SPIRITUAL DIRECTION PREPARATION
BY FR PAT COLLINS CM
Spiritual direction “the supreme art” has been described as “the help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship.” As such it is different from psychotherapy and counselling which have different aims.
There are various models of spiritual direction. For example, nowadays, trained and qualified directors seek, in a discerning and skilful way, to help their directees to grow in a contemplative attitude and to identify what facilitates and inhibits religious experience, as conscious relationship with God. Then there is a more traditional model where, those seeking direction, turn to a person blessed with learning and a special gift of offering inspired spiritual guidance, sometimes by letter. Many famous directors, such as St. Francis de Sales and Augustine Baker offered direction in this indirect way.
- Are you interested in becoming more aware of empowering presence and activity in your life?
- Would you welcome assistance in deepening your prayer life?”
- As you face difficult decisions are you struggling to discover God’s will?
- Would you benefit from sharing your experiences, questions and struggles with someone who is familiar with the dynamics of spirituality?
If you can answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, you would benefit from spiritual
direction. If you would like to contact a “soul friend,” you can do so through this site. It will enable you to get in touch with one of our panel of experienced and qualified directors by means of Email.
An Examen of Consciousness
Speaking about contemporary culture, Pope Paul VI once made the pertinent observation that:
“Today our psychology is turned outward too much. The external scene is so absorbing that our attention is mainly directed outside; we are nearly always absent from our personal abode. We are unable to meditate or pray. We cannot silence the hubbub inside, due to outside interests, images and passions. There is no quiet, holy space in the heart for the flame of Pentecost.”
Like the prodigal son, who came to his senses, an examen of consciousness, enables a person to return home to the inner chamber of the heart, and God’s activity within it, by means of a reflection exercise.
- Rather than being an examination of conscience i.e. an itemized assessment of wrongdoing from a Christian point of view, an examen of consciousness aims to focus attention on God-given desires, and how one did or did not respond to them. It seeks to notice what may be inhibiting them.
- It enables a person to become aware of the presence and inspirations of the Lord. It also looks at a person’s reactions and responses to such revelations.
- In the words of I Jn.4: I, it develops the ability to “test the spirits to see whether they are of God.” St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote in par. 32 of his Spiritual Exercises:
There are three kinds of thought in the mind, namely: one which is strictly my own, and arises wholly from my own free will; two others which come from without, the one from the good Spirit, the other from the Evil One.”
It is worth noting that St. Ignatius of Loyola, considered a regular examen of consciousness so important in the life of any apostolic person that s/he should not omit it except for a serious reason.
A Discernment Exercise
• Relax your body.
• Calm your mind and imagination.
• Affirm in faith that God is present.
• Consider these words of Cardinal Newman:
“God’s presence is not discerned at the time it is upon us, but afterwards when we look back upon what is gone and over.”
• Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your discernment exercise:
“Lord, you enlighten every heart. Enlighten mine to recognize how you have been drawing me to yourself. Help me to appreciate your presence and to distinguish those inspirations that came from You, and those that came from either myself or from the Evil One.”
Discerning the Presence of the Lord
- During the recent past, when were you most aware of the Lord’s presence? Was it at Mass, when praying, reading the scriptures, enjoying nature, talking with a friend, etc? Briefly describe the incident.
- What did you experience when the Lord revealed Himself to you? Was it joy, awe, peace, fear, hope, encouragement, etc? Did you tell the Lord what you felt?
- What did you notice about the Person of the Lord when he revealed himself to you that would account for the feelings evoked within? Was He compassionate, accepting, attentive, understanding, loving, angry, etc? Try and describe the God of your experience in a few words.
- How did you decide to respond to the revelation of the Lord?
Did it find expression in a prayerful way, e.g. in gratitude and praise?
Did it find expression in any kind of resolution, e.g. to be reconciled to someone, to avoid temptation, to work for justice etc?
Discerning Positive from Negative Inspirations
- Were you aware of any promptings or inspirations from the Holy Spirit in the recent past? Did you respond to them or not?
- Did you experience any kind of negative inspiration, feeling, attitude, mood, desire which may have led to a sinful thought, word or deed in the recent past? If so, tell the Lord that you are sorry for having saddened the Holy Spirit, and ask for His forgiveness with confidence.
How Often Should The Discernment Method Be Used?
- As often as you like. But most people find that once a week is enough. Anything more could be impractical.
- How Much Time Should Be Spent on The Exercise?
Normally, between five and fifteen minutes will be sufficient. During a retreat one might spend a bit longer.
- Should The Results of The Discernment Be Written Down?
Strictly speaking, it isn’t necessary to do so. However, when you do it can have distinct advantages.
- To express something on paper has the effect of impressing it upon the mind and memory.
- To review one’s notes after a few months could reveal interesting and important trends, that might otherwise be overlooked.
- If one is fortunate to have a spiritual director, notes of the discernment exercise can be very useful as a basis for dialogue with him or her e.g. by Email.
- During times of darkness and desolation, the recorded account of past graces and consolations can be a source of encouragement.
- The written highlights of the discernment process can be used as the starting points for future periods of prayer.