Tag Archives: Interior Life

Poverty, Obedience and Chastity in Marriage?

I know it sounds crazy.  Going into uncharted territory always sounds crazy.  I think it is possible to live out the evangelical counsels in marriage.  It’s not for everyone, just like the expatriate or Foreign Service life, but for those who are called to live out these counsels, they will bear much fruit for our brothers & sisters in Christ.

I started out writing about a contemplative life in marriage.  Quit Netflix, video games, recreational reading to simplify my life. Give myself more time to pray.  It is not natural, I admit, while my flesh is still stronger than my wounded soul.  My biology, my ego, and my passions are in alliance against the contemplative life.  My soul was once like a starved prisoner, shackled by years of habitual sin and charmed into compliance by the natural pleasures of the world (cf. Ps 106:14-15).  Christ freed my soul with Baptism on Easter 2009.  It’s like a mixed martial art battle with my body.  For the first few years, my soul lost battles more often than it won.  These past couple months, though, my soul has been winning more often.  Structured prayer and frequenting the Sacraments (especially weekly Confession and the Eucharist) have strengthened my soul.  The Holy Spirit has been the strength behind my K.O. punches.  The goal?  Total submission of my body to the direction of my soul and the Holy Spirit.  If I follow the spirit of the evangelical counsels, I believe I can achieve that goal.

Poverty

How can I practice poverty in marriage?  Easy.  Give all my money to my wife.  I need to ask her every time I want to buy something.  I should stop eating out at lunch and bring leftovers from home.  Her virtue of temperance is a lot stronger than mine.  So, I would benefit from her counsel.

There is a bit of irony, though.  My wife doesn’t like managing finances.  So, I still make our investments, do our taxes and plan for our financial security.  I have all the responsibility, but none of the (temporal) fun.  Ah… suits the spiritual life just fine, then, doesn’t it?

Obedience

As a Catholic, I obey God and His appointed leaders.  There is the Pope and his encyclicals.  There are the councils and its documents.  There is the Magisterium and its decrees.  These people and bodies are all divinely delegated authorities by Christ.  He gave them to me (for all of us, really) because he knows how frail I am when left to my own devices.  We all want to be pope and define right and wrong; few want to be slaves to the liturgy & doctrine.  Little do people suspect that there’s freedom in divine slavery!

As a husband and father, I obey my wife.  Obedience to my wife doesn’t mean I’m spineless or pusillanimous.  Just as Christ gave authority to his bride, the Church, to “bind and loose” on earth, so I give authority to my bride to bind and loose in the household (cf. Mt 16:19 and Mt 18:18).  I respect my wife’s domain, just as God respects His Church’s domain.  By obeying my wife, I am practicing the Catholic teaching of subsidiarity in the home.

As a diplomat, I obey many bosses.  They have rightful authority over me.  As long as I am not called to sin in the eyes of God, then I ought to obey my rightful superiors.  As it is in the divine order, so it is in the temporal order.  Obeying a command from a person I don’t like, or to perform a task I don’t want to do — again, as long as it does not lead to sin — would be good for my soul.

Chastity

Chastity in marriage is misunderstood.  Dawn Eden’s article “10 and a Half Reasons to be Chaste,” reprinted at Catholic News Agency, explains the difference.  It’s worth reading because most people equate “chastity” with “celibacy.”  It’s possible to have unchaste sex in marriage.  Practicing Natural Family Planning would be an act of chastity in marriage.  Abstaining from sex, or what spiritual writers call continence, seems impossible without resentment.  However, I can testify that by the grace of God not only is chaste sex possible, but even joyful abstinence is possible in marriage.  Is that too much information?  Well, “what is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27; also Mk 10:27 and Mt 19:26)

I live in a culture where sex is pleasure divorced from creation, where everything is sexualized: men & women, young & old, animals, inanimate objects… everything.  Ignorance of sex’s divine power to create new souls creates a mentality where it’s considered okay to use one’s spouse for sexual gratification.  Even well-meaning Christians use the Bible to “prove” that spouses are supposed to have sex even when one of them is not interested (Eph 5:22-23).  We can see the error in that interpretation when we logically extend it to the whole passage.  Husbands are supposed to imitate Christ by sacrificing their own life to help make their wife spotless before God, just as Jesus died on the Cross to make His Church spotless in Heaven.  The Church obeys Christ because of that sacrifice.  Wives would obey their husbands, too, if men were so self-sacrificing.

