Spiritual Direction

From time to time one of us is asked if we will act as a “spiritual director” to someone. Our reaction always surprises those who know nothing of our community history or the part played in it by Fr Augustine Baker. There is generally a slight hesitation, followed by a quiet smile and even quieter affirmation, “The Holy Spirit is the best spiritual director.” This sometimes leads our interlocutors to wonder if we are Catholic at all, or at any rate not quite right in the head. (I sometimes wonder about the latter, too, but that is by the bye.)

It is what we don’t say that is important. There are many more spiritual directors in the world than there is true spiritual direction. To be able to guide others in the ways of God is a rare gift, a charism, and it is not given to all. The nuns of Cambrai (from whom we are descended) had a hard battle to avoid being pressured into a way of prayer and spirituality entirely alien to them under the name of “spiritual direction”. It was largely thanks to the fortitude of D. Catherine Gascoigne and her community, who were subject to some pretty stiff ecclesiastical penalties, that Fr Baker’s eminently sane teaching survived to shape the lives of the nuns who followed after. Fr Baker is now recognized as a master of the spiritual life and his insistence on “liberty of spirit” continues to inform those communities which took his teaching to heart.

But to say that spiritual direction is a rare gift and that the Holy Spirit is the best teacher is not the same as saying, “Do what you like.” For us, “liberty of spirit” presupposes life in community under the Rule and a superior, where there are daily checks on behaviour; it involves constant prayer and study and, above all, regular reception of the sacraments. Very often the sacraments are left out of the equation but for growth in holiness they are essential, especially the one many people ignore: confession.

Confession is not the same as spiritual direction. As a sacrament, we can be quite sure that the Lord is at work in it, no matter how “inadequate” we or the confessor happen to be. There is no similar guarantee with spiritual direction. That is not to say that spiritual directors are frauds and charlatans, far from it, but it is why we will not undertake that role. Those who have the gift can contribute a great deal to those who seek instruction and guidance; those who haven’t can do a great deal of harm. We do not give spiritual direction, but we do pray, as best we can, for all who seek our help.


6 thoughts on “Spiritual Direction”

  1. ‘There are many more spiritual directors in the world than there is true spiritual direction’
    I so agree with you Sr C I have in the past ‘sought’ spiritual direction and have even met with two lovely well-intentioned ladies to see if they were ‘right for me’

    The problem is, as you so rightly say, unless the person is one of those rare individuals who have a special gift, then all it is is well-intentioned listening/comment which while possibly helpful can also leave one feeling frustrated/disatisfied and still longing for that deeper relationship with God.

    I have since decided that days of quiet/retreat are more beneficial plus seeking God through silence and where hopefully His spirit can speak to me. However by their nature these things need time, freedom from distraction & responsibility (not always available!)

    I can see how beneficial the monastic life can be.

  2. Well Dame, I often describe you three [sic] as my spiritual directors along my route to vocation and ordination. I hope that this does not offend!

    But I think what I mean by that is that by exuding the spiritual life to those around you, you in fact allow for the Holy Spirit to break out and into the lives that coincide with yours.

    This could not happen if you didn’t keep the Offices, receive all of the sacraments and pray for the kingdom to come so that the world might believe.

    I’d say that was pretty Catholic!

    You are a blessing.

    Fr Chris

  3. What extraordinary timing to find this message in my mailbox this morning. This morning just before I left the house for my first meeting with a spiritual director.
    I didn’t cancel the appointment, but I did ask different questions because of it. To my surprise the director was a priest in holy orders who reported that people no longer turn to priests for direction or companionship in prayer, but do turn to directors.
    What this says about us all, I do not know, but please tell me where I can find out more about Fr Baker.

  4. Thank you for this post, it reminds that I want to read more of Fr. Augustine Baker. I picked up a little biography about him when I was visiting a library in a secular university this past summer and was stunned when I read a certain quote of his. It seems that when he would talk to people about reforming their lives he would counsel them to “do as you could, not as you would” Absolute sanity! How refreshing and surprising considering the times in which he lived. Unfortunately, I have had a difficult time finding his writings. Do I remember correctly that some time ago a new edition of Sancta Sophia was mentioned in the Colophon?

    • Thank you, everyone, for your responses and encouragement. There is some information about Fr Baker on our web site, but there is also a dedicated Fr Baker web site at http://www.augustine-baker.org.uk. That is a good place to start for information, but the best way to learn more about him is to read him. You can read his most important book online here, http://www.ccel.org/b/baker/holy_wisdom. D. Teresa was at work on a modern language version of Sancta Sophia when she died but I do not think we shall be able to complete it. I am, however, hoping to reissue a digest in modern English she did a few years ago. The only problem is . . . lack of time!

  5. I agree with your statement, “There are many more spiritual directors in the world than there is true spiritual direction.” I had been seeing a spiritual director who is also the associate pastor of our church. I quit after awhile because I didn’t seem to find any enrichment as I first had (that and her forgetting to keep appointments). One of the few things I did get out of this time spent was reading Julian of Norwich’s “Showings” of which I ‘enjoyed’ and have read several times now. Can you recommend other books to read?

    I think I find the closest times with God and having “aah” moments (“aah” as in awe inspiring) is sitting back and observing the beautiful natural surroundings that God in His creativeness has blessed us with. Listening to the wind in the trees, songs and sounds of the birds, sounds of insects, and the gentle purr of my cat. The smell of flowers in summer, burning leaves in fall, wood smoke in winter, and wet earth in spring. Dwelling on what fun He must have had creating all the different shapes and sizes of various leaves and the bark of the trees. How each flower is shaped, colored, and scented. All these He has blessed us with if we only take the time to be still, listen, and observe His blessings that surround us daily. I could go on and on about this favorite thing I love to dwell on… God’s creation.

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