Thursday, 4 January 2007

Spiritual Direction

Well, I had a session of Spiritual Direction this evening...

When friends hear that I have a Spiritual Director, they always seem fascinated by the thought, and have lots of questions, so I thought I'd put down a few thoughts on the subject...

There is nothing "nice" about SD... it is amazingly good and helpful for one's spiritual life, and I think it's extremely necessary for anyone who is serious about progressing in their prayer life, but I can't say that I enjoy it, exactly!

In fact, although I am the one who initiates each session by requesting a meeting, I always find myself hoping that it won't happen very soon (I am always disappointed in this) and then I approach the meeting itself with some trepidation.

I guess that it's a bit similar to visiting the dentist - although I don't quite know how my Director would react to getting bitten...

This evening I had the very disconcerting experience of hearing my SD suddenly say, "Hang on, I need to check Tanqueray!" (I may have got the spelling wrong) and then he disappeared. It sounded serious, and I half expected him to return with bell, book and candle... However, it transpires that I haven't merited excommunication, but I have lots of advice on what I should be doing... including reading a book of St. Alphonsus Liguori's sermons... most of which appear to be concerned with Hell... (the other three Last Things get a mention too, but Hell predominates!)

Seriously though, if you are trying to discern your vocation or to make progress in the spiritual life, I would recommend that you find a good SD. He (it can be a 'she', but I personally prefer a priest) should be someone you find sympatico but don't expect SD sessions to be a friendly chat. They are meant to be detailed examinations of your life, and can be quite uncomfortable... (but maybe that's just me!!) And it may take many years to find a Director you are happy with.

After a session, I feel as if I've had a thorough "going-over" with a spiritual brillo pad (that's a brand of steel wool scourer for any of our Transatlantic Cousins) and had my insides turned outside for good measure. It sounds awful, but it really does help you to see your life clearly. How often you need to meet depends on your particular circumstances: I find an average of once every six weeks about right. Your SD needn't be your Confessor, but you can't hold back anything - your SD needs to know where your particular difficulties lie in order to help you overcome them.

Finally, and it sounds pretty much like stating the obvious, you have to be prepared to listen to your SD and take his advice. It may not be pleasant, and it might not be easy, but making the decision to be obedient to your Director is, in my humble opinion, absolutely vital.

Those are just some of my thoughts... I'd be interested to hear from any priests out there who have experience of SD from "the other side"! You know where the Com-Box is...

11 comments:

northern cleric said...

Tanqueray happens to be a particularly fine brand of gin, but Fr Adolphe Tanqueray SS DD wrote 'The Spiritual Life'!

Anonymous said...

I assume you're referring to "The Spiritual Life" by A. Tanquerey.

Hahaha...great minds think alike... my SD gave me a copy (he had an extra copy on his shelf) of that last month to read through some particular sections.

Another book I'd strongly recommend, is "Seeking Spiritual Direction" by Fr. Thomas Dubay. If you want to understand what spiritual direction is, common struggles in the spiritual life, signs of spiritual growth, etc. . . this is a great book.

Mac McLernon said...

NC, since my SD came back clutching a large book rather than a small bottle, I suspect it was Fr Adolphe being consulted!!

;-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post on Spiritual Direction, which set me thinking. I have been encouraged to find a good SD in the past but I have never plucked up the courage to ask and always tell myself that I shouldn't waste a busy priest's time, excuses excuses etc. Maybe one day I will hold my nerve long enough... BTW I was given a book of Don Bosco's writings for Christmas. He is pretty good on Hell as well :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes - I would like a good SD too but how do you go about getting one? I've never known if I should ask someone I'm familiar or unfamiliar with. It must be easier talking to someone you know but isn't that just like having an indepth discussion with a friend every 6 weeks? - and I too worry about taking up a priests precious time in that way. Any advice?

Mac McLernon said...

I find that SD focusses my prayer life, and so helps me get closer to God. I can't see a priest considering that a "waste of time" ! If a priest already has too many commitments, I am sure he will say so, so you lose nothing by asking, and if he can't help you, then he can probably suggest someone else who can.

As for picking someone you're familiar with, it's more important that your SD gets to know you rather than you knowing your SD !! However, it must be someone you are comfortable with, because there are no holds barred.

It's not just an in depth chat: believe me, I approach each session with a fair amount of trepidation - having your every thought opened out for detailed examination can be rather fraught.

That said, I would definitely recommend it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post.
It would be nice to see more on spiritual direction in general on the Catholic blogsphere, especially from priests or people with some sort of experience in it.
It would encourage those of us who are unsure or hesitant about it.

Mark said...

A question for you, Mac, because I don't know how it works for Catholics... I sortof had a Spiritual Director before, but I was wondering, is it rude to ask a Priest I really, really trust if he would give me spiritual direction?

Mac McLernon said...

Not rude at all. I would think he'd be pleased to help you make progress in the spiritual life.

If he's too busy, or doesn't think he'd be a good SD, then he will say so, if he's got half a brain cell! So you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Go for it, and I'll keep you in my prayers.

Mark said...

Thank you, Mac.

He's a man that although we've only been briefly acquainted has given me so much guidance and direction already. It's more like formalising that...

Anonymous said...

It is essential to find time to be alone with God in prayer - Spiritual Direction can help this process. Problem is today people are so busy trying to juggle family and work commitments that carving out time to be alone with God can appear to be a luxury.

But I was taught that this is exactly why Priests don't have close 'attachements' - so they can offer their time to the needy. Isn't that what the 'vocations' are all about?

So don't worry about asking Priests for guidance - they are not doing you a favour - it's their job!

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