Dear God, thank you for protecting the wealth of knowledge in your Church, handed down from generation to generation.  Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange, pray for us.  May your work reach out to other souls.  May it continue to guide me deeper into Our Lord’s intimate life.  Amen.

Advertisements

What are the Three Counsels?

In a previous post, I was writing about the possibility of living a contemplative life in marriage.  I got to a point where I wanted to talk about adapting something that religious people do for practice in the married life.  These are the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience.  What are they and how are they practiced?  How can I adapt them to my life?

The Three Evangelical Counsels

In Chapter 13 of Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange’s book on the interior life, he makes the case for why the three evangelical counsels are very difficult to observe in the married life.  The three counsels are poverty (cf. Mt 19:21), chastity (cf. Mt 19:11-12) and obedience.  As Jesus said in Matthew 19, the counsels of poverty and chastity are voluntary.  Obedience to God, of course, is a given.  However, the evangelical counsel of obedience means something different.  Obedience, in this context, is the voluntary submission to a person, like a spiritual director or the Superior General of a religious order.

These three counsels specifically counter the three concupiscences (cf. 1 Jn 2:16) that we all suffer from as a result of Original Sin: concupiscence of the eyes (greed), concupiscence of the flesh (sensuality), and vanity of life (power; independence from God and from each other).

Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange is careful to emphasize that these three counsels are not obligatory to all Christians to obtain eternal life, but “it is a most suitable means more surely and rapidly to reach the end and not run the danger of stopping halfway.”  So, while my justification for eternal life is made through my belief in Jesus Christ, Christian perfection is another matter.  If we seek Christian perfection in this life (in order to reach the Beatific Vision faster in the next life), then the quickest route is by observing these three counsels.  Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange contends that it’s easier to follow these counsels when a person lives in a monastery or convent.

While he concedes that some saints managed Christian perfection in the married state, they are the exceptions that prove the rule:

The Christian who lives in the world is often exposed to excessive absorption and preoccupation about a situation to be acquired or maintained for himself and his family.  He is also in danger of forgetting to some extent that he must advance toward another life, another fatherland, and that to reach it, something is needed quite different from the understanding of worldly affairs: in other words, the help of God, which should be sought through prayer, and the fruit of grace, which is merit.  In family life he is also inclined to dwell on affections in which he finds a legitimate satisfaction for his need of loving.

His next statement was difficult to read because I can see how I am often guilty of it:

He is also led to forget that he must above all things love God with his whole heart, with his whole soul, with all his strength, and with his whole mind.  Frequently charity is not in him a living flame which rises toward God while vivifying all other affections; instead, it is like a burning coal which slowly dies out under the ashes.  This explains the ease with which a number of these Christians sin, scarcely reflecting that their sin is an infidelity to the divine friendship, which should be the most profound sentiment in their hearts.

The dagger of his words go deeper still:

The Christian living in the world is often exposed to doing his own will, side by side… with the will of God….  Then faith seems at times reduced to a number of sacred truths that have been memorized, but have not become truths of life….  The great truths about the future life, about the helps that come to us from Christ, remain practically inefficacious, like distant truths that have never been assimilated and are lost in the depths of the heavens.

While I don’t disagree that it would be difficult, it is important to know that it’s possible and that there are couples who have succeeded.  My journey, then, consists in finding out how I can progressively grow in holiness without abandoning my wife and children.  Next question to answer: How can I adapt the three counsels to my life?

Contemplative Life in Marriage

Praying Hands on an Open Bible
Praying Hands on an Open Bible

Is it possible to live a contemplative life in marriage and parenthood?  The Catholic Encyclopedia gives a very profound definition.  To me, it’s about developing a relationship with God that rests on top of my visible, temporal life — like a spiritual blanket.  It’s about seeing God in every event in my life, in every interaction I have in the world, in every person that I meet.  This isn’t easy, but from what I’m reading, I think I can chart a path for a married man like myself.  I also recently posted some wise words from St. Francis de Sales that reinforce my belief that a contemplative life in marriage is possible.

Make Time to Think About God

I need to deliberately make time to think about God.  It should be part of my daily routine.  When I wake up in the morning, I should say a quick prayer, asking “God, give me the graces I need this day to do Your will and glorify You, Lord.”  During the 25-40 minute shuttle ride to the Embassy, I should read the morning Divine Office and contemplate what I’ve read in the time left over.  If I need to connect with another soul during the ride, then I should read the morning office first-thing when I get to my desk.  It takes a few minutes, anyway, for my computer to boot up and Outlook to update emails.  So, I can close my door for the 15 minutes it takes to do the morning office before starting my day.

