mercoledì 2 novembre 2011

The Role of Spiritual direction in the Life of priest

Spiritual direction takes place within the context of a special grace of the Holy Spirit, ordinarily in the context of a formal conversation between spiritual director and directee, to assist the Christian pilgrim to recognize more clearly the Lord’s guidance in his or her Life.
Spiritual direction  is the grace of Christ operating with the cooperation of the directee and director to assist the Christian pilgrim in recognizing more clearly the Lord’s guidance  through the Holy Spirit and in making use of the gift of discernment to know in a particular and personal way the divine will for the direction of one’s Christian pilgrimage.
Through Spiritual Direction a person may also come to appreciate in a greater way the spiritual teachings
offered within the circumstances of daily life as well  as more profound moments of spiritual insight. Through regular spiritual direction a person can receive a growth in virtue and greater ongoing conversion of life by overcoming habits of sin and recurring temptations. Also through regular spiritual direction the directee may come to recognize  previously hidden talents and gifts. Ordinarily  it  required for spiritual direction  to a generous commitment to growth in theological and moral virtues, developing faith knowledge through the discipline of theology, as well as life experience and knowledge of human life.
On the other hand, the directee, by honestly striving to cooperate with the grace of Christ in living a virtuous life is able to be most receptive for the grace of spiritual direction. It is one element of the Christian life in which the  pilgrim has times of regular daily prayer, reception of sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist and Penance/Reconciliation, and spiritual readings.

