13 November 2011

Is spiritual reading enough?

Question from a faithful HancAquam reader:  "Do you really need a spiritual director or does reading the writings of the saints suffice for most of us?

There are at least three ways to think about spiritual direction (SD):

1). A visit to the E.R.
2). A checkup with your dentist
3). A trip to the gym

Depending on what shape you're in spiritually, you will need emergency treatment, routine maintenance, or some body-building.  (How's that for mixed metaphors?!)

The idea here is that whether or not your need spiritual direction (and how often if you do) depends almost entirely how where you are in your relationship with God.  If things are going well, then keeping up with your spiritual reading is probably just about right, though it never hurts to get a check up or hit the gym on occasion.  If things are starting to look dodgy, it's a good idea to check in with some SD and see if there's anything seriously wrong that can be prevented or treated.  If, however, there's an obvious and overwhelming collapse in your pursuit of holiness, then a trip to the emergency room is required.  Follow up is mandatory. 

More often than not, a collapse in your spiritual life is due to some serious sin and making a good confession will start the ball to recovery rolling.  Of course, confession is not SD, but making a good confession is an excellent way to instill some sincerity into your repentance.  

Being a Dominican, I'm a champion of reading the saints and doctors of the Church.  One caution:  be sure that you aren't reading above or below your spiritual level.  I mean, if you're a recent convert, you might want to hold off on reading the Latin homilies of Meister Eckhart and think more along the lines of studying the Catechism.  If you're a Catholic Pro, then limiting yourself to the Catechism isn't going to challenge you.  A spiritual director can help you find your level.

Also, don't limit yourself to just one genre of spiritual reading.  I find contemporary poetry to be insightful and challenging.  A lot of Catholics read well-written sci-fi/fantasy novels as spiritual reading.  God reveals Himself using all sorts of imperfect methods!

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  1. I've had four. None of them were satisfactory. I find friends better SD. They know me well and I can be blatantly honest with them and they likewise! Yet, once I went to my parish priest and asked for an appointment for SD. This problem is a tough one and I'm still coping with it, but my parish priest helped. So my advice would be to ask friends who are spiritually like-minded as yourself. Books help too. I guess it comes down to the Holy Spirit. The HS is the best SD.

  2. I've found Jane Austen to make excellent spiritual reading. Dickens and Shakespeare, too, on occasion.

  3. Nothing beats talking to the old people at your parish. They have seen it all and have things in perspective.

  4. Banjo, I agree! However, I believe the correct term is "calendrically enchanced."

  5. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Funny you should put a photo of a group of sisters who don't usually allow their sisters to have a spiritual director...

  6. Anon., the pic is more about reading than direction, but I see your point.

    S.D. has never really been a part of OP spirituality.

  7. An O.P. priest told me that O.P.'s don't "take their spiritual temperature" the way Carmelites do, concerning themselves with levels and always going in a certain direction. I sort of looked for an SD but then I saw his point and my talking is less formal and sporadic, such as when I have read something I can't figure out. But even then maybe it is simply something "too high for me."