At lunch, I should do some spiritual reading.  I should save the last 15-20 minutes of my lunch time to do the Rosary.  If the day is slow, I could take a 15-minute break and sneak in another session of reading.

On the ride home, there is another 25-40 minutes for spiritual reading or the evening office.  Both my wife and children are asleep by 9 or 10 p.m.  This is where I can do some serious contemplation of an hour or more.  Do the Rosary if I didn’t do it at lunch.

Just from my commute and lunch break, I can get in almost two hours of prayer time during my normal work day.  I have two to four hours at night while my family sleeps.  That’s four to six hours a day that I can spend with God in prayer and contemplation.  Season 2 of House of Cards is coming out in February.  So, maybe my time with God will be drastically cut back, then.

Seeing with the Eyes of Faith

Trade missions, VIP visits and family time on the weekends would preclude that much time hanging out with God.  But even then, if I look with the eyes of faith, I can maintain a dialogue with God.  During a trade mission, the fast-paced schedule and quick decisions needed for crisis management are opportunities to harvest the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  I can show my colleagues that, because of my faith, even in stressful situations I am able to be charitable… joyful… peaceful… patient… kind… good… generous… gentle… faithful… modest… self-controlled… and chaste (especially when there are a lot of beautiful women around!)  When I support high-level government official visits, these are great opportunities for acts of charity (service), humility, and obedience.  The less I like the task, the better it is for my soul (mortification).  All that time planting seeds of virtue during my normal days will come to bloom during these times of high activity.

I include family time along with the above two examples not because it’s a chore.  Quite the opposite; it’s what I look forward to every week.  However, it is easy to look at family time and taking care of the children as ordinary tasks instead of analogies to my relationship with God.  When Maya or Hana are slow to obey, or defy my authority, I can recognize that behavior in my spiritual life with God.  I am slow to obey the Holy Spirit’s gentle promptings.  I defy God when I sin.  Seeing that similarity, I am able to be more patient and merciful with my own girls — just as God is patient and merciful with me.

This post will have to be continued.  I need to explain what the three evangelical counsels are.

My Intellectual and Spiritual Pride

As I go through Chapter 28 of Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange’s book on the interior life, I find myself horribly exposed to my intellectual and spiritual pride.  I was aware that pride was my root sin, but I did not realize how badly I suffered from it.  It’s odd: I’m disappointed with myself, but I’m also filled with joy to discover this flaw.  I want to be perfect, as Jesus is perfect; but, I know I’m not, yet.  By His grace, I was able to remove the big rocks on the field of my soul.  My intellectual and spiritual pride is hidden, like garden cutworms, potato tuberworms and other soil-dwelling pests.  Now, with the light of the Holy Spirit shining on my wounded soul, I can see how these hidden types of pride have infested the garden of my soul and blinded me from seeing these truths about myself:

  • I believe that I have through my own efforts what I have received from God
  • I believe that I have merited what I have gratuitously received
  • I attribute to myself goods I lack, (i.e. great learning, strong faith, heroic charity), when I do not possess it
  • I wish to be preferred to others and depreciate them

I felt the loving finger of God pointing at me when I read this passage:

Some finally, who are theoretically in the truth, are so satisfied to be right, so filled with their learning which has cost them so much, that their souls are, as it were, saturated with it and no longer humbly open to receive the superior light that would come from God in prayer.  Intellectual pride, even in those who are theoretically right, is a formidable obstacle to the grace of contemplation and to union with God.

I thank the Holy Spirit for the grace and consolation in knowing this fatal flaw in my soul.  How can I grow in Christian perfection with these soul-dwelling pests eating the crops planted by the Holy Spirit?  So, while I am truly disappointed with myself, I am also happy to experience this grace.  What a mercy to know that I’m still a sinner!

St. John of the Cross, pray for me.  Your words have brought me to shame:

When beginners become aware of their own fervor and diligence in their spiritual works and devotional exercises, this prosperity of theirs gives rise to secret pride — though holy things tend of their own nature to humility — because of their imperfections; and the issue is that they conceive a certain satisfaction in the contemplation of their works and of themselves.

