Spiritual Direction — or Support?

Interview With Father Castellano, Assistant Dean of the Teresianum

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ROME, APRIL 3, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A recent Week of Spirituality organized by the Teresianum School of Theology was dedicated to an interdisciplinary study of Christian spirituality.

Some of the sessions, led by individuals from all the ecclesial states, focused on spiritual support.

According to Father Jesús Castellano Cervera, a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and assistant dean of the Teresianum, «There is a need for people who will give that precious time to listen, who will do so with wisdom and love, who are at once knowledgeable and spiritual.»

Q: What is the Week of Spirituality about?

Father Castellano: The Week of Spirituality is one of the initiatives that the Teresianum of the Discalced Carmelites of Rome organizes in the area of spiritual pastoral care. It is already an institution.

The first such week was held in 1960. It was the idea of the then general of the Order, Father Anastasio Ballestrero. For several years, attention was focused on Christian prayer.

Since then, several other subjects have been studied, in consonance with the problems of the Church and the new ways of Christian spirituality. Before and after the Jubilee of 2000, we focused on the great axes of Trinitarian spirituality. For the past three years, we have been reflecting on some of the perspectives of «Novo Millennio Ineunte.»

Last year we studied the topic of pedagogy and the pastoral topic of holiness. This year we are focusing on mystagogy and spiritual support.

Every year, we program 10 conferences with a particular unifying theme, and invite speakers, men and women, priests, men and women religious, lay people, and married couples.

Q: Is the week oriented to religious?

Father Castellano: The Week of Spirituality is open to everyone. There is a majority of men and women religious in the audience, but increasingly we are having lay people, priests and seminarians, who follow with great interest the topics addressed.

We have the opportunity to have a number of spiritual tendencies pass through the chair of the Teresianum. …

The talks are published later in the Rivista di Vita Spirituale, and in a separate volume. The 44 volumes published to date are already a small encyclopedia of spirituality and give an idea of the topics that surfaced in the Church during the last decades of the 20th century.

Q: The theme of this year’s week refers to mystagogy and spiritual support. What is mystagogy?

Father Castellano: In theological language, mystagogy is understood as initiation in the Christian mystery, its celebration, and the spiritual support needed for its assimilation and personalization.

It is a word that has been recovered today from the ancient tradition of pagan cults, which the Fathers applied to Christian initiation — baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist — and which today is also applied in the realm of spiritual theology to that gratifying, wise and concrete introduction to the mystery of God and growth in Christian life, as in the case of Spiritual Exercises and so-called spiritual direction.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses that word because it seems appropriate for sacramental language but also to awaken in the faithful the desire to enter into the mystery through faith, to participate fully in the liturgy and, with the help of other personal and communal mediations, to increasingly assimilate that mystery in daily life according to one’s vocation.

Q: What is the meaning of «Daily Liturgy as Universal Mystagogy of Mother Church,» the title of your address during the Week of Spirituality?

Father Castellano: The liturgy, when understood, celebrated and assimilated, is the first and fundamental mystagogy of Christianity.

At the same time, it is the universal mystagogy of the Church. Valid for all, open to all, complete in its contents and forms. It is biblical because of its reference to the Word; sacramental because the mystery is offered to us in the sacramental signs.

It is ecclesial and objective and not merely individual and subjective, because its efficacy is assured to us by the Church itself. Every day, with the daily Word of God; the Liturgy of the Hours, for those who celebrate it; and the Eucharist, the Church offers us the gift of a personal relation with the Trinitarian mystery.

In our daily pilgrimage, we do not lack the manna of the Word and of the Eucharist, with which each one, according to his vocation, lives communion with God in history.

Q: How is a spiritual guide formed?

Father Castellano: Centers are being opened in the Anglo-Saxon cultural realm for the formation of spiritual guides. The early tradition reminds us that it is a ministry open to both men and women, to ecclesiastics as well as laity.

So, new ministerial perspectives are opening, but what is needed is good schooling as St. Teresa said: good theology, and that capacity for experiential attunement that allows the Holy Spirit to work through human mediation, to make God’s sons and daughters free and mature, genuine men and women, disciples of Jesus, apostles of his Kingdom.

Q: Is it more precise to speak of spiritual support or spiritual direction?

Father Castellano: Today, reference is made to spiritual support more than to direction because of a necessary change of language and attitude, which rejects imposed direction and favors dialogue in the Spirit and mutual submission to the will of God, with the delicacy with which God himself treats us, soliciting our free and generous response.

However, there is a preference in some realms for the old concept of spiritual paternity and maternity, although with the restraint and, naturally, good sense of transmitting with love of wisdom and respect for freedom, the same action of God who has created us free and expects from us a response of free and liberating filiation.

For many, it is a grace to find fathers and mothers in the Spirit, in a world that seems to be lacking the real paternity that reflects God, with his loving authority that proposes and does not impose.

Or it is a grace to find friends and brothers, who reflect the face of Jesus, the Teacher, and that of his Spirit, who is definitively and par excellence the «Spiritual Director» of Christians, who accompanies them on the ways of the Gospel, with the grace of knowing how to live well the dark nights and luminous days, which are not lacking for those who wish to go to the summit in the way undertaken and anticipated in grace and Christian initiation.

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