Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spiritual Direction and Meditation.

The Sacrament of Penance seems to me to be a most appropriate place to discuss matters of conscience.
Spiritual Direction and Meditation is the title of a Thomas Merton classic, which at one time was required reading for a mystical theology class at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.  The class was taught by a very holy priest.  (For those concerned about orthodoxy, the manuscript received an Imprimatur in 1959.)
I referenced Merton's little book yesterday, and realized it had been the source for my claim that most people obtain sufficient spiritual direction from homilies and regular confession, an idea other readers disagreed with me on in another post.  I still maintain that opinion however, especially as it concerns ordinary souls.  Lately there has been discussion on other blogs implying the sacrament of penance is not the place for spiritual direction.  That strikes me as very odd since the priest may be asked for advice on how to overcome this or that sin, or indeed ask if this or that is really a sin - within the context of confessing one's sin.  Therefore a minimum of advice or direction doesn't seem too much to ask for in the confessional. 
That said, it seems to me the average daily Mass-goer, who is privy to daily homilies and regular confession receives spiritual direction in and through these ordinary means.  Of course members of secular orders and institutes are in the perfect position to receive additional spiritual direction from the fraternity's spiritual director as well as their community.
Is spiritual direction always necessary?
"Strictly speaking spiritual direction is not necessary for the ordinary Christian.  But wherever there is a special mission or vocation a certain minimum of direction is implied by the very nature of the vocation itself.
First, let us briefly consider the place of direction in the life of the ordinary layman.  Strictly speaking, the ordinary contacts of the faithful with their pastor and confessor are sufficient to take care of their needs.  This implies they are known to their pastor and have a regular confessor.  The reason for this is that confession itself implies a certain minimum of spiritual direction.  The confessor is bound to instruct and direct the penitent at least to the extent it is necessary for a fruitful reception of the sacrament of penance.  Where one is sinning gravely, advice and special instruction are certainly necessary if the penitent is to take effective steps to avoid sin." - Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction And Meditation
(Disclaimer:  I'm not talking about all the mystics who read me - I'm keenly aware that you people really do need extended, prolonged spiritual direction, on how to get your locutions published, how to get in to see the Pope, and stuff like that.)


  1. "[M]ost people obtain sufficient spiritual direction from homilies and regular confession..."

    I agree with you. But in order for this to work, there must be a desire for Christ. This sounds rather obvious to state, but your post reminded of people who attend mass regularly, but have their minds and heart elsewhere. You could put them in a type of spiritual boot-camp, if you will, or a monastery, where they can be saturated in an environment that is focused and the sacraments, but nothing will come of it.

  2. Spiritual direction helps us to know the will of God to discern what is God and what may be a temptation. Also helps us to practice humility.For me it is essential.

  3. Aceman4:20 AM

    I adore this picture of Ronnie Lueken! Thanks Terry for posting it.
    On a more serious note, SD as akin to therapy. Most people could use a healthy dose of both on occasion. If I attended my local parish church, I'm not sure the homilies there would do me much spiritual good.

  4. Anonymous6:20 AM

    Disclaimer = funny! :)

  5. Tom - regular retreats or day trips to a monastery would be an excellent means of obtaining spiritual direction.

    Angelo - Agreed. Especially these days when everything is so confusing - spiritual direction is important - I'm not sure everyone has access to a personal director however. I'm not discounting its importance at all.

    Ace - same here with my priest's homilies. The fact you say 'on occasion' is also a good point - I think some people - I for one at one time - think you should meet once a week, when maybe 4 times a year would cover things just fine - or something like that - but who am I to say?

    SF: I know! I'm so glad you get me.

  6. Anonymous12:35 PM

    "....the ordinary contacts of the faithful with their pastor and confessor are sufficient to take care of their needs. This implies they are known to their pastor and have a regular confessor."

    Here is the question -how do you become known to the pastor and how do you get a regular confessor?

    If confession is anonymous, how can they know you to be a regular confessor? How can you be known to your pastor amongst the 100's of people who need his attention?

    This is a real issue for me. My sponsor told me to make an appointment to introduce yourself. I can imangine saying "Hi, I am so and so" and then silence.


  7. Introducing yourself to your pastor or parish priest is a way to be recognized - the priest will probably take it from there. Otherwise - if you are there every week, or for daily Mass - he will see you - so you get to know one another gradually.

    This might sound strange, but if you don't identify yourself to the priest you choose as a regular confessor - and remember you don't have to identify yourself - just approach the sacrament as if he knows you. Let our Lord take care of the rest - you are encountering Him in the sacrament. Let things happen naturally and gradually. Pray for a good confessor and to make a good confession - it all works out. If Father needs to know something, he will ask.

  8. Terry - that disclaimer was really really funny.

    For several years, I was receiving spiritual direction - advice was more apropos - from a good young priest. It's time I renew that relationship. Even us lay people who don't get locutions, who struggle with everyday things, can benefit from the one-on-one with a priest. He has helped me to stay on the narrow road, and to stay focused on making the choice to love, even if the feeling is rarely prevalent.

  9. hahaha
    Your so funny. See if I tell you anymore visions. hahahaha
    I'll follow the visionary who says God told them that they suck and that they should fix themselves before they try to fix rest of the world.