From the same source, too, proceeds that empty eagerness which they display in speaking of the spiritual life before others, and sometimes as teachers rather than learners.  They condemn others in their heart when they see that they are not devout in their way.  Sometimes also they say it in words, showing themselves herein to be like the Pharisee, who in the act of prayer boasted of his own works and despised the publican (Luke 18:11)….  They see the mote in the eye of their brother, but not the beam which is in their own.

If you are reading this, pray for me.  Pray that I do not imitate Christ in the wrong way.  Pray that I bear with the equality of our fellow men & women, that I do no wish to impose my domination on them.  Pray that I live with them in humble submission to the divine law.

St. Francis de Sales on the Interior Life

St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis de Sales

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbor. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganized and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfills all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.

Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its color, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.

Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

The Beatific Vision

"Empyrean," by Gustave Dore, an illustration in Dante's "Divine Comedy"
“Empyrean,” by Gustave Dore, an illustration in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”

The whole point of trying to become a saint is to go straight to Heaven, right?  Skip Purgatory and see God face-to-face.  That’s what is called the “beatific vision,” a word I see coming up as the purpose of trying to live a life of holiness.  To confirm my deduction, I looked up the term in the Catholic Encyclopedia here and found its mention in the Catechism here.

I pray that I’m not causing scandal in others by asking this question: What’s so cool about the beatific vision?  I had been tackling this question for a while since I’ve accepted the universal call to holiness.  It didn’t make sense at first because I thought that in the person of Christ I was seeing God.  God the Father is abstract, but God the Son is visible.  Wasn’t looking at Christ on the Crucifix seeing God face-to-face?

The question went on the back-burner for a while as I pursued other avenues of the faith.  Now, that I’m back exploring the interior life and Catholic spirituality, I am seeing this term again.  Beatific vision.  Intellectually, I get that “seeing God face-to-face” should be awesome.  Yes, but what does that mean?  I get it up here (tapping head), but what does it mean here (pounding stomach)?

Praise the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding (#2 of the Seven Gifts)!  One day, as I looked at Hana smiling back at me, I got the intuitive feeling of what it meant to have the beatific vision.  In her cute little mind, my face, my body… my person is, for her, a source of joy, happiness, mercy, comfort, and unconditional love.  My wife, her mother, is all that and more for Hana.  So, when the two of us walk into the home after a date, and Hana is squealing and simultaneously kicking both her chubby legs, it is as if she is besides herself with ecstasy.  Is my baby having a transcendental, mystical experience?  I don’t know, but I know she is REALLY happy to see both of us in person.  A photo of us won’t cause the same reaction.  It has to be either mommy or daddy in person.  Better, both.

So, I imagine her sudden burst of joy in seeing my face, multiply that by infinity and that’s the happiness I’d feel when I see my Heavenly Father face-to-face.  Beatific vision.  Gut-feeling.

A moment of contemplation made me consider that, in that encounter, I would also see every single person who has ever brought me joy and happiness, but I would see how that person was really an emissary of God.  I would learn how every event that gave me happiness was the result of a chain of people who made that possible.  I would meet these people and learn that they, too, were emissaries of God.  I would meet all the saints who prayed for me.  And then I would see God.

It’s kind of like one of those romantic movies where there is an elaborate proposal.  The girl coincidentally runs into all her good friends and then all of his best friends, one after another.  Each one tells her something nice about the man who is going to propose to her and then gives her successive clues to where she can find the man who has been after her heart all these years.  She finally sees him and they marry.  The thought of spending the rest of her life with this perfect man has her heart overflowing with joy.

In the beatific vision, I would be like that girl.  I would finally see God.  He’s the one who has been after my heart all these years.  I would spend my eternal life with Him.  And the party would be for an eternity.  And there are no limits to how many guests can come.  The food and wine, of course, would be endless.  I know that there is more to Heaven than endless food and drink (cf. Rom 14:17-19); this would be more like a welcome party followed by the hallowed work of saving as many souls as possible before the Last Judgment.  Still, I’ll have some time with my One True Love before that holy task.  I would turn to God and say, “It was you.  It has always been you.  Thank you.  I love you!”

The Field of Our Soul

I came across a wonderfully analogy for the pursuit of the interior life in Dan Burke’s book, “Navigating the Interior Life.”  He also maintains a website promoting the themes in his book.  I highly recommend the book to anyone whose prayer has led them to an awareness that a spiritual director is needed.  While you’re still searching for one, this book is a godsend.