1.     Internal Forum and External Forum in Spiritual Direction
An important document of Leo XIII bearing specifically on the direction of religious souls is the decree "Quemadmodum" of 1890. It forbids all religious superiors who are not priests ‘the practice of thoroughly inquiring into the state of their subjects' consciences, which is a thing reserved to the Sacrament of Penance.’ It also forbids them to refuse to their subjects an extraordinary confessor, especially in cases where the conscience of the persons so refused stands greatly in need of this privilege. The pope abrogated all constitutions, usages, and customs so far as they tended to the contrary; and absolutely forbade such superiors from in any way inducing their subjects to make to them any such manifestations of conscience. For this reason, the Church carefully distinguishes between the internal forum and external forum. [1]
    In canon law the word ‘forum’ denotes the context, arena or ambience of living to which an action or condition belongs, or in which it comes into being. For instance, a secret marriage (cf. Can. 1130- 1133), or secret ordination is an act of the external forum. Even the sacrament of reconciliation (penance), which is most confidential, is an action of the external forum because it involves liturgical words and actions which can be observed. The internal forum consists of the arena or ambience of interior life, which can be manifested externally and still not belong to the external forum. One’s thoughts and feelings, one’s virtues and sins belong to the internal forum, unless they are manifested in such a way that it impinges upon the societal order or things. This means such actions of the internal forum cannot be the legitimate concern of the external forum and thus, attended to by Superiors. Spiritual direction, the sacrament of reconciliation, and confidential disclosures about oneself are all committed secrets, even strictly professional secrets. They always belong to the internal forum and remain there. Their only legitimate purpose is one’s betterment.
     Good spiritual direction is frequently bilateral, and it is common that the spiritual director also shares personal experiences as a means of affirming or encouraging the personal experience of the directee. This self disclosure of the spiritual director is a natural secret, and in fairness, should not be betrayed to others. Also, the person in spiritual direction whom we have referred to as the directee cannot refer to the guidance or counsel of the spiritual director in order to obtain from the Superior what has been earlier refused on legitimate grounds. Neither has the spiritual director the right to impede upon the external forum of governance by championing the cause of the  directee.
2.     Practical Aspects  in  Spiritual Direction
While the relationship between directee and God is primary in spiritual direction, two other relationships also affect the effectiveness of the directee’s s search. First, the spiritual director must be a person of discernment in communion with God, respectful of the teachings of the Church, having attained maturity through self discovery. Second, there must be a secure, mutually un-exploitative and therefore, enriching spiritual friendship between the spiritual director and directee.
(i) The  Directee  must be sincere in the quest for God, the attainment of self knowledge, perseverance in prayer and obedience to the teachings of the Church.
(ii) The spiritual director must also be a seeker in communion with God, who has attained an acceptable degree of self knowledge that ensures emotional maturity, in communion with God through prayer and convinced of the teachings of the Church. It is imperative that the spiritual director be so grounded in God that the Holy Spirit speaks to the directee at crucial moments of the his or her life.
   Openness to the Holy Spirit will inspire the spiritual director assume different roles in the course of direction: to be a stern task master at one session, while being a loving and supportive person in another. A close relationship with God is also necessary, if the spiritual director is to serve as a model for the directee. Ideally, in looking at the spiritual director, the directee understands what it is to live the spiritual life more fully. One of the main functions of the spiritual director is to be an ‘intercessor in the night’ in praying for the directee in quiet moments and while performing acts of mortification. The spiritual director cannot be involved in  emotional turmoil of the directee. This demands self knowledge and emotional and spiritual maturity. The spiritual director functions as a mirror to the directee.  The spiritual director must empower the directee  to make room in the life to experience and recognize God’s presence and intervention.
(iii) The relationship between the spiritual director and the  directee must involve: mutual respect,   trust, openness,  friendliness, concern.
3.     Role of conversion in the model of Spiritual Direction
   A central focus for spiritual guidance is the human heart’s desire to grow and to change. Therefore a constant response to the call to conversion is inevitable in the process of spiritual direction.  It is a call to be converted again and again in the direction of its ultimate love. The Christian guide or spiritual director wants to help this metanoia happen in the directee. He or she is there to  assist  in gaining self-knowledge and in the process of appraisal  in divine life.  Spiritual direction gradually unfolds and is realized in a relationship involving transcendent mystery.
   As a director views the human journey, he or she will notice the many shifts and changes within.  The directee, who is confronted by the need to “let go”. Spiritual guides from all great traditions have encouraged such shifts and changes. In this sense, these shifts and changes are necessary components of the life time process known as conversion.
3.1  What conversion means  for Christians
