Spiritual direction resembles the Emmaus story (Lk 24: 13-35). Everyone knew about His crucifixion, but rumors percolated among the disciples — that the tomb was empty. Discouraged and confused, two disciples walk away from Jerusalem when Jesus draws along side and walks with His friends, who fail to recognize Him. A few questions here, a little instruction there, many shared steps and lots of listening bud a trust and curiosity that impels them to ask Jesus to stay with them. All Jesus needed was an invitation! He goes in, and at table, takes the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them, whereupon their eyes are opened, and Jesus vanishes. Reflecting on and discussing the day, they ask each other, “were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us on the way?” Encouraged, these two rerouted back to Jerusalem, proclaiming the Good News, that “the Lord has truly been raised” to the infant Christian community. The spiritual director is to be like Jesus, spiritual direction to bear similar fruit, and the directee to maximize the encounter like the disciples did. This explainer offers five words to help directees get the most out of spiritual direction.
For the intentional believer, Lent rightly tends to be a time of purposeful change. The liturgical calendar invites us to enter the desert with our Lord and take an axe to those things are separating us from him. If our life is not bearing much good fruit, perhaps we need to look at our roots. Deep in our hearts, we know that sin separates us from the Lord, that we cannot fellowship with sin and the Holy Spirit at the same time. If we desire intimacy with Him, we must allow our hearts to be convicted, purified, and transformed. We agree to soul searching, house cleansing, and deep healing in order to be closer to the One we love and Who deserves our single hearted worship. While there can be different ways of tackling this topic, we will look at what the Catholic Christian tradition has long identified as the “three root sins,” around which other sins “cluster” and “grow.”
Scriptural basis for these root sins can be found in Genesis 3: 6 and 1 John 2: 16. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and was desirable for gaining knowledge. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). “For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world (1 John 2: 16).” A study and matching of these passages reveals pride, vanity, and sensuality.
What power do we give to this sin when it is unidentified and runs unchecked? We know we have an enemy, but do we know his plan of attack? Maybe it’s time to hatch a strategic battle plan through the wisdom and power of the Lord. While we all have pride, vanity, and sensuality to a certain extent, growing self knowledge will reveal one of these as predominant (be sure to look at "the reason" you do what you).
Happy 2022! My scheduling link is ready to go (I hope!). All spiritual directions, nineteenth annotations, and pastoral supervisions can be scheduled/rescheduled and sliding-scale stipends offered on my website under the scheduling page: https://www.transformedbymercy.net/scheduling.html. Please contact me me if you have problems, and I can walk you through this. Thank you for your patience, as this should be easier for everyone.
I want to highlight and recommend a few books for 2022. The first is Fr. John Riccardo’s book Rescued. This book is the best telling of the Good News I have heard to date – the audible version, read by Fr. John himself, is outstanding - my first recommendation for the year. Second, because the liturgy and Vatican II tend to be at the forefront of conversations, at least in serious Catholic circles, consider some formation in this area with Reclaiming Vatican II, a balanced, well-researched attempt to dialogue and look honestly at a topic that is, unfortunately, dividing those of us who need to stand together during these difficult times. Third, if you are looking forward to Lent, consider this devotional on healing called Restore by Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT. The popularity of devotionals lies in the integration of formation and prayer – which means spiritual growth.
God bless you on these memorials of St. Francis De Sales and the Conversion of St. Paul.
This September, let's spin off of Theology of the Body to look at labor and then dive into the anchor of our souls. We might adapt TOB terms to unpack the meaning of labor...
Can you believe we are rounding out the summer of 2021? I hope that despite the heat waves, smoke screens, and COVID uptake, this was restful time. Following the graduation of my 18 year old and 22 year old in May, as well as teaching a 400 class on discernment and assisting with a 300 residency for those seeking certification in spiritual direction, I spent June/July focused on family and several dear friends whom I accompany in the nineteenth annotation. Moving into fall, I want to share a few resources with this caveat: linking does not mean that I support the author or organization in entirety, but these resources on (1) Things I Learned in Spiritual Direction, (2) Being Devoted to One Another in Marriage, and how Current Events Invite (3) Trust, and (4) Simplicity may be pertinent and helpful.