When we begin the work of a serious commitment to holiness, we will discover that the field (the soul) that we desire to plow and plant is riddled with rocks (sins) that need to be removed in order to make progress.  At this point of discovery, the faithful farmer begins to remove these big obvious rocks (usually mortal sins).  At some point the farmer becomes satisfied with this effort, pulls the plow out of the shed and sets out to prepare the soil, but then is startled at a disconcerting discovery: Though all the big rocks are gone, there are many more rocks that are smaller (venial sins) that had not been seen before.  The big rocks had properly drawn all of the attention.  Now that the big rocks are clear, a more detailed and sometimes more rigorous effort is then needed to further prepare the field.  The same is true with the progressive nature of root sin identification and clarification as we grow in spiritual maturity.

Natural Good Used for Evil

The same weekend that I posted “Wanted: Spiritual Director” I went to Confession on Saturday to get spiritual direction.  I figured, “I have the priest’s attention, already.  Why not ask him a few questions?  There’s usually hardly anyone waiting in line.”  Sure enough, I had Fr. O’Brien for as long as I wanted.  God bless Fr. O’Brien.  He was the answer to my prayer.

As I had written earlier, I was trying to discern whether to get more involved in the Church, to volunteer as a catechist in addition to being in the choir.  If I was called to be a catechist, should I get an advanced degree so I could do a better job?  I felt obsessed about this question, especially the last one.  It got to a point where I was wondering whether I should leave the Foreign Service to serve God full-time.  Serving God equals loving God, right?

The priest’s answer surprised me.  After he confirmed that I was married and with children, he told me that I should focus on my family.  Being involved in various apostolates could be a danger because it would take me away from my wife and children, who deserve all my energy.  These apostolates have a way appearing more important than the humble services I give as a husband and father (i.e., going out on a date with my wife vs. attending RCIA to catechize eager souls; helping my wife bathe the children vs. preparing for a talk on the spiritual disciplines of the Church, taking my children to play in the park vs. counseling a young man from suicide, etc.)

These were the same words that my wife told me many times before: “You need to focus on the family.  You will become too involved; it will take you away from the family.”  And, it’s not like I did not believe my wife.  I still obeyed her and refrained from being more involved.  What she asked me to do was not a sin.  But, this desire to serve the Church persisted in my thoughts.  Am I disobeying God by obeying my wife?

So, the priest’s answer was Christ’s answer.  While it is good to serve the Church, it is not good to be motivated by spiritual pride.  My confessor helped me see my spiritual blind spot.  The moment he told me “you should focus on your family”, the Holy Spirit helped me exercise my Gift of Understanding to see that it was spiritual pride all along that motivated me.  It would be the devil’s irony that my own family would be weakened — even destroyed — because I would be so focused on “unselfishly” serving the Church.

"All is Vanity" by C. Allan Gilbert
“All is Vanity” by C. Allan Gilbert

God bless Fr. O’Brien.  God bless confessors and spiritual directors everywhere.  May they lead more souls to holiness.

The Spiritual Disciplnes

Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany
Teresa of Ávila, Ulm, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I’m waiting for God to lead me to my spiritual director, I can continue practicing the spiritual disciplines I learned from Richard Foster’s book, “Celebration of Discipline.”  Although the author is from the Quaker tradition, many of the insights to these disciplines come from saints canonized by the Catholic Church (i.e. St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, etc.)

Foster divides up twelve spiritual disciplines into three categories:

  1. The Inward Disciplines – Meditation, Prayer, Fasting and Study
  2. The Outward Disciplines – Simplicity, Solitude, Submission and Service
  3. The Corporate Disciplines – Confession, Worship, Guidance and Celebration

It would be nice at some point to reflect on how I’ve put these disciplines into practice.  For now, I’d like to highlight some passages that stood out for me in the introductory chapter:

God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings: people who have jobs, who care for children, who wash dishes and mow lawns.

Joy is the keynote of all the Disciplines.  The purpose of the Disciplines is liberation from the stifling slavery to self-interest and fear.

We need not be well advanced in matters of theology to practice the Disciplines.

The struggle [relying on our willpower and determination to overcome ingrained sin] is all in vain, and we find ourselves once again morally bankrupt or, worse yet, so proud of our external righteousness that “whitened sepulchers” is a mild description of our condition.

The moment we feel we can succeed and attain victory over sin by the strength of our will alone is the moment we are worshiping the will.

