So you've been working hard to live as faithfully as you can, receiving the sacraments, and especially going to confession regularly. You are doing what is necessary, but you feel like there's another step you need to take - but you just can't quite take it. Maybe you don't know what it is, or you do and need a little push. Fear not, there's a solution to your problem!
It's called Spiritual Direction, and it's available from any willing and able priest. A good spiritual director can help you grow in prayer and virtue, root out vice, overcome scrupulosity, and deepen in spiritual maturity. Think of him as a spiritual "trainer" of sorts.
Why do you need spiritual direction, if you're already being directed by the Church to do what Jesus asks you? Here are a few reasons:
• Someone with more experience can help to guide you into deeper spiritual maturity. That's not to say that you aren't doing well on your own, but there is a lot of practical knowledge that can be useful to a man who is seeking a more profound Christian life. Jesus, the ultimate spiritual director, came to teach us what we couldn't discover by ourselves, and that's just what any good spiritual director will do. Unless you know all there is to know about the spiritual life, then there is a good chance that a priest who is well trained in the spiritual life can help you tremendously. He can direct you to great books to read, help you learn how to pray effectively and regularly, give good practical advice.
• You do better with someone to help hold you accountable to yourself. Because of our broken human nature, it's easy to make resolutions and have good intentions, but it's always much harder to follow through. Having regular meetings with a spiritual director can give you that extra impetus to do what you have said you would do, and continue doing it once you start.
• A spiritual director can help you find the middle ground of virtue. There are two extremes people easily fall into when working to acquire virtue. Scrupulous people tend to see their faults as if they were far worse than they actually are. Something which isn't sinful is seen as a sin, or venial sins are seen as mortal sins. This is an unhealthy sense of guilt, and can lead a person to despair rather than trust in God's mercy. On the other hand, a person with an insensitive conscience will not see vice where it is, and will make excuses as to why his actions are "not that bad". The middle ground is in between - a recognition that one is sinful, and also that he is also good. This humble realization is a necessary part of spiritual maturity. A spiritual director will help you to learn to rely on God's mercy and goodness to overcome your weaknesses.
• A spiritual director can help you root out particular vices. If you've worked hard to overcome a specific temptation, but it seems like you just keep failing, your spiritual director can help. While going to confession regularly and anonymously is good, a spiritual director will come to know your particular life circumstances so that he will be able to give practical advice (as well as penances) more suited to your needs. He will help you form a plan of action which may be more effective in helping you develop the life virtue you desire.
• spiritual director will help you learn how to pray. Praying is not a magic formula, as you well know. Doing certain things won't cause a particular "reaction" from God! However, there are tried-and-true "methods" for helping you to focus yourself on God and putting yourself in His presence so that you can come closer to Him. A good spiritual director will know the tradition of prayer that has been taught by the saints, who themselves have learned the key to praying well from their profound relationships with God.
• Your spiritual director will pray for you. Spiritual direction is an intimate relationship - you will be revealing parts of your soul to your spiritual director that you may never have revealed to another human being. He will probably know your needs better than any other person on earth, and he will pray for you as a priest, as a director, and as a good friend. He will be able to offer your intentions at the Masses he celebrates. This is a relationship which is invaluable for any man discerning his vocation and growing in prayer and virtue.
While it may be difficult in some circumstances to actually find a priest who is able and willing to take on a spiritual directee, it is well worth the time and trouble you will spend to find a holy and practical priest who can help you to mature in your faith. Sometimes, it is best to begin this relationship by simply asking the priest if you can speak to him once every four or six weeks. Little by little, he will get to know you and a spiritual direction relationship will naturally emerge.
If you sincerely want to find a spiritual director and are having difficulty, feel free to call or email me. I can recommend a few who might be available.
Thank you for taking the time to consider your vocation.
If you think God may be calling you to serve Him in the ministry of the priesthood, please contact me.
You are always in my daily prayers as you listen and discern. God bless you.
Fr. Will Thompson
507-454-4643 Ext. 229