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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Spiritual Direction and Self-Deception

Terry at Abbey-Roads has a great post on Spiritual Direction, pointing out advice from the Saints. He quite correctly notes that often, we want a director out of self-love, and look for one who will flatter us, making us believe we have progressed further than we have. This is a danger in the spiritual life, but of course, if we really were Saints, then we wouldn't need to tell a director how holy we are, would we?

Here is what he has to say:

Many people who have grown accustomed to spending much time in prayer, reading many spiritual books, imagine themselves saints already and seek a spiritual director who suits their fantasy and taste, flattering their progress in the spiritual life, long before virtue is proven, or prayer is more than an occasional interior consolation, and so on. Many of us lay people imagine ourselves to be very holy if we spend a few hours a week in adoration, attend daily Mass, or recite the Liturgy of Hours on a more or less regular basis.
If we happen to have led wicked lives in the past, or have come through some great temptation or trauma, and experience the least hint of a remarkable conversion, even an experienced priest can think we are holy and very special. That is unfortunate, because then spiritual direction can become a pretext for mutual admiration and approval - a sort of spiritual recreation, rather than helping the soul enter the narrow way that leads to life.

OUCH! Is anyone cringing?

I've been seeking a spiritual director for a long time now, and a big part of me doesn't want one, because, of course, if I'm honest with him I know I won't be able to step out of the spotlight that will be shown on my faults. However, those who are in vocational discernment are strongly recommended to get a spiritual director, and those preparing to enter religious life as well, for some pretty obvious reasons.

There are a couple priests in my diocese, whom, I've been told, believe that ONLY people discerning major things in life need regular spiritual direction, and they will not see anyone outside of those parameters. Terry's post makes me consider a little more deeply why that would be.

Last year in a class on Catholic Spirituality, our professor also pointed out that sometimes people need direction for specific things, maybe a few appointments, and then they're done. A good director knows how to listen and help that person understand on their own what God is doing in their lives, and often, they have that "lightbulb" moment and don't ask for or require further direction.

There is a WEALTH of information via the Saints that can aid us in our spiritual lives. I've been greatly benefited by St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life, and Finding God's Will for You, as well as Slawomir Biela's God Alone Suffices and most recently, St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue. (I would not recommend this last for a beginning does seem to require a certain doctrinal foundation which she refers to repeatedly.)

That said, I've also often read that "Devout Life" is meant to be used by someone WHILE they are in spiritual direction for that was his intention. And St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle was written for cloistered nuns...not the laity.

Yet those books can be helpful, and they do draw attention to our own tendencies to think ourselves holy, in order that we can come crashing back to reality again and really work on what separates us from God.

Can't find a spiritual director? Terry makes a great point, from the counsel gleaned not just from the Saints, but from everyday Catholic living: stay close to the Sacraments, spend time in prayer, and take advantage of the wealth of the Church to aid you in holiness. Our holiness does not depend on having a spiritual director, but is entirely dependent upon following God's will for us.

Sometimes we need more intense assistance. Most of the time, we don't.


uncle jim said...


Anonymous said...

I still go back to a saying, I think attributed St. Teresa of Avila although I could be wrong): "he who directs himself has a fool for a director"

And this isn't directed at you, Adoro ... I know you're trying to find one!

owenswain said...

I've had two at two different times. I did not want someone who would be a director of my self love. I wanted to be challenged. Both of them are wonderful men. Both were enamored with me as a former protestant minister come convert and wanted the very best for me. Did I misrepresent myself to them? I don't think so. I specifically asked each of them to hold me accountable in a particular area. They agreed to call or email me out of the blue between our meeting times to hold me accountable. Neither did. It was really the only very specific thing I asked of them. There both very fine priests and individuals. However, now I am seeing a secular social worker and I believe we are going to get somewhere.

Art | Faith

Unknown said...

Over the last ten years I have had spiritual directors (three in fact) and I have had periods when I went without regular direction.

I can't speak for everyone, but for myself I was less inclined to self deception and not as likely to misinterpret what I was going through because I "wanted it to be thus and so" when I had someone else whose counsel I trusted with whom I could discuss what was going on in my spiritual journey.

It may not be for everyone, but for some it is truly a "Godsend".

Part of the reason that I am in this training program for Spiritual Directors is because of everything I have gained from my time in direction. Someday I hope to be able to give to someone else the gift of active listening, and presence that was given to me when I most needed it.