Abbot Francis Benedict, O.S.B., 1977










IT is a challenge given to each Christian that, when he realizes he is called to holiness in Christ, he must strive to find the means of responding to the call that are proper to himself and to his life situation and vocation.

Seen at one level, what we are really seeking is self-direction, but at a deeper level, even “self-direction” does not do justice to what we are describing. God loves each of us in a unique way and finds surprising ways to lead us to life and service, ways neither we nor others could have dreamed of. The point at issue then is not simply how we direct ourselves but how we facilitate God’s direction of us. And this is precisely what spiritual direction tries to do: to facilitate God’s own direction of us in our lives.35

 It is vital to see that the process of sanctification is the work of the indwelling Trinity.36 Many authors point out quite frankly that the Holy Spirit is the true director of souls.37 [p.16]

     To achieve an accurate understanding of God’s direction is not an easy task. It cannot be entirely grasped at any moment or stage of one’s spiritual progress. God reveals a person’s unique spiritual destiny to him gradually.

     God does not usually show and guide an individual in his particular way of holiness apart from interaction with his fellow man and women. God the Father sent his Word into the world to become a man, like every man in all things but sin (cf. Heb. 4:15). Jesus Christ’s mission was to reconcile mankind to God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). Since Jesus is the Way back to the Father, he is the Guide and Model of Christian holiness. In the words of Edward Schillebeeckx, he is the “Sacrament of the encounter with God.”38 Ever since Christ ascended into heaven, Christians have not encountered him visibly and tangibly as did the disciples who know him during his life. Christ’s incarnation is perpetuated in the Church.

. . . it follows from the dogma of the perpetuity of the incarnation, and of Christ’s human mediation of grace, that if Christ does not show himself to us in his own flesh, then he can make himself visibly present to and for us earthbound men only by taking up earthly non-glorified realities into his glorified saving activity, This earthly element replaces the invisibility of his bodily life in heaven.39

Schillebeeckx calls the Church the “primordial sacrament.” 40Although Schillebeeckx refers directly to the theology of the sacraments in themselves in the references above, the principles he sets forth are quite applicable to the present subject of spiritual direction. Men and women encounter God through human mediation, first through Christ and then through [p.17] his Church, in her sacraments and in many other ways. Finding spiritual direction to one’s life with the help of others is a concrete experience of the sacramentality of the Church. The “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” calls the Church a sacrament or “sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind,”41 And so it is precisely through his people, the Church, that Christ proclaims the good news of salvation and brings men back to God. Christ is the sole mediator who acts now through the members of his Body, the Church.42

     Pope Leo Xlll in his apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae is very strong in asserting his belief that salvation and sanctification come through other men.

God in His infinite Providence has decreed that man for the most part should be saved by men; hence He has appointed that those whom He calls to a loftier degree of holiness should be led thereto by men, in order that, as Chrysostom says, “we should be taught by God through men.” We have an illustrious example of this put be—fore us in the very beginning of the Church, for although Saul, who was breathing threatenings and slaughter, heard the voice of Christ Himself, and asked Him, “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?” He was nevertheless sent to Ananias at Damascus: “Arise and go into the city and there it shall be told thee what to de.” This manner of acting has invariably obtained in the Church. All without exception who in the course of ages have been remarkable for science and holiness have taught this doctrine. Those who reject it assuredly do so rashly and at their peril.43

     Several contemporary authors see a tension in believers of today because they are finding themselves unable to “integrate their spiritual life with contemporary culture, art, [p.18] and science”44 Many people in the Church are finding it difficult to structure their life in such a way that they can respond more fully and faithfully to Christ.

 How to relate effectively with Christ, how to intensify one’s relationship with him, how to handle one’s conflicts with him, how to be sensitive to his desires and how to manifest ours to him, how to relate to his friends, how to integrate our personal self-realization with our self-donation to him are all questions whose answers constitute the structure of the spiritual life.45

     It is in this context that many people today are experiencing the need for help in their spiritual lives, not so much to be told what to do but to discover what it is God is asking of them in the everyday circumstances of their lives. Bishop Bernard Topel claims that “the degree of your seriousness about your spiritual life and the degree of your desire for spiritual growth is in a real sense the degree of your need for a spiritual direetor.”46 This is an assertion that was widely accepted by the spiritual theologians of the past.

