Pulpit Direction: Nurturing Spiritual Growth

What, pray, you will ask, is pulpit direction? Well, without attempting to make the matter appear complicated, it means simply that you explain the topic of the sermon as well as you can and that you suggest: a certain application to the personal needs of your listeners; a recourse to prayer and the sacraments for aid to carry out the resolution taken as the result of the sermon; a discussion with one’s confessor at one’s next confession as to the resolution taken and how it was kept.

Let us take, for example, the story of the Good Samaritan. As the preacher, you no doubt would point out such facts as the following: The Good Samaritan saw a fellow man in need; he did something promptly; he did something personally; he did it practically. And it cost him, too. It cost him time, trouble, and money.

The application might be something like this:
“Did not our Lord say: ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of My brethren you do to Me’ (see Matt. 25:40)? There is the difficulty: to recognize God behind the masks of men. Why, the most soiled and tattered wreck of humanity that shuffles along the street is more precious in the sight of God than all the material wealth in the whole world.

“One Holy Thursday, Bl. Angela of Foligno, with her girl companion, went to the cathedral. They heard Mass and received Holy Communion and made their thanksgiving. Then Bl. Angela nudged her companion and said: ‘Come on, it’s all over here. Now let us go out and find Christ among the poor and the sick and the needy.’

“Our Lord is still out there among them. Will you pick one resolution from the following and make it your point for the week? May I suggest:

  1. You pick out one home where there is sickness and offer to drop around and straighten out the house or stir up a meal
  2. Greater patience and love toward an aged and in-firmed member of your own family and the performance of some act of charity toward him or her
  3. A decade of the Rosary for the sick, the poor, and those in prisons
  4. A positive act of charity toward a poor family

“Make up your mind about your resolution and recall it to mind as I offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Offer your resolution when I offer the bread and the wine soon to become the Body and Blood of Christ. At Holy Communion, when our Lord is in your heart, ask Him to bless your resolution and give you the grace to keep it.

“At your next weekly Confession, tell the priest at the end of the Confession just what resolution you took and how you kept it.”

So there you have an example of pulpit direction. This method can be used in sermons on the Epistles, the Gospels, the Commandments, the sacraments, the virtues, and the vices. For instance, after an instruction on charity toward our neighbors, the conclusion could run as follows: “Dearly beloved brethren, examine yourself and see wherein you fail in this virtue—especially (1) in your own particular judgments, your sentiments, and your actions, (2) in the relations with the members of your family, your coworkers, or your friends, (3) in your relations with your superiors.

“Make one concrete resolution on this matter before the Offertory of this Mass begins. Offer your resolution with the priest. Pray for grace and courage to keep your resolution. Renew it each morning this week. Examine yourself on it each night and confide to your confessor the next time you go to Confession just what resolution you took and how you kept it.”

The priest who would make use of pulpit direction should follow this formula:

  1. Explanation of the lesson
  2. Application to the particular needs of the hearers
  3. Requesting the listeners to pick their own point or resolution for the week from at least two or three stated resolves
  4. Recourse to prayer and the sacraments for the grace to fulfill the resolution
  5. Daily renewal of resolution or point chosen and daily examination as to execution
  6. Mention of the point privately chosen to the confessor at end of weekly Confession


This article on Pulpit Direction: Nurturing Spiritual Growth is adapted from the book Guidance in Spiritual Direction by Charles Hugo Doyle which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on a reflection from “Guidance in Spiritual Direction” by Charles Hugo Doyle: cover used with permission; Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash

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