Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What is spiritual direction?

Last week I participated in a meeting of nearly 40 spiritual directors in Indianapolis to assist in rolling out a set of guidelines from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for people interested both in being a spiritual director and wishing to benefit from spiritual direction. I had the sense it wasn't the best received meeting though it certainly wasn't the worst. The directors (almost all of them women) seemed to fear some kind of control blanketing them in their work. Certainly affirmations were passed out. Spiritual directors provide a service the Church cannot do without and it was important to acknowledge that. But that seemed to be part of the problem. The women seemed a bit wary of being recognized by the Church.

No matter that every diocese contiguous to the archdiocese of Indianapolis has guidelines for spiritual direction. Such guidelines support the work of direction and directors by giving Catholics some basic information as to just what spiritual direction is, how it works, what it is not, how to find a director, what to look for in a director, etc. Spiritual directors sometimes have an independent, cowboy attitude that defies attempts to recognize commonality. Some spiritual direction is not direction at all. It is not problem solving and it is always about one's relationship with God. Anything else you might want to classify as life coaching.

Earlier that day, in his homily, Pope Francis quoted Pope Paul VI and noted "it's absurd to claim that we love Christ without the Church, that we listen to Christ but not the Church, that we are with Christ but on the margins of the Church." Some spiritual directors I know consider themselves on the margins of the Church. I have to wonder, however, how narrowly they define the Church.

There are constant rebukes on the part of one Catholic or another over how conservative certain members of this or that parish, or organization, or diocese are, or how liberal this or that Catholic is. I hear that said about certain spiritual directors. My level of desolation increases hearing this for I hear old categories being used to explain ministry and to suggest that some ministry is acceptable while others are not depending on what one's definition of Church is. Whether they want to or not, whether they like it or not, these spiritual directors represent the Church and how they function as directors is both important in the life of the Church and defining just what that Church is.

Pope Francis spoke of three pillars that underscore our sense of belonging to the Church. These are humility, faithfulness, and prayer. In humility we recognize "that the story of salvation does not start or end with us." I fear this may be a peculiarly American attitude in the Church for as Americans we begin from the proposition that we have the solutions to all the world's problems. Thus, the Holy Father could say "we receive the Gospel as a gift and we must pass that gift on to others in faithfulness, rather than seeing it as something that belongs to us." Lastly, we must pray with and for the Church in all parts of the world.

Which brings me to the Holy Father's Lenten message in which he invites us during this Lenten season to "find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ." People we receive often live in such destitution and that is why we listen to them - so we may assist them in knowing God's merciful love.

The story of salvation is not just the way I look at life. The story of salvation begins with Jesus and spiritual direction is one method of finding Jesus. One's present life may be in chaos and Jesus may not seem present. It is the director's job to keep asking the question - How is God present? Too much spiritual direction today seems tied up with self-help efforts to individualize oneself to an insufficient independence of pride. Being acknowledged by the Church takes my role as a spiritual director beyond my own prejudices and personal insights into the realm of being a minister of the Gospel through listening for the work of God in the life of the individuals who seek my assistance.