Spiritual Direction: Why Do It?

With a world as fast-paced as ours today, maybe the better question is, “Why not do spiritual direction?” All of us need a little time to process the mountains of information we’re exposed to on a daily basis – everyone from stay-at-home mothers to kindergarten students is bombarded with a whole flood of media each day. (N.B. I’m not recommending spiritual direction to kindergarteners, but mothers are at the top of the list!) How can we possibly find the time, or the energy, to find out where the Lord is speaking to us if we don’t step back for a minute and just calm down?

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (i.e. Jesuits), wrote a lot on the nature of prayer. In his Spiritual Exercises – or essentially, Prayer for Dummies – he provides many helpful hints to gauge our consciousness of God’s presence in our lives. Some of Andrew Reinhart’s posts have already hit on these areas, so I won’t belabor them, but just to name a few, Ignatius talks about consolation, desolation, dryness in prayer, etc. This all pretty much amounts to a step-by-step roadmap of what to do in any given situation. Really, it’s great. As far as St. Ignatius is concerned – and he is a saint, mind you – there is no phenomenon that exists in our prayer life that is not explained by the worldly life we are living.

So why all this? Well, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola basically constitute the handbook of spiritual direction: the priest spiritual director uses these techniques, or similarly proven ones (generally written by a saint), to help the directee navigate through a life of deep prayer. The directee talks, the director listens, both pray, and in the end they decide together how God has manifested Himself in the past few weeks. I kid you not, it really is that easy! The hardest part of spiritual direction – at least with regards to the people who have asked me about it – seems to be the actual commitment to begin. Part of human nature is being hesitant to open ourselves to the God who created us; we are simply ashamed and embarrassed to be so frail. But, it is precisely in that brokenness that the mercy of God shows itself most powerfully. If you’re on the fence about beginning spiritual direction, take hope in God’s revelation to St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) After that, go do it!

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    # by Rick - October 8, 2007 at 9:07 AM

    Even non-Catholic Christians are beginning to embrace the spiritual exercises of Loyola!

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    # by Anonymous - October 8, 2007 at 11:37 AM

    The biggest obstacle in the real world isn't beginning, its finding a spiritual director...or at least a good one. I know they're pretty easy to come by where you live but not where I live!

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    # by Andrew Haines - October 8, 2007 at 11:46 AM

    That is a good point. I really did overlook that reality (partly intentionally). Unfortunately, circumstances vary as to the quality of priests in a certain location; I tend to believe that all priests are striving toward holiness in some way, but finding one that strives in a genuinely Catholic and theologically/spiritually sound way can be more tricky.

    I suppose to anyone who's having a similar trouble as "anonymous" I'd advise this (take it for what it's worth):

    Even if you can't seem to locate the ideal spiritual director, if you've thought about it this much, you more than likely at least know a good priest somewhere relatively near you geographically. Avail yourself to that person and see what he thinks. At the very least, he could probably put you in touch with a like-minded but perhaps hidden gem somewhere in your diocese. Moreover, perhaps the priest you know would even take you on as a directee (if you haven't already tried that).

    If these options fail... keep praying. The Lord knows the invaluable nature of direction, and is sure to provide you an outlet so long as you make yourself available to it genuinely and whole-heartedly.

    Keep commenting!