6.1: Moral Necessity of Spiritual Direction
Direction, although not absolutely necessary for the sanctification of souls, is one of the normal means of spiritual progress. Authority, and reason based on experience, demonstrate this. 2p257
I) Proof From Authority
A) God, who established His Church as a hierarchical society, has willed that souls be sanctified through submission to the Sovereign Pontiff and to the Bishops in things external, and to confessors in things internal. When Saul was converted, Our Lord, instead of directly manifesting to him His designs, sent him to Ananias to learn from this man's lips what he was to do. Cassian, St. Francis de Sales and Leo XIII argue from this fact to show the necessity of direction. "God," says Leo XIII, "in His infinite Providence has decreed that men for the most part should be saved by men; hence He has appointed that those whom He calls to a loftier degree of holiness should be led thereto by men, 'in order that,' as Chrysostom says, 'we should be taught by God through men.' We have an illustrious example of this put before us in the very beginning of the Church, for although Saul, who was 'breathing threatening and slaughter', heard the voice of Christ Himself, and asked from Him, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' he was nevertheless sent to Ananias at Damascus: 'Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do', This manner of acting has invariably continued in the Church. All without exception who in the course of ages have been remarkable for science and holiness have taught this doctrine. Those who reject it, assuredly do so rashly and at their peril." (Leo XIII, 1899)
B) In the early Church, there were many authorities who stressed the need of a spiritual director for devout and eager souls. Cassian, who had spent long years among the monks of Palestine, of Syria, and of Egypt, has set down their teachings together with his own in two works. In the first, the 'Book of Institutions,' he urgently exhorts the young cenobites to open their heart to the elder charged with the direction of their life; to disclose to him without false shame their most secret thoughts, and to submit themselves entirely to his decision as to what is good and what is evil. He treats this point again in his 'Conferences', and, after showing the dangers to which those who do not seek counsel from their elders expose themselves, he affirms that the best means to overcome temptations even the most dangerous, is to disclose them to a wise counselor. This he says on the authority of St. Anthony and the Abbot Serapion. 2p260 etc.
What Cassian teaches to the Monks of the West, St. John Climacus instills into those of the East by his 'Ladder of Paradise.'
For the period of the Middle Ages, two authorities will suffice. St. Bernard wants the novices to have a guide, a foster-father to enlighten them, direct them, console then, and encourage then. To more advance souls, like Ogier, the Canon Regular, he declares that whoever constitutes himself his own guide, becomes a disciple of a fool. He adds: "I know not what others think about themselves on this matter; for myself, I speak from experience and I hesitate not to say that I find it easier and safer to direct many others than I do to guide myself." In the Fourteenth Century, the eloquent Dominican, St. Vincent Ferrer, stated that spiritual direction had ever been the practice of souls that wished to make progress, and he gave the following reason: "He who has an adviser whom he absolutely obeys in all things, will succeed much more easily and quickly than he could if left to himself, even if endowed with quick intellect and possessed of learned spiritual books."
It was not only in communities that this need of a spiritual guide was felt, but likewise in the world. The letters of St. Jerome, of St. Augustine, and of other Fathers, to widows, virgins, and other persons living in the world, are ample proof of it. It is therefore with good reason that St. Alphonsus in explaining the duties of a confessor declares that one of the most important of these duties is that of directing devout souls. 2p261
Besides, reason itself, enlightened by faith and by experience, shows us the necessity of a spiritual director in order to advance in the way of perfection.
II) Proof From Reason Based On the Nature of Spiritual Progress
A) Progress in holiness is a long and painful ascent over a steep path bordered by perilous cliffs. To venture thereon without an experienced guide is highly imprudent. It is extremely easy to deceive oneself as regards one's own condition. We are unable to gaze eye to eye upon ourselves, says St. Francis de Sales; we cannot be impartial judges in our own case, by reason of a certain complacency, "so veiled, so unsuspected that the keenest insight alone can discover its existence; those who suffer from it are not aware of it unless some one points it out to them." Hence, he concludes that we need a spiritual physician to make a sound diagnosis of our state of soul and to prescribe the most effective remedies.
