I attribute much of the growth I experienced in the spiritual life to having a really good spiritual director in the seminary. When I think and reflect back to those times, I remember needing a lot of help in getting my act together in the beginning and then along the way developing those good practices and good habits with the insertion of insight along the way. My director explained towards the end of my seminary formation that in the beginning he needed to teach and help me to develop for myself a spiritual routine that allowed me to continue to grow in freedom, joy and a desire for a deeper relationship day by day with the Lord. The prayer life and spiritual life I developed and grew in while in the seminary is the one which serves me well as a priest today. Of course I can always do better, and I impress upon our seminarians that they must cultivate this deep desire to be with God and to pray well as seminarians because when they become priests it can be hard at times to maintain it, especially when you become busy – and prayer is most important for everyone but it is absolutely essential for the priest.
The Disciples went to the Lord, the Source of all prayer and asked for His help in praying and we have the Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, the perfect prayer. They will (as we all should) continue to ask God to help them to pray better, more sincerely, more perfectly throughout their lives BUT it is important that they cultivate much of what and how they pray on their own. This extends to each one of us as Disciples too. It is important that we are growing in our own insights into prayer and our relationship with God as we develop in our spiritual lives, and while it is important that we have a good spiritual director, someone who can accompany us on the journey – it is also important that our director does less “instructing” and more listening to us as directees.
We priests are asked often to be spiritual directors for people, especially those who are discerning. I am on the lookout for spiritual directors all the time and there are many of my brother priests who feel ill-equipped to be that for people. I talk about this often, and encourage them because they are capable of accompaniment. Often we feel inadequate in the advice we might give someone in the spiritual life, and this is why we question whether we should be a spiritual director. Especially with men who are discerning, what a joyful, faithful, loving, hard-working priest can offer is the insight that brought him to where he is today; more than profound wisdom or insight or the ability to draw from everything he knows about Catholic Christian spirituality. Hopefully as a person and as a priest he grows in this too throughout his life – but we all need to get better at listening (I certainly know I do) because it’s in listening to another heart who desires to be close to the Lord that we come to see the Lord’s work in others.
Although I share here an insight on spiritual direction, I speak of spiritual accompaniment in a broader way. Each one of us as Christian Disciples on the journey have people come into our lives as we come into the lives of others who sincerely want to grow and learn from one another – it’s part of the journey! As much as it’s important always to appeal to the Lord to “teach us to pray”, we must look to the good example of others too, and learn and grow from each other – the Lord teaches but we teach each other and this is God’s desire: that we be instruments of God’s grace to one another.