Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Finding direction, Part II.

Continuing on this spiritual direction theme, I must admit my greatest concern is obedience. I firmly believe in the importance of obedience. One of the main attractions of spiritual direction is the opportunity to further exercise that "obedience unto death."

But in the practical world, how do I find someone with the authority worthy of such obedience? In the confessional, I have found many priests who give great advice ("You should make at least one act of charity toward your husband before he leaves for work every morning." Amen.). I have had very bad advice in the confessional ("Oh, that's not so bad! You really shouldn't worry about it." OR "Well, you're a poor student. Stealing stamps from work is really very understandable."). And so, I obey their advice only upon consideration, not out of obedience to their authority (unless, of course, they prescribe a certain action as my penance).

There are clear cases when one should not obey advice--for example, when the director is unfaithful to the Scriptures or the mind of the Church. Then you must find a different guide.

It would be wrong, however, to disregard a director's advice simply because he contradicts what I want to do. This would point to a lack of will on my part to convert my heart, to allow it to be led "where I do not want to go."

How do you recognize the director who will lead you where you would not go on your own, but at the same time may be obeyed with trust and confidence? Dubay gives an impressive, but nonetheless helpful description of the ideal director:

1. a prayerful person who takes seriously both liturgical worship and contemplation
2. one who thinks "with the Church" and is known for ecclesial fidelity
3. one with an adequate theological education (if not formal, then at least years of extensive reading and serious reflection)
4. one with sound judgment
5. a man (or woman) with an understanding of psychology that enables him/her to recognize when a problem is more psychological or neurotic than spiritual
6. one to whom the directee readily relates and with whom she is at ease.

I feel a little like the astonished disciples, "Lord, who then can be saved?" Or, rather, who then can qualify? It is a daunting list, but not an impossible one. As St. Francis de Sales reminds us, God will provide what we need in order to find Him: "Besides all this beg the Most High to guide your steps in the truth." (Sirach 37:19)

Time to beg.

1 comment:

Matt Dunch SJ said...

St. Ignatius in the fifteenth annotation of the Spiritual Exercises gives an important principle for spiritual direction. The annotation is specifically geared to the exercises but has broader implications I think:

"So, he (or she) who is giving the Exercises should not turn or incline to one side or the other, but standing in the center like a balance, leave the Creator to act immediately with the creature, and the creature with its Creator and Lord."

This is not to say that a director should not give sound advice but rather that the director must be docile to the promptings of the spirit above all.