seem to expect, before they would submit to anyone as their director, that he display the heroic virtue one expects in a canonized Saint. St. Alphonsus treats them as over-demanding. (33) Yet he warns that one should not choose his spiritual father “haphazardly nor through predilection,” but should pick the “one he deems best suited in relation to the profit” of his soul, a man of “learning and experience... and prayer” who “walks in the way of perfection.” If he reproves one’s faults, “that is no reason for leaving him, but rather for never separating from his guidance.” He adds that there “is no worse confessor than one who does little rebuking and shows too much sympathy for his penitent’s faults;” for in this way he “will cause the penitent to think lightly of them.” (34)

St. Teresa of Avila said

She believed that if a person who practices prayer consults good, learned men, “the devil will not deceive him if he does not wish to be deceived.”(50)
Favoring recourse to a doctrinally sound, learned director, St. Teresa judges that if one finds one, and he is not advanced enough in the spiritual life to understand certain things needful in the guidance of advanced souls, but is virtuous, it is not presumptuous to hope that God will enlighten him about what he should teach and even make him advance in the spiritual life himself in order that he may provide better help. “I do not say this without experience,” she remarks. “It has happened to me at least in two cases.”

A lay person who “can choose whom he is to submit to, should praise God and not lose” this liberty, but rather “let him be without” a director until he finds a qualified one whom, “if he is fully grounded in humility and has the desire to succeed, the Lord will give him.”

What to look for in a spiritual director -

1. Knowledge of the spiritual life
A good director must have a sound knowledge of the science of the soul – he or she must know the various spiritualities of the Church’s tradition and, more importantly, must have a firm grasp of the fundamental principles of the spiritual life. In this regard, St. Teresa is famed for having advised that, if we must choose, it is better to have a learned director than a holy one – since one who is learned will be able to advise the safest course to take in the spiritual life, but one who is holy (without being learned) will not know of any spirituality beyond his own.

2.  Faithfulness to the Church
Since the primary way in which God’s guides his holy people is through the pastors of the Church, a good director must be orthodox – faithful to the Church in every point upon which she has pronounced her judgment. Even in those matters of faith and morals upon which the Church has spoken only in her ordinary (and not infallible) Magisterium, the spiritual director must submit to the Church’s wisdom with a spirit of religious obedience and must never contradict her judgment. A spiritual director who lacks a love for the Church and her pastors (and especially for the Pope) will serve only to lead souls astray – such a director is a thief or a robber and has not entered the sheepfold through the gate.

3.  Prayer and mortification
The principle means of progress towards spiritual perfection consist in the exercise of prayer and mortification. Within these two principle works, there are many and varied directions in which the Holy Spirit might lead the soul. However, without a true commitment to prayer and mortification, the spiritual life will be dry and barren – a desert wasteland without water. Prayer provides the primary matter to be discussed in spiritual direction. Without contemplation, without at least a movement toward the interior life, there can be no true
direction. Thus, any good spiritual director will advocate the life of prayer (and even contemplation). Moreover, in order to grow in prayer, mortification is needed. Thus, these two – prayer and mortification – must be an essential part of the program of direction

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