The subject of spiritual direction is one that seems to get everyone’s attention these days—there is a growing interest in both having a spiritual director and in becoming one. A new partnership promises to bless the Church with increased opportunities in both areas.
The Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation is collaborating with the Heart of Christ Spiritual Direction program to offer an integrated training in spiritual direction with a Carmelite and Ignatian emphasis. Two phases—the first with the Avila Institute, and the second with Heart of Christ—provide a comprehensive foundation for an aspiring spiritual director.
Phase I includes four live, interactive, six-week online classes through the Avila Institute:
- Foundations in Prayer and Union with God
- Discernment of Spirits I
- Breaking the Chains that Bind Us: An Introduction to Moral Theology
- Introduction to Spiritual Direction
The online coursework is followed by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and then students may apply to Heart of Christ for Phase II. If accepted, they attend a week-long training on-site in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A second year of formation with a guided practicum led by Heart of Christ founders Tesa Fleming and Jeannette Barbacane ends with another week-long training in Ann Arbor.
So far, 57 people have completed the program. This year saw 15 graduates, the largest class and the first group to have gone through the partnership program with the Avila Institute. The co-founders couldn’t have been happier with the success of the joint effort and the possibilities it opens up for people all over the world. Dan Burke (founder of the Avila Institute) “could breach the divide between technology and community, “ they reflected. “People love and trust him.”
What is most exciting, they say, is to see students “get it” during practicum, to watch the evolution of the relationship of director with directee. Inevitably, says Tesa, “they themselves are transformed as they direct others.” This is because, Jeannette adds, the program is not academic or informational but formational—and “a docile aspiring director will allow themselves to be molded by grace.”
Tesa believes one of the biggest transformations in the lives of the new directors is the growth in their ability to listen. A recent graduate agrees: “All the students in the program felt that we were unqualified to be spiritual directors, though we also felt called – one of the many paradoxes of the faith journey that one encounters. Dan commented to us all that not feeling qualified was actually a qualification! Learning to listen…really listening, applying both active and passive components…is fundamental, very challenging and an art to be honed over a lifetime.”
What advice do Tesa and Jeannette give to those who feel they may be called to spiritual direction, but are not sure? “Pray, first of all,” advises Tesa, “and then start taking the Avila courses. You won’t know until you try it. But even if you discern out, you’ll be a better person for it!”
Photos courtesy of Michele Green. Used with permission.