How can I grow in prayer and virtue? What is the best way to overcome my temptations and defects? These are questions many ask as they seek guidance for their spiritual life.
A recently published book offers advice on this subject, dealing with the topic of spiritual direction. Daniel Burke, an author and executive director of the American weekly newspaper, the National Catholic Register, wrote “Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God,” with the assistance of Father John Bartunek, LC., (Emmaus Road Publishing).
In the preface to the book Burke described how, after his conversion and entry into the Catholic Church, he greatly benefitted from having a spiritual director, but that at first he struggled to understand the role of a spiritual director and how best to utilize his help.
He wrote the book because, as he described, “Finally, I believe that, outside of the sacraments, there is no greater or more important tool available to help us nurture our relationship with God and to grow in grace than spiritual direction.”
Spiritual direction, he explained, is a way in which we can come to better know, love and follow Christ, through the help of someone who guides us.
It is not a boss-employee type of relationship, but rather someone who is a sort of coach who helps someone achieve their goals.
It’s not the same as confession, and in fact a spiritual director doesn’t have to be a priest. Neither is it like some kind of self-help program. “Self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and even self-centeredness are promoted in our culture, but are damaging to souls when they bleed into the spiritual life,” he observed.
“The main focus of spiritual direction is union with God,” he affirmed. This happens by discovering God’s presence in our souls and following his will and developing a love for God and our neighbor.
Why is it that we need a spiritual director, he asked. Often, he explained, we are unable to recognize our blind spots or to objectively judge our condition or the path we should be following.
Developing a relationship with God</p>
Why do we need spiritual direction? Often, Burke explained, we find it difficult to make progress in our spiritual lives and to resist sin, or perhaps simply to break out of mediocrity and a lack of depth in our relationship with God.
When it comes to choosing a spiritual director Burke offered a series of recommendations, including the advice to find the “Real Thing.”
He urged that it is important to find someone faithful to the teaching of the Church and also someone who has experience in the spiritual life and who is deeply engaged with Christ. “We are pursuing a relationship of love, not an academic exercise,” he adverted.
Burke continues on, giving guidelines on how to choose a spiritual director, what questions to ask them in order to ascertain if they are suitable and how to conduct a first meeting and to enter into a dialogue.
He also describes what he considers to be the responsibilities of both the spiritual director and those who are seeking guidance.
One difficulty he deals with various times is the problem with being able to find a spiritual director. With the declining number of priests and religious, being able to find someone with time available is far from easy.
Keep on searching
In fact, it might not be possible to find a spiritual director, Burke admitted. In that case it is important not to give up, but to keep on searching and to do your best by yourself.
Going on a retreat, personal reflection and prayer and Marian devotion are valuable means to achieve spiritual progress, he commented.
Another practice that can help is to make a spiritual self-evaluation and to try to understand the strengths and weaknesses in the life of virtue. Self-diagnosis is not easy, he acknowledged, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can make progress and get started in the right direction.
The last part of the book provides a series of guides, questionnaires, and check lists to help people identify their spiritual state and what are their main defects and strong points in their spiritual life.
One of the chapters has the heading “Navigation on a Narrow Path,” which, nevertheless, is not as difficult as it might sound if only we follow the signposts that God leaves for us.
In concluding Burke lamented the fact that very often people limit themselves to the observance of an external piety, without developing “a loving relationship with Christ in this life that opens the soul in ways far beyond what it could ever imagine.”
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