A Christian basically turns to  the New Testament when he speaks about conversion. Three of the four gospels indicate  that Jesus began his preaching with  the call “metanoia[2]
 Metanoia means “repent and do penance”, reads a Catholic translation from 1956. “Reform your lives”  says  another version. “You must change your hearts and minds”   say one ambitious translation. Turn from sin and turn to God says the living Bible, trying to get it all in at once.  In the  Gospel of John the first words spoken by  Jesus  are not “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,”  but “ what do  you want?” and the two disciples of John answer, “ Rabbi where do you live?” Jesus next words are: “ come and see.”  There are different ways of understanding the process of conversion in the later stages of life.
3.2  Christian Baptism and conversion
   Basically spiritual direction is for the baptized person. Therefore we need to understand the basic call involved in baptism. From the time after baptism one may go through a process of conversion in his life journey. Within the Christian  faith tradition, conversion is a  process of undergoing a change of mind and heart. It is usually connected with the notion of  Christian call. When Christians think about God’s call, they include in it a turning away from what is of lesser value (detachment)  and a turning towards the highest goal, God (attachment).  That implies not only an interior reversal of disposition and attitudes, but also an exterior change in practical conduct. This may require  the one who goes through spiritual direction to show growth in virtues externally.
    When we look at the rite of Christian  initiation Christ demands  “metanoia”  of those  who desire to become his followers[3].  In the early Church, it was only after years of testing in community and radically re-evaluating the major choices and directions of their  lives that catechumens were finally admitted to the ranks of those elected for initiation. Certainly baptism continues to be a sacramental celebration of a mysterious divine gift. Baptism celebrated the fact that from the instant of our celebration we are children  of God as well as well as of our parents and the culture into which we were born.
The call of Jesus is a call to conversion to a  new life, to life in abundance, to life that is above and beyond the limitations of mere human achievements. The hope of this new life corresponds  precisely to the human capacity as spirit to go beyond, to transcend oneself, to respond to the vocation of “otherness” to the larger realm of meaning , truth, value, and love.[4]
 For adult Christians conversion usually involves repeated returns to the somewhat neglected element of faith and love that continues to flicker beneath the surface  of the soul.  Conversion consists in recalling forgotten aspirations and divine inspirations native to this fundamental form of our life. Conversion involves reawakening in limited freedom to a fresh perception of the merging self in a continually forming universe. This new perception is characterized  by an increasing capacity to discern the invisible initiatives of God at work in the self and in the world.
   In conversion, human person grows in freedom to assent to his or her foundational capacity for new life. As conversion and transformation of heart proceed, he or she will begin gradually to understand the deep mystery of Christ is an offering.  It perceives life as a mystery and a gift, and conversion as detachment for the sake of more appealing attachment, as simply a return to the foundations of that mysterious gift of faith and fruitful commitment.
The central focus of Christian spiritual direction emerges at this point. The Christian pilgrim goes through a interior shift.  It is an interior shift from pre-occupation with one’s own  plans and projects to suspecting that there  may be an invisible plan and a project, into which those plans may  or may not fit. This invisible plan is the plan of God  for the directee in  his  spiritual Journey.
3.3                        Familiar Pattern of Conversion
   Conversion is from one thing to another, from one stage to another. In “metanoia”  one would like to have happen to him or her (or others),  a shift which is known in terms of  a “ from…to” pattern.[5]  This is very well known pattern of conversion in the Christian world.  It is a change in oneself from selfishness to otherness, from superficiality to depth, from fragmentation to wholeness, from slavery to freedom, from a state of stagnation to newness of life, from being trapped in the idealized self to acceptance of their real self.  Christians find themselves wishing for metanoia in terms of a shift from sinfulness to gracefulness, from despair to hope, from narrowness to breadth of vision
3.4                        Conversion is a shift
The conversion means transformation, a profound expereicne od personal, interior change. The depth of  a particular conversion is sometimes emphasized by saying some one has become a new, a different person[6]. In this way conversion is a shifting from one way of being in the world to another. This newness  harmonizes with a deep mysterious dimension of one’s being that can only come to life if this  entire pattern is allowed to unfold. One may wonder how this reactive mode can be shifted, be converted to a free response. This is certainly the wisdom of all great spiritual traditions and is in unanimous agreement about the need for the alienated human hearts to begin to open themselves to what is the “other”.
One basic way in which the spiritual director helps his seekers to become more open to what is the “other”,  is by teaching them to cultivate a more receptive kind of consciousness. We can learn to foster receptive presence to all levels of the unpredictable initiatives of realties, whether in the form of people, events, or things. We can build in moments of retreat and relaxation, for reflective pauses even in the midst of the day’s activity.[7]
