The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is God’s ever present font of Mercy. Through it we experience His love and healing. We are unburdened of our guilt and unshackled from our past. Sometimes though, the wounds of our past, self-inflicted or not, go deep and need uncovering before they can be fully washed and healed. Sometimes we need more of our priest’s time and special gifts than can be allowed with a long line waiting outside the confessional door. Sometimes our spirits are confused, depressed, darkened or deceived and need a wise outside observer to reach in and pull us out back into the light.
Since the time of
, the Church has offered another, less structured font of mercy and healing in addition to Confession. Spiritual Direction has been well defined by Kevin Knight of New Advent as, “That function of the sacred ministry by which the Church guides the faithful to the attainment of eternal happiness. She exercises this function both in her public teaching, whether in word or writing, and in the private guidance of souls according to their individual needs; but it is the private guidance that is generally understood by the term spiritual direction.” A spiritual director is a priest, religious or trained lay person who, “Assists a directee to recognize and integrate God's presence and direction in all aspects of life. The director is a listener who helps one notice, discern and respond to God's action.”* St. Paul
What can spiritual direction mean to an individual soul? I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but to me it has meant healing, truth, liberation and joy. I am what is often called a “re-vert”. I was brought up in the Sacraments of the Church, but fell away as a young adult not to return until I was 33. God was able to use a time of trial in my life to finally get my attention and ultimately bring me home. My first confession after returning was one of the most beautiful days of my life. I felt one hundred pounds lighter upon leaving that blessed priest’s office. I could have flown home. In the months and years to come I realized I had to resolve many issues from my past sins and the wounds of youth. I knew I was forgiven, but I still needed healing.
Through spiritual direction, I was shown the root wounds and root sins which led me further and further away from Jesus and His Church. Under a priest, the directee can receive both the sacraments of the sick, for emotional and spiritual healing, and confession, concurrent with direction. This is a great blessing because Father then knows you so well; he knows your weaknesses, your failings and your goodness too. Direction with a priest has given me a far deeper understanding of why we call priests “Father”. Even though I am older than my director, I truly feel he is my spiritual father and I, his daughter.
Some people relate spiritual direction to psychological counseling, and there is certainly some common ground. However the goal is not simply to “feel better”, but to be better. I do not mean to be superior, but rather to make progress along the path towards Christlikeness. In direction there is much talk of practicing virtues and uncovering hidden or denied vices. It is about getting to really know and see ourselves as God does. That may sound somewhat scary, but what we discover is that God sees us as His beloved children whom He loves just as we are, and to whom He will grant every grace to grow in truth and beauty each day of our lives. He desires Heaven for us. Spiritual direction is one more way the Church hopes to help us attain our loving Father’s desire.
Can't find a good spiritual director? Pray. In the meantime, read St. Francis de Sales, "Introduction to the Devout Life" in a spirit of prayer, reflection and openness.