Ten years ago, I sat in the back of a Florida conference room waiting for Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, to talk on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in relation to St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. When he spoke his first three words, “The Holy Spirit…,” grace surprisingly and tangibly fell over me, and I started sobbing. My life had already been given over to the Lord. Yet, there was MORE! Something or Someone essential had been absent in my spiritual life…now, I knew it! Since then, I have pondered what this all meant, especially upon learning that some theologians see the Holy Spirit as the “forgotten Person of the Trinity.”
May you have blessed Holy Week. Considering the timing, let’s imagine the forgiving heart of Jesus from his passion through his ascension. As he hung on the cross, the very people he created, loved, and saved tortured him: either directly by their insults, spit, and physical violence (the soldiers), or indirectly, by their failure to accompany him in his worst moments (the apostles). Jesus cried, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Lk 23: 24, NABRE). On Easter morning, he miraculously entered the locked room, where the disciples huddled in fear and confusion, and said, "Peace be with you" (Jn 20: 19). Jesus' forgiveness prompted an impartation of peace followed by a challenge. The three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him are "redue" opportunities for his three betrayals (Jn 21: 17). Jesus sets the stage for our understanding of authentic forgiveness, which means knowing what forgiveness is and isn't.
I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
Do I honor God? Do I pray to God every day? Have I thanked God for His gifts to me? Has God and the pursuit of sanctity in Christ been the goal of my life? Have I made something else in my life more important than God: money, work, alcohol, smoking, drugs, my phone, online gaming, or vacation? Do I place myself above God? Have I tried to use magic or divination or other occult practices and tools?
Because the question of “how to pray” comes up so often in spiritual direction, I want to offer my own explainer on beginning interior prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of three types of prayer: vocal (memorized prayers, typically prayed out loud), meditative (called discursive or mental, as it prioritizes active thinking), and contemplative (a word with many definitions, though generally passive and heart based) (#2699). Notice the progression. This instruction is for beginners or those moving into meditative prayer since those advanced in prayer need different advice. The word “interior” is preferable to “mental” because it facilitates the transition from head to heart as St. Theresa of Avila’s indicated with her treatise on prayer, The Interior Castle. Prayer is paying attention to God and intentionally spending time with Him. It is a dialogue, or mutual listening and speaking about what matters most. Try 7Rs to begin interior prayer:
This year, LENT starts on Ash Wednesday, February 17th. We may come to this penitential season with mixed thoughts and feelings, such as anticipation to tackle an issue the LORD has spotlighted, with dread because of a historical failure to keep resolutions, or a simple desire to grow in friendship with Christ. A faithful friend doesn’t leave when the going gets rough, but enters into, walks with, is present to, and gives real assistance. In this case, it’s Jesus who invites deeper intimacy throughout these 40 days, reminiscent of the Israelites' journey through the desert from the slavery of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, and of His own confrontation with the enemy in the desert following His baptism.
Traditionally, the Church encourages prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. If this seems stale and we are stuck along the way, reconsider Lent’s “Triple A” roadside insurance for the journey:
Abide. To pray is to abide in the Lord who wishes to abide in us (Jn 15: 4). How are we, specifically, called to grow in prayer? Some are good at setting aside time to pray but fail to communicate with Him always…and visa versa. “Abide” in Scripture means to dwell together, to rest in, to remain connected, to attend and wait upon. It is likely that we are called to practice the presence of God in the moment and with the person in front of us, or that we are called to set aside some time for a more meditative or contemplative prayer, rather than rote prayers. We may consider spiritual reading or just sitting in silence. Abiding doesn’t allow hiding: be real with the LORD. Abide in the vine by receiving His life-giving grace.