Tag Archives: Spiritual Direction

United by the Spirit of Christ

My family and I are getting ready to go on a long flight back to the U.S.  In case God decides to call us home, I wanted to say “I love you” even if I’ve never met you.  We will meet each other, some day.  I am praying for you, and I hope you will pray for me, too.  This is one of the many beauties of our faith: we are united in Christ’s One Body.  When we receive Communion, know that there, in that moment, we are like the hundreds of millions of cells that make up your body, but animated and unified by your soul.  As your cells are united in will by your spirit, so you and I are united by the Spirit of Christ.

Oh, how I love our faith!  How I wish I can share my excitement with you!  There is so much treasure kept within the Church, and I hope you will be inspired to go and explore.  Read “Rediscover Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly, or “Life of Christ” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Read anything written by Scott Hahn.  Subscribe to Lighthouse Catholic Media.  Buy the Lighthouse Catholic Media app and purchase the Ignatius Study Bible in the app.  Pray the Scriptural Rosary that is explained by Dr. Edward Sri.  Go to one of the Steubenville Conferences.  Pick up Dan Burke’s “Navigating the Interior Life” and join the book club at his website.  Above all, go to Confession.  If there is one thing that has helped me grow the most spiritually, it is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I try to go weekly.  The supernatural grace that is bestowed on one’s soul is indescribable.  Imagine having the power to consistently resist mortal and venial sins.  Imagine the freedom of your soul to do what is good.  Imagine the possibility to become, really truly become, the best-version-of-yourself.  It’s possible.

Oh, how I wish I can share this love with you!  In a few short months after weekly Confession, don’t be surprised to find yourself praying more often.  Don’t be surprised with finding yourself thinking about God in every spare moment.  Wealth, pleasure, power, fame… those drugs that were once so addictive, so alluring, finally lose their hold.  Don’t be surprised if you don’t think about them very much anymore.  You will be so hungry for God.  And you will likely feel like you’re alone.  Even if you are surrounded by people you love and who love you in return.  Even when you meet another pilgrim who is on the same path, your own journey is made in solitude.

If you sin, don’t worry.  It’s like falling into a ditch.  The more you try to escape, the deeper the hole seems to get.  The best thing to do while waiting for temptation to pass is to pray ceaselessly in the midst of it.  Go to Confession.  The Holy Spirit will lift you out of the ditch Himself.  He will comfort you.  Do penance.  It works.  Do penance and don’t stop praying.  Find more time to pray.  Quit Netflix.  Quit video games.  Cut back on Facebook.  Find more time to pray.  Pray while you’re on the toilet, while you’re taking a shower, while you’re on your commute.

There is so much more I want to say, but I will have other opportunities.  Just know that you are loved by God more than it is possible for us to understand.  A single soul is worth more than the whole universe in the eyes of God.  Do you believe that?  Believe it: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36)

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 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.