October 22, 2017
If you do any reading in the area of Christian spirituality you will soon discover that the more correct term is spiritualties. There are Carmelite, Franciscan, Jesuit, charismatic, Marian, liturgical, French, quietist, devotion moderna, protestant, Jewish, biblical and on and on and on spiritualties in the large tent that is Christian Spirituality. They take their labels from their places or dates of origin, their most exemplary practitioners or their particular point of contact with theology or practice of the larger Church.
There is no way to determine beforehand which spirituality will be best for any given individual. When people come to me asking for ‘spiritual advice’, I usually listen carefully to what they are already about and, then, as best I can point them in the direction of one or other of these ‘schools’.
People are often put off to realize that cultivating spirituality takes so much reading and study and sheer discipline. After all, it seems that the folks who are ‘spiritual’ don’t work so hard at it! A real spiritual life is an orientation, a chosen way of being and acting in the world in view of the reality of God. Most of us are too scattered to make such a choice once and then live it out perfectly for all the rest of our lives. What the Celts call a ‘soul friend’ and others a ‘spiritual director’ is someone who listens carefully in order to keep us honest about our chosen spiritual path. Some such ‘directors’ have been harsh and domineering in the extreme; others, more relaxed and supportive rather than directive. But none of them are the same with every one all the time. They may not even be very ‘spiritual’ themselves! What they are is smart and honest, both in asking and answering.
How can a director be good and not holy? The director is not charged with sharing his or her own life with the other. The director’s job is to keep God at the center the conversation. Even the devil can do that! Saint Teresa of Avila – a doctor of the Church! – said that if she had to choose between a holy director and a smart one, she would choose the latter every time!
Somewhere between many of us and most of us will find that regular sacramental confession (FYI: once a decade is not regular!) to the same confessor is adequate to keep us on track for a minimal spiritual life. But when there are major changes in our lives or major crises, something more intensive, more frequent and more specific will be more useful.
What’s really too bad is that our adult loss of the practice of Penance has also robbed our children of the wonderful opportunity to keep rediscovering a good and merciful God who actually wants them to grow up and make all their mistakes before they can be really fatal. That kind of individualized and merciful contact is something our busy, competitive and pressured kids need so badly … and they don’t even know it!
Really and truly and directly yours’,