As long as we think we can save ourselves by our own will power, we will only make the evil in us stronger than ever.

Inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received.  The needed change within us is God’s work, not ours.  The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside.  We cannot attain or earn the righteousness of the kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given.

God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving his grace.  The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that he can transform us.

We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur.  This is the path of disciplined grace.

When we genuinely believe that inner transformation is God’s work and not ours, we can put to rest our passion to set others straight.

Leo Tolstoy observes, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.”

Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So true.  I am open to God changing my inner heart, my whole life.  Going through the book once with the men’s prayer group was a fruitful introduction.  It was like we all went to the gym and learned how to use the spiritual weight machines.  We flexed our souls and had lots of fun supporting and encouraging each other.  Now that we’ve finished the last chapter, it would be very easy for me (and quite advantageous to the enemy of my soul) to just forget about these Disciplines.  If I’m serious about finding a spiritual fitness coach, then I can practice these exercises until I can find him.

Wanted: Spiritual Director

I need a spiritual director.  It’s not safe to develop my spiritual life alone.  I need a spiritual fitness coach like my body needs a fitness coach.  Where do I begin?  How do I know he’s the right one?  What can I expect in spiritual direction?  Basic questions that are surprisingly hard to answer.  Fortunately, God did not abandon me.  I see the light.  And, I’d like to share, in case others might be facing the same problem.

There was an Advent Penance Service on Monday.  My wife and I went, and as I was doing my examination of conscience, I recognized the threat my spiritual life was facing: I was on fire for God, but I am constantly being led astray.  I would lose spiritual battles either from the devil’s tricks, the world’s seduction, or the weakness of my flesh.  There was a pattern of failure: the more in love I am with God, the more vicious the spiritual struggle.  It’s especially difficult after Confession, or on Sundays after Communion.

So, during Confession on Monday, I asked my priest where I could get spiritual direction.  He was open to the task, but I suspected he might be too busy.  I didn’t want to put him more on the spot than I already was at the moment.  I mean, he just absolved me from my sins.  It seemed ungrateful to guilt him into such a commitment.  Although I left feeling the sublime joy of reconciliation, the question of finding a spiritual director stayed with me.

The need for a director is becoming more pressing because of other decisions I’m considering.  I’m afraid of going down the wrong path.  I’ve been discerning whether I should volunteer as a catechist, for example, in addition to singing in the choir.  Should I get a MA in Theology or just get continuing education courses as a catechism instructor?  Long-term, like when my daughters are older, I am discerning whether God is calling me to the permanent diaconate.  These are some big decisions.  I still have a full-time job as a diplomat, another full-time job as a husband & father.  There’s so much room for pride to sneak in, temptations for shortcuts, and distractions in worldly pursuits.  A spiritual director, I hope, will help me see my blind spots.  Like an athletic coach, he would see where I need training and give me an idea (a direction) on how to win the championship title: a faithful child of God.  Sainthood.  Eternal life with my Creator.

God bless Dan Burke and Fr. John Bartunek!  They created a wonderful website about spiritual direction, and I found many comments highly recommending their book, “Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God.”  I quickly got my questions answered:  What is spiritual direction?  It’s “a relationship through which we come to better know, love, and follow Christ through the help of a kind of spiritual coach.”  He lists what spiritual direction is not:

  • It is not a boss/employee relationship: just as with a coach in any sport, the athlete is the one that is ultimately in control.
  • It is not confession: while one’s confessor also used to be spiritual directors, that is no longer necessarily the case.
  • It is not spiritual friendship: like a coach, the directee needs to be firmly challenged, pushed, and encouraged toward concrete progress.
  • It is not a Catholic self-help program: it’s not just a quick pep talk and then we go about on our own again.  There’s a relationship that’s needed for the director to see one’s blind spots.
  • It’s not psychological counseling: one needs to seek specially-trained professionals for serious emotional/psychological issues.
  • It is not a one-time emergency-room event
  • It is not wandering around with a spiritual companion

The main focus of spiritual direction is union with God.  The central aim of spiritual direction is to help guide the directee to purposefully, consistently, and substantively grow in their relationship with God and neighbor.  It’s about developing a love relationship with God that inevitably spills into all other areas of our lives.

God has yet to provide me a spiritual director, but He’s letting me know that I’m not alone.  He’s sending help.  I just need to be patient, pray for additional guidance, and be persistent about this goal.  It’s a good thing.  Our Father loves giving us good things.  It’s all about timing.