Spiritual direction was praised by St. Gregory the Great as the art of arts. In reality, it is art par excellence, because it has to do not with the transformation of matter, but of the human person being conformed to the image of God.
The term “direction” indicates that in this journey there is a goal to reach- more specifically, our transformation to become more like God.
The term “spiritual” could give the impression, if it is not well explained, of being something that is opposed to material. Spiritual direction, therefore, could seem to be the art of directing the spirit of man towards God. This interpretation of spiritual direction must be corrected and qualified. Spiritual direction is not the art of directing the spirit of man towards union with God. Rather, help is offered to the person in order that he/she might place their entire life under the direction of the Holy Spirit. This means guiding people to be open to listening to the provocations, suggestions and commands of the Holy Spirit.
The function of the spiritual director can be compared to a mirror. The mirror cannot comb your hair, cannot put make-up on, and cannot shave. Instead, a mirror allows a person to do these things with greater ease and a better outcome. I can comb my hair without a mirror…but what a difference it makes when I am able to use it! The spiritual director, with his/her questions and suggestions, pushes the person to verbalize that which they might carry within- to pull it out, objectify it and see it for what it truly is. Once the person is conscious of their most intimate self, then they are given the possibility of changing.
Most of spiritual direction is listening, paraphrasing what has been said at times, and then spurring him/her on to the next step. Unfortunately, our experiences have proven that many have not grown up in an environment of faith and love, and therefore lack many things at the level of their knowledge of faith and personal affective experience.
The task of the spiritual director is to provide formation by offering specific content regarding faith and morals, and by helping others experience the joy of being welcomed, believed, and loved for who they truly are. A true spiritual direction requires several different traits from whoever offers it, including competence in philosophy, theology, and the fundamentals of psychology rooted in Christian anthropology. Also, a capacity for empathetic listening, affective maturity, communicative capabilities, and being rooted in a life of prayer and virtue are necessary characteristics of a spiritual director. From the directee, all that is required is the desire for holiness and a prayer life. If the directee does not pray, it is impossible for he/she to participate in spiritual direction because the person cannot learn to place his/her life under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
In order to properly complete spiritual direction, the following conditions are necessary:
1) Consistent daily prayer: “Prayer is a supreme good, it is an intimate communion with God, which must come from the heart, must blossom forth day and night.
It is the light of the soul, true knowledge of God, mediatrix between God and man, it is a desire for God, an ineffable love produced by divine grace.” -St. John Chrysostom
2) Complete openness: To open oneself is a great grace, and in this we must help the persons that the Lord entrusts to us. Helping them to open themselves is the only method for escaping the deceits of the evil one. Without openness, we will never be true fathers and mothers, since it is others, in their openness, who make us become fathers and mothers.
3) Regular encounters: For adults, we suggest monthly meetings. For college students, meeting every 2-3 weeks seems to work best.
If one of these prerequisites is missing, there might be spiritual help available. However, it cannot truly be called spiritual direction.
Today, many people do not know what spiritual direction is, so they do not seek it. One of our missions as AVI is to arouse, through the first encounter and then through friendship, the desire for holiness, for realizing oneself according to God’s plan and for a full life in Christ. Our first objective in approaching a person is to put him/her in contact with God and dispose him/her to experience prayer in order to begin a true spiritual journey. We seek, at the beginning of our encounters, to help the other to understand the importance of daily prayer by offering concrete suggestions and different methods of prayer. People open themselves up more every time we meet with them, sharing joys, sadness, hopes, fears, successes, failures, as well as trials and temptations. Naturally, we offer spiritual direction to those who already know what direction is and explicitly ask for it. Through this, each of us develops an individual style and modality in conducting these encounters.
Our community desires to live out the wish of Pope John Paul II, who in his Apostolic Exhortation “Vita Consecrata” says:
“The Church depends a great deal on consecrated women for new efforts in fostering Christian doctrine and morals, family and social life, and especially in everything that affects the dignity of women and respect for human life. In fact, “women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive… There is reason to hope that a fuller acknowledgement of the mission of women will provide feminine consecrated life with a heightened awareness of its specific role and increased dedication to the cause of the Kingdom of God. This will be expressed in many different works, such as involvement in evangelization, educational activities, participation in the formation of future priests and consecrated persons, animating Christian communities, giving spiritual support, and promoting the fundamental values of life and peace. To consecrated women and their extraordinary capacity for dedication, I once again express the gratitude and admiration of the whole Church…” [#58]
To conclude, we can summarize the functions of spiritual direction with three verbs. Spiritual direction informs, forms, and transforms:
Inform: Often, the spiritual director must respond to different questions, as well as instruct, clarify, explain and correct their directees.
Form: The spiritual director offers support, consolation and encouragement, so that the person might persevere in prayer, in the acquisition of the virtues, and in the sacramental life. The spiritual director must offer instruments of self knowledge according to the mind of Christ, as well as spur their directees on to use their talents, and learn to not be frustrated by their own personal weakness.
Transform: Continual spiritual growth brings one to be conformed to Christ, to acquire his own sentiments, to become one with Him within his Church.