     Adolphe Tanquerey states in his work entitled The Spiritual Life: “Direction, although not absolutely necessary for the sanctification of souls, is one of the normal means of spiritual progress. Authority, and reason based on experience, demonstrate this.”47 After quoting a number of authorities and developing his argument based on reason, he concludes:  [p.19]

To sum up what has boon said, we can do no better than quote the words of Fr. Godinez: “Hardly ten in a thousand called by God to perfection heed the call; of a hundred called to contemplation, ninety-nine fail to respond. It must be acknowledged that one of the principal causes is the lack of spiritual directors. Under God, they are the pilots that conduct souls through this unknown ocean of the spiritual life. If no science, no art, how simple soever, can be learned well without a master, much less can any one learn this high wisdom of evangelical perfection, wherein such great mysteries are found. This is the reason. why I hold it morally impossible that a soul could without a miracle or without a master, go through what is highest and most arduous in the spiritual life, without running the risk of perishing.”48

     It is the precise objective of the spiritual direction relationship to help the person to find his God-given spiritual orientation or direction and in this way to respond in an advantageous manner to his personal call to holiness. the words of Henri de Tourville, a renowned spiritual director of the nineteenth century: “The object of all direction here as elsewhere, is not to refashion your soul on the model of some imported or prescribed interior life, but to direct effectually the powers and impulses which God has chosen to give you and which He alone can give.” 49






CHAPTER One proposed to show that, because all Christians are called to a life of holiness, they must discover their own unique spiritual direction or orientation if they are serious in their response to the call of God. It is very true that the Holy Spirit is the gift of Christ to his Church and to all of his disciples and that this Holy Spirit guides and directs all Christians who are seeking the Lord’s will. He is the spiritual director par excellence. It is the task of this chapter to show that very early in the history of the Church and throughout the history of Christian spirituality, the one-to-one spiritual direction relationship has been considered a valuable means of attaining the fullness of Christian life.

     Perhaps at this point it would be well to give a descriptive definition of the one-to-one spiritual direction relationship from the perspective of this thesis.

First of all, it is not a group relationship such as that of a master teaching a group of disciples simultaneously. Rather it is a one-to-one, more personal relationship where a confidential unfolding of oneself to a director can take place.

Secondly, it is a consistent relationship, not a once-only conversation, [p.21] not a random or haphazard meeting, but a structured relation-ship with definite commitment on the part of the director and of the person directed.

Adrian Van Kaam in his book The Dynamics of Spiritual Self Direction defines the direction relationship as “a Spirit supported, prudent, educated and well informed personal assistance that is dialogical, an assistance in unconditional faith, hope and love given to a fellow Christian’s attempt to discover and realize his divine self direction in Christ(emphasis added).1

     The one-to-one spiritual direction relationship greatly facilitates one’s spiritual growth, one’s life with God and one’s relationship with other people. In order to show how this has been a consistent conviction in the history of spiritual theology, the first section of this chapter will briefly examine the monastic tradition of spiritual direction. The second section will consider some of the significant ideas of St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Francis de Sales concerning the direction relationship, its importance, and some of its dynamics. Finally, section three will make explicit some of the advantages that can be obtained in a one-to-one spiritual direction relationship by men and women today.





MANY authors today speak of man’s uprootedness, his search for meaning, his desire for communion with others because of his experience of loneliness, of not belonging.63

The question about the spiritual life is a very challenging question. It touches. The core of life. It forces you to take nothing for granted--neither good nor evil, neither life nor death, human beings nor God. That is why this question, while intimately my own, is also the question that asks for so much guidance. That is why the decisions that are most personal ask for the greatest support. 64

Ignace Lepp attributes the anxious loneliness of modern man to the “absence of dialogue, of spiritual communication with others.”65 The isolated person needs to break out of his loneliness, to overcome the apparent meaninglessness of so many painful situations in life, to accept and affirm him-self by realizing the love of God. It is apparent from the unanimity of so many contemporary spiritual writers that a person achieves these ends in an interpersonal context, through the mediation of others.

 I need the affirmation of people at times to accept myself and to see myself through their eyes. Their affirmation in and by itself is not my goal; it is a means to right esteem of my life direction. In other words, life--directors are transitional mediators of my awareness of what my right direction may be.

  Nobody can grow by self-experience only. Everybody needs the feedback of others. All self-emergence takes place by means of mediation and transitional directors.66

     The above would indicate that contemporary men and women are not so much freer and more enlightened about [p.45] their inner selves than people of earlier times. Although the science of psychology has developed tremendously in this century, it is still man’s tendency to judge himself subjectively. There is always the danger of self-deception without the help of others.

