CSD Book Club – Navigating the Interior Life (Week 2 of 6)
Without exception, the teachings of the saints and spiritual doctors of the Church agree: spiritual direction is among the most powerful tools to help us in the battle. Do you know any wise doctors who treat themselves when they face serious health challenges? Have you heard of any top athletes who don’t have personal trainers and coaches? Spiritual direction is the means through which the Holy Spirit guides us and provides coaching for our souls. No doubt that this remedy is in itself a challenge (as most remedies are), but history books are replete with those who have chosen it and found the difficulties to be nothing when compared to the benefits. – Navigating the Interior Life, p. 2 (last paragraph of Introduction)
As you can see from the above passage, spiritual direction is a no-brainer. In our quest to persevere in running the race that lies before us (Hebrews 12:1), spiritual directors are to the soul as doctors and coaches are to the body.
So why do most of us flail around on our own, desperately seeking holiness without one?
In my case, there are two reasons:
1. Spiritual direction is as mysterious as the bermuda triangle.
2. “Bothering” a priest excites me about as much as having a root canal.
Spiritual Direction Is a Mystery
As a virtual infant in the faith (read “convert”), I’ve long had my eyes wide open, garnering as much information as possible from fellow Catholics, as well as every book, CD and website I can find on Catholic theology and spirituality.
Over the years, I’ve compiled quite a wealth of Catholic wisdom and tradition on my shelves. And I’ve even read some of it! Regardless, reading about the Faith is kind of like reading about how to ride a bike. Until you actually go through the motions, not much will stick.
For many years, nothing in my faith life was easy. I stumbled my way through various traditions until I figured them out. For eons I asked confessors to walk me through confession because I was a convert. (This, despite the fact that we went to confession monthly.) And prayer? Well, after 18 years, that’s only beginning to feel like second nature. For many years I prayed, but felt as if I were speaking a foreign language.
Thankfully, by God’s grace I persevered through the “darkness” due to a love of the Eucharist and a desire to be part of this amazing family Christ left to live in His name.
But Spiritual direction is a different animal altogether. It’s difficult to stumble through the motions of something you’ve never seen. And my experience reading about spiritual direction has been limited to saints who were often priests or religious that spoke of confessors and spiritual directors interchangeably.
I have had enough experience to know that lay people receive spiritual direction. When I began homeschooling, I heard other moms mention their appointments with “spiritual directors.” “Ooooo!” I thought (eyes wide open – see above), “I need a spiritual director!” Unfortunately, I hadn’t the first clue how to find one.
Once I asked an acquaintance how she found her spiritual director. Apparently, she’d developed a good relationship with her confessor and at some point asked him to take on the role of spiritual director as well. At the time I wasn’t crazy about my confessor, so that didn’t seem like an option for me. Another friend was part of a lay apostolate, and received her spiritual direction through that organization. At the time, joining an apostolate sounded as complicated as finding a spiritual director, so that wasn’t much help either.
By its very nature, spiritual direction is difficult, if not down-right impossible to emulate, and (until now…) there has not been a “how-to” manual available on the subject. Thankfully, this book gives me hope.
Why “bother” my priest?
Despite the mystery of spiritual direction, I’ve long wanted to pursue it, and might have obtained direction by now, were it not for my greatest stumbling block in this arena. I would feel like I were “bothering” him if I approached a priest about providing me with direction.
It’s well-known that our priests are over-worked and that their obligations stretch them to the limit. My feeble efforts at approaching them have verified this truth in my mind. Last July I finally bit the bullet and asked my parish priest/confessor for some suggestions regarding spiritual direction. He provided a short list of names. But although I was almost there, I couldn’t quite bring myself to take the final plunge. Who was I to take time from a priest’s other more pressing obligations? It was several months before I actually called the first name on the list. Unfortunately, Father So and So never called me back. Too busy.
Were spiritual direction something I could set up by dropping it into my shopping cart on Amazon, I’d have been ‘hooked up’ years ago. Unfortunately, this quest requires stepping out of my comfort zone and actually asking someone else for help. I have long believed my hesitation was the result of humility; but I’m having second thoughts after reading our first assignment. More likely, what keeps me from pursuing something so valuable for my soul is a form of pride. Pride that fears being rejected by the holy men whom I must address if I desire this tool for my sanctification. Am I really worried that I’ll take time away from their more valuable acts of service, or am I more worried that they will think meeting with me is a waste of their time? The latter sounds more likely.
I’ve drawn a couple of conclusions from our reading this week. First, while these issues may be a stumbling block along the road to spiritual direction, they should not be a deterrent. I can already tell that this book is the long-awaited answer to my first concern. As for the second, if spiritual direction is so critical to my quest for holiness, I must be willing to take whatever steps are necessary to find a suitable director. The possibility of rejection is minor compared with the undeniable spiritual benefits to be gained in the long run.
1. Do you have a spiritual director? If not, what has kept you from getting one? Has the first assignment caused you to reevaluate? If you have a spiritual director, how did you first initiate the relationship?
2. Open discussion: Feel free to comment on any topic from this past week’s reading.
Week 2 – 3/19 p. 23-52 (How do I Find and Select a Spiritual Director? through the end of My Responsibilities in Spiritual Direction)
Webinar Discussion 3/23 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM Central
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