Enhance Your Spiritual Direction with the Saints
Spiritual direction is a tool that helps shape us into the saints God created us to be. It is natural that while striving to become saints, we would look to the saints themselves to guide us.
Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, who will soon be canonized by Pope Francis, is an example of one who sought holiness through the example of those who had gone before her. Saint John Paul II beatified Blessed Elizabeth in 1984. He identified her as one of the most influential mystics in his spiritual life. She was a cloistered Carmelite nun and mystic who died in 1906 at the age of 26.
One of the ways she deepened her spiritual guidance as a contemplative was through the study of the writings of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Blessed Elizabeth understood that the Holy Spirit is timeless and holiness is attainable for everyone. She found examples in the men and women who had attained the holiness that she was seeking.
Good spiritual direction guides people to look up rather than around, according to Linda Rose (Ingrisano), Certified Spiritual Director from Steubenville University’s “House of Prayer” certification program. Throughout the past 35 years working in ministry and spiritual direction as a Retreat Master, and singer, Linda Rose has seen problems arise when people expect spiritual guidance to be a matter of someone telling them what they need to do. “It is God who truly heals and guides us, not people,” she said in an interview.
By “looking up,” Linda Rose recommends praying, reading Scripture, meditating, and journaling as part of spiritual direction, which she learned through the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, known best as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. “By doing these different spiritual exercises, we are able to recognize where the Lord is leading and where he may be calling us to healing or growth,” she said. For example, according to her, we may become aware of harboring anger or the inability to obey God in forgiving someone. “We may then use our Bible and concordance to do a ‘study’ on the topics that will help give direction for following God’s way not ours,” says Linda Rose. “If one continues to pray, meditate, and journal when they meet with their spiritual director, they will be able discern the movements of God in their life.”
Saints Show Us the Way
A part of looking up, according to Ingrisano, can be making the saints a part of our lives.
“Since they share our humanity, the saints can show us how to live and how to get back up when we fall. In this way, they are great help in spiritual direction,” she said.
When she went on a pilgrimage to Spain, Ingrisano encountered St. Ignatius of Loyola for the first time. She visited his home where he had his conversion experience, she was moved to tears. “I’m a contemplative and I often lead Ignatian retreats,” Linda Rose said. “His conversion happened through his reading the lives of the saints. He said that it was in between the lines of the books that he found God.” It confirmed the power of contemplating both Scripture and the lives of the saints according to her, because “between the lines” —reading and then meditating—opens us up to even greater spiritual formation.
“In my role as a spiritual director, I use many saints as examples,” she said. “They had personal relationships with God, which is the key to growing in the spiritual life. God is the one who can speak to their heart and guide them along their life’s journey.
Walk with the Saints
According to EWTN radio and TV Catholic talk show host, Teresa Tomeo, integrating the saints into our lives is a natural addition to spiritual direction. “Many of the saints, as a matter of fact, were actually spiritual directors themselves when they walked the earth,” she said in an interview. “St. Catherine of Siena, for example, was an advisor to the pope and to bishops. St. Teresa of Avila, through her direct no-nonsense approach, served her sisters in this way as well as many prominent prelates.”
Looking to the saints as guides in holiness was the motivation behind Tomeo’s new devotional, Girlfriends and Other Saints: Companions on My Journey of Faith.
“Think about the tremendous witness of the saints and how they have left behind volumes of instruction and advice on how to grow closer to God and the Church as well as how to make major moral decisions,” she said.
For Tomeo, her namesake, St. Teresa of Avila, is especially dear to her heart. St. Teresa was assigned with reforming the Carmelite order—a challenging task requiring a strong personality. “She was confident enough, not only in the Lord’s love for her,” Tomeo said, “but also in her love for him, to clearly express how she was feeling when it came to the struggles of the ministry to which God had called her.”
The unique qualities among the many saints, translates into an array of spiritual tools or gifts to get us through life’s ups and downs and help us on this journey to heaven, Tomeo explained. “Catholics understand that our relationship with Jesus is primary,” she wrote in the book, “but through a relationship with the saints, we can grow even closer to Jesus.”
Tomeo pointed out that we have 24/7 access to the saints. “Just like a dear friend, even in our busy, noisy world, we’re still connected,” she said. “They reach out and touch us. The saints remind us that they are very much aware of the needs of God’s people, and most important, our need to stay close to God himself and to always to our heavenly Father so we can grow in our friendship with Christ.”
Art/photography for this post on enhancing your spiritual direction with the saints: Portrait visage d’Elisabeth de la Trinité portant son habit de carmélite (Face portrait of Elisabeth of the Trinity in Carmelite habit), Willuconquer, undated, CCA-SA; Andacht in der Kirche (Worship in the church), Eduard Veith, by 1925, PD-US author’s life plus 80 years or less; St. Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Paul Rubens, 1600s, PD; all Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Teresa Tomeo courtesy of Teresa Tomeo. Cover of Teresa’s Book, courtesy National Catholic Register.