Someone who is entrusted with the
service of directing souls recently asked me for advice on how to
meet this "daunting obligation" of assisting others in their
relationship with God. Specifically, he mentioned a passage from
the Rule of St. Benedict that he had been
reflecting upon: "More will be expected of a man to whom more has
been entrusted. He must know what a difficult and demanding burden
he has undertaken: directing souls..."
(Rule 2:30-31). In view of the Church's current
observance of National Vocation Awareness Week, I thought part of
the answer was worth sharing, along with some additional thoughts
on the practice of spiritual direction itself.
As Christian disciples, we are all advisers of one sort or
another. As St. Paul says, we are "servants of Christ and
stewards of the mysteries of God" (1Corinthians 4:1), each member
of the Body of Christ serving the Head. And yes, as Benedict writes
(in reference to the monastery's abbot, but applicable to all
Christians), it is an awesome responsibility. Jesus also stresses
this, perhaps most notably in Luke 12:48: "Much will be required of
the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of
the person entrusted with more." While Benedict was (and is) a
great spiritual "adviser," he takes his cue from Christ-always.
The Rule, after all, is built upon the foundation of
The most important thing that "those entrusted with much" can do
is to first of all be authentic disciples. In order to lead, first
we must follow Christ our Head. The passage from St.
Paul above is an indicator of that: first, we
are servants, then we are stewards.
After all, as St. Paul also writes, "What do you possess
that you have not received?" (1Corinthians 4:7) This echoes Christ
himself, who told his disciples: "I am the vine, you are the
branches…Without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
So, the key task of the adviser-or steward, as it were-is to
always sit at the feet of the Master in order to learn-a task that
will not end is this life. The word "disciple," after all, comes
from the Latin word meaning "pupil."
Being an authentic disciple entails nothing surprising, nothing
unusual-immersing oneself in Scripture and prayer, partaking of
God's grace in the Sacraments, being faithful to the Tradition of
the Church, and participating in the community of believers. It
means incorporating the Gospel message into our very being so that
we grow into Christ, our Head through love (cf. Ephesians 4:15).
The very first words of the Prologue in
Benedict's Rule address this key posture of the
disciple. First, and always, we must listen. Then we
can speak (advise), but we must always circle
back and listen to the Master first.
So, what should one do in order to be a faithful adviser? Be a
faithful disciple first and foremost. Pray. Read
Scripture and other spiritual works. Participate in the
Sacraments-especially the Eucharist-and life of the Church, and
remain united to its Tradition. Live the Beatitudes. Practice
virtue daily. Strive for holiness out of love for Christ. Maintain
an open mind and heart willing to perceive and receive all the ways
in which God manifests himself in our daily lives. Listen to the
Word, and then do it.
After all, while we each have vocations (either as a monk,
married person, etc., etc.), and we each have particular tasks and
ministries in building up the Body of Christ, we
are all disciples-pupils-of Christ, at whose
feet we sit in order to listen (cf. Luke 10:38-42).
As for the specific practice of spiritual direction, the Holy
Spirit is the principal "director." Primarily, spiritual direction
is a forum in which the Holy Spirit is invoked to freely operate so
that the directee may discern the movement of God in his or her
life. One of the first things I tell a new directee is: "There are
three persons in this room: you, the Holy Spirit, and I-and I am
the least important of the three."
Though he or she may not express it in such terms, the directee
comes to a spiritual director seeking guidance from the Holy
Spirit; the director simply provides a human face, a listening ear,
and-to be sure-guidance when it is called for. It is essential that
this guidance be firmly rooted in Scripture and the living
tradition of the Catholic faith, as well as in the spiritual
director's own life of prayer. The emphasis is more on "spiritual"
than it is on "direction."
Spiritual direction is not equivalent to psychological
counseling. These are two distinct realms of dialogue, although
there are certainly areas where the two intersect with one another.
In the case of spiritual direction, the focus is always on the
directee's relationship with God and how God is working in his or
her life. A spiritual director may on occasion recommend to the
directee counseling by a qualified professional.
Spiritual direction is also not a manner of
faith sharing such as members in a Bible study group may
experience. Rather, it is the means by which one's intimate
disclosure of his or her interior life, offered in full freedom and
all honesty to a trusted (and trustworthy) director, aids one's
self-understanding in relation to God.
Often, this understanding develops with the director merely
listening to the directee-who, by the light of the Holy Spirit,
sees more clearly by simply expressing what is already written on
his or her heart. God himself is the origin, path, and destination
of our seeking, and an open heart will not fail to ultimately find
Originally published in Br. Francis' The
Path of Life.