Spiritual Direction and Evangelization
In the Holy Father’s latest Apostolic Exhortation “Joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium) he takes time to remind us of spiritual accompaniment as a key part of evangelization (see paragraphs number 169 to 172). Pope Francis begins by noting the paradox of modern culture: on the one hand, people suffer from anonymity, and on the other, a morbid curiosity about the details of other peoples lives. Against these tendencies, the Holy Father is calling the Church, each of us who are members of this Mystical Body, to authentic sympathy.
This means, those who have dedicated themselves to prayer must take a personal interest in the spiritual journey of each and every soul entrusted to them. More often than not this sympathy is shared in all kinds of beautiful and informal ways. Sometimes, it is also shared more formally, in an ongoing form of spiritual accompaniment: spiritual direction.
It is vital for those who preach the Gospel of Christ, no matter their vocation, to seek out and find a good spiritual director. When none can be found, Divine Providence supplies in other ways – perhaps through a friend or a family member. We are called each one to follow our crucified master, sometimes in solitude and silence, but never alone. We go forth in a communion of saints, of holy things exchanged between the holy ones of God. This is why the Lord also expects us to make a good prayerful effort to seek out the guidance of someone who will hold us accountable, encourage us to spiritual maturity and help us discern the most appropriate ways to serve God in our lives.
God expects us to make this effort because He prefers to work through those He sends to us, so that we are all bound to one another in charity and mutual support. This bond of love involves a humble disclosure of the heart, an openness to the counsel of another, and a mutual availability to the Lord. It may encompass many other things as well, but this sacred conversation, when guided by the Holy Spirit, is always a profound expression of the mystery of the Church that gives glory to God.
The Lord may also ask us to provide this service to our brothers and sisters, if not as a formal spiritual director, perhaps as a good spiritual friend. It is true that priests have special graces in this area, but by baptism, every Christian has been given the gift of counsel, a remarkable disposition by which the Holy Spirit can move us to compassion for the plight of our neighbor, even when this is a deep spiritual suffering. With such gifts, we can rescue another from a sense of alienation and help them raise their eyes to see the wonders of God’s love in new ways.
We can do this for one another even if we do not know what to say and feel like all we can do is listen. In fact, the more we rely on God in such things the better. Our responsibility is simply to be present, to listen with love, to have, as Pope Francis encourages, heartfelt sympathy for one another. Because it makes space for the Holy Spirit to work in new ways in our relationships, when we reach out with the love of Christ knowing how much Christ loves the person entrusted to us, simply listening with love and gratitude to what God is doing in his or her heart is a powerful and beautiful way to witness to the joy of the Gospel.
Editor’s Note: For more of Anthony’s insights on prayer, don’t miss his new book, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, an experience like no other. Anthony has an unusually profound understanding of mystical theology and lives a life of deep prayer. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute.
Art: Detail from Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Presidente de la nación Argentina, con el Papa Francisco, 18 March 2013, Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation) casarosada.gob.ar, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic, Wikimedia Commons.