     One of the universal reasons for seeking the help of a spiritual director, as can be noted from the first part of this chapter, is to safeguard oneself from illusion and self-deception. It is natural for a sick man to go to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment, for someone with an emotional difficulty to seek the help and objectivity of another person, very often a psychiatrist. Although spiritual direction is not primarily a problem-solving endeavor, it must deal with these realities in life and integrate them with the life of the Spirit in each person. One of the significant advantages of the spiritual direction relationship, therefore, is to bring clarity and objectivity to one’s self-perception.

You can see yourself in me. I have become the reflection of you by words. You have the privilege of seeing yourself mirrored in the faithful attentive words of another person. This mirroring enables you to see yourself more objectively and clearly. The understanding, the acceptance that you receive by my response tea you should bring delight even though in the process your flaws might become more apparent.67

     The spiritual director is like another self and he can help to quicken the process of knowing oneself and God. He [p.46] is a catalyst and helps one discover and exercise his spiritual and human potential.68 It is very important in the one-to-one spiritual direction relationship that both the director and the person directed grow in confidence with one another. The whole Christian tradition of direction counsels honest self-revelation on the part of the one directed. Only in this way can the director know what is really happening in the individual. In the very act of revealing himself to the director, the person discovers more accurately who he is and what he is meant to become by the grace of God.69 By thus unfolding oneself to another, he begins more realistically to hold himself accountable for his own spiritual progress. 70

            And so, the director is really a person who helps the individual become his truest self, by showing needed areas of growth.

I gradually sort out the genuine from the false, and the important from the unimportant. I become aware of my openness or my lack of openness to God. . . On the other hand I may well see that a wall seems to exist between God and myself. I may come to the conclusion that el have closed myself off from or denied many of God’s manifestations. I may see that I have rejected important graces and concerned myself excessively with my own world. If left to myself it is less likely that I would come to realize my own selfishness and lack of concern for God and neighbor.71

     The director is very important when a person experiences his own nothingness, his inability to pray, or his terror in the face of the all-consuming and jealous love of God. When [p.47] there is apparently no place to turn, the director can be an anchor of hope. He is one who listens, cares, and understands. He can help the person “to get hold of something too difficult to work out within oneself alone” and give him the support and encouragement and enlightenment he needs when faith becomes a difficult struggle.72 The director can help the person realize that his relationship with God is very much like his relationship with other people: “it thrives on reality and honesty.”73 Part of this reality is one’s own weakness, limitation, and even sinfulness. It is important to “own up” to one’s total self, knowing that God loves people as they are and ire their acceptance of his love for them as they are they can become better. It can validly be said that the purpose of spiritual direction is “to help real people relate more consciously to the real God,”74

     As stated in the beginning of this chapter, this section is meant to show only some and not all the advantages of the one-to-one spiritual direction relationship for contemporary men and women. The spiritual direction relationship is meant to be an experience of God, active in one’s life. Through the director, one seeks to avoid self-deception so he. can advance and grow more honestly in his love for God, for himself, and for others. The relationship is an experience of intimate human and spiritual sharing which enhances one’s feeling of self-worth and helps one move from the [p.48] experience of anxious loneliness to meaningful solitude. The relationship helps the person really to know himself through the reflection of another significant person who genuinely listens and cares about his progress. It gives the person insight and confidence to own up to his unique personhood and mission in this life, thus developing within him a real freedom: freedom from a limited perspective of himself, of God, of others and of the world; freedom from the tendency to rationalize and justify his unhealthy or unrealistic attitudes and behavior; freedom to experience new things by the prodding and encouragement of the director. In conclusion, “spiritual direction, considered in a contemporary and demythologized sense as a normal one-to-one relationship with someone who identifies with and supports one’s basic spiritual project,- may be one of the healthiest developments in current spirituality.”75






      The spiritual direction relationship can be seen, from the perspective of Chapter One, as a valuable and concrete way of discovering one’s personal spiritual direction and of growing in the holiness of Christ. Chapter Two indicated, from the spiritual tradition as well as from con-temporary sources, some of the advantages of the one-to-one spiritual direction relationship. This chapter will deal with the two principal tasks of that direction relationship:

(1) the discernment of spirits, and

(2) growth in prayer.