 True conversion heads in that direction: toward trustful solidarity and communion. It calls for a shifting of one sense of self : from isolated “I” through a letting go of familiar boundaries, to an intensity of at-homeness on a new, more other-centred level. Like the grain of wheat, the person being converted must leave behind a dying form, the broken husk of the former self, and freely welcome a kind of death along with any new possibilities of life that may accompany this change.
At times like this mid-transition, we find it helpful to set up personal life structures that will allow whatever death may be appropriate to happen. We may begin keeping a journal, or start meditating regularly, desiring  to consult a helpful person.  Life, as we know, will seem to be caving in, but all that really begin to happen, is a radical change in  some aspect of our egoistic striving and pride , or of our exalted ambitions and illusions. At the same time, after a longer or short period of creative waiting, we will begin to discover that, concurrent with apparent death, there will be a release of new energy in service of the new attachment of our heart. We are enjoying the release of rebirth. We realize that the patterns of our conversion has been that of the paschal mystery, from death through suffering and decision to new Life. [8] The fruits of this transcendent movement of life, of  this “ Spiritual revolution” can continue to be integrated into our hearts  and minds by the dynamics of our personal assent to inner renewal.
   However to consistently live out our capacity for transcendent aspiration, we humans need the help of the Holy Spirit of God. By ourselves we can obtain only a limited release from our self-groundedness, from our closedness to the wider vision of a Christian worldwide, from the deep fear of the freedom that accompanies spiritual rebirth.
3.5                        Reformation of the heart’s dispositions
One of the areas where our capacity for freedom can be exercised with most effect, is in the area of dealing with the dispositions of our heart.[9]
As Christians we are asked to become renewed in the spirit of our minds, to try to dispose ourselves in certain ways, and to deal wisely with the ways we find ourselves and our hearts already disposed. Since dispositions of the heart are internal structures that channel formative energies and power in specific ways and since these powers are not well integrated in our fallen conditions, we need  to attentively make discipline of our sometimes unruly dispositions.
For example, in  religious life, in the realization that we acquire certain dispositions, such as taste of certain foods, habits of sleep and prayer, ways of thinking and recreating, functional routines, and so on, form interaction with our situation. These acquired dispositions, both formative and deformative, taken on throughout the course of our life more or less freely and reflectively, are somewhat open to change if we so desire. No so the innate disposition with which we were born. Persons who are from birth disposed to being physically strong or weak, heavy set or sprightly, intelligent or dull, easy going or melancholy are not free to change these dispositions though, of course, they are free to take an attitude toward them.
When we speak about conversion of dispositions we are speaking  about a shift  in those dispositions of heart that guides have tended to recognize as being deformative, as sapping a person’s life energy, as paralyzing freedom. The guide’s task is to help men and women to grow in  self knowledge in gentle self presence to whatever dispositions, innate or acquired, may be dominating their lives.
   As we become more aware of what impedes our freedom to live from the Christ centre, as we are able to surrender ourselves more fully into the divine presence, we can take on more responsibility; that is, we are able to respond more fully, thereby revealing the divine presence within us and the world. Surrendering oneself, being overcome by the power of the divine energy, is not an admission of human weakness; it is a recognition of the weakening of the enslaving bonds that separate us from this energy and of our ability to respond in more Christ-centred ways.
4.6 Christ is the  true light of the world
Christ is the good and gentle physician who brings healing to human kind, a medical imagery was created by patristic writers notably Sts. Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem,  and Gregory of Nyssa:
The incarnation is the divine prescription for humanity’s health and salvation. God touches humanity through the person of Christ the good and gentle physician. Jesus has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the prophets, and then in the wisdom literature. God has revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, the true God, whom Jesus has brought to the nations of  the earth.
He has brought God and now we know his face, now we can call upon him: Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope and love.
Jesus from the Start is acknowledged as savior and healer of the whole person. In the New Testament the same Greek word “sozein” is used to signify both saving and healing or making whole. Jesus is by nature the healer because he is the incarnation of the salvation of God.  In Jesus “the kindness and love of God our savior” (Titus 3:4) is manifested to all, and everyone who reaches out to him experiences the beneficent effects of his saving presence and power in every dimension of his being. Jesus himself then is the Good News, and the Good News is that Jesus saves us from our sins and heals us from all our afflictions.
4.7 Transforming reality of Divine grace
   Conversion is multi-leveled reality of grace beginning with the spiritual faculties of the intellect and eventually transforming the whole person so that the emotions are directed by the intellect and will, and these capacities are directed by the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Stages of Conversion ( Christian Illumination) In the Epistle to the Ephesians we read:  “You must  give up your old way of Life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of truth.”( Eph. 4:22-24)

