What Kind of Spiritual Allies Should We Have?
Part II of II
Editor’s Note: In part I, we began to look at what type of spiritual allies we should have: we talked about the Christian identification card and the first two forms of fellowship. Today, we will examine the role of faith-based friendships and the benefits of spiritual direction. Here is the question we are considering:
Dear Father John, I’m interested in knowing what kind of people will help me grow closer to God, not just priests, but all sorts of people. What kind of spiritual allies should we have?
The Role of Faith-Based Friendships
Friendship is one of the most beautiful human experiences, and Jesus himself praised and prized it. “I no longer call you slaves,” he told his apostles at the Last Supper, “because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15). Friendship has been valued in every period and place of human history, even long before the time of Christ. It is another manifestation of our being created in the image of God, created to live in communion of life with other persons. It contributes joy, comfort, inspiration, and meaning to our lives.
But with the coming of Christ, even this beautiful human reality has been enhanced. A faith-based, Christ-centered friendship is a deeper, stronger, and longer-lasting friendship than any of the ancient philosophers could have imagined, for one simple reason: Christ himself is part of it. He promised this in one of the most beautiful verses of the New Testament: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20, RSV).
Faith-based friendships are an important aspect of Christian fellowship; they help keep us accountable, they help support us in times of temptation, they help heal our emotional wounds, they spur us on to growth in virtue, they delight and comfort us at the deeper levels of our soul, and
they help keep Jesus close to us.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can’t have non-Christian friends, but we do need to make a point of investing in some friendships that are built with natural as well as supernatural ties. If our faith is our highest priority, we will feel the need for friends who share that priority. And if we don’t look for them and invest in them, we may gradually find our priorities getting confused. St. Paul gave a warning in this regard to the Christians in Corinth: “Do not be led astray,” he wrote to them; “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33, RSV).
The Benefits of Spiritual Direction
Finally, growing to spiritual maturity requires the direct assistance of a spiritual coach, which Christian tradition generally calls a spiritual director. We need an ongoing relationship with someone who knows the spiritual ropes, who has traveled the road ahead of us and has a healthy share of the gift of counsel, who can help uncover our blind spots and discern how the Holy Spirit is moving in our lives and how we should respond. We need teachers, mentors, coaches, trainers, and guides in every other area of human life where we want to improve and grow, so it only makes sense that we would need one here as well. As Pope Benedict XVI explained to a group of future spiritual directors:
As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord up close, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his Baptism, that is, the new life in Christ.*
* Benedict XVI, Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Community of the Pontifical Theological Faculty “Teresianum” of Rome, May 19, 2011.
Editor’s Note: This is another excerpt from Father John Bartunek’s new book “Seeking First the Kingdom” filled with “practical examples and down-to-earth wisdom which will show you how to bring Christ into each facet of your life”. Click here to learn more about the book…or if you wish to get it for a friend or relative who doesn’t read on line.
Art: Der Gang nach Emmaus (The Walk to Emmaus), Joseph von Führich, 1837, PD-Worldwide; Ein ernstes Gespräch (A Serious Conversation), Ludwig Johann Passini, by 1902, PD-US; both Wikimedia Commons.