6.2: Duties of the Spiritual Director
St. Francis de Sales declares that a spiritual director must have three principal qualities: "He must be full of charity, of knowledge and of prudence: if he lacks one of these, there is danger." 2p264
A) The charity wherewith he must be filled is a supernatural and paternal affection that makes him see in his penitents so many spiritual children confided to his care by God Himself so that he may cause Jesus Christ and His virtues to grow in them: "My little children of whom I am in labor again until Christ be formed in you." 2p264
If one is going to help in discerning a way out of difficulty for others, one must be able to listen to the others' stories, to listen to their imaginings, their dreams, their fantasies. This takes time and steadfastness. There is nothing worse we can do to those whom we would like to help than to listen to them for a while and then cut them off. Nothing is more destructive. 5p102
In order to listen without pushing our story on another, it is necessary that we know our own story consciously and realize that others have different stories, different variations of the same myth. I must know my own inner imaginings if I am to offer wise discernment to another who has sought me out. My task is to help others live their stories, not to push mine upon them. 5pl02
Kindness on the part of the spiritual director must not mean weakness. It must, on the contrary, be coupled with firmness and frankness. The director must have the courage to give sound, fatherly warnings, to point out to his penitents their defects, and not allow himself to be directed by them. There are persons very demure, yet very clever, who want to have a spiritual director, but on condition that he accommodate himself to their tastes and fancies. Such seek after approbation rather than guidance. To be on guard against this abuse that might involve his own conscience, the spiritual director must not let himself be swayed by the schemes and maneuvers of such penitents; he must remember that he represents Our Lord Himself, and resolutely render his decisions according to the rules of perfection and not according to the wishes of his penitents. 2p264
B) In the spiritual director, devotedness must be accompanied by the knowledge of ascetical theology so necessary to confessors, n. 36. He will, therefore, never tire of reading and re-reading spiritual authors, correcting his judgments by their standards, and comparing his own method with that of the saints. 2p265
C) Above all, prudence and a sound judgment are needed in order to direct souls not according to one's own ideas, but according to the motions if grace, the temperament and character of the penitents, and their supernatural attractions. 2p265
6.3: Duties of Penitents
Penitents will see in their spiritual director the person of Our Lord Himself. If it is true that all authority comes from God, it is more so of the authority the priest exercises over consciences in the confessional. The power of binding and loosing, of opening and closing the gates of Heaven, of guiding souls in the paths of perfection, is a divine power and cannot reside outside of him who is the lawful representative, the ambassador of Christ. "For Christ's therefore we are ambassadors, God as it were exhorting by us" (2Cor 5:20). This is the principle from which all duties toward a spiritual director flow - respect, trust, docility.
A) The director must be respected as the representative of God, clothed as he is with God's authority in what regards our most intimate and most sacred relations with God. Hence, if he has his shortcomings, let us not dwell on them, but simply regard his authority and his mission. A penitent will thus carefully avoid any criticism whereby the filial respect due his director is lost or lessened. He should likewise avoid excessive familiarity, hardly compatible with true respect. This respect will be tempered by an affection that is frank and genuine, but full of reverence, an affection of a child for his father, an affection that excludes the desire of being singularly loved, and the petty jealousies issuing from such desire. "In a word, this friendship should be strong and sweet, holy, all sacred, wholly divine and entirely spiritual."(St. Francis de Sales, `Introduction to a Devout Life', Part. I, C. IV)
B) A second duty toward the spiritual director is filial trust and perfect openness of heart. "Open your heart to him with all sincerity and fidelity, manifesting clearly the state of your conscience without fiction or dissimulation; by this means your good actions will be examined and approved, and your evil ones corrected and remedied... Place great confidence in him, but let it be united with a holy reverence, so that the reverence may not diminish the confidence, nor the confidence the reverence." (St. Francis de Sales, 'Introduction to a Devout Life', P.I., C. IV) We are to open our heart to him, then, with full confidence, making known to him our temptations and our weaknesses, that he may help us conquer the former and heal the latter; we must submit to his approbation our desires and resolutions; we must tell him of the good we strive to accomplish, that he may help us to do even more; of our good purposes that he may examine them, and suggest the means of realizing them; in a word of whatever has a bearing on the spiritual welfare of our soul. The better he knows us, the more will he be able to counsel us wisely, to encourage, comfort and fortify us, in such ways, that after taking leave of him, we can repeat the words of the disciples at Emmaus: "Was not our heart burning within us, whilst he spoke... ?" (Lk 24:32) 2p268 etc.