There are other tasks that are--or can be-- accomplished in the direction relationship, but they are not essential to the goals of the relationship in any strict sense.1

What do people mean when they talk about seeking “spiritual direction”? If we listen attentively to these seekers we hear two recurring themes: prayer and discernment. . . One feels the ongoing need for “direction in prayer” and for “discernment”, that is, for organization and structure in the being and action dimensions of the spiritual life. . . The person who comes to a director. . . is trying to reorient her-self in the spiritual life and to find a coherent and meaningful way to express that direction in action. She wants to learn again “how to pray” by which she means how to live an integrated spiritual life, and “what to do”, by which she means what God’s design for her is and demands.2 [p.50]

     This chapter will consist of two sections. Section one will concern itself with discernment of spirits. Since the term “discernment” is employed with various denotations and connotations, section one will attempt to define and describe discernment, weaving together elements from Scripture, from the tradition of spiritual theology (with a special emphasis on St. Ignatius of Loyola), and from contemporary authors.3 Section two will consider briefly the director’s role as a facilitator of the directee’s growth in prayer.


35 Gregory I. Carlson, “Spiritual Direction and the Paschal Mystery,” Review for Religious, XXXIII, No. 3 (May 1974), pp. 534–535.

36 Michael Griffin, “How to Profit from Spiritual Direction,” Spiritual Life, XIII, No. 2 (Summer 1967), p. 102.

37 Ibid. p. 106. Cf., St. Therese of Lisieux, The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux: The story of a Soul, trans. John Beevers (Garden City, New York, Image Books, 1957) p. 92.

“There is no one indispensable director other than God.” David L. Fleming, “Beginning Spiritual Direction,” Review for Religious, XXXIII, No. 3 (May 1974), p. 550.

38 Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963).

39 Ibid., p. 43.

40 Ibid., p. 200.

41 Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, op.cit. p. 15.

42 Cf., Otto Semmelroth, “Mediatorship,” Sacramentum Mundi (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), IV, p.10.

43 Charles Hugo Doyle, Guidance in Spiritual Direction (Westminster, Md.: The Newman Ppres, 1958). P. 5.  This quote is used frequently in other writings on spiritual direction.

44 Adrian Van Kaam, In Search of Spiritual Identity (Denville, N.J.: Dimension, 1975), p. 249.

45 Sandra Marie Schneiders, The ‘Return’ to Spiritual Direction,” Spiritual Life, XVIII, No. 4 (Winter 1972), p. 267.

46 Bernard J. Topel, “Letter to Seminarians on the Value and Necessity of Spiritual Direction” (Spokane, Wash.: Diocese of Spokane, n.d.), p. 1.

“…We think it opportune, beloved sons, in setting out upon and advancing in the spiritual life, not to trust excessively in yourselves; you should rather humbly and with. docile mind accept advice and sock help from those who can . direct you with wise counsel, warn you in advance agGinst the dangers that threaten and, at the same time, prescribe suitable remedies, and in all difficulties, interior and exterior, guide you correctly and direct you to the daily increasing perfection to which the example of the saints in heaven and the approved masters of Christian asceticism attract and call you. For without these prudent directors of conscience, it is generally difficult to respond as one should to the supernatural promptings of the Holy Spirit and divine grace.” Pope Pius XII, “Apostolic Exhortation Menti Nostrae to the Catholic Clergy on the Sanctification of Priestly Life” (23 September 2,1950), The Catholic Priesthood According to the Teaching of the Church: Papal Documents from Pius X to Pius XII (1939-54), ed. Pierre Veuillot (Dublin: M.H. Gill and Son Limited, ,1957), II, pp. 174-175.

47 Adolphe Tanquerey, op, cit., p. 257.

48 Ibid., pp. 261-262.

49 Abbe Henri de Tourville, Letters of Direction, trans. Lucy Menzies (London: Dacre Press, 1972) p. 40.

1 Adrian Van Kaam, The Dynamics of Spiritual Self Direction (Denville, N.J.: Dimension books, 1976), pp. 304-385.

63 Dr. Viktor Frankl states that every age has its collective neurosis and that the neurosis of the twentieth century is, in his terms, the “existential vacuum.” “I turn to the detrimental influence of that fooling which so many patients complain today, namely, the feeling of the total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives. They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves. . .” Viktor E. Frankl, Search for Meaning An Introduction to Logotherapy trans. Ilse Lasch (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), p. 107.