A.    Human Experience
Awareness: experience of suffering and pain at some level of human existence. Motivation to change

B.     Catechesis: Interpretation and giving of faith –meaning  light of faith: Begging to be united to Christ in Love  beginning of understanding, interpretation in the light of faith
C.     Moral content of faith: acting from the teachings of Christ

D.    Religious Conversion: acknowledgement of grace of  accepting  change/transformation: co-operating with the Grace of Christ active nights of the senses and the Spirit. Conscious choice to live one’s lives from the teachings of Christ, united in Friendship with the Lord.[10]

4.8 The Mystical experience

   Mystical Experience is awareness that  all is grace St. Theresa of Lisiuux. The desire for conversion or greater conversion is itself a perceived grace. Profound humility, growth in Illumination through passive dark nights of the senses and Spirit “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus who lives within me”
   In the life of Christ, he was led by the spirit into the Desert. In the perspective of his human life after the profound illumination of his baptism and the revelation of his relationship to the Father in heaven ( the voice of the Father saying, “ this is my  Son the beloved; my favour rests on him” Mt 3:17, “ you are my Son, the Beloved: My favour rests on you” Mark 1:11, and Luke 3:22) All the synoptic Gospels report that Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness” (Mk 1:12)After this moment of illumination and before the public ministry there was the time of temptation and testing in the wilderness.

a.     Completion of Spiritual Pilgrimage
   A directee needs to be transformed in ways that are more profound than simple human efforts and supported by grace. This is the spiritual pilgrimage completed through active cooperation with the graces of conversion, transformation through ascetical effort, prayer to grow in the theological and moral virtues.

   When he or she has cooperated to the extent of our ability with divine providence in this spiritual transformation then comes the total and complete transformation which is not so much our effort and awareness of reaching out to God, but rather our receiving. But this light of divine love is bright and he or she  needs the capacity to receive and know it, since from our perspective it seems dark.

b.     Spirit  is  the Image of Desert
One way to represent this mystical experience in the life of prayer of the passive nights of the senses and the spirit is the image of the desert. Directee needs to be taught by grace and transformed by grace in the capacity to see. This purification and transformation which while painful is also healing grace. Through this desert experience we come to a deeper capacity to receive and to know divine love and truly love others with the charity of Christ in great transparency. Although Christ is perfect and without sin, he became like us in every other way, and  the sacred Scriptures record that he was tempted. His passage through the desert becomes a model, providing a sense of companionship for us in our pilgrimage. We are not alone but Christ is with us.


Spiritual Direction is concerned with a person’s real experience of their relationship with God.  It can best be described as the art of contemplative listening carried out in the context of a one-to-one trusting relationship.  It is when one competent guide journeys with another person, listening to that person’s life story with an ear for the movement of the Holy Spirit, of the Divine and offering response as is appropriate.  An important component of listening is discernment of patterns and relationships that lead toward God. Conversion is the main element which playes a vital role to arrive to the point of transformation. One can begins his conversion with the help of deep interior freedom of choice. The heart of spiritual direction is the religious dimension of experience. A spiritual director helps a person to notice and to respond to our self-communicating God.
   This enables the directee to receive and revere God’s action and invitation in such a way that it elicits a natural and genuine response. We believe that God is active in all the areas of life of the director and directee. Therefore, in addition to listening to the personal and interpersonal stories of directees, spiritual directors are assisted to learn how to listen to the wider context of the directee’s life: the communal, organizational and environmental arenas in which people experience God acting in their lives, and help them to deepen in their response. Final goal of the Spiritual direction is  help directee  with the graces of conversion, transformation through ascetical effort and prayer to come to total complete trasnforamtion and there by reaching out the awareness of God.

CAROLYN Gratton, The Art of Spiritual Guidence,  New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992.

GORDON S Wakefield, A Dictionary of Chritian Spirituality, SCM Press Limitted, London, 1983.
PHILIP S Rake, The new SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality.  Scm Press Limitted, Suffolk,AlbanPlace London, 2005.

[1] Nilindra Gunesekera, “The Importance of Spiritual Direction in the Life of the Believer”, (accessed, May 28, 2011).

[2] Gordon S Wakefield, A Dictionary of Chritian Spirituality, SCM Press Limitted, London, 1983, 74

[3] Carolyn Gratton, The Art of Spiritual Guidence,  New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992, 123.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid. 126
[6] Philip sheld Rake, The new SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality.  Scm Press Limitted, Suffolk,AlbanPlace London, 2005, 214
[7] Gratton, 126
[8] Ibid. 121
[9] Ibid.
[10] Luke Buckels, Wisdom Journey: Models of Spiritual Direction,(Class notes), March 11, 2011

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