There are persons who, though willing enough to be thus perfectly open, through a sort of timidity or reserve do not know how to make known their state of soul. Let them speak of this to their spiritual director, who will help them with pertinent questions and, if need be, have them read some book or other that will enable them to come to a better knowledge of themselves and to analyze the state of their souls. Once the ice is broken, such intimate communications will be made with greater ease.
Others there are who, on the contrary, are liable to talk overmuch and to turn spiritual direction into pious prattle. These must remember that a priest's time is limited, that others wait their turn and may grow impatient of delay. They should, therefore, set a limit and leave less important matters for some future meeting.
C) Docility in listening to and carrying out of a director's advice must accompany this frankness. There is nothing less supernatural than to wish him to enter into our views, nothing more hurtful to the welfare of our souls for then it is not the will of God we seek, but our own, with this aggravating circumstance, that we abuse a God-given means in order to attain our selfish purposes. Our only desire must be to know God's will through the agency of our spiritual director and not to extort his approval through more or less clever devices. One may deceive a spiritual director, but not Him whom he represents. 2p268
Doubtless, it is our duty to make known to him our likes and our dislikes, and if we foresee serious difficulties in carrying out his advice, we must candidly mention them to him. Once this has been done, we must submit to his decision, or if we think it unwise, seek another director. Strictly speaking, our spiritual director may be mistaken, but we make no mistake in obeying him, except, of course, were he to give counsel opposed to faith or morals. "This obedience to our director is a stumbling-block to many of us. I cannot think it would be so if we had a clear idea of it or, which is the same thing, an unexaggerated idea of it... A spiritual director is not a monastic superior... The superior's jurisdiction is universal, the director's only where we invite it or he asks it and we accord it... If we disobey a superior, we sin; it would require very peculiar and unusual circumstances to make disobedience to our director any sin at all." (Faber, 'Growth in Holiness’, C. XVIII) 2p269
D) Only a grave reason and mature reflection should determine us to seek another spiritual guide. There should be in direction a certain continuity that cannot exist if changes be frequently made
a) Some persons tired of listening to the same counsels, especially if these bear upon things disagreeable to nature, or led through curiosity, change confessors in order to see what the attitude of another will be. Others do the same through inconstancy finding it impossible to hold for any length of time to the same practices. Others are inspired by vanity, wishing to go to one who enjoys a greater reputation, or who is more in vogue, or to one who will probably flatter them. Some change through a kind of restlessness that causes them to be ever dissatisfied with what they have and to dream of an imaginary perfection. Again, some do so, through an ill-regulated desire of opening their soul to different confessors, so as to engage their interest or to be reassured. Lastly, some change through a false shame, to hide from their regular confessor some humiliating weaknesses. Evidently, these motives are not sufficient, and one must learn to brush them aside, if one wishes to make consistent progress in the spiritual life. 2p269
b) On the other hand we must remember the growing insistence wherewith the Church safeguards the freedom individuals must enjoy in the choice of a confessor; hence, if there be good reasons to have recourse to another, one must not hesitate to do so. What are the chief reasons? 1) If in spite of all our efforts we cannot have towards our director the respect, the confidence, and the openness above-mentioned, even if there be little or no grounds for such state of mind; for in such a case, we could derive no profit from his counsels. 2) Should we have any grounded fears that our director would deter us from perfection, because of his too natural views, or because of a too strong and too sentimental affection he has shown on some occasions. 3) If we should detect in him a lack of the necessary knowledge, prudence or discretion.
Such cases are generally in the minority, it is true; but should they occur, we must remember that spiritual direction is productive of good only if there exist between director and penitent real co-operation and mutual trust. 2p269
6.4: Rules of Conduct Regarding Revelations
When a spiritual director is told by a penitent of his supposed revelations, he should carefully refrain from showing any admiration, for this would lead the seer at once to consider these visions as true, and perhaps to take pride in them. He must rather explain that such things are of far less importance than the practice of virtue. 2p709 He must be very careful to urge the soul to make progress in the way of sanctity. He will point out that the only value of the visions is the spiritual fruit that they produce.
