Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Heart of a Spiritual Director

Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart – Mt 11:29
First let us have a habitual desire to imitate Christ in everything we do,
conforming ourselves to His life; upon which life we must meditate,
so that we may know how to imitate it and believe in all things
as Christ would have.  – St John of the Cross
The proper ordering of desire:  God first, everything else second
and for the sake of God.   – St John of the Cross
The discussion in the Spiritual Director Formation class last week was about boundaries, limits one sets to protect one’s self.  I voiced the example of the man who every day asks you for $2, which you can easily afford.  The teacher deflected the answer to an assessment of me, personally.  Another in the class said we should give as long as we are comfortable in what God is asking us to give.  “But it isn’t about me,” I exclaimed.  “My example is about the neediness of the one asking, and how sometimes as much as we’d like to train those needing fish to eat to be fishermen, some will never learn.  So what do you do?”
The rule of true charity is not “give until it hurts,” it is “give even IF it hurts.”  Love does not stop when it hurts to love; true love continues, even if it hurts.
Jesus died for us.
The discussion gave an example of the person who constantly came late to a meeting.  It mentioned the person who dressed inappropriately for the workplace.  “Boundaries must be set,” it was explained.  “You are being abused by the one who constantly arrives late;” you must not allow this, for your benefit and theirs.  “You must teach the one who dresses improperly,” for the efficient operating of the office.  Yes, those boundaries I can see and understand:  rules create orderliness and efficiency, and define politeness.
But these are not the rules of charity.  The commandment to love set no boundaries.  Only man, in his self-love, sets limits to the love he will give to another.  God set no such limits.
But what of the ever-needy persons I describe d in a previous post:  the beggar, the alcoholic, the sinner, or the autistic child?  They will not, cannot, or don’t know how to change --- should I not draw a boundary line on what I will give them, for their sake, and perhaps mine?  Their thirst will never be slaked --- must we agree to be constant water boys?
Should a mother abandon her child --- even if he is autistic?
I think God gave us an answer to those questions, but it is an answer we don’t wish to believe:  “He gives us strength to bear any burden,” and “My yoke is easy and my burden light” --- for He is with us in the yoke, sharing the load.  Pain, burden, and trials:  He told His apostles trials would come, but that He would always be with them.  And they believed.
The question is:  Do we?
One is far along the spiritual road when he confronts humility:  Is my life about my happiness, or my bringing happiness to others?  Can we pray the Litany of Humility, as I do nightly, sincerely: 
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.   
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus. 
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
I do not know if I shall ever indeed become a spiritual director for others, but the journey towards that vocation is a good one.  As I am learning, it begins with a focus on my prayer life, connecting with and forming a firm bond with God, a solid faith in Him and His love of me.  He said we need not worry about ourselves, or “what shall we eat or what shall we drink. … therefore, do not be anxious.”  Having found the road for a good spiritual journey and confident of what it looks like, I will not have to complete my own journey before I can assist others in finding the way.  But I will not be able to tell them the way, for my way will not be precisely their way:  each journey is a personal one.  I will be able to listen to their description of their path toward God, and help them focus on the sights along the way, and find paths around the inevitable detours. 
And for a time I can hold their hand, so they will not be anxious. 
A true spiritual director, in his humility, seeks only the spiritual good of the one directed, and only that.  Bringing one soul closer to God is worth all the inconvenience, all the pain, all the love.  A true spiritual director is the ultimate evangelist, helping an individual find his way to God, and God’s will for him, creating another link in the chain of love.
Are there limits, boundaries, which should be set on my giving to another in this area?  Most certainly, even limits to the pains we endure for another, especially if they lead to pains we should not endure --- even if we are willing to.  There is a book about boundaries which was given out in our class; I never got a chance to read it.  I gave it to a friend, when she spoke to me --- for the very first time --- about her alcoholic sister, who is a special needs teacher in the public school system, and who is often abused by her students.  She only recently was released from the hospital for injuries she received from an out of control student ---- and went home and drank.  My friend saw the book on my kitchen table, and began: “I think my sister needs to set boundaries.”  After she explained, I agreed and gave her the book, to give to her sister, in love.  I’ll get another copy for myself.
There is much I still have to learn to form in myself the heart of a spiritual director, the firm relationship with God, the humility that I am doing His work, not mine, and firmly the “directing” which is not “telling them what to do”.  Perhaps there are boundaries I need to consider setting for myself, but for now, if someone needs money and I have money in the bank, I will give.  If someone needs my time and the alternative is watching television, I will go to be with them.  I cannot see how I can set limits on the love I am willing to give my neighbor, even if I am not loved in return --- or even if I am humiliated.  I pray each night for no such limits. 


  1. How beautiful Tom! You're such an inspiration! All the best in your training to be a spiritual director!

  2. "An inspiration." Hmmm. Anne, when I think of those words I think of someone who causes us to look to greater heights, to find greater beauty, or to better understand what love is. I wouldn't put myself in that category. If anyone is to benefit from the words I write here, I guess the benefit I would seek for them is that the words give them pause, and invites them to think. Inspiration? I guess I leave that to the Holy Spirit to plant in their hearts ---- but thinking is a start to opening the door for Him!