64 Henri J.-M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1975), p.8

65 Ignace Lepp, The Ways of Friendship, p. 13

66 Adrian Van Kaam,“Dynamics of Spiritual Self-Direction,” p. 276

67 Gerald E. Keefe, “Letter to a Person Beginning Spiritual Direction,” Review for Religious, XXXIII, No. 3 (May 1974), p. 544. Acceptance is important in any inter-personal relationship and, therefore, in the spiritual direction relationship. Part of modern man’s need is the realization that he is acceptable and really accepted by God. If his experience in life with others has included experiences of rejection, then he is prone not to accept himself and this causes problems not only in his interpersonal relations but. in his relationship with God as well. “It is believed that rejection is the primary cause of most, if not all, spiritual illness.” Peter Ford, The Healing Trinity: Prescriptions for Mind, Body, and Spirit (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1971), p. 17.

68 John J. Harrington, “The Ministry of Direction,” The Priest, XXIX, No. 3 (March 1973), p. 27

69 Daniel J. Shine, “Direction and the Spiritual Exercises,” Review for Religious XXV, No. 5. (September 1966), p. 893.

70 David L. Fleming, op.cit. p. 550.

       “A certain regularity of discerning effort, a certain mature accountability in the spiritual life, a certain measuring of one’s judgments and decisions against the thoughtful. and ongoing reflection of another can be a very healthy antidote to the rootless, free-floating, and erratic spirituality (or lack of spirituality) of the past few years.” Sandra Marie Schneiders, op. cit., p. 277.

71 Richard P. Vaughan, “Spiritual Counseling and Prayer,” Review for Religious, XXIX, No. 6 (November 1970), p. 805.

72 Gregory I. Carlson, “Spiritual Direction and the Paschal Mystery,” Review for Religious XXXIII, No 3, May, 1974) p. 540. As a person advances in the spiritual life he is called. to follow Christ more fully in his paschal mystery. This can be a terrifying experience. The person being directed needs to be given hope in the final outcome of all suffering, which is resurrection.

       “The chalice of the Holy Spirit is identical with the chalice of Christ. This chalice is drunk only by those who have slowly learned in little ways to taste the fullness in emptiness, the ascent in the fall, life in death, the finding in renunciation.” Karl Rahner, “Reflections on the Experience of Grace,” Theological Investigations, trans. Karl-J. and Boniface Kruger, (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1967), III  p. 89.

       Dr. Viktor Frankl stressed the meaning which one can derive from the experience of suffering. “In the psycho-spiritual realm it has a similar function. Suffering is intended to guard men from apathy, from psychic rigor mortis. As long as we suffer, we remain psychically alive. In fact, we mature in suffering, we grow because of it--it makes us richer and stronger.” Viktor E. Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), p. 126. It would seem that the spiritual director is an invaluable source of strength and mooning for the person who is suffering any deep spiritual trial. Having gone through many similar experiences of desolation and emerging from them with renewed strength and insight, he is in a position to understand and encourage.

73 Wiliam A. Barry, “Spiritual Direction: The Empirical Appreach,” America, CXXXIV, No. 16 (April 24, 1976), p. 358.

74 1bid., p. 358. Cf., Richard I. Carlson, op.cit. p. 538. In recognizing evil in ourselves, we can “invite God to save even this, and submit ourselves with patience and trust to the mysterious way He has chosen to save us. . . .we can try in the context of spiritual direction to appropriate this part of ourselves, claim it as our own, refuse to leave it as an obscure and gnawing force in our lives, bring it to closure or completeness by seeing it as one area where God asks us, as He asked Jesus, to submit to death with trust in Him.”

75 Sandra Marie Schneiders, op. cit., p. 277.

1 Some authors stress what spiritual direction is not. For them it is not confession, it is not psychological counseling, it is not crisis counseling, it is not a decision-making type of counseling. It is purely and simply a relationship which helps one grow in prayer and discern whether or not the prayer experiences lead to God or away from him. Cf., Gregory I. Carlson, op.cit., pp. 532-533; also, Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation, pp. 40-42. It is apparent, however, that the role of the spiritual director overlaps into these other roles quite often, and necessarily so, because of the particular needs at the time he sees the directee. He must relate to him Gs a whole person in the context of his whole life and not just in one aspect. It is, however, important to keep in focus the main purpose of the relationship and to be aware when it has begun to change to some other form of counseling or support.

2 Sandra Marie Schneiders, op.cit, pp. 272, 274, 275.

3 This topic (of discernment) has been touched on in the previous chapters, but will be dealt with in more detail in this one.