The spiritual director should pray fervently and have the subject he is directing pray, that the necessary light may be granted. God cannot fail to make known the true path to those who ask Him humbly. If on the contrary a person confided solely in his natural prudence, he would expose himself to punishment for his self-sufficiency. 11p6
In the beginning at least, he is gently to do his utmost to repulse the revelations and to turn his thoughts away from them, otherwise he will be exposing himself to the risk of being deceived. 8p328
He is to accept them only after a prudent director will have decided that he may place a certain amount of confidence in them. This doctrine, which seems severe, is nevertheless taught forcibly by many saints, such as St. Ignatius (Acta SS., 31 July, Preliminaries, no. 614), St. Philip Neri (ibid., 26 May, 2nd life, no. 375), St. John of the Cross (Assent, Bk. II, ch. xi, xvi, xvii, and xxiv), St. Teresa, and St. Alphonsus Liguori (Homo Apost., Appendix I, no. 23), for the reason that there is danger of illusions. With even greater reason, revelations and visions (of created objects) should be neither desired nor requested. On the other hand many passages in St. Teresa and other mystics prove that mystical union may be desired and asked for, provided it be done humbly and with resignation to God's will. The reason is that this union has no disadvantages but presents great advantages for sanctification. 8p328
The spiritual director, however, should treat kindly those who think they have received revelations. He will thus succeed in gaining their confidence and he will obtain more easily the details which will enable him, after mature reflection, to pass judgment. Then, should he find the visions to be illusory, his decision will be more readily accepted. 2p709
This is the advice of St. John of the Cross, severe as he is with regard to visions: "But remember, though I say that these communications are to be set aside, and that confessors should be careful not to discuss them with their penitents, it is not right for spiritual directors to show themselves severe in the matter, or to betray any contempt or aversion; lest their penitents should shrink within themselves, and be afraid to reveal their condition, and so fall into many inconveniences, which would be the case if the door were thus shut against them." (Ascent of Carmel, Bk. II, C. XXIII) 2p710
If the revelation or the vision has for its sole effect the augmenting of the love of the seer for God, Christ, or the saints, nothing prevents these facts from being provisionally considered divine. 8p328 But if it be a question of initiating some public enterprise, the director should carefully refrain from encouraging the venture without having previously well examined in the light of supernatural prudence the reasons for and against. 2p710
This is what the saints did. St. Teresa, who was favored with so many revelations, did not want her directors to be guided in their decision solely by her visions. When Our lord bade her to found the reformed monastery of Avila, she humbly submitted her plan to her director, and when the latter hesitated, she consulted St. Peter of Alcantare, St. Francis Borgia and St. Louis Bertrand. 2p710
The visionary should be perfectly calm and patient if his superiors do not allow him to carry out the enterprises that he deems inspired by Heaven or revealed. One who, when confronted with this opposition, becomes impatient or discouraged, shows that he has very little confidence in the power of God and is but little conformed to His will. If God wishes the project to succeed, He can make the obstacles suddenly disappear at the time appointed by Him. A very striking example of this divine delay is to be found in the life of St. Juliana, the Cistercian prioress of Montcormillon, near liege (1192-1258). It is to her that the institution of the feast of the Blessed Sacrament is due. All her life was passed in awaiting the hour of God, which she was never to see, for it came only more than the century after the beginning of the revelations. 11p6
As regards inspirations ordinarily, those who have not passed the period of tranquility or a complete union, must beware of the idea that they hear supernatural words; unless the evidence is irresistible, they should attribute them to the activity of their own imaginations. But they may at least experience inspirations or impulses more or less strong, which seem to point out to them how to act in difficult circumstances. This is a minor form of revelation. We must not accept them blindly and against the dictates of reason, but weigh the reasons for and against, consult a prudent director, and decide only after applying the rules for the discernment of spirits. The attitude of reserve that has just been laid down does not apply to simple sudden and illuminating views of faith, which enable one to understand in a higher manner not novelties, but the truths admitted by the Church. Such enlightenment cannot have any evil result. It is on the contrary a very precious grace, which should be carefully welcomed and utilized, 11p7
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Ch. VI: Spiritual Direction