    Have you ever heard a visionary say anything good about the world anyway? Approved or otherwise. There must be something good to say on occassion..... Something?!

  10. For those who have a hard time getting anything out of certain homilies..

    Think of them as college lectures. Read (or listen to)the Mass readings ahead of time. Bring a notebook with you to Mass and take notes. By taking notes you focus on listening to the homily and aren't distracted by the thousand things around you. I haven't found anything anywhere that says you can't take notes in church. What do the hymns add to the Mass readings or homily??? Was the homily (especially Daily Mass) about the Mass readings or was it about the Saint of the Day??A well-structured service will have alot of different elements linking each other together.

    Then you get home, rewrite your notes and try to link what was in the homily to the Mass readings. Ask youself questions. How did I feel about this passage, what am I seeing in the mind's eye?? What examples did the preacher use?? What examples do I see in my everyday life?

    There is also nothing wrong with goiNG up to the pastor a day or so later and say "I really didn't get what you were saying concerning this. Could you please take a few minutes to explain??" Many priests have advanced degrees and they truely may be talking over your head...however they won't realise it unless we tell them.

    I think far too many of us sit in Mass, keeping a seat warm, running cartoons through our head, thinking about dinner, housework, the cute guy sitting in front of us and is he single?? and not focusing on what is going on.

    To get an A in Mass Appreciation takes some time and study, but it can be done, even with priest, with dry homilies and thick accents.

    If I can get an A in my Numerical Analysis class (talk about DRY) with a old Russian professor that talked very slowly in monotone and thick accent, you can get A in Mass Appreciation :) Of course in my Math class I could bring a big cup of Starbucks Cafe Mocha into class with me :)

    Good luck... Sara

  11. Larry - I agree - dads need spiritual direction - moms too - you have a big job - a special vocation - you are raising children for heaven after all.

  12. Anonymous10:10 PM

    I appreciate the advice, Terry.


  13. Phil Oska10:15 PM

    Dear Terry,

    For Faustina/Anonymous ... A Confessor learns to know who is confessing because it is by its nature a very personal Sacrament. A man or woman may go to Confession anonymously for years, and if they choose the same Confessor, that Priest will remember, in a sense which is not strict, because Confession is an extremely personal Sacrament.

    Imagine if you were riding the bus to work every day for a few years, and got to know the others on the same route. You might never know their names, but you would share an intimate part of your day with them. If they were not there, you would notice. You would get to know them in a certain way, even though you might never share it with anyone.

    That's an extremely simplistic view of the Sacrament, and it's not a theological view by any means. I feel that everyone should seek an understanding and challenging confessor.

    And, like running shoes, they should fit like an old loafer --- paraphrasing a quote from an old confessor whose patience and gentle prodding changed my life, and set me truly on the path of Christ.

  14. I was taught, and have come to believe and practice, that confession and spiritual direction are distinct, although they may overlap.
    The Sacrament of Penance is bound by the seal; I cannot, in any way, shape or form, initiate a discussion with a penitent, without his/her permission, after a confession.
    That is why I make, in my practice of spiritual direction, a very clear delineation between spiritual direction and confession.
    As a priest, it is important to do this; as a penitent, it helps to give confidence that the priest will not in any way divulge anything dealing with what is confessed in the external forum (as opposed to the internal forum, of which, spiritual direction is included, but not in the same way as the Sacrament).
    Yes; spiritual direction, albeit limited, within the Sacrament is important at times...I only give detailed advice when I am asked or when the situation requires it; I try to be discreet and careful, not probing too much, leaving it to the penitent to make the first move, so to speak, if they want further advice. I, as a penitent myself, have been the recipient of all kinds of unsolicited, unwanted, unneeded hoo-haa within the Sacrament (which became a "counseling session").
    When I begin direction with someone I make clear the distinctions: I'm not a trained counselor; I can give references when this is needed. I will do spiritual direction, which deals with the soul and God.
    The Sacrament of Penance deals with sin; I will give advice, as needed, but I will not prolong it in order to "delve" into matters that should be treated in a spiritual direction situation.
    That's just my "take" on it.
    As for "locutions"?, no speaka Englis:<)!

  15. Phil Oska - thanks for your very good comment - I agree that there is a discreet recognition between the penitent and confessor.

    Fr. JM - Your comment is very valuable to the discussion. I'm really just talking about ordinary people who have no access to spiritual directors for whatever reason.

  16. And Terry, I am most ready to answer any question, give advice, counsel and, yes, admonish (I try to allow the Holy Spirit to guide me...I try!).
    I am beginning, just beginning, to be able to "sense" when someone "needs" to hear a word of counsel; an admonition; a clear directive; I try to be sensitive not "to crush the broke reed"...I, myself, as I mentioned, have had some very strange encounters in the confessional when there was all kinds of unsolicited advice, probing questions, strange probably has helped me, I hope, to be the confessor Jesus Christ wants me to be.
    Nevertheless, for those who approach the confessional, without seeking outside direction, I try to be very discerning in order to tell them what the Lord would have them hear; I don't know if it is successful, but with God's grace, I pray I can be open. Thanks.

  17. Oh, and if any of you "night owls" (of which, I, unfortunately, am) want to pray extra hard, take a look at this:
    Oh, it just does not get better than that!!
